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  • Life after Death in Early Judaism: The Evidence of Josephus
  • Randal A. Argall
Life after Death in Early Judaism: The Evidence of Josephus, by C. D. Elledge. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006. 224 pp. €44.00.

This book is a revision and expansion of portions of the author’s dissertation, written under Prof. James Charlesworth at Princeton Theological Seminary (2001). It contains five chapters; two appendices which provide, first, a comparison between Josephus and Hippolytus on life after death, and then, the Greek passages of Josephus on the afterlife discussed in this study; an extensive bibliography; and indices of ancient sources and modern authors. There are copious footnotes throughout the book. The impression one comes away with is that this book is well-researched. The author demonstrates a remarkable sensitivity to the nuances in the original sources and a striking ability to sort through a massive amount of secondary literature. The result is a fine work of scholarship that is presented in a clear, organized, and persuasive manner.

Prior critical studies have noted that Josephus has Hellenized the beliefs of the Pharisees and Essenes on the future life. Elledge examines these Josephan passages on the Jewish sects in the broader context of other references to the future life in the Against Apion, the Jewish War, and the Jewish Antiquities. This more extensive look at the relevant passages in Josephus enables Elledge to reach some significant conclusions about Josephus’ sources, methodology, and purpose.

Chapter one offers a brief overview of beliefs regarding the afterlife in Jewish literature contemporaneous with Josephus. The survey includes 1 Enoch, Daniel, Psalms of Solomon, 2 Maccabees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo of Alexandria, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, New Testament writings, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and Rabbinical writings. These texts offer a rich variety of conceptions on the afterlife available to Jewish faith, including differently nuanced views of belief in a reurrection. With respect to the resurrection, and in anticipation of his next chapter, Elledge finds it “surprising, however, given the numerous attestations of the belief in the literary evidence, that Josephus does not provide a single clear indication that Jews of the period believed in this idea” (p. 48).

Chapter two provides a survey of passages in Josephus on immortality. These include Josephus’ comment on the reward of Jews who keep the law (C. Ap. 2.218–19); his description of the Jewish sects, the Essenes (B.J. 2.152–58; [End Page 173] A.J. 18.18) and Pharisees (B.J. 2.163; A.J. 18.13–14); various speeches in the Jewish War, including the two teachers who urged their students to remove Herod’s golden eagle from the temple gate (1.648–50), Josephus’ own oration against suicide (3.361–82), Eleazar’s oration at Masada (7.320–88), and the speech of Titus, who exhorted his troops to take the Antonia (6.33– 53); Josephus’ comments on the significance of certain dreams, visions, and oracles (A.J. 6.328–30; 17.349–50, 354); and Abraham’s speech as he is about to offer Isaac (A.J. 1.229–31). Elledge concludes: “Not once is there a single identifiable reference to the resurrection of the dead, only to immortality. The specific beliefs that appear in his descriptions thus cannot be consistently correlated with evidence from contemporary Jewish literature” (p. 80).

Chapter three investigates the sources of Josephus’ statements on immortality. Elledge begins with the knotty problem of possible sources behind Josephus’ description of the Essenes and Pharisees. After sorting through the various scholarly proposals, he concludes that Josephus in the Jewish War and Hippolytus in the Refutatio used a common source that attributed belief in both the immortality of the soul and the resurrection to each of the two sects. Josephus apparently eliminated the idea of resurrection among the Essenes and suppressed it among the Pharisees, translating it into the Pythagorean notion of transmigration into a different body (the term “revivification” in A.J. 18.14 is also to be interpreted along these lines). Hippolytus, for his part, probably expanded the reference in the source (“resurrection of the flesh”). Furthermore, Josephus elaborated upon various Greek mythological...


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