Friday, May 2, 2008

Josephus and the προφηταί: Exploring the Non-Use of a Label

In addition to preparing syllabi for the fall semester, most of my time this month will be occupied writing a paper for the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies Annual Meeting in Vancouver at the beginning of June. Here is the abstract I submitted in December:

Josephus’s general reluctance to employ the label, προφήτης, when he speaks positively of contemporary inspired figures has often been cited as evidence for the cessation of prophecy. Others scholars, who note Josephus’s self-characterization as a prophetic figure, suggest that his diction was influenced by a certain “nostalgia for the past,” that he believed prophecy continued even though the label had fallen out of use, or that the “wise would understand” he was a prophet even though he never employed the term with reference to himself. In this paper, I will assess how these and other explanations account for Josephus’s willingness to use words of the προφητ- root in reference to the biblical prophets and John Hyrcanus, but not to other later inspired figures. I will then attempt to move the discussion about Josephus’s use of the label forward by considering the relationship between his larger narrative interest in the Jewish politeia and his portrayal of prophets.

In my dreams, the paper will shed important new light on Josephus's understanding of prophets, but first I need to find out what that "new light" is. I have a hunch, but I am not far enough along in the research process to be able to substantiate it. Not the most comfortable place to be in the paper writing process!

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