FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS [with] HEGESIPPUS. Historien vnd Bücher, von alten Juedischen Geschichten zwentzig sambt eynem von seinem leben […] [with] Fuenff buecher: vom Juedischen krieg und endlicher zerstoerung der herrlichen und gewaltigen statt Jerusalem

Strasbourg, Npr. npl. nd. [Strasbourg], Theodosius Rihel, 1590


Folio, ff. (vi) 524 (xx); ff. (vi) 118 (v), missing final blank. Gothic letter. T-ps in red and black within historiated architectural woodcut borders, printer’s device on verso of last l. of first work. Woodcut floriated initials, 109 attractive roughly half page woodcuts illustrating text in first work, 20 in second. Intermittent light age browning, very light marginal spotting, marginal fingersoiling to a few ll., small ink spots to first t-p (fore edge frayed at foot) and last 3 ll. of second. A very good, clean copy in near contemporary vellum over boards, extremities a little rubbed or cracked, a.e.r. Ms. inscription and monogram dated 1738 to first t-p, C18 ms. bibliographical references below.

A splendidly illustrated compilation of two German translations by the historian, theologian and pastor Conrad Lauterbach (1534-1595), often combined. The first includes all the works of the important Romano-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (c. 37-100): ‘Antiquities of the Jews’, ‘The Jewish War’, ‘Against Apion’, ‘Destruction of the Jews’, ‘Maccabees’ and ‘Life of Josephus’. The second work is a IV century adaptation of Josephus’ ‘Jewish War’, including passages from his ‘Antiquities’ as well as from other Latin authors. Often mistaken for the lost history of the Greek Christian author Hegesippus, it is of uncertain authorship: modern scholars attribute it to Pseudo-Hegesippus (IV century) or to Ambrose of Milan. The first editions of these translations were both published in 1574.

The very numerous attractive woodcuts illustrating both texts were commissioned by Rihel from the Swiss painter and illustrator Tobias Stimmer (1539-1584). The eldest son of a calligraphy writer of Schaffhausen, Stimmer is famous for designing the paintings on the large astronomical clock in the Strasbourg Cathedral. He also realised a series of portraits of prominent individuals, including the Zurich doctor and naturalist Conrad Gessner. The cycle of woodcuts that he created for Josephus’ writings is influenced by the works of Italian artists he saw during a stay in Como, and it represents a fundamental step in his artistic career. It is worth noticing that the woodcuts themselves were executed by Stimmer’s brother Christoffel, Christoffel van Sichem and the monogrammist CM, as indicated by their signatures. There are 84 different designs in total, some of which are repeated. Interestingly, only a few of them specifically reflect Josephus’ text, while the majority appear to be based on the respective passages of the Bible. “The close connection between the illustrations of Josephus and the Bible may also perhaps be explained by recourse to the value found in the works of Flavius Josephus as an auxiliary medium for better understanding of the Bible. Thus, for instance, Conrad Lautenbach praises Josephus in the preface of his German translation […] for putting the stories of the Old Testament into good order, and for summarising and systematising its laws and its obscure passages.” (Huber-Rebenich).

Josephus Flavius with Stimmer’s woodcuts was a great editorial success: not only it was reprinted numerous times until 1630, but it also inspired a series of artworks by Rembrandt. For example, there is a connection between Rembrandt’s etching ‘Peter and John at the Temple Gate’ (1659) and Stimmer’s woodcut ‘The temple before its destruction’, which appears at p. 475 (verso) of the first work in this remarkable collection.

1) USTC 657549; VD16 ZV17562, Graesse III, p. 482; this ed. not in Adams, BM Ger. 16th Century, Brunet, Ornamentischkatalog Berlin. 2) USTC 642209; VD16 H1266, BM Ger. 16th Century (1578) p. 388; not in Graesse, Brunet, Ornamentischkatalog Berlin. Huber-Rebenich, G., Illustrations of Printed Editions of Josephus in the Sixteenth Century (International Journal of the Classical Tradition 23/3).