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Ps.Hegesippus, translated from Latin into English (2005). Preface to the online edition


There is a Latin text extant in numerous medieval manuscripts under the title of De excidio urbis Hierosolymitanae (On the ruin of the city of Jerusalem) or Historiae (History).  The text is an original composition which borrows very heavily from the Jewish War of Josephus, and is sometimes considered as a free translation and rearrangement of that work.  

The author is given in the manuscripts sometimes as Hegesippus -- which may be a corruption of Iosippus, the spelling of Josephus in many of the manuscripts.  In other manuscripts it is ascribed to Ambrose of Milan, and indeed is sometimes transmitted to us together with some of his works.  Scholars have sometimes attributed the work to him; others to Isaac, a Jewish convert active in Roman ecclesiastical politics in the 370's.  Most scholars today consider the work anonymous, and by convention refer to it as Pseudo-Hegesippus.  It should not be confused with the Latin translation of the Jewish War made by Rufinus, which is more literal and arranged in seven books, and was made later.  It has nothing to do with the lost works of the second-century writer Hegesippus mentioned by Eusebius.

De excidio is arranged in five books.  Books 1-4 correspond to the same books of the Jewish War; book 5 contains the material from books 5-6 and part of book 7 of Josephus.  But material from Antiquities is also being used. In book 2 a version of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum can be found, although this might have come from one of the versions of the Jewish War into which that had been interpolated, or perhaps from Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History.  But in book 2 chapter 4 the story of the seduction of Paulina comes from Antiquities 18.3.  Likewise Book 1 chapter 38 contains material about a pestilence which followed Herod's execution of his wife Mariamne, which comes from Antiquities 15.7, 9.  Neither appears in any version of the Jewish War, so indicating that the author had direct access to a manuscript of Antiquities.

The work is usually dated to between 370-c.375 AD.  It contains in book 2 chapter 9 what seems to be an allusion to the recent reconquest of Britain by Count Theodosius, ca. 370 AD, so cannot be earlier than this.  It also refers to Constantinople by name.  There is a reference to a Latin translation of Josephus in letter 71 of St. Jerome, written between 386 and 400 AD.  The author refers to the triumphant position of the Roman empire, which suggests that it must precede the imperial crisis brought on by the disastrous defeat and death of the emperor Valens in battle with the Goths at Adrianople in 378, and still more so the sack of Rome in 410.

The most recent critical edition was used for this translation : Hegesippi qui dicitur historiae libri V, edited by Vincente Ussani in the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum series, volume 66, Vienna: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky (1932).

The translation that follows was never originally intended for publication.  It is really a 'crib', originally written to assist an individual who was working with the Latin and didn't need to look up every word every time.  The author, Dr Wade Blocker, has no time to turn it into a real translation but has kindly allowed it to appear online so other people may use it.  Dr Blocker has very kindly allowed us all access to it, but of course it must not be criticised for not being what it never attempted to be.  I suspect that most of us will simply be grateful that the translator spent the time to make a version of the whole of so obscure a work, and had the generosity to share it with the world.

Roger PEARSE
Ipswich, 2005.

Postscript, July 2018.

Dr Leah Di Segni, who is working on the sources for Scythopolis / Beth Shean, has written to me, raising concerns in the accuracy of the translation. 

I have decided to leave this translation up - it is, after all, the only one - and to add here Dr Di Segni's concerns.  Revising the translation is something that I have no time to do; and Dr Blocker is since dead. 

Here are the comments:

I’ll copy down here the Latin, the translation online of the chapter (II, 17) and my translation, which takes into account also Josephus' text — for one must admit that pseudo-Hegesippus’ Latin is atrocious, and therefore difficult to understand. You can see that parts of the online translation are perhaps clumsy but not incorrect, parts do not make sense (at least not to me), parts are downright wrong. See for instance the mistaken interpretation (marked in red) of necessitudini, in secundis and gentes (gentiles, not “people”, since the story is about the hostility of the gentile inhabitants of Scythopolis to their Jewish fellow-citizens).

