Additions to Josephus Reader Mail


Replies are by G. J. Goldberg





Josephus on Audio

Archaeological Correction

The Veil of the Temple

A Rope on the High Priest?

Michal's Idol

Translating the Sodomites




Josephus on Audio


Do you know if Josephus is on a audio format, tape, CD. etc?




There are audio versions of Josephus available, although I have not listened to them myself. Audio Connoisseur published the unabridged "Jewish War" in 2003 in two 10-hour volumes. There are also some taped excerpts available: Recorded Books put out "The Destruction of Jerusalem" (4 1/2 hours) in 1992, and Barbour & Co. published "Thrones of Blood" (concerning Herod and the pre-war period) in 1998. These are available via the internet at, for example, There are some audio samples on that site and they sound fine.

Thanks for the question. I did not have this information on my web site and I will definitely add it.



Archaeological Correction: Galilee


I stumbled on your very neat website today. I appreciate the work input in it, and found it quite interesting. Your comment on the suggested use of BC and AD for Herod and Caesar is quite witty, I must say.


I'd like to call your attention to your map, which is quite outdated as far as the site of Gamla is concerned (Yes, I know that western scholarship is stuck with 'Gamala', but I prefer to use the authentic form 'Gamla'). Anyway, your map shows Gamla opposite the southern end of the sea of Galilee, which is where it was thought to be until 1976. The excavations by Shmarya Gutmann (and lately myself) at the site of es-Salam from 1976 to 2000 confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that Gamla was located opposite the northern end of the sea of Galilee. I recommend that you update your map.


I was also interested to see that you place Cana NOT at its traditional site of Kafar Cana, but at the alternative site of Khirbet Qana, where the excavator believes a parallel tradition existed, at least in the Medieval period. What made you choose this site over the other?


Best wishes,

Danny Syon
Israel Antiquities Authority




I admit I relied uncritically on older published maps, particularly those of the Loeb edition of Josephus. I have no excuse. I have updated the maps of Galilee to show the correct location of Gamla. Since Cana plays no important role in Josephus I have left it where it is, although readers should take note of the two proposed sites. (Readers can note that in December 2004 more finds at Kafar Cana have refueled the controversy.) Thank you for taking the time to correct me and for your kind words about my site.




The Veil of the Temple


Did Josephus describe the Temple veil has being unusually strong? There is a reference to this in The Ryrie Study Bible New American Standard Translation (Moody Press copyright 1976,1978 ISBN 0-8024-7471-3).  It is in the footnote for Exodus 26:31-35 and reads " . . .Josephus reported that the veil was 4 inches thick, was renewed every year, and that horses tied to each side could not pull it apart."  I have used this in a youth group lesson and communion meditation before, so I am interested where it came from.  Thanks.


Paul Baker




I can find no such description in Josephus. When praising the former splendor of the destroyed Jerusalem Temple, Josephus describes the veil as follows:


"The Temple had…golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea…. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, representing living creatures." (War 5.5.4 211-214. See also Ant 3.6.4 126, Ant 3.7.7 183 and Ant 8.3.3 and the story of Crassus and the wily priest Eleazar at Ant. 14.7.1)


The fineness of the linen and the embroidery is stressed, not thickness or strength. There are also other veils mentioned in similar terms, including the inner veil separating the Holy of Holies.


In the New Testament, the veil of the Temple spontaneously split during the crucifixion. Certainly if the veil were as thick as your source said, that would make this a more impressive miracle; so one suspects the idea of an especially strong veil, and its citation of Josephus as authority, is a pious invention.


At the time of the Jewish Revolt, the veils were saved from destruction when the priest Jesus son of Thebuthus was allowed by the Romans to remove them and other items as the Temple burned (War 6.8.3 387).


Other people have asked about this but did not supply the source of the attribution to Josephus. Thank you for the reference!




A Rope on the High Priest?


Can you help me and our class to find out if this is true…We have heard it said often that the High Priest had a rope around his leg to pull him from the Holy place if he should die. Can you tell me where this is located? We are unable to find it in the Bible.

E. Mccoy




This legend has sometimes been attributed to Josephus, but it is not found in his works. The story seems to have originated in the Middle Ages and is apparently found in medieval Jewish kabbalistic works. On  the Internet are citations to the medieval Jewish writings, Zohar Achrei Mot 67a and Zohar Emor 102a, which supposedly records this legend; but I haven't looked these up myself and can't vouch for it. This would only date back to the 12th century or so. See for example:




Michal's Idol


I came upon your writing while seeking out information of Flavius Josephus. I am hoping you might help me with something that is bothering me. It is a passage that comes from the Old Testament writings in 1 Samuel 19:13. In these passages, regardless of translation, they talk of Michal taking an "idol," "household god," "teraphim," etc. and putting it in the bed to make it look like David was still there. But in Josephus' version of the account he says the only thing she put in was a goat bladder (even describing how it would jiggle as if someone were really in the bed). Do you know of other Jewish texts that either support the idol or the goat bladder?

