The concept of historical cause in Flavius Josephus

The concept of historical cause in Flavius Josephus

Historical explanation by means of causes is the all-important prime requisite for a historical text to be presented with guarantees of faithfulness to historical truth.

I therefore propose to analyse the two aspects announced at the beginning of this chapter. In the first section I shall classify the formulae and those words of a specifically aetiological content which allow for the establishing of a theoretical framework for the concept of historical cause in Flavius Josephus. In the second part I shall go on to the analysis of the aetiological concept itself and use specific expositions, both those in which the historical elements develop within the limits of the human plane and those where there is the intervention of elements which belong to a transcendent plane, elements which are justificatory of human activity. This latter aspect will then take me on to the study of the various denominations by which the intervention of a non-human force in human affairs is designated.

As regards the first objective, I should point out that, throughout the work of Flavius Josephus as a whole there appear numerous formulae, above all those of a prepositional structure, which announce or remind us of the statement of a fact: something happened “for the following causes”; that came to pass “for the causes already mentioned”.

Therefore the relationship between these formulae, having considered their stylistic and historiographical function, is the following:

  1. Introductory formulae:

—     ἐξ αἰτίας τοιᾶσδε (B, I, 398),

—     ἀπὸ τοιαύτης αἰτίας (B, VII, 219),

—     διὰ τοιαύτην αἰτίαν (B, VII, 422; A, V, 338; A, X, 17; A, XV, 343; A, XVII, 148; A, XVIII, 91, 109, 343; A, XX, 17, 118; Vit, 31, 46, 125),

—     ἐκ τοιαύτης αἰτίας (A, I, 53, 139; A, IV, 151; A, V, 135; A, X, 106),

—     κατὰ τοιαύτην αἰτίαν (A, II, 1; A, XVIII, 39),

—     ὑπὸ τοιαύτης αἰτίας (A, II, 8),

—     αἰτίαν ἔλαβε τοιαύτην (A, IV, 101),

—     ἐξ αἰτίας τοιαύτης (A, V, 175; A, VII, 162; A, X, 18, 212; A, XII, 11, 42, 187; A, XIV, 268; A, XV, 252; A, XVI, 271; Vit, 272),

—     τοιαύτης ἀφορμῆς ἐγγενομένης (A, XV, 22),

—     ἀφʼ οἵας αἰτίας (A, XV, 372),

—     ἐξ αἰτίας (A, XVI, 229),

—     παρὰ τοιαύτην αἰτίαν (A, XVI, 300),

—     κατὰ τοιαύτας αἰτίας (A, XVII, 299),

—     αἰτίαν τοιαύτην (A, XVIII, 152),

—     ἐκ τοιᾶσδε αἰτίας (A, XVIII, 340),

—     ἐξ ἄλλης αἰτίας (A, XVIII, 347),

—     διʼ αἰτίαν, ἣν ἀφηγήσομαι (A, XVIII, 373),

—     τοιαύτης ἐμπεσούσης αἰτίας (A, XX, 141),

—     διὰ τὴν λεχθησομένην αἰτίαν (Vit, 13),

—     προσγενομένης καὶ ἑτέρας τινὸς τοιαύτης αἰτίας (Vit, 24),

—     τοιαύτης αἰτίας γενομένης (Vit, 179),

—     τοιαύτης αἰτίας ὑποπεσούσης (Vit, 381).

  1. Concluding and referential formulae:

—     παρὰ τὴν αἰτίαν ταύτην (B, II, 532),

—     διὰ δὲ τὰς αὐτὰς αἰτίας (B, IV, 498; Ap, II, 269),

—     διὰ τοιούτους μὲν φόβους (B, VII, 303),

—     ἀπὸ τοιαύτης αἰτίας (A, I, 59),

—     τούτων δὴ τῶν προειρημένων αἰτιῶν (A, I, 4),

—     διὰ ταύτην … τὴν αἰτίαν (A, I, 180; A, II, 308; A, III, 265, 279, 313; A, IV, 106; A, VII, 285; A, IX, 74; A, XI, 300; A, XIV, 371; A, XVIII, 295; Ap, II, 21).