Et quidem immanitatis eius exemplum recens Scythopoli* etiam in maius processerat, quo incitatos Damascenos reor. nam cum Iudaei finitima quaeque popularentur, venerunt Scythopolim atque illic inhabitantes Iudaeos temtare adorsi adversarios experti sunt, quos sibi fidos arbitrabantur, quoniam more ingenii humani praeponderabat aput eos salutis cura necessitudini. in secundis igitur constituentes tribule collegium praeferunt inhabitantium societatem, tribulibus cladem minantur. quod suspectum gentibus, quia promtioribus studiis odiorum in suos exsecutio praetendebatur, ne simulationis specie dolus adornaretur atque urbem incautioribus incolis noctu adorerentur prostratisque omnibus gentibus apud Iudaeos sibi gratiam reconciliarent. ac per hoc si vellent fidem suam etiam circa gentiles probare, cum omni generatione sua urbe excederent vicinumque peterent nemus.  quo facto per biduum quieverunt Scythopolitae ut portio Iudaeorum suspectionem deponeret, indueret securitatem. Tertia nocte cum iam praesumta fides gratiae removisset custodiae sollicitudinem, incautis et dormientibus vis inlata decemque et trinus milibus hominum necatis quaecumque etiam habuerunt direpta sunt.

For when the Jews were laying waste every neighboring area, they came to Scythopolis and there the inhabitants having attacked to test the Jews submitted to their adversaries, whom they considered faithful to themselves, inasmuch as in the manner of human nature concern of safety outweighed distress. In favorable circumstances therefore establishing a brotherhood of fellow tribesmen they preferred an alliance of inhabitants, they threaten ruin to the fellow tribesman. Which was suspected by the people, because the performance was stretched out by the manifest spirit of hatreds, lest treachery should be gotten ready under the guise of pretense and they should attack the city at night with the residents less cautious, and with all the people having been overthrown they should restore favor to themselves among the Jews. .And besides to show their loyalty by this even around the gentiles if they wished, every generation they would go out from their city and seek out the neighboring grove. Which having been done the Scythopolitans were quiet for two days so that a part of the Jews would put aside mistrust, would put on carelessness. On the third night when already the anticipated trust in grace had removed any apprehension of the guard, incautious and sleeping, violence having been inflicted, and ten and three thousands of men were killed and whatever things they had were plundered. 

My translation:

For when the Jews were laying waste all the neighbouring places, they came to Scythopolis and tried to work upon the Jews residing there, but experienced the hostility of those, whom they thought loyal to themselves, for, as is the way of human nature, with them the care of safety outweighed the ties of kinship. Thus, putting the bond of nationality in second place, they preferred the alliance of their fellow-citizens and threaten destruction to their own nationals. This fact, that the enactment of hatred against their own kin was displayed with such ready eagerness, was suspect to the gentiles, lest a trap was prepared under an outward pretence and they would attack the city at night with the inhabitants less watchful and restore their favour with the Jews by the destruction of all the gentiles. And because of this (the Scythopolitans declared) that if (the Jews) wished to prove their loyalty also to the gentiles, they should walk out of the city with all their families and go to a nearby grove. This done, for two days the Scythopolitans did nothing, so that the party of Jews would abandon suspicion and assume false confidence. On the third night, when the anticipated trust in the amity (of their fellow-citizens) had removed all care of keeping watch, an attack was made against the unguarded and sleeping (Jews), thirteen thousand people were killed and all their property was plundered.

Another example, in the next chapter, sed non diutius cognato debita sanguini vindicta defuit (but not for long did the vengeance fail that was due to the blood of his kin) is translated "but not for long to a kinsman was the vengeance owed to the blood lacking”, and etiam filios ac parentes Simonis deleta multitudine ceterorum eminus licet missilibus ac telis petebant (after killing the greatest number of the others they aimed from afar at Simon’s children and parents with javelins and darts) becomes "a mob even having killed the sons and parents of Simon although beyond reach of the rest they attacked with missiles and darts”. Which is the more absurd, when the next few lines describe the hero, Simon, killing his family with his sword!

I cannot evaluate how much of the translation is wrong, but even a 2% of such misleading translation of the text would be enough, in my opinion, to make it a stumbling block and a danger to the readers, instead that a help.  As I see it, in several instances Blocker’s translation is misleading, or to be clearer: it gives readers to understand something that is not, or even is contrary to, what ps. Hegesippus wrote — not to speak of Josephus. Since this is history, not a novel, I would think readers will turn to it to learn about historical facts, and having them falsified may be worse than not being able to access them at all.

Dr Di Segni sent in a further selection of problems, in a Word document: PSEUDO-HEGESIPPUS-problems.docx

Her translations and work related to this may be found here:

Leah Di Segni and Yoram Tsafrir, The Onomasticon of Iudaea-Palaestina and Arabia in the Greek and Latin Sources, vols. 1–3, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem 2015, 2017 (vol. 3 in press).

So... let the reader beware!


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