Know this probably sounds like a trite question, but it comes from a study I am attending on women of the Bible. If the idea of her putting an idol into the bed is used, it means that Michal may have not been as devout to God as she should have been and worshipped other gods. If it was indeed a goat bladder, then the passage would not throw doubt on her piety.

Thank you for any information you can give me.
Judy Kitson


Thank you for the interesting question. I don't think it's trite at all.

In this passage (Antiquities 6.11.4 217) Josephus hides from his Roman audience the reference to an idol. Most likely this is to maintain his message of the continuity and the piety of  Jewish religious tradition: Romans knew there weren't supposed to be any idols in Judaism (and the issue had caused protest riots in Jerusalem).

Some guidance on this passage is given by Thackeray and Marcus in the Loeb edition, who also cite Rabbinic sources. The goat liver (not a bladder) appears in the Greek translation of this passage in the Septuagint. We know from many such coincidences that Josephus used the Septuagint as the basis of his Antiquities. In the original Hebrew Michal places at the head of the bed, above the idol, a KBYR ETZ, whose meaning is disputed but seems to mean "a weaving of goat", i.e., a weave of goats' hair, used as a wig. The Septuagint and Josephus, however, read KBYR as KBD, "liver", and so Josephus writes in Greek HEPAR AIGOS, "goat liver". Thus Josephus has left out the idol completely and translated the wig into a liver. If this was not deliberate, it would mean Josephus was not as familiar with the Hebrew writings as he maintains, or that he had Greek assistants who wrote this section for him.

The very interesting question of why Michal and David have a household idol is not within my expertise to say, although it is one of the very many clues in the Bible that idol worship was a constant feature of Jewish life up until the destruction of the First Temple.



Translating the Sodomites


First of all, let me congratulate with you for the excellent Internet site on Flavius Josephus and Judaism you are running. Appreciating your expertise in this field, I turn to you with a question about a passage to be found in Antiquitates Judaicae, 1,194 (at the beginning of chapter XI). I have noticed that Whiston’s translation at this point, speaking of the Sodomites, has: "they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices." I see that Whiston's translation is also the one used in the site on Josephus that you are running.

However, comparing the English translation of the Antiquities of the Jews with the three Italian ones I have at hand (the one by Pietro Lauro Modenese, of 1638, the one by Francesco Angiolini, dated 1840, and the more recent one by Luigi Moraldi, of 1998), I noticed that none of them has anything even resembling the expression "Sodomitical practices." I also looked up a French translation of the same work available in the Internet (the one by René Harmand of the beginning of the 20th century) and I saw that more or less the same translation was given in that language. I turned to the Perseus Project internet site to look up the critical edition by B. Niese, and I found that the original Greek sentence reads (I use the transliterated text): "Einai te misoxenoi kai tas pros allous homilias ektrepesthai." That is something like "they were against strangers and turned away from staying in company with all the others."

However, I saw that this expression is often quoted to show that the first use of the words "sodomy" and "sodomitical" in their modern sense dates back to Josephus. In all these instances, Whiston’s English translation is quoted. Actually, I am not interested at all in polemics concerning homosexuality. However, I would like to know if there is any textual testimony giving a basis for Whiston’s translation. Could you be so kind as to help me under this respect?

I thank you very much in advance for any help on this.

Yours sincerely,

Luca Zucchini
Rome, Italy




The answer to your question lies in variations in the textual evidence. In Ant 1.194, quite a number of manuscripts have "allelous" instead of "allous." This could be read, if one chose, that they "turned away" (from normality) in their relationships toward each other, instead of turning away from "companionship toward others."

That reading looks strained. Moreover, "allous" appears in the two earliest manuscripts, the 11th century Codex Parisinus and Codex Vindobonensis, and is consistent with the prior remark that the Sodomites were haters of strangers (misoxenoi). The textual evidence is noted by Niese in his critical edition (1885-1895). The xenophobic interpretation is commented upon by Louis Feldman in the Brill Josephus Commentary, Volume 3, who notes also that it is consistent with Talmudic views of the story of Sodom. Moreover, he points out that in Roman times Jews themselves were accused of being haters of non-Jews, and it is one of Josephus' themes to dispel the charge, so is likely emphasizing here how unacceptable the Sodomites' behavior is.

Whiston is known to have used an unreliable Greek edition for his work (Haverkamp's 1726 version), so despite his best efforts he was always open to making mistakes. I hadn't noticed this passage before, so I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Back to the Flavius Josephus Home Page