In November Prof. Tom Martin traveled to Atlanta to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, the largest meeting of scholars of religion in the world. At the meeting Prof. Martin and Prof. David Levenson of the Dept. of Religion at Florida State University presented a talk on the Latin manuscripts of the works of Flavius Josephus, the most important (and controversial) historian of the history of the Jews in antiquity.
The presentation came out of their current collaborative project, a commentary on Book 6 of Josephus’ The Jewish War. Their talk concentrated on the so-called Latin Josephus, until now mostly unstudied but critical evidence for understanding the relationship between Jews and Christians from the time of the early Roman Empire to the modern era. In their presentation Prof. Martin and Prof. Levenson enthusiastically recognized the substantial contributions to their project made by undergraduate students in Classics at Holy Cross and undergraduate and graduate students in Religion at FSU. This group of students took a joint course on Josephus during the Fall 2014 semester, offered simultaneously on both campuses through video conferencing.
The course was a pioneering one at Holy Cross in two significant ways. It was a bilingual course; that is, the students were looking at Josephus’ writings in the original Greek as well as the ancient Latin translations made during the later Roman Empire (the “Latin Josephus”). Secondly, it was the first Classics seminar at Holy Cross in which a cohort of graduate students was also contributing to the conversation – through the wonders of Skype.
“The course was different from all the classes I had previously taken in that it provided students with the opportunity to read both Greek and Latin,” recalled Melody Wauke ’17. “This allowed us to compare the works of Josephus in both languages in order to debate ambiguities and to obtain a better sense of the meaning of the text.”
“Comparing the Latin and Greek texts highlighted both similarities and differences between the two languages,” said Maggie MacMullin ’16. “Where one language may be more precise, the other is more ambiguous, which resulted in lively discussions about the author’s and the translator’s intended meanings. For example, if the Latin says ‘freely’ and the Greek says ‘happily,’ how does the translator compose his English? Of course, Classics students are often faced with challenges of interpretation, but this course introduced even more. We not only considered the two languages side by side, but also variations in manuscripts, and attempted to derive accurate translations with these considerations.”
Of the opportunity to work with the FSU graduate students, Joe MacNeill ‘16 remarked, “It was very helpful for me to see how philological research operates on a graduate level. This course gave me the philological tools I would need for tackling my investigation of John’s logos [in Joe’s Fenwick Scholarship thesis; see further here].”
The opportunity to work with two professors in one course also proved to be fruitful.
“We all greatly benefited from Prof. Levenson’s expertise in all matters Josephan and paleographical,” remembered Steven Merola ’16. “He and Prof. Martin were the founts of erudition that sustained the mutually semi-virtual table extending from Tallahassee to Worcester.”
“Skyping in class with Prof. Levenson and the FSU students was intimidating at first, because there were now two professors present with whom to discuss our insights,” recalled Maggie. “However, we quickly learned that Prof. Martin and Prof. Levenson were just as happy on opposite sides of a given point as on the same side.”
The work of the collaborators in this course has taken on much life since class meetings wrapped up a year ago. Meagan Freeze ’16 published her translation and commentary on Josephus’ brief account of the life of Jesus Christ (Jewish Antiquities 18.63–64) in the May 2015 issue of Holy Cross’ undergraduate Classics journal, Parnassus. And their findings continue to live on, in conference presentations and in the Josephus commentary by Professors Martin and Levenson that is now in the works.