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Reviewed by:
  • Passover in the Works of Josephus
  • Stuart Robertson
Passover in the Works of Josephus, by Federico M. Colautti. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002. 277 pp. $113.00.

This book presents the doctoral thesis of the author from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, under the direction of Joseph Sievers and Charles Conroy. Written originally in Spanish, it was translated into English by Fr. Anthony Trafford.

Colautti's thesis is that in Josephus' estimate the Passover was the most important Jewish feast. The author defends this apparently innocuous conclusion by observing that Josephus refers to Passover when he need not have, though he also notes that he omits reference to Passover when he might have (see summary on p. 238).

One might wonder that there was not greater reference to Passover in Josephus' works. Indeed, as it may be noted in the "General Index" in the last volume of the Loeb edition of Josephus' works, this ancient author does not refer to Passover often, and not once in either his Vita or his principal apologetic work, Against Apion.

One of the key issues in the study of Josephus' rewritten biblical text is that he had a variety of forms of the text to choose from. Colautti argues that Josephus displays links to various textual traditions (p. 19), though in exploring this surmise he reveals the uncertainty of the task, as any of us have found who have attempted to nail down Josephus' biblical sources. Josephus avoided direct quotations and changed freely whatever was before him.

This book is divided into three sections. Part One investigates allusions to Passover in Scripture and Josephus' rewritten account of the biblical passages. These include stylized summaries of Exodus 11-13 in less than three pages of the small Loeb edition, the summary of laws on the Passover in Leviticus 23:5-14 and Numbers 28:16-25, and the sparse allusions to the Passover in Joshua, II Kings 22, and II Chronicles 29-30. The author also refers to other festivals involving purification rites in related passages of the historical books, with observations on Josephus' use of the apocryphal I Esdras. He [End Page 171] observes the variation found in Josephus' description of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover, sometimes linking them, and sometimes treating them as separate events.

Part Two looks at Josephus' account of Passover celebrations in the Second Temple period. He observes that the beginning and the end of the war with Rome took place around Passover. "The impression conveyed is that FJ adopts and develops the idea of Passover as the antithesis of the events of war" (p. 128). By this the author seems to muse on the fact that the first Passover in the history of the Jewish people led to freedom, while the Passovers during the war with Rome led to the destruction of the Second Temple and eventual banishment from Israel.

Part Three studies Josephus' allusions to Passover in comparison with (1) remarks about Passover in other Second Temple Jewish literature, (2) the historical context of latent revolution in Judea prior to the actual revolt in 66 CE, and (3) the context of Second Temple Judaism generally.

Colautti proposes that Josephus saw Passover as the central event in various milestones in Jewish history, particularly at the end. He attributes the omissions of halakhic considerations of the Passover celebration to Josephus' intention to include such matters in his work on "Customs and Causes," which either he never wrote, or it has been lost (of which Thackeray remarks that it had taken shape in Josephus' mind and may have been begun).

This is a very thorough study of Josephus' treatment of the Passover. The author diligently compares biblical sources he proposes are before Josephus with the text of Josephus, including parallel quotations. It is a difficult task to describe what Josephus had in mind in his often free-wheeling narrative. Colautti may be applauded for not attempting to assert dogmatically Josephus' intentions, though the tentative conclusions he draws are often so polite as to be unclear. The translation is essentially into good English prose, though from time to time I found typographical errors that a spell-check...


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