Josephus’ Portrait Of Asa -- By: Louis H. Feldman

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 04:1 (NA 1994)
Article: Josephus’ Portrait Of Asa
Author: Louis H. Feldman

Josephus’ Portrait Of Asa

Louis H. Feldman

Yeshiva University

New York, NY

Whereas the rabbinic tradition attacks King Asa of Judah for trusting in himself rather than in G-d and, in particular, for drafting the sages, Josephus, the apologist, omits such details and, indeed, whitewashes Asa completely. He is praised particularly, in language reminiscent of Josephus’ portraits of Saul and David, as well as of Thucydides’ Pericles, for putting his nation in order. In particular, Josephus emphasizes Asa obedience to the ancestral laws. And yet, because he realized that his audience, consisting apparently primarily of non-Jews, would resent as intolerant the forcible destruction of idols, tree worship, and mystery cults, he omits such details. Because proselytism was such a burning issue at the time, in view of the Jews’ apparently extraordinary success during this period in attracting converts, Josephus omits the passage that implies that Asa attracted proselytes to his army.

Key words: apologetics, Asa, Josephus, proselytism


Josephus’ modifications in his portrayals of major biblical figures may readily be understood in terms of his apologetic motives.1 But what

are the factors that guide him in his portrayal of minor biblical figures? One such personality is Asa, the relatively obscure king of Judah who was the son of Abijah, grandson of Rehoboam, and great-grandson of Solomon. Here we shall see a striking and consistent pattern of omitting those elements that would tend to denigrate his character and those elements that would appear to be embarrassing to Josephus in his quest to defend the Jewish people in the eyes of non-Jews.

One indication of the relative importance to Josephus of a given biblical personality is the sheer amount of space that he devotes to him. Thus Josephus uses 2.70 times the space the Hebrew text uses2for his account of Saul, 2.21 for Balaam, 2.16 for Jeroboam, 2.01 for Jehu, 2.01 for Jehoshaphat, 2.00 for Joseph (5.45 for the episode of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and 3.28 for the narrative dealing with Joseph’s dreams and subsequent enslavement), 1.98 for Ahab, 1.95 for David, 1.93 for Jehoram of Israel, 1.87 for Samuel, 1.83 for Absalom, 1.71 for Josiah, 1.54 for Samson, 1.52 for Elijah, 1.32 for Daniel, 1.20 for Abraham (2.86 for the cAqedah episode), 1.20 for Ezra (.72 as compared with the Greek text of 1 Esdras,3 which was apparently Josephus’ source), 1.15 for Jonah, 1.11 fo...

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