Josephus: the Main Manuscripts of the Minor Works: 
The "Vita" and the "Contra Apion"

Full list of all manuscripts

From the introduction of the Loeb volume, by H. St. J. THACKERAY (1926):


The two minor works are, at least in their present form, the latest of our author's writings.

These two works were issued in old age, when the author was upwards of 63, early in the second century under the Emperor Trajan. The Life is brought down to the second century by the allusion (§ 359 f.) to the appearance of a rival history of the War after the death of Agrippa II, which, we are told, occurred in A.D. 100. The Contra Apionem is in any case later than 94, the date of the Antiquities, to which reference is made (i. 1, 54 ; ii. 287). But this work also contains an allusion (i. 46 ff.) to rival historians of the War, and, although no names are here mentioned, the person principally attacked is doubtless the same Justus who is named in the Life. The Contra Apionem may therefore likewise be assigned to the beginning of the second century.

The two treatises form a strange contrast ; we see our author at his worst and at his best. Both are controversial, one being an apologia pro vita, the other pro genie sua. But in style, arrangement, and treatment they are so different that one would hardly suppose them to be contemporary productions from the same pen.

Vita.--The Life is an appendix to the Antiquities, and to a second or later edition of the Antiquities. It did not appear in the first edition. This is the natural inference from the concluding paragraphs of Ant. xx. The larger work has two endings. In the first the author writes (§ 259) : " Here I will end my Archaeology," and then, after some recapitulation and self-advertisement, he proceeds (266) : " But perhaps it will not be taken amiss if I append a brief statement about my family and career while persons still survive either to refute or to corroborate what I say." Then comes the second conclusion, beginning (267): " But here I will close the Archaeology ; " and the precise date of writing follows, " the 13th year of Domitian and the 56th year of his own age," that is, A.D. 93-94. The Life, however, mentioned in the previous section, as already stated, did not appear until after 100. Clearly we have here two perorations ; but the author has reversed the order usual in prefaces to separate editions of modern works. The original ending has been allowed to stand, but he has prefixed to it the conclusion of his second edition, leading up to his new matter, the Autobiography.

The event which occasioned this appendix was the publication of a rival history of the Jewish War by a compatriot, Justus of Tiberias, who accused Josephus of causing his native city (Tiberias) to revolt from Rome (§ 336 ff.). The damaging criticisms of Justus were calculated to endanger, not only the sale of Josephus's works, but even his secure position at Rome. They called for an immediate rejoinder. The Life, then, by no means answers to its name ; it is not a complete biography. The bulk of it is the author's defence of his conduct during the half-year of his command in Galilee before the siege of Jotapata. To this, brief sketches of his youth in Palestine and his later years in Rome have been added as prologue and epilogue. The work, in which the author indulges his vanity to the full, is, alike in matter and in manner, the least satisfactory of his writings. The weakness of his boasted strategy is on a par with the crudity of the style.

A theory has recently been propounded which would go far to explain the latter defect. Herr Laqueur maintains that the kernel of the Vita is not among the latest, but the very earliest work of our author, written at the age, not of 65, but of 30. In his opinion, it is an official report of his conduct of affairs in Galilee, drafted, before the siege of Jotapata, for submission to the Jerusalem authorities. It is his defence against the charge brought against him by John of Gischala and others of aiming at a tyranny. This theory is based partly on the disproportionate space devoted to the Galilaean period, partly on a comparison of the parallel accounts in the Life and in the War in the few passages where they overlap. Laqueur attempts to prove that the Life presents the older and more trustworthy account. This unliterary report, of which no use was made at the time, was in after life utilized to meet the attack of Justus, and, with a little revision, worked up into an autobiography. It is an attractive theory. That Josephus should have kept some contemporary record of his period of office appears not improbable. If Laqueur were right, we should have an interesting relic of our author's style of composition before he came under the influence of his literary friends in Rome. If, as appears probable, the whole work is really late, the lack of literary finish must be due to hasty production, unaided by his former assistants (cf. Ap. i. 50). The theory seems, in fact, to break down owing to the numerous links of style which connect the Life as a whole with the last book of the Antiquities, suggesting contemporaneous or nearly contemporaneous composition. Laqueur's thesis, in that case, is only tenable on the supposition that the youthful " report " was written in Aramaic.

[The style of this work is described in the preface to vol. 2 of the Loeb as probably the native words of the author.]

Contra Apionem.--As a set-off to the Life, the treatise Contra Apionem, in two books, is the most attractive of our author's works ; exhibiting a well designed plan, great literary skill, an intimate acquaintance with Greek philosophy and poetry, together with a sincere and impassioned zeal for his country's religion. The title (not the author's) is not very happily chosen; Apion being merely one representative of Israel's enemies. Older titles were "On the antiquity of the Jews" (not sufficiently distinctive) and "Against the Greeks." Designed as a reply to criticisms on the Antiquities and a refutation of current prejudices, the work contains an apology for Judaism with a demonstration of the antiquity of the race. It gives an interesting insight into the anti-Semitism of the first century. The writer challenges the extreme antiquity claimed by the Greeks ; accounts for their silence on Jewish history ; marshals an array of evidence (Egyptian, Phoenician, Babylonian, and Greek) for the antiquity of his own nation ; successfully rebuts the malignant and absurd fictions of the anti-Semites ; and concludes with a glowing defence of the lawgiver and his code, his lofty conception of God being contrasted with the immoral ideas current among the Greeks. Numerous quotations from lost writings give this work a special value.