—     διὰ τὴν αἰτίαν ταύτην (A, IV, 5),

—     ὑπὸ δὲ ταύτης … τῆς αἰτίας (A, IV, 156),

—     ἐπί τοιαύτῃ … αἰτίᾳ (A, V, 113; A, XIV, 173),

—     ἐκ τῆς αἰτίας ταύτης (A, V, 197),

—     κατὰ ταύτην τὴν αἰτίαν (A, VI, 61),

—     διὰ τὴν προειρημένην αἰτίαν (A, VIII, 11; A, XIV, 32),

—     κατὰ τὴν αὐτὴν αἰτίαν (A, IX, 25),

—     διὰ τὴν αὐτὴν αἰτίαν (A, X, 194; Ap, II, 269),

—     ἀπὸ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας (A, XI, 55),

—     ὑπὸ τοιούτων αἰτιῶν (A, XII, 88),

—     ταῖς ὁμοίαις αἰτίαις (A, XII, 260),

—     ὑπὸ … λεγομένην αἰτίαν (A, XII, 359),

—     ὑπὸ ταύτης … τῆς αἰτίας (A, XIII, 235),

—     τὴν αὐτὴν αἰτίαν (A, XV, 142),

—     τὴν τοιαύτην αἰτίαν (A, XVI, 395),

—     διὰ τοιαύτης αἰτίας (A, XX, 163),

—     τὰς ὑπʼ ἐμοῦ νῦν εἰρημένας … αἰτίας (Ap, I, 69),

—     διὰ τὴν λεχθησομένην αἰτίαν (Vit, 13).

The formulae διὰ ταῦτα and the adverbs διό and διόπερ should also be mentioned here, since their use is so frequent17.

The second point to come under study refers to those words which have a specifically aetiological content. Thanks to these words and, above all, the reiterated use of them in the Hellenistic historians, the aetiological concept in the work of Flavius Josephus can be deduced.

Αἰτία18. This word offers significant variants. In its active value it means “accusation, offence, claim”, in the passive, “guilt, wrong, responsibility and, logically, cause”19. The adjective αἴτιος has the passive value, “guilty”. The neuter αἴτιον leaves less doubt than αἰτία for the meaning of “cause”20.

In the work of Flavius Josephus αἰτία has three sections. The first section has the meaning of “cause, reason, occasion and motive”21. A second section refers to the “responsibility and guiltiness”22. The third section embraces the values of “accusation and charge”23. The adjective αἴτιος means “causant, responsible and guilty”; ὁ αἴτιος means “instigator, perpetrator, sole responsible”; τὸ αἴτιον, “cause” and “reason”24.

The fundamental concept, therefore, which is expressed by all these forms is that of the prime and profound cause, the justificatory reason for the entire sequence of causes which may accompany it and of the diversity of outcomes which may result.

Insisting on this point, there are further examples which may be mentioned. In αἰτία is to be found the prime reason for events. It is the principal cause within an aetiological hierarchy. It represents the foundation on which all other causes are founded, causes which are considered to be secondary, casual and concomitant. Thus Flavius Josephus tries to achieve those aims which are proper to an historian, and which consist of finding the closest possible relationships between facts which apparently are far removed from one another or which seem to bear no links. Therefore, we find ourselves in the presence of an intellectual history, in which previous intellectual elaborations are the causants of events and also rule over them. Therefore, it is not a question, in the work of Flavius Josephus, of historical materialism in which phenomena of the economic type are those which determine events, but rather it is a question of mental elaborations which highlight the divers ranges of material and abstract causes which lie behind historical events25.

Ἀφορμή. The concept which this word expresses indicates the exterior occasion whence various reactions arise. Beneath the shades of meaning “pretext, chance, reason, cause, starting point, opportunity and possibility”26, “living conditions, economic and diplomatic means and circumstances”27, it establishes a nexus of aetiological continuity between the αἰτία and the ἀρχή of the action28.

Thus, for example, the arrival29 of the procurator Sabinus and the military occupation of the city of Jerusalem bring about circumstances which are appropriate for an urban war, for the burning of the portals of the temple and the stealing of the sacred treasure. At the same time these events constituted a weighty reason for delaying no longer the onset of the definitive war.

