“Lege Iosephum!” Reading Josephus in the Latin Middle Ages


The works of the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus were a central part of the cultural heritage of the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages, available in at least ten languages and with a profound role in diverse historical and religious traditions. Josephus' major works – the Jewish War (aka. Bellum Judaicum), Jewish Antiquities (aka. Antiquitates Judaicae), and Against Apion (aka. Contra Apionem) – were unique sources for biblical history, Second-Temple Judaism, and the topography of the Holy Land, and as such were foundational for Jewish and Christian apologetics. In Western Europe this Greek material was known to Christians almost exclusively through their late-antique Latin translations and the De excidio urbis Hierosolymitanae, a Christian adaption of the War (often referred to as the Pseudo-Hegesippus). In the 10th century the Hebrew-language Yosippon reworked this Latin material into a new form, opening it up to a Jewish readership, whence it went on to play a constitutive role in medieval Jewish historiography. 

This project will run from 2019 to 2023 at the University of Bern, where it is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). It brings together eight scholars from different disciplines to study these Latin and Hebrew texts, the relationships between them, and their role in medieval Jewish and Christian cultural history. We are divided into three sub-projects, which focus respectively on the more than 300 surviving Latin manuscripts of Josephus (see www.legejosephum.ch), the relationship between the Latin texts of Josephus and the Yosippon, and the use of Josephus in 12th-century scriptural exegesis and literature on the Crusades.