Swan On Josephus And Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger
Since James Swan is paying me the compliment of critiquing my new book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger. I thought I should repay the compliment by responding to his criticism. Due to the time of year and the on-going book promotion, I have fallen behind. So this post will touch on a few areas where I believe James has gone astray.
On May 15, 2007, James posted an article titled “Gary Michuta, Josephus, And The Cessation of Prophecy” A careful reading of my book will clear up much of what James has to say about this section. However, I would like to address a couple of points.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote in a polemical work against the pagans that the Jews had twenty-two ancient sacred histories that covered time from Creation to Artaxerxes. Josephus added that were other histories written after this time that were not esteemed of like authority by his forefathers because they did not enjoy an “exact succession of prophets.” Some have read into these words a denial the existence of prophets after Artaxerxes. My book points out that the prophets of the later histories differ from the former only because of their lack of an exact succession. Josephus did not teach all prophesy ceased. James feels that my interpretation of Josephus’ words is clumsy and unreasonable. I believe it is self-evident and James hasn’t persuaded me otherwise.
A much bigger problem is found with James’ misinterpretation of my comments regarding Josephus’ general reliability. Swan writes:
“Michuta's conclusion has to arrive at Josephus can only be trusted with facts that support the Roman Catholic view of history. The statements from Josephus about a twenty-two-book canon do not sit well in popular Catholic apologetic argumentation, therefore, Josephus can't be trusted on certain statements in the immediate context of Against Apion 1.41.”
Swan restates this assertion in a diatribe at the beginning of a later article (6/8/07 - "Romans 3:2 ANd The Apocrypha (Part 1) -
"Michuta's book has informed us Josephus can't be trusted when he refers to a twenty-two book Jewish Bible."
Frankly, this statement has me scratching my head. Josephus' comment about the Jewish estimation of the later histories is followed by a string of demonstrably gross and counter factual exaggerations. Josephus wrote:
“And how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them.”
My point is this. Since we know that Josephus had grossly overstated the beliefs of the Jews of his day, should we fully and without qualification trust Josephus' representation of how the Jews regarded the later histories? Obviously, Josephus' assessment should be taken with a grain of salt.
What was puzzling to me was why James would take umbrage at these cautionary remarks. Upon further reading, I realized why - later in the same article, James argues that twenty-two books must have been substantially different than the other histories because Josephus said the Jews were willing to die for the twenty-two books. My cautionary remarks undermined James’ argument.
If James would like to vindicate Josephus’ trustworthiness as a witness to Jewish beliefs, he will have to explain the following:
[Josephus] “…[F]or during -so many ages- as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them” [Emphasis mine].
How can Josephus’ statement be squared to what is widely known and accepted regarding Jewish editing practices of this period particularly in light of the practices of Qumran, the development of Masoretic Text, and various Greek and Hebrew recensions composed during this period? How can it be that “no one” added, deleted or changed their texts?
[Josephus] “But it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines” [Emphasis mine]
How can a new born Jewish infant “immediately, and from their very birth” know that there are twenty-two books that contain divine doctrine?
[Josephus] “and, if occasion be willingly to die for them.”
Explain how “all Jews” would die for all twenty-two books in light of what is known of the Samaritans, Sadducees and the Essenes?
If James can reconcile these statements with modern scholarship (Protestant, Jewish or Catholic), I will withdrawal my comments regard Josephus’ propensity for bombast in polemics with pagans.