When mentioning Moses30, Flavius Josephus presents him as having a two-fold mission, that is, with a two-fold reason (= cause) for his greatness: to humiliate the Egyptians and to raise up the Jews. He finds the moment, the occasion, the ἀφορμή for it: a spectacular victory over the Ethiopians marks a great step along the road to the liberation of the Hebrew people from the power of the Egyptians. Another occasion leading to his greatness31 is found by Moses when he intervenes in the defence of some young men. This defence leads him towards a “greater destiny” (πρὸς τὸ κρεῖττον ἀφορμὴν): to find himself before God on Mount Sinai, the starting point for the greatness of Israel.

Elsewhere32, it can be seen that the unbelieving of king Achab when confronted with divine revelation through the prophet Michaias was the ἀφορμή which destiny used (τὸ χρεών, 409) to bring about his death.

The exceptional personality of Herod is well-known33. Now, from among the abundant evidence of his courage, he already had a unique occasion, at the age of fifteen, to demonstrate it by overwhelming bandits marauding along the frontier of Syria. What is more, this success won him great renown in the eyes of Sextus Caesar, the Roman governor of Syria.

On another occasion, Herod, who had already for a long time been going through a stormy relationship with Mariamme, finally comes to the end of his tether and condemns her to death34. In this case, the occasion brings about the end of a long uneasy wait, so as to initiate the fulfilment of what has been accumulating all along the days. For this accumulation Flavius Josephus uses a compound verb, both very descriptive and very little used: τὸ προοικονομούμενον (No. 221).

The word ἀφορμή is also used in one place only with the value of cause, including that of profound cause35. For Josephus, the main cause (πλείων ἀφορμή) of Mariamme’s misfortune was the set of circumstances on which she gave excessive rein to her tongue in the presence of Herod.

Πρόφασις. It is extremely difficult to be precise as to the semantic values of this word, since its field of action develops above all in the world of subjectivism. Considering the values found in the work of Flavius Josephus, πρόφασις means “reason placed before”, “pretext” or “excuse”, legitimate and real, simulated and apparent, and, finally, “occasion”36. It therefore seems to a certain extent the most distant cause from αἰτία, since, while the former indicates a profound and definitive reason, the latter expresses a justification or explanation which has varying force according to the intentions of the writer37, in such a way that the truthfulness of a narrative could become subject to one of the many variants which exist between the two extremes of truth and untruth38.

In fact, the πρόφασις embraces the idea of αἰτία, forming as it were a kind of secondary cause which could bring about the beginnings, the ἀρχή, of new situations39.

Its character therefore may be two-fold, the subjective character primarily, and then the objective character. The subjective character refers to the arguments which historical actors advance as justifications of their acts or events. The objective character is a result of the opinion which is given by the historian when confronted with historical material. Polybius makes wide use of the objective πρόφασις, impelled by his own interpretation of the facts and his constant passing judgement on the causes40.

In the medical texts, the concept of profound cause is applied to αἰτία, whereas that of occasional, immediate and external cause is applied to πρόφασις41. Flavius Josephus, when commenting on the exterminating plague which ravages the people of Israel as punishment for an error committed by king David, adds to the biblical text that the plague, though no more than one, annihilated the Israelites through real and apparent causes42.

In the work of Josephus, the subjective πρόφασις at times presents two sides. On the one hand, it symbolises what a given person wants to make understood to public opinion, or else the interpretation given to it by his enemies; on the other hand, it is the historian who judges that the truth is quite different (B, I, 229, 254, 276; A, IV, 167; A, X, 252; A, XIV, 151; A, XV, 365; A, XVI, 89; A, XX, 37).

The solely subjective pretext appears in certain attitudes of a war-like character (B, I, 115, 292, 299; B, II, 348, 412; A, IV, 177, 294; B, VII, 239, 368; A, VIII, 369; A, XIII, 427; A, XVI, 59; A, XIX, 311; A, XX, 162), and therefore serves to pass judgement on hostilities themselves or to justify them.

