The following is a blog post I just wrote on an excerpt of the writing of Josephus about Hades and the afterlife. Or, rather, I thought it was by Josephus. After writing this entire blog post, I wikipediad the work and discovered that it was most likely written in the second century (possibly by Hippolytus). Check it out:
In light of this wikipedia article, I find my blog post rather entertaining. I hope you will, too. Here it is:
So I was sitting on the couch with my cup o’ joe and the complete works of Josephus. I found the copy on my husband’s book shelf, apparently part of the spoils taken from an Oliff book sale. It’s a combination of the William Whiston translation published by William P. Nimmo in 1867, Edinburgh, Scotland and the Standard Edition published by Porter and Coates, Philadelphia, PA. It’s times like this when I wish 1) that I had the Greek instead of an English translation and 2) that I could read Greek fluently. The philosophical or religious persuasion of the translator can substantially influence how it is translated.
These misgivings about the validity of my translation aside, I happened upon an extraordinary piece of Josephan material entitled, An Extract Out of Josephus’ Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades. This piece is fascinating because I just finished the section on Josephus’ thoughts on the Jewish hope of resurrection in N.T. Wright’s, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Oddly, although this Extract appears to be a very clearly articulated explanation of the Pharisaic Jewish view of Hades, Hell, Heaven, Resurrection and Judgement, Wright makes no mention of this particular passage (which is why I am wondering if I have something mixed up with my edition or translation or something else. How could such an explicit piece of Josephan material be excluded from Wright’s discussion unless he just wanted to keep the section concise and focused on Josephus’ larger works such as Antiquities, his Wars of the Jews and Against Apion? I must be missing something…).
For those of you who aren’t historic Judaism junkies…Josephus was a first century Jewish historian (37 – c. 100 AD). His works are significant to the study of the Judaism and Christianity because he gives his interpretive account of Jewish history all the way from Adam (the first human according to the Hebrew book of Genesis) all the way to Josephus’ own day. He is a window (albeit a limited window) into the world of first century Hellenistic Judaism.
But on to Concerning Hades…
In the first section, Josephus here describes Hades as a subterraneous region where the souls of both the righteous and the unrighteous are detained for a time. The light of “this world” does not shine there; it is a place of perpetual darkness and angels are appointed as guardians over the souls to distribute temporary punishment according to each person’s behavior (i.e., whether they do justly or unjustly).
Josephus then describes a region set apart from Hades, a lake of unquenchable fire into which no one has yet been cast, however, this is prepared for a day of judgement determined by God when righteous sentence shall be passed upon all people. The unjust who have been disobedient to God and who have served idols will be sentenced to everlasting punishment (the lake of fire?), while the just will be given an incorruptible, never-fading kingdom. However, Josephus interjects, these (i.e., the just who will receive the kingdom) are presently confined in Hades, but in a different place from the unjust.
This place where the souls of the righteous dwell is called The Bosom of Abraham. There is only one descent into this region (Hades?), Josephus writes, and there is a gate guarded by an archangel with a host of angels. The just are guided by these angel-guardians to the right hand to a region of light, while the unjust are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment into “the neighborhood of hell itself” where the unjust are “struck with fearful expectation of future judgement and in effect are punished thereby.” Furthermore, the unjust are able to see the place of the just and of the fathers (this appears to be the Bosom of Abraham, since Josephus’ description of Abraham’s Bosom includes a reference to the “countenance of the fathers of the just, which they see, always smiles upon them while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed [the Bosom of Abraham].” The unjust see that there is a chaos or chasm fixed between these two places so that even if a just man has compassion upon the unjust, he cannot be admitted to the hellish place, nor can the unjust man pass over into Abraham’s Bosom.
(Note 1: this descriptions seems to display a similar view of the afterlife as the story told by Jesus of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus dies and is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man dies also and, from his place of torment in Hades, looks across the chasm at Lazarus resting in Abraham’s bosom. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water to cool his tongue, but Abraham reminds him that on earth, he had good things and Lazarus suffered – now everything has been flipped on its head and Lazarus is comforted while the rich man suffers. And besides, Abraham adds, there’s a great chasm fixed between them so Lazarus wouldn’t be able to cross over into Hades anyway. Note 2: echoes of Matthew 25?).
Now we come to the part in Josephus regarding resurrection (or, as Wright often puts it, “life after life-after-death”). Josephus finishes his thoughts on Hades and moves on to resurrection thus:
This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe [their resurrection:] but learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato and this in time, be not incredulous, but believe that God is able, when he hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God that he is able to do some things, and unable to do others.
