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Flavius Josephus. Antiquitates Iudaicae liber. Venice : Raynaldum de nouimagio, 1481.

Flavius Josephus, 37 -100 C.E.

The oldest book in the JPL’s collection, this edition of the multi-volume “Antiquities of the Jews” is based on an early 7th-century Latin translation of the Greek original.

More than a rare incunulabum (“cradle-imprint”) produced during the earliest years of modern movable type printing, it is also one of the few surviving contemporary historical records of Palestine, and an early Hellenistic Jewish “apologetic” text specifically written to validate Judaism and Jewish history dating from biblical times for a non-Jewish audience.  Ironically, Antiquities probably remains known to us primarily because those readers, mostly churchmen, appreciated its detailed account of Christianity’s beginnings, to which later editors amended further details.

Josephus was a prominent Jewish general in the revolt against the Roman occupation of Judaea who surrendered in 67 C.E.  Considered traitorous by fellow Jews, he escaped execution, adopted Roman customs and moved to Rome. He completed the Antiquities, even though the Jewish community suspected his true loyalties.