De Antiquitatibus ac de bello Judaico.

Venice, per Albertinum Vercellensem expensis Domini Octaviani Scoti, [23 Oct] 1499.


Folio. ff. (xiv) 260 (iii). Roman letter. Decorated initials. Light age yellowing, occasional slight marginal foxing and very minor water stains, two little worm holes to last few gatherings, one affecting a few letters, the odd thumb mark. Excellent, crisp, well-margined copy, fresh and clean, in contemporary probably Venetian morocco, a bit scratched, minor surface loss in places. Blind-tooled to quadruple-rule panel design, second border with intricate interlacing pointillé, fourth with blind-stamped foliage, central panel with cloverleaf blind roll, contemporary title stamp to upper cover. Spine in four compartments, cross-hatched in blind, thick raised bands, slightly holed at foot, small crack to head. The odd early annotation, contemporary ex-libris ‘Hier[oni]mi di colonio Bgom[?]is R[oni] car[lus] de as[all?]e F[?][ris]’ to fep, ms Italian title in blank of t-p.

The elegant binding can probably be traced to Venice. The pointillé lace stamp shares a remarkable similarity to that used on BL, c128g12.

Excellent, well-margined, crisp copy of the third edition of these two crucial works in the history of the Jews, of historiography and religion, based on the texts published in Venice in 1486 with the valuable addition of a table of contents by Francesco Macerata. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD) was born in Jerusalem, then under Roman rule, from a Jewish priest. While fighting in the First Jewish-Roman War (66-70AD) as military governor of Galilee, he was captured by the Romans; in prison, he claimed he had had a divine revelation and predicted that Vespasian would become emperor. When the prophecy was fulfilled, Josephus was liberated and invited to Rome, where he became a citizen and client of the Flavian family. ‘De Antiquitatibus’ (93 AD) is a history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world to the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War. Originally written in Greek, it includes material from the Hebrew Bible and precious information based on the author’s personal knowledge of ancient Palestine and its religious cults, as well as references to Christ (a ‘wise man’, a ‘teacher’, who made wondrous deeds), Herod and the martyrdom of St John the Baptist. First written in Aramaic or Hebrew, ‘De bello Judaico’ (75 AD) is a gory account of the First Jewish-Roman War to Vespasian’s building of the Temple of Peace made of the spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem. The enormous success of these works in late antiquity and the medieval period was partly because they allowed their Christian readers to interpret the fall of Jerusalem as the prophesised punishment for killing Christ, to see Christian history in a providential manner, and to understand it in relation not only to Jewish but to world history, beginning with the Creation, Flood, repeopling of the earth by Noah’s sons, and the birth of the Jewish and gentile nations. Josephus used as temporal references key events in both Roman and Jewish history; the resulting chronological parallelisms and correspondences provided a ‘syncronization’ of events from different cultures at a time in which there was yet no coherent systematisation of world history. This material was incorporated into early Christian texts, like Eusebius’s ground-breaking ‘Chronicon’, which influenced Western European historiography to the C18.

ISTC ij00487000; GW M15168; Goff J487. K.M. Kletter, ‘The Christian Reception of Josephus in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages’, in A Companion to Josephus, ed. H. Howell Chapman and Z. Rodgers, New York, 2016, pp. 368-81.


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