Steven B. BowmanNov 15, 2023
A Tenth-Century History of Ancient Israel
Wayne State University Press 2023
Today I talked to Steven B. Bowman about his book Sepher Yosippon: A Tenth-Century History of Ancient Israel (Wayne State UP, 2022).
Sepher Yosippon was written in Hebrew by a medieval historian noted by modern scholars for its eloquent style. This is the first known chronicle of Jewish history and legend from Adam to the destruction of the Second Temple, this is the first known text since the canonical histories written by Flavius Josephus in Greek and later translated by Christian scholars into Latin.
Sepher Yosippon has been cited and referred to by scholars, poets, and authors as the authentic source for ancient Israel for over a millennium, until overshadowed by the twentieth-century Hebrew translations of Josephus. It is based on Pseudo Hegesippus's fourth-century anti-Jewish summary of Josephus's Jewish War. However, the anonymous author [a.k.a. Joseph ben Gurion Hacohen] also consulted with the Latin versions of Josephus's works available to him. At the same time, he included a wealth of Second Temple literature as well as Roman and Christian sources. This book contains Steven Bowman's translation of the complete text of David Flusser's standard Hebrew edition of Sepher Yosippon, which includes the later medieval interpolations referring to Jesus. The present English edition also contains the translator's introduction as well as a preface by the fifteenth-century publisher of the book.
The anonymous author of this text remains unique for his approach to history, his use of sources, and his almost secular attitude, which challenges the modern picture of medieval Jews living in a religious age. In his influential novel, A Guest for the Night, the Nobel Laureate author Shmuel Yosef Agnon emphasized the importance of Sepher Yosippon as a valuable reading to understand human nature. Bowman's translation of Flusser's notes, as well as his own scholarship, offers a well-wrought story for scholars and students interested in Jewish legend and history in the medieval period, Jewish studies, medieval literature, and folklore studies.