Books, Readers, Printers

Josephus: Translating Judaism across Iberian Worlds, 1492-1687

The Jewish historian, Yosef ben Matityahu, better known as Flavius Josephus (ca. 37-c. 100 CE), is perhaps the most widely read classical historian of all time, a fundamental reference point for Jewish history and early Christianity.

My project asks how he was translated and why he mattered to Christians, crypto-Jews and Jews across an Iberian world spanning the global Empires of Spain and Portugal and the lands of the Sephardic diaspora. Its chronology is framed by two contrasting translations of Josephus’s apologia for Judaism, Against Apion: the first by a Christian chronicler for the Catholic Monarchs on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews (Seville, 1492), and the second by a Jew for those exiles who had travelled to the Low Countries to recover and practise their faith (Amsterdam, 1687). The research leads to a monograph of about 90,000 words, which will be the first book on any of the vernacular translations that spread throughout Early Modern Europe. I ask how Spanish Christians translated a Jew who introduced difference into an Inquisitorial world that aspired to be ‘pure’, and how he could then be retranslated by diasporic Jews wishing to reclaim that difference as a positive sign of identity. Linking translation, migration and conversion, I explore how ideas and people travel, and open up new ways of thinking about the disciplinary practice of modern language research.

Line of research team