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JOSIPPON, historical narrative in Hebrew, of anonymous authorship, describing the period of the Second Temple, written in southern Italy in the tenth century. The author starts his narrative by listing the different nations and their places of settlement, based on the catalog of the descendants of Japheth mentioned in Genesis 10, and relating these to peoples of his own times. The author proceeds to recount the history of ancient Italy and the founding of Rome; he then passes to the period of the Second Temple. The book – like Josephus' The Jewish War – ends with the fall of Masada. A large part of the work is devoted to the wars of the Jews against the Romans.

The author states that the Hungarians, the Bulgarians, and the Pechenegs dwelt "on the great river called the Danube, i.e., Donau," and this was a geographical situation existing after 900 C.E. The author also observes that the "Ishmaelites" (i.e., Arabs) lived in Tarsus, which is in Asia Minor. Since this town was conquered by Byzantium in 965 C.E., it is clear that the book was written between these two dates. In one of the manuscripts of Josippon the precise date of the book is given: "and we wrote from the book, from the book of Joseph ben Gorion ha-Kohen in the year 885 from the Destruction." Since it was customary then to reckon the Destruction of the Temple from the year 68 C.E., it follows that the book was composed in 953 C.E. All signs point to the fact that the Hebrew book was written in southern Italy which, at the time, was one of the important Jewish centers. The author's place of birth was part of the Byzantine Empire, where the official language was Greek. The author, however, could not read Greek, only Latin. The main source of Josippon was a Latin manuscript which included 16 of the 20 books of Josephus' Jewish Antiquities and the Latin adaptation of The Jewish War. The latter was written in the second half of the fourth century C.E. and called Hegesippus. The author of Josippon also knew random facts from The Jewish War itself with which he was acquainted only incidentally; he knew also about the Contra Apionem of Josephus. The author calls Josephus "Joseph ben Gorion," although Josephus' father was called Mattathias. He was misled by the inaccurate language of the Hegesippus, and he identified Josephus with Joseph b. Gorion who had also been a general in the war against the Romans. The author's second important source was the Latin version of the *Apocrypha; thus he learned about the Hasmonean period from the two books of Maccabees. The remainder of his secular sources were various medieval chronicles; from these he mainly gained information concerning the gentile kingdoms. He had, of course, a certain knowledge of talmudic literature, but his main sources were Latin. Considering the period in which he lived, the author was a gifted historian, aware of his responsibilities and endowed with excellent historical insight. Fables drawn from obscure sources are only rarely found in his book, mainly in the chapters dealing with the ancient history of Italy. The author also had great literary gifts. His narrative is filled with national pride and is written in an excellent biblical Hebrew style. In the Middle Ages, the book was already called Sefer Josippon; this is the Jewish-Greek form for Josephus. In the original version found preserved in manuscripts the author speaks in the first person and defines the purpose of his writing thus: "I have collected stories from the book of Joseph b. Gorion and from the books of other authors who wrote down the deeds of our ancestors, and I compiled them in one scroll." Since the name of the author was not known, the book was ascribed, by the time of Rashi, to Josephus himself. This mistaken ascription later became explicit in an expanded and revised version of the book written not later than 1160, and edited in the 14th century by Judah Leon *Moskoni. This edition served as a basis for the Constantinople edition of 1510 which was the source for all subsequent editions. This version, too, was composed in Italy. Its author restyled the book, ascribed it to Joseph b. Gorion, and added fictitious elements, although he himself was lacking neither in Jewish nor in secular knowledge. The most famous among the passages to be found in the expanded version is a fictitious description of the crowning of Vespasian in Rome. This was written under the influence of the crowning of emperors in Rome during the Middle Ages. Today the book is known to the reader in this rewritten and popular version. Another early edition of Josippon is that of Mantua (c. 1480), based on a carelessly restyled, and at times even abbreviated, manuscript of the original version. In this edition, all reference to Joseph b. Gorion as author has been omitted. The original form and the true character of the book of Josippon can, therefore, be known only from manuscripts. Among the better known manuscripts, three are based on a manuscript that R. *Gershom b. Judah copied "in his own hand." In one of these appears the date of composition. R. Gershom probably copied Josippon to use as a textbook on the history of the Jews during the time of the Second Temple.

During the Middle Ages, Josippon served as a source of information about the period of the later books of the Bible (such as the books of Esther and Daniel) and about the whole period of the Second Temple. This is the reason that Bible and Talmud commentators frequently quoted it during the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the modern period. The book of Josippon attained great importance during the Middle Ages. For instance, a passage on Alexander the Great translated from it appeared in the early Russian chronicle of Nestor, without mentioning the source. The book is referred to by name, however, by the Arab scholar Ibn Ḥazm (d. 1063). The importance attached to the book stemmed from its ascription to Josephus, who had been a contemporary of events described in it.

An Arabic translation of Josippon by a Yemenite Jew was probably in existence already in the 11th century. From Arabic it was translated into Ethiopian (c. 1300). Translations into European languages, such as Latin, English, Czech, Polish, and Russian, were generally made from printed editions. The author of the book of Josippon, following his sources, mentions John the Baptist, but he refers neither to Jesus nor to the beginnings of Christianity. Brief mention of Jesus is made in the manuscript of the expanded version of Josippon, and a polemical story about Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity was inserted in a number of manuscripts. Josippon's relationship (or lack of relationship) with Christianity interested both Muslims and Christians. From the age of humanism, leading Christian humanists discussed the question of whether the book of Josippon had really been composed by Josephus. The book was also known to the Karaites and, in a Samaritan chronicle written in Arabic, Josippon's account of Alexander the Great's visit to Jerusalem is included; the place of the visit was changed to Mt. Gerizim. A short Hebrew narrative translated from the Greek was inserted into some versions of Josippon. The narrative is an abridgment of a legend about Alexander the Great, ascribed to Calisthenes, and an anonymous Greek-Byzantine chronicle on the period from Alexander to Tiberius. This important narrative has been preserved independently in one manuscript.

Two works on Josippon by Professor David Flusser were published almost simultaneously in 1978. The first is an edition based upon the original manuscript with a photostatic reproduction of selected extracts from Josippon, with an introduction (Mercaz Zalman Shazar). The second was the first volume of a critical edition, based upon all existing manuscripts and giving the text with an introduction; the second volume of the critical edition appeared in 1980, completing the work.


Josiphon, ed. by H. Hominer (1967), introd. by A.J. Wertheimer; Baer, in: Sefer Dinaburg (1949), 178–205; Flusser, in: Zion, 18 (1953), 109–26; Baron, Social, 6 (19582), 189–96, 417–21; Toaff, in: Annuario di studie ebraici, 3 (1964), 41–46; idem, Cronaca Ebraica del Sepher Yosephon (1969); Zeitlin, in: JQR, 53 (1963), 277–97; Roth, Dark Ages, 2 (1966), 277–81; A.A. Neuman, Landmarks and Goals (1953), 1–57.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.