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It has been claimed that there are no surviving originals of any of Josephus' works. I have not found any help through Google, and so I wonder if anyone can give me any information about this, along with references.

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This question came from our site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts.

  • I'm afraid the question seems unrelated to biblical hermeneutics. Nevertheless, tertullian.org/rpearse/manuscripts/josephus_antiquities.htm – Der Übermensch Oct 30 '14 at 23:50
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    The short answer is "no". The link you've already seen has reliable information. You might have also already seen the Thackeray's brief introduction to the mss in the first volume of the Loeb Josephus volumes, but include the link, just in case this isn't familiar. – Dɑvïd Oct 31 '14 at 22:08
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    On reflection, good migration. Fundamentally a question about source provenance of a historical source. – Samuel Russell Nov 5 '14 at 20:47
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    I don't think there are any extant original first-century manuscripts of anyone's work. – kimchi lover Jul 12 '17 at 15:56
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    It was a big deal when missing parts of Mark Twain's Huck Finn manuscript were found in the 1990's, and that work was only 100 years old at the time! Expecting the "original manuscript" might still exist for a work thousands of years old is hopelessly optimistic. – T.E.D. Feb 6 '18 at 21:55
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I found this article. No surviving original manuscripts. The oldest words of Josephus come from quotations incorporated into others writings from the the 4th century(Eusiphus). For complete manuscripts we have a latin translations from the fifth century.

From Josephis.org

What are the oldest manuscripts we have of Josephus' works?

The oldest manuscripts of the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek date to the tenth and eleventh centuries. Portions of the works are also quoted in earlier manuscripts by other authors, particularly Eusebius (fourth century). There are also versions in other languages, notably a Latin translation made about the fifth century. These are all codexes, bound books, not scrolls.

As with all ancient texts, variations appear among the manuscripts due to inaccuracies in copying. The two manuscripts considered to have the best texts for the Jewish War are the Codex Parisinus Graecus and the Codex Ambrosianus, both dating from circa 900-1000 CE. The Jewish Antiquities, because of its length, was transmitted in two parts; the best texts for the first half (Antiquities Books 1 to 10) are Codex Regius Parisinus (fourteenth century) and Codex Oxoniensis (fifteenth century); the best texts for the second half (Antiquities Books 11 to 20) are Codex Palatinus (ninth or tenth century) and Codex Ambrosianus; the latter are also the preferred authorities for the Life . The only manuscript for Against Apion is Codex Laurentius, from the eleventh century, which has a large gap in Book II that must be filled by the old Latin version.

Numerous translations of these manuscripts have appeared over the years, and exploded in number after the invention of the printing press; the first printed edition dates from 1470. An important printed Greek edition, now called the Editio Princeps, was published by Johannes Froben in Basel in 1544, which seems to use a manuscript different from those known. Using the oldest manuscripts to try to determine the original text, Benedict Niese from 1887 to 1889 published a six volume Greek edition with full notes as to the variant readings; this is the text used for the English translations of both the Loeb Library edition and the new Brill Josephus Project, although the translators at times prefer alternate readings as the best ones against Niese's choices. The very popular Whiston translation, first published in 1737, is unfortunately not based on as fine a text, and so careful readers will find differences between the Whiston version and more modern translations.

References:

  • The Jewish War, Books I-II, Introduction to the Loeb Edition by H. St. J. Thackeray (Cambridge, MA, 1927).
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books I-IV, Introduction to the Loeb Edition by H. St. J. Thackeray (Cambridge, MA, 1930).
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books IX-XI, Prefatory Note to the Loeb Edition by Ralph Marcus (Cambridge, MA, 1937).
  • The Brill Josephus Project, Series Preface by Steve Mason (appearing in each volume) (Leiden, Brill, 1999).
  • Rezeptionsgeschichtliche und textkritishe Untersuchungen zu Flavius Josephus, Heinz Schreckenberg (Leiden, Brill, 1977).
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    This isn't all that unusual by the way. They didn't have printing presses back then, so every existing work save the very first one handwritten by the author himself would be a copy. Copies would have spread around by being transcribed off of other copies (or of course commented upon). The odds of being able to get hold of that original manuscript after thousands of years are miniscule. – T.E.D. Feb 6 '18 at 21:51
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http://christianthinktank.com/only1joe.html Here is an excellent source for the extant copies of Josephus' 'Antiquities.'