In its objective character, the word πρόφασις represents censure or simply a reasoning on the part of the historian as regards the acts of personalities (B, II, 285; B, IV, 146; B, VII, 256, 258; A, VII, 285; A, XIV, 372, 397; Ap, II, 276) or concerning delicate situations (B, IV, 363; A, XIV, 408).

Elsewhere the word πρόφασις is also used in expressions which apparently want to propose a reason, but which, in fact, achieve no more than to conceal the real cause of the situation: τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ προφάσει43, προφάσει τιμῆς44, προφάσει κυνηγησίων45, ἐν προφάσει φιλίας46. In this sense there is a close approximation to Thucydides, for whom the separation of appearance and reality was a constant preoccupation.

The distinction made between πρόφασις and ἀφορμή is suggestive. The proximity of both words highlights their individual shades of meaning. In the words of king Achab to his people concerning problems occasioned by the demands of the king of Syria on their property it is affirmed that the Syrian king πρόφασιν βουλόμενος πολέμου λαβεῖν, εἰδὼς ὅτι τῶν μὲν ἐμαυτοῦ διʼ ὑμᾶς οὐκ ἂν φεισαίμην, ἀφορμὴν δʼ ἐκ τοῦ περὶ τῶν ὑμετέρων ἀηδοῦς πραγματευόμενος εἰς τὸ πολεμεῖν· ποιήσω γε μὴν τὰ ὑμῖν δοκοῦντα47. The πρόφασις conceals therefore what the king of Syria really wants, i.e. to wage war, and the moment previous to the outbreak of hostilities comes when the decision is made to attack the property of the citizens so as to exasperate them against him. This is in fact the ἀφορμή, and the king is thus justified48, since the citizens, when confronted with the damage done to their property, will easily take to arms.

In another scene “the king of the Parthians, on finding no occasion (ἀφορμή) for a just excuse (πρόφασις), claimed those honours his father had accorded and declared war on him if he obeyed not”49. Thus, from the occasion, brought about by the natural rhythm of events or brought about expressly by reason of his absence, there arises the pretext as an immediate cause of events.

When comparing these two themes, there is still a slight distinction to be made, a distinction which, even though it may be rather frail, can sometimes help to delimit the differing degrees of causality when it comes to judging events. It seems therefore that the πρόφασις is rather a causal elaboration of the spirit, whereas the ἀφορμή always has a more tangible reality which is very localised within the aetiological scale. Doubtless, the ἀφορμή will very often take the place of πρόφασις, whereas elsewhere it will be difficult to make any distinction between them.

Ἀρχή. This word indicates the beginning of an event. It includes the meanings of occasion, non-profound cause, the determining motive of the origin of either hostilities or human events. It is the circumstance in which an event begins plastically. It presupposes a set of reasons; it means the end of a more or less lengthy wait, and at the same a starting point or the bursting out into the exterior of a long accumulation of causes.

In the work of Flavius Josephus, to be more definite, the word varies between the meanings of occasion, reason, cause, motivation, origin and basis.

Apart from these general ideas, the word ἀρχή has, in the work of Flavius Josephus, certain shades of meaning which should be considered separately50. It appears as a concomitant cause (B, I, 99, 171; B, III, 440; B, VI, 9); with the value of occasion for the taking place of an event (B, II, 284; B, VI, 73) or its motivation (B, II, 333; B, III, 72; Ap, I, 294); as a starting point (B, VI, 251; B, VII, 157); as the basis of a concept (Ap, II, 168) and as the prime cause, applied particularly to the Jewish concept of God “the beginning, middle and end of all”51.



B Bellum Judaicum

A Antiquitates Judaicae

Vit Vita

Ap Contra Apionem

17 Cf. K. H. Rengstorf, A Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus, I–IV, Leiden, 1973–1983, s. uu. This work will be, henceforth, quoted only by the word Concordance.