Talk about a run-on sentence. In Wright’s discussion of Josephus, he cites other places where it appears Josephus could conceivable be talking about the “transmigration of souls” (War 3.374f, Ap. 2.217f, War 2.163), however, Wright opines that when these passages are viewed in the context of Josephus’ writings as a whole, it appears that he is talking about bodily resurrection (Wright 175-181). The belief in resurrection seems even more clearly articulated here. After this sentence in Concerning Hades, Josephus continues to describe how although the earth receives the remains of the body, it preserves them and they are like seed that will grow again at the mighty sound of God the Creator. Therefore, Josephus argues, we (the Jews?) have not rashly believed in the resurrection of the body; even though the body is dissolved for a time on account of the first sin, it still exists in the earth as in a potter’s furnace in order to be re-formed so that it will be raised in a state of purity, unlike the first body; indestructable. And it appears that the resurrection and the final judgment, the righteous will be raised in a state of glorious purity while the unrighteous will be raised in their old, sick, diseased bodies:
…and to every body shall its own soul be restored; and when it hath clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but, being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness; but as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, not freed from diseases or distempers, nor made glorious, but with the same diseases wherein they died; and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged.
Then comes the Judgement. Unlike the belief of “you Greeks,” Josephus writes, Minos and Rhadamanthus are not judges, but he whom God has glorified, the one called messiah, is judge.
(It’s at this point that I am wondering about the validity of my translation because the discourse here seems to have overtly Christian overtones and the translators even italicize and bold this portions in the English translation. It makes reference to “God the word,” “he whom God even the Father has glorified,” and even says in capital letters: “CONCERNING WHOM WE HAVE ELSEWHERE GIVEN A MORE PARTICULAR ACCOUNT, FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE WHO SEEK AFTER TRUTH.” Am I just over-interpreting Josephus with my christo-centric lenses or are the translators doing this? It seems quite clear from Josephus’ other writings that he did not consider Jesus to be the Christ. I suppose the capitalized part could simply be a reference to another part of Josephus’ work wherein he discusses the Jewish hope in a future messianic figure (not Jesus) and I’m just Christianizing it.)
My christo-centric bias aside, Josephus writes of how this judge will consign the unjust to everlasting punishment in the place of unquenchable fire where the worm does not die (note: smacks of Mark 9:48) and neither is the body destroyed; the body continues in grief. The just, however, will obtain the heavenly kingdom. From his description, however, it seems that this heavenly kingdom is on earth. The earth will not be difficult to pass over, nor will it be difficult to find the court of Paradise (note: this word “Paradise” is also used in Josephus’ history of the Jews as a reference to the garden of Eden). There will not be any fearful roaring of the sea, forbidding passengers to walk on it, but the just will be able to pass over it easily (note: the sea is an earthly phenomenon) and Heaven, it seems, will not be uninhabitable by men, but they will be able to discover a way to ascend to Heaven. The earth will bring forth fruit of its own accord. No new animals nor humans will be “shoot out anymore” (presumably a reference to Genesis creation when animals shoot up from the ground and humans are formed from the dust of the ground), for the earth will be inhabited by the everlasting righteous humans along with the righteous angels and spirits of God. Righteous men and women will never grow old, but continue in an incorruptible state, singing to God.
…[with these] the whole creation also will lift up a perpetual hymn from corruption to incorruption, as glorified by a splendid and pure spirit. It will not then be restrained by a bond of necessity, but with a lively freedom shall offer up a voluntary hymn, and shall praise him that made them, together with the angels, and the spirits, and men now freed from all bondage.
There’s a lot more to explore in this extract from Concerning Hades, but I’ve rambled on long enough. I would be interested in your thoughts, though. It’s a short passage (probably shorter than my exposition of it). Any thoughts?
I believe there are several lessons to be taken from this blog post. First of all, it is good to wiki a work before one attempts to exegete it, especially if it is an older translation. It may be, as in this case, that more evidence with regard to its source and validity has been uncovered since the material was first published (in our case, 1867). Secondly, if there are explicit references to Christian concepts and Christian Scripture in a document that purports to be written by a Jewish historian, it is very likely a later document. If something smells fishy, it probably is. If a work of Josephus is not accessible at Josephus.org, it was probably not authored by Josephus. And, lastly, if NT Wright does not cite a document in his writing, it is likely either a phony or not worth reading anyway.
I think the clincher is the author’s reference to 1 Corinthians 2:9, “what neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.” True, it’s taken from an OT quote (Isa. 64:4), but Paul’s rendering in 1 Cor. is a little different and this matches it precisely (at least, in the English). There’s no way that Josephus was quoting Paul.
Check out this piece from Hippolytus:
And now check out this piece attributed to Josephus: