Josippon is the name usually given to a popular chronicle of Jewish history from Adam to the age of Titus, attributed to an author Josippon or Joseph ben Gorion.

The chronicle was probably compiled in Hebrew early in the 10th century, by a Jewish native of south Italy. The first edition was printed in Mantua in 1476. Josippon subsequently appeared in many forms, one of the most popular being in Yiddish, with quaint illustrations. Though the chronicle is more legendary than historical, it is not unlikely that some good and even ancient sources were used by the first compiler, the Josippon known to us having passed through the hands of many interpolators. The book enjoyed much vogue in England. Peter Morvyn in 1558 translated an abbreviated version into English, and edition after edition was called for. Lucien Wolf has shown that the English translations of the Bible aroused so much interest in the Jews that there was a widespread desire to know more about them. This led to the circulation of many editions of Josippon, which thus formed a link in the chain of events which culminated in the readmission of the Jews to England by Oliver Cromwell.


Joseph ben Gorion

The work is ascribed to a certain Joseph ben Gorion (יוסף בן גוריון). It is generally held that he was a Jew living in southern Italy in either the 9th or the 10th century. The Muslim writer ibn Hazm (d. 1063) was acquainted with the Arabic translation of the "Yosippon" made by a Yemenite Jew, and Daniel Chwolson believed therefore that the author of the "Yosippon" lived at the beginning of the 9th century. No Jewish author mentions this chronicle before Dunash ibn Tamim (10th cent.), and even the passage in Dunash supposed to refer to the "Yosippon" does not definitely do so.

The author professes to be the old Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, giving to the name "Joseph" the Greek ending "on" ("Josephon," "Joseppon," or "Josippon". His Arabic name "Yusibus" is, according to Wellhausen, identical with "Hegesippus"). A gloss gives the form from the Italian, "Giuseppe." Trieber held the singular view that the author lived in the 4th century, and derived much of his material from Hegesippus.

Sefer Josippon

Commencing with Adam and the geographical conditions of the first millennium, the author passes to the legendary history of Rome and Babylon, to the accounts of Daniel, Zerubbabel (according to the Apocrypha), the Second Temple, and Cyrus, and to the histories of Alexander the Great and his successors. He then gives the history of the Jews down to the destruction of the Temple. The last part contains, among other things, a brief history of Hannibal and an account of the coronation of an emperor, which, according to Basnage[1] refers to that of Otto the Great (crowned 962); this would be the only and a most valuable source of information concerning this event. If Basnage's conjecture is correct, the date of the composition of the "Yosippon" may be placed at the end of the 10th century. The "Yosippon" is written in comparatively pure Biblical Hebrew, shows a predilection for certain Biblical phrases and archaisms, and is rich in poetical passages and in maxims and philosophical speculations.

Value as a historical source

By the Jews of the Middle Ages the "Yosippon" was much read and was highly respected as a historical source. Scaliger in his "Elenchus Trihæresii Nicolai Serarii" was the first to doubt its worth; Jan Drusius (d. 1609) held it to be historically valueless on account of its many chronological mistakes; Zunz and Delitzsch have branded the author as an impostor. In fact, both the manuscripts and printed editions are full of historical errors, misconceptions of its sources, and extravagant outbursts of vanity on the part of the author. But there is scarcely any book in Jewish literature that has undergone more changes at the hands of copyists and compilers; Judah Mosconi knew of no less than four different compilations or abridgments. The later printed editions are one-third larger than the editio princeps of Mantua.

It was perhaps due to Jerahmeel ben Solomon that the work received its traditional title "Yosippon." He supplemented his copy from Josephus, whom he designates as "the great Joseph." The original title of the work, according to Trieber, was probably "History of Jerusalem"[2], or, as a manuscript suggests, "History and Wars of the Jews." It is quoted in the Hebrew-Persian dictionary of Solomon ben Samuel (14th cent.), under the title "History of the Second Temple."

Literary criticism of the work

Sebastian Münster's edition[3] omits as not genuine the legendary introduction[4] with its genealogical list[5], and also ch. lxvii. to the end, narrating the expedition of Vespasian and Titus against Jerusalem. Azariah dei Rossi also recognized that the Alexander Romance of Pseudo-Callisthenes in a Hebrew translation had been smuggled into the first edition; and, following David Kimchi, Rapoport showed that the last chapter belonged to Abraham ibn Daud.[6] Zunz has shown many other portions of the work to be Spanish additions, made in the 12th century. Almost the whole account of Alexander and his successors has been proved by Trieber to be of later origin. According to that critic, the part of the work original with its author ended with ch. lv. (the dedication of Herod's Temple), more or less of the remainder being taken from PseudoHegesippus, and perhaps added as early as the 5th century. This would explain the numerous contradictions and style-differences between these two parts. There remains, as the nucleus of the whole chronicle, a history of the Second Temple, beginning with the apocryphal stories concerning Daniel, Zerubbabel, etc., and finishing with the restoration of the Temple under Herod. A copyist of PseudoHegesippus, however, identified the "Joseph ben Gorion" (Josephum Gorione Genitum), a prefect of Jerusalem, mentioned in iii. 3, 2 et seq., with the historian Josephus ben Mattithiah, at this time governor of the troops in Galilee. This may account for the fact that the chronicle was ascribed to Joseph b. Gorion. Wellhausen, agreeing with Trieber, denies that the genuine part has any historical value whatever. Trieber contends that the author did not draw his information directly from Josephus or from the Second Book of Maccabees, as is usually believed, and as Wellhausen still maintains. He believes that both II Maccabees and the "Yosippon" used the work of Jason of Cyrene, and Josephus and the "Yosippon" that of Nicholas of Damascus. A study of the "Yosippon" would reveal the manner in which Josephus and II Maccabees used their sources. Apart from the Chronicle of Panodorus, which was largely used by the interpolators, the work in its original, as well as in its later form, seems to have been influenced by other sources, hitherto unascertained. Further light may in the future be thrown upon the subject by a more extended criticism of the text.


  1. The first edition of the "Yosippon" was published in Mantua by Abraham Conat (1476–79), who also wrote a preface to it. Other editions are:
  2. Constantinople, 1510; arranged and enlarged, with a preface by Tam ibn Yahya ben David. It is borrowed to a great extent from that of Judah Leon ben Moses Mosconi (b. 1328), published in Otzar Ṭob, 1878, i. 017 et seq. [7] The text in this edition is divided into ninety-seven chapters.
  3. Basel, 1541; with a Latin preface, and a translation from the text of the editio princeps, by Sebastian Münster. The edition, however, contains only chapters iv. to lxiii.; the remaining chapters have been translated into Latin by David Kyberus (Historia Belli Judaici, in De la Bigne's "Bibliotheca Patrum, Paris).
  4. Venice, 1544; reprinted from the Constantinople edition, as were all the following editions.
  5. Cracow, 1588 and 1599.
  6. Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1689.
  7. Gotha, 1707 and 1710; with Münster's preface and a Latin translation and notes by Friedrich Breithaupt. Other editions appeared at Amsterdam (1723), Prague (1784), Warsaw (1845 and 1871), Zhitomir (1851), and Lvov (1855).[8]

Translations and compilations

A Yiddish translation, with excellent illustrations, was published by Michael Adam (Zürich, 1546; Prague, 1607; Amsterdam, 1661); it was later revised by Menahem ben Solomon ha-Levi, and published under the title Keter Torah (Amsterdam, 1743). Another Latin translation, with Tam ibn Yahya's preface, was published by Joseph Gagnier (Oxford, 1706); a French translation of Kyberus' Latin supplement by F. de Belleforest was published in Genebrard's French translation of Josephus (Paris, 1609). The oldest extant abstract was made in southern Italy, about 1150, by Jerahmeel ben Solomon[9] and the translation of a portion by Moses Gaster.[10] Another abstract, made in 1161 by Abraham ibn Daud and used as the third book of his Sefer Seder ha-Qabbalah was published (Mantua, 1513; Venice, 1545; Basel, 1580, etc.), with Münster's Latin translation, at Worms (1529) and Basel (1559). An English translation of this abstract was made by Peter Morvyn (London, 1558, 1561, 1575, 1608). A Yiddish compendium by Edel bat Moses was published in Kraków in 1670; the oldest German extract, under the title "Joseppi Jüdische Historien" (author not known) is described in Wolf, "Bibl. Hebr." (iii. 389). Some short extracts, in German, are given in Joseph Zedner, Auswahl aus Hebräischen Schriftstellern (pp. 16 et seq.), and in Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur. iii. 310 et seq.). For the Arabic and Yemenite translations, in which the author is called "Yusuf ibn Qaryun."


  1. ^ Histoire des Juifs, vii. 89, Paris, 1710.
  2. ^ as in ed. Mantua, p. 133a
  3. ^ Basel, 1541.
  4. ^ ch. i.-iii.
  5. ^ which addition, however,was made as early as the twelfth century; see Abraham ibn Ezra on Psalm cx. 5; David Kimchi, "Sefer ha-Shorashim," s.v.
  6. ^ see Kimchi on Zechariah xi. 14 [1]; also Sefer ha-Shorashim.
  7. ^ see Berliner's "Magazin," 1876, p. 153.
  8. ^ see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." xi. 62.
  9. ^ See the fragments published by Neubauer, M. J. C. i. 190; J. Q. R. xi. 364.
  10. ^ The Chronicles of Jerahmeel, London, 1899.


  • Buber, Midrash Leqah Tob, Introduction, p. xxiia;
  • Eliakim Carmoly, in Jost's Annalen, i. 149;
  • Daniel Chwolson, in the Meqitze Nirdamim Sammelband, 1897, p. 5;
  • Franz Delitzsch, Zur Gesch. der Jüdischen Poesie, pp. 39 et seq.;
  • Dukes, Ehrensäulen, p. 7;
  • Fränkel, in Z. D. M. G. 1. 418 et seq.;
  • Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. v. 235, 295;
  • Moritz Güdemann, Gesch. ii. 41;
  • David de Gunzbourg, in R. E. J. xxxi. 283 et seq.;
  • Abraham Harkavy, Skuzaniya Yevreiskikh Pisatelei o Khozarