Thursday, December 23, 2010

Against Apion

In his book, Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus relates the history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world up to the time of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans. The main source for his history is the Old Testament, although he also borrows from the Apocrypha as well as some other sources now lost to us. Understandably, there were many critics who doubted the historicity of his narrative. Josephus responded to his critics in a book titled Against Apion. This is his answer to those who doubt the story of Noah's ark:

Berosus shall be witness to what I say: he was by birth a Chaldean, well known by the learned, on account of his publication of the Chaldean books of astronomy and philosophy among the Greeks. This Berosus, therefore, following the most ancient records of that nation, gives us a history of the deluge of waters that then happened, and of the destruction of mankind thereby, and agrees with Moses's narration thereof. He also gives us an account of that ark wherein Noah, the origin of our race, was preserved, when it was brought to the highest part of the Armenian mountains; after which he gives us a catalogue of the posterity of Noah, and adds the years of their chronology, and at length comes down to Nabolassar, who was king of Babylon, and of the Chaldeans. (Against Apion Book I, 19)

There you have it, critics! Berosus says it happened and he's well known by the learned, so it must have happened!

To prove that the Jews really are an ancient people, Josephus quotes from several writers who mention Jews in history, including the following story from Hecateus which demonstrates the triumph of skepticism over psuedo-science:

As I was myself going to the Red Sea, there followed us a man, whose name was Mosollam; he was one of the Jewish horsemen who conducted us; he was a person of great courage, of a strong body, and by all allowed to be the most skillful archer that was either among the Greeks or barbarians. Now this man, as people were in great numbers passing along the road, and a certain augur was observing an augury by a bird, and requiring them all to stand still, inquired what they staid for. Hereupon the augur showed him the bird from whence he took his augury, and told him that if the bird staid where he was, they ought all to stand still; but that if he got up, and flew onward, they must go forward; but that if he flew backward, they must retire again. Mosollam made no reply, but drew his bow, and shot at the bird, and hit him, and killed him; and as the augur and some others were very angry, and wished imprecations upon him, he answered them thus: Why are you so mad as to take this most unhappy bird into your hands? for how can this bird give us any true information concerning our march, who could not foresee how to save himself? for had he been able to foreknow what was future, he would not have come to this place, but would have been afraid lest Mosollam the Jew should shoot at him, and kill him. (Against Apion Book I, 22)

Josephus doesn't get around to the titular Apion until Book II. Here, we learn about Apion's claim that the Jews worship the golden head of an ass. Josephus wittily replies that Apion has an ass heart:

Apion ought to have had a regard to these facts, unless he had himself had either an ass's heart or a dog's impudence; of such a dog I mean as they worship; for he had no other external reason for the lies he tells of us. (Against Apion Book II, 7)

Take that Apion! You're the one who worships animals, not us! You think we worship an ass? Well... you're an ass!

And say you so, sir! as I may reply; then does Apion load the ass, that is, himself, and lays on him a burden of fooleries and lies. (Against Apion Book II, 10)

In response to Apion's criticism of the Jewish practice of animal sacrifice, Josephus questions Apion's ethnicity:

However, he accuses us for sacrificing animals, and for abstaining from swine's flesh, and laughs at us for the circumcision of our privy members. Now as for our slaughter of tame animals for sacrifices, it is common to us and to all other men; but this Apion, by making it a crime to sacrifice them, demonstrates himself to be an Egyptian; for had he been either a Grecian or a Macedonian, [as he pretends to be,] he had not shown any uneasiness at it. [...] Yet if all men had followed the manners of the Egyptians, the world had certainly been made desolate as to mankind, but had been filled full of the wildest sort of brute beasts, which, because they suppose them to be gods, they carefully nourish. (Against Apion Book II, 14)

If we didn't perform animal sacrifice, the world would be so overrun with wild tame animals that mankind would be in danger of extinction! As a final coup de grĂ¢ce, Josephus makes fun of the way Apion died:

Which makes me think that Apion is hereby justly punished for his casting such reproaches on the laws of his own country; for he was circumcised himself of necessity, on account of an ulcer in his privy member; and when he received no benefit by such circumcision, but his member became putrid, he died in great torment. (Against Apion Book II, 14)

Apion made fun of circumcision... and then he died from having one! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Wow. Josephus was a jerk.

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