18 Cf. Concordance, s. u.

19 Cf. L. Pearson, “Prophasis and Aitia”, TAPhA 83 (1952), 205–223.

20 Cf. Gordon M. Kirkwood, “Thucydides’ words for Cause”, AJPh 73 (1952), 205–223.

21 B, I, 83, 226, 503, 509, 578, 594, 611; B, II, 73, 296, 335, 353, 389, 455, 532, 629; B, III, 91, 170; B, IV, 244, 498, 519; B, V, 32, 482; B, VI, 251; B, VII, 299, 360; Vit, 51, 198, 390; Ap, I, 5, 19, 24, 69, 213, 224, 254, 298; Ap, II, 20–21.

22 B, I, 502; II, 558.

23 B, I, 539, 618; B, II, 28, 77, 92, 404, 418; B, IV, 255, 338, 364, 391; B, VII, 33, 60, 62, 207, 228, 299, 360, 445, 450; Vit, 13, 25, 56, 150; Ap, II, 150.

24 Cf. Concordance, s. uu. and the verb αἰτιάομαι.

25 Cf. B, VII, 77–79.

26 B, I, 30, 447, 470, 502, 517, 612; B, II, 41, 324; B, VII, 441; A, II, 238, 257; A, III, 42, 214, 259; A, VI, 197; A, VII, 209; A, VIII, 369, 409; A, X, 251, 256; A, XIII, 185, 267, 305, 411; A, XIV, 159, 170; A, XV, 221, 238, 257, 308, 353; A, XVI, 71, 83, 134, 155, 200; A, XVIII, 333, 338, 375; A, XIX, 308–309; A, XX, 82; Vit, 375; Ap, I, 68. It is convenient to establish relations between the meanings of this word with those of πρόφασις.

27 B, I, 198, 523, 528; B, II, 371; B, V, 368, 397; A, I, 89; A, III, 6, 11, 23, 26; A, V, 57; A, XII, 184, 224; A, XIII, 427, 429; A, XIV, 51; A, XVIII, 149.

28 Within these same aspects, it is necessary to include the meanings of the word καιρός, especially in B, VII, 78, 79; A, XIII, 267. Cf. Concordance, s. u.

29 B, II, 41–54.

30 A, II, 238–253.

31 A, II, 257–263.

32 A, VIII, 401–420.

33 A, XIV, 158–160.

34 A, XV, 218–231.

35 A, XV, 238.

36 Cf. Concordance, s. u. πρόφασις.

37 Aristotle expressed the variety and the mutability of the excuse: προφάσεως δεῖται μόνον ἡ πονηρία (Rhet. 1, 1373a).

38 ἀληθής, ψευδής, Thuc. I, 23, 6; VI, 6, 1; Dem. XVIII, 226. καλή, φαύλη, Dem. XXI, 98; Prooem. XXXII, 2. δικαία, ἄδικος, Dem. XI, 1; XVIII, 284; XX, 97; XXI, 98; XLIV, 39. εὔλογος, Thuc. III, 82, 4; VI, 79, 2. ἐπιεικής, Thuc. III, 9, 2. ἀκριβής, Thuc. IV, 47, 2. εὐπρεπής, Thuc. VI, 8, 4. ἄτοπος, Dem. XLVIII, 36.

39 For the relations between πρόφασις and αἰτία, cf. K. Weidauer, Thukydides und die hippokratischen Schriften, Heidelberg, 1954, 8.

40 P. Pédech, op. cit., 88.

41 Cf. περὶ ἀρχαίης ἰητρικῆς, Littré I, 616, 624–626; περὶ ἱερῆζ νόσου, Littré VI, 366; ἐπιδεμίαι III, Littré III, 38–40, 70 and 74.

42 A, VII, 324: αἰτίαιζ καὶ προφάσεσιν.

43 A, IV, 22; cf. A, IV, 15.

44 A, XV, 185.

45 A, XV, 244; cf. also B, V, 424.

46 Vit, 79; cf. also A, VII, 118.

47 A, VIII, 369.

48 Similarly, A, XIX, 309.

49 A, XX, 82.

50 Cf. Concordance, s. u.

51 Ap, II, 190: ἀρχὴ καὶ μέσα καὶ τέλος οὗτος τῶν πάντων. In similar senses, cf. A, I, 7 and Thuc. II, 1.

Villalba i Varneda, P. (1986). The historical method of Flavius Josephus (5). Leiden: E. J. Brill.

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