This was fairly easy to find from the Loeb Classics:

“I am assuming your discussion is about the mentions of Jesus (at 18 and at 20), so I will give the data for THIS half of JA (since it circulated in two halves in antiquity, due to size):

Here are the mss used for the old Loeb Classics volume—No.326 (there are more than that now, but these are still the main ones):

“in this volume, with Book XI, we reach the second half of Antiquities which, as Dr. Thackeray stated in the Introduction to Volume IV, was anciently bisected (or divided into pentads) in the mss. The authorities on which the text of Ant. xi.-xx. is based are as follows.

P Codex Palatinus bibl. Vat. nr. 14, cent, ix or x ; it contains Ant. xi.-xvii. and Vita.

F Codex Lanrentianus plut. 69, cod. 20, cent. xiv ; it contains Ant. i.-xv. (cited as L in the first half of Ant.).

L Codex Leidensis F 13, cent, xi or xii; it contains Ant. xi.-xv.

A Codex bibl. Ambrosianae F 128, cent, xi ; it contains Ant. xi.-xx. and Vita (with lacunae).

M Codex Medicaeus bibl. Laurentianae plut. 69, cod. 10, cent, xv ; it contains Ant. i.-xx. and Vita (the text of Ant. i.-x., dating from cent, xiv, was not used by Niese).

V Codex Vaticanus gr. nr. 147, cent, xiv ; it contains Ant. iii.-xv. (originally i.-xv. ; there are also lacunae in xiii.-xv.).

W Codex Vaticanus gr. nr. 984, dated 1354 a.d. ; it contains Ant. xi.-xx. (also B.J. and an epitome of Ant. i.-x.).

E Epitome (see Introduction to Volume IV).

Lat. Latin version (see Introduction to Volume IV).

Zon. Zonaras's Chronicle (see Introduction to Volume IV).

Exc. Excerpta Peiresciana et Ursiniana (see Introduction to Volume IV).”

So that’s at least 11 major manuscripts, with scores more of bits-and-pieces.

Here is another source to consider for the passages that refer to the historical Jesus Christ: https://carm.org/regarding-quotes-historian-josephus-about-jesus

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish priest at the time of the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66. He was captured by the Romans, imprisoned, set free, and then retired to Rome where he wrote a history of the Jewish Revolt called the Jewish War. Later he wrote Antiquities as a history of the Jews. It is in Antiquities that he mentions Christ. The mention is called the "Testimonium Flavianum" (Ant. 18.63-64; see below). Josephus was born in Jerusalem around A.D. 37. He died around the year 101.

The problem with the copies of Antiquities is that they appear to have been rewritten in favor of Jesus and some say too favorable to have been written by a Jew. Add to this that the Christians were the ones who kept and made the copies of the Josephus documents throughout history and you have a shadow of doubt cast upon the quotes.

However, all is not lost. First of all, there is no proof that such insertions into the text were ever made. They may be authentic. The "Testimonium" is found in every copy of Josephus in existence. Second, Josephus mentions many other biblically-relevant occurrences that are not in dispute (see outline below). This adds validity to the claim that Josephus knew about Jesus and wrote about Him since he also wrote about other New Testament things. Nevertheless, though there may be some Christian insertions into the text, we can still reconstruct what may have been the original writing.

Two researchers (Edwin Yamauchi and John P. Meier)1 have constructed a copy of the "Testimonium" with the probable insertions in brackets and underlined. The following paragraph is Yamauchi's:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man [if indeed one ought to call him a man.] For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [He was the Christ.] When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.  [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.] And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

Though this may be a correct assessment of the "Testimonium," we should note that an Arabic version (10th Century) of the "Testimonium" (translated into English) is in basic agreement with the existing Josephus account:

"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus.  And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous.  And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."2

The Arabic version was copied from a Greek version. What is not known is which one. But if you notice the comparison below, if the Arabic version was a direct translation of the Greek, then why the differences? Nevertheless, what is important in the Arabic Version is that the resurrection of Christ is maintained. Greek Version Arabic Version “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man [if indeed one ought to call him a man.] "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [He was the Christ.] And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.] And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."

To summarize, the "Testimonium Flavianum" cannot be so easily dismissed as pure Christian interpolation (insertion into the text). Though it seems probable that interpolation did occur, we cannot be sure what was added. Also, the Arabic version contains very similar information as the Greek one regarding Jesus in His resurrection.

Even if both versions have been tampered with, the core of them both mention Jesus as an historical figure who was able to perform many surprising feats, was crucified and that there were followers of Jesus who were still in existence at the time of its writing.

  1. Yamauchi, Edwin, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?” in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995, 212-14 and John P. Meier, “Jesus in Josephus: A Modest Proposal,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990): 76-103.

  2. Arabic summary, presumably of Antiquities 18.63. From Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of the Title," 10th c.). See also James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/JewishJesus/josephus.html).

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