[The style of this work is described in the preface to vol. 2 of the Loeb as being just as polished as the Jewish War, and doubtless means that assistance has again been obtained]


(a) For the Life :--



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /

P Vatican Codex Palatinus (Vaticanus) Graecus 14. 9th or 10th cent.
R Paris, BNF Codex Regius (Parisinus) Gr. 1423 14th cent.
A Milan, Ambrosian library Codex Ambrosianus (Mediolanensis) F. 128 11th century
M Florence Codex Mediceo-Laurentianus, plut. lxix., cod.10, cent. xv. 15th century
W Vatican Codex Vaticanus Gr. 984 A.D. 1354. 
Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. iii. 10) quotes §§ 361-364; we have also occasional excerpts made in the Byzantine era.
Yale, USA: Beinecke Library Beinecke MS 275. Paper. Paper surface rough and uneven; paper from Near East.  [MS not listed in Loeb, but in Shailor, p.11] late 12/ early 13.

The MSS. may be roughly divided into two groups P(R) and (A)MW, in which R and A are inconstant members. A as a rule sides with MW ; R frequently joins that group or stands alone. Of the two modern editors, Niese bases his text mainly on the oldest MS., P ; Naber puts greater faith in the readings of the group AMW.

All textual critics of Josephus must gratefully acknowledge their indebtedness to Niese and their dependence upon the evidence collected in his edition. Yet one may respectfully question whether he has established a definitive text. As Naber has remarked, he seems to have somewhat overrated the value of a single ill-written MS., and the true text or the nearest approximation to it is sometimes relegated to his apparatus criticus. The difficulties which confront the editor of Josephus arise from a comparative paucity of ancient MSS., the inconstancy of some MSS., which renders grouping uncertain, and the fact that corruption has often affected the text of all. Each variant has to be considered on its merits : and there is considerable scope for conjectural emendation, on which many eminent scholars have exercised their ingenuity. If Niese over-estimated the value of P, Naber seems to have relied too exclusively on AMW. Speaking generally, the present writer ventures to think that the true text in this book is as a rule to be looked for in P, R, or A; the combination PRA is rarely in error. MW in numerous passages present a manifestly inferior and "doctored" text; yet elsewhere, especially if supported by P, their evidence cannot be neglected. The text printed below, while based on the labours of Niese and Naber, is the outcome of a careful and independent investigation of the MS. evidence in all cases.

(b) For the Contra Apionem :--

Here we are dependent on a solitary imperfect MS. viz.



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /

L Florence Codex Laurentianus plut. lxix. 22. 11th century

of which all other extant MSS. appear to be copies. For the long lacuna common to all the MSS. (Book II §§ 52-113) we are compelled to have recourse to the old Latin version made by order of Cassiodorus, the minister of Theodoric (ed. C. Boysen in the Vienna Corpus Scriptorum Eccles. Lat. vol. xxxvii., 1898). Here the restoration of the underlying Greek, which the Latin translator has not always understood, is a difficult task. Numerous valuable quotations are made by Eusebius. The text seems to have passed through various stages of corruption, which began even before his time, and glosses have occasionally crept into the text of cod. L. In Niese's judgement the relative value of our authorities is (1) Eusebius, (2) the Latin version, (3) cod. L. The editio princeps of the Greek text (Basel, 1544) is of first-rate importance and seems to be derived in part from some MS. unknown to Niese.

Details of a MS of the old Latin,"" Bryn Mawr Gordan 67, s. XV. were online.


B. Niese. Editio major (with full apparatus criticus), 6 vols. Berlin, 1887-1889. 
B. Niese. Editio minor (text only), 6 vols., Berlin, 1888-1895. 
S. A. Naber (text, based on Bekker's edition, with useful concise adnotatio critica), 6 vols., Teubner series, Leipzig, 1888-1896.

Table of Contents / Chapter Divisions / Titles

TBA.  I didn't see any in the Loeb text, however.


H. St. J. THACKERAY, Josephus. With an English translation.  In Eight Volumes.  Vol. 1: The Life / Against Apion.  Harvard University Press (1926). Checked.

Barbara SHAILOR, The Medieval Book, Toronto: University of Toronto Press (1991).  ISBN 0-8020-5910-4 (cloth).  Series: Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 28. Originally published as: The Medieval Book: Catalog of an exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University (1988).  Checked.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

Written 8th June 2002.
Beinecke 275 added, 16th August 2002.

This page has been online since 8th June 2002

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