Page images
PDF
EPUB

FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

TO

EPAPHRODITUS

ON THE

ANTIQUITIES OF THE JEWS,

IN ANSWER TO

A PION.

BOOK I.

IT is presumed most excellent Epaphroditus, that I have already incontrovertibly proved the antiquity of the Jewish nation, which originated with themselves, and maintains a claim of priority to this very day. The Antiquities contain the history of five thousand years, are founded on the sacred writings, but translated by me into the Greek tongue. Since, however, this arduous, and I may add, unprejudiced, undertaking, has not been sufficient to exempt the author from illiberal censure, or his productions from fabulous imputation, (and that upon the mere presumption of the Greek historians having neglected to record the antiquity of the Jewish nation,) I am bound, in duty to myself, and my country, first, to refute the invidious assertions of opponents ; secondly, to inform the ignorant; and, thirdly, to state plain facts, in terms obvious to the understanding of those who desire to investigate truth.

The authorities I shall cite will be derived from men of undeniable reputation among the Greeks, and I shall set aside the asseverations of those who have malevolently or ignorantly traduced me or my nation, by recurring to their own writings. I shall also assign the causes for which many of the Greek historians bave passed over our nation without mention in their records, and then endeavour to obviate vulgar prejudices in general.

There are many people so superstitiously attached to the Greeks, that they consider them, abstractedly from all others, as the very oracles of history, to the contempt and disparagement of the rest of the rational creation. In point of antiquity, I am convinced the reverse will appear, if mankind will not be led by vain opinions, but search for facts upon the basis of substantial evidence. They will then find little or nothing amongst them that is not novel; I mean with respect to the building of their cities, the invention of their arts, and the description of their laws. The writing of history is of very late date among them ; whereas, by their own confession, the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Phænicians, (to say nothing of ourselves,) have, from time to time, recorded and transmitted to posterity, memorials of past ages in monumental pillars and inscriptions, with the advice and directions of the wisest men, to perpetuate transactions of moment. Besides, these people living in a clear air, the very climate contributed to the preservation of these antiquities from corruption and decay; which was quite otherwise with the Greeks, respecting duration, order, and appointment.

Their bare pretence to the knowledge of letters is of late date, and their skill in that particular is at this very hour defective.The antiquity of which they boast goes no farther back than to the Phænicians, and they value themselves upon the reputation of having bad Cadmus for their first master. But so far are they from being able to produce, either in their temples or public registries, any one authentic memorial of these times, that, when it came to be propounded as a question, whether the use of letters was so much as known at the time of the Trojan war, it was carried in the negative. It is universally acknowledged that there is no Greek manuscript in date antecedent to the poems of Homer; and it is certain that the Trojan war was over before that poem (the Iliad) was written. Nor has it been admitted that Homer ever committed this production to writing. The prevailing opinion runs, that it passed like a kind of ballad, which the people committed to memory, till, in the end, copies were taken from oral dictation, which is assigned as the cause of the many contradictions and mistakes found in the transcripts.

With respect to Cadmus, the Milesian, Acurilaus, and other Greek historians, they lived but a short time before the inroad of the Persians into Greece. Pherecydes, Pythagoras, and Thales, who first introduced philosophy, and the investigation of subjects divine and celestial, unanimously acknowledge that they derived their information from the Egyptians and Chaldeans. Nay, it remains a doubt to this day, whether these men were the authors of the works attributed to them. From these pre:nises it appears extremely absurd for the Greeks to claim to themselves not ouly the sole knowledge of antiquity, but a preference in point of historical accuracy, candour, and credit. Nay, is it not evident, from their own writings, that their histories are the result of fancy and conjecture, rather than records of substantial facts ? as their authors clash one with another, and report one and the same thing in a manner totally different. It would be tedious to point out the disagreement betweeu Hellanicus and Acusilaus respecting their genealogies; the difference between Hesiod and Acusilaus; the proofs repeatedly brought by Ephorus to demonstrate the representations of Hellanicus; thereof Timeus to the same purport against Ephorus ; those of succeeding writers against Timeus; and, in fine, those of all the latter authors against Herodotus. Nor could Timeus agree with Philistrus or Callias, about the Sicilian history. The historians of Athens and Argos differ as essentially. So that doubts must arise in the minds of the readers, when they discover such' palpable contradictions amongst writers. Nay, Thucydides himself is called in question upon several occasions, though the most cautious, candid, and impartial historian of his age.

Upon due consideration, many reasons might be assigned for the great differences which prevail anjongst Greek authors; but I apprehend the principal parts are these. First, the neglect of the Greeks in not laying a timely foundation for history, in records and memorials, to preserve the remembrance of great achievements : for, without these monumental traditions, posterity are apt

[ocr errors]

to err, having no clue to guide them into the path of truth. This mode of recording ancient traditions was not only neglected in other parts of Greece, but even in Athens itself, which has been deemed the very seat of the polite arts. Traco's penal laws, now extant in manuscript, are the most ancient of their public records, though bearing date but a short space before the tyrant Pisistratus. As to the Arcadians, who make such pretensions to antiquity, they came later to the use of letters than any of the rest.

Now there being no authorities extant, there must naturally arise great difference amongst the writers; because such vouchers might be introduced to confirm truth, and refute error, and thereby distinguish between the authentic and groundless historian. Another cause of contradictions is the motives which induce writers to take up the pen : too many will for the applause of their cotemporaries; and prefer the reputation of being esteemed florid in style, rather than candid in narrative. Some write to gratify fancy or humour, without any regard to truth and justice; others deal in panegyric, to court the patronage of the great; and there are some that lavish their time and talents in calumniating the writings and cbaracters of their predecessors, which are all contrary to the duty and office of a genuine historian.

The characteristic of true history is the concordance of several writers, as to subject, time, and place : but the Greeks seem to adduce their diversity as an argument of authenticity. If the matter in dispute betwixt them and us, were nice arrangements of words, and precision of periods, we would yield them the palm ; but we cannot but contend for superiority in point of fact and antiquity.

That the Egyptians and Babylonians of old were precise in the date of their annals, which was committed to the care of their priests, who were punctual in the discharge of that office; that the Chaldeans followed the example of the Babylonians, and that the Phænicians, who were intermixed with the Greeks, instructed them in the use of letters, is universally acknowledged. It therefore only remains for me to show, that our forefathers provided, at least, as well for the security of this order and regulation, if not better, than any that went before them, in charging the high-priest and prophets with this commission; and these records have been

« PreviousContinue »