P.S. has a work of Jewish history that is splendid, rare and worth around $3000 on the old book market: “Werken Flavius Josephus,” published in Amsterdam in 1722. The book is a translation of the writings of the learned Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, a first century scholar who was “there” and documented the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Imperial Roman Army. Josephus’ account of Jewish History in the First Century has proven to be accurate, making his words invaluable. It is thought that his writings were undertaken around 94 C.E.
The book contains Josephus’ stories of Jewish History, the story of Josephus’ own life, his eyewitness account of the destruction of Jerusalem and tales of the martyrdom of the Maccabees, not to mention a volume arguing against Apion, a fellow philosopher who argued that the Jewish faith was too ancient, and because of this, not as relevant as more “modern” beliefs, such as those practiced in Rome. Josephus argued for the strength of his ancient faith, and translations of this work are thought to have been instrumental in the history of Judaism.
Thus, in old books such as this we have tremendous first-source historical material, not to mention a gorgeous presentation, because a book in 1722 was a thing of beauty. Josephus’ writings, as recounted in this book, were translated in other languages from the late 17th century till the mid-18th century, and this volume, which was originally one of a set of three, was published by Joannes Oosterwyk in Amsterdam. Imagine sitting by the fire in Holland in 1722 and reading such a work.
For its age, the book is in remarkable shape. Its calf skin is still fine, with 13 copper plate engravings and 11 fold-out larger engravings; the frontispiece shows us the head of Josephus, and the book is large, a Folio size, including a map.
How Josephus came to be eyewitness to one of the most decisive battles in Jewish history was both an accident and providence: he traveled from Jerusalem to Rome as a diplomat and made a favorable impression upon the Imperial Government, and as he returned to Jerusalem, he found many men in the city planning a revolt against Roman rule. Jerusalem had been the center of Jewish resistance in the Roman province of Judea.
Josephus, as a diplomat, attempted to argue against war, but many men pressed him to join the rebels and he agreed to become a General if he could remain undercover. He was engaged in the planning of the defense of Galilee when he was betrayed to Titus, the Roman General who later became Caesar. Thus, he was held as a prisoner, and as a captive he was present at the Siege of Jerusalem (70 C.E.). He saw it all.
The siege was a five-month bloodbath; the decisive event of the first Jewish-Roman War; Jerusalem was besieged constantly, during which time the second Jewish Temple and much of the city was completely burned down. Josephus wrote that the city was ravaged by fire, murder, famine and cannibalism; he wrote that a million people were killed or enslaved.
The destruction of Jerusalem as well as the main and highly fortified Temple, forced Jews remaining alive to reconfigure their way of life — and worship. Roman rule was restored, and all remaining citizens became either gladiators, Roman prisoners or slaves.
Since versions of Josephus’ book were published in the 17-18th century, modern archaeological evidence shows the truth of Josephus’ account. Josephus wrote these lines (I paraphrase): “Since the Roman Army could find no more to be slain, Titus Caesar called for the destruction of the city as well as the temple, but ordered that his army leave the highest towers of Jerusalem and part of the strongest city wall as a testament to the strength of the Roman Army, who overcame such resistance. The rest of the city, the buildings, the gardens, the trees were burnt or leveled. This was the end to which Jerusalem came by the madness, a city of otherwise great magnificence, and mighty fame, was now a melancholy view and Judea now a desert.”
And indeed 1980s digs found huge stones buried since the destruction of the Temple Mount Wall, and even the Upper City’s lowliest residences were charred and found under 40 inches of ash and seven feet or more of rubble.
P.S. has a treasure, and it is a testimony to our ancestors that such a volume would have been a coveted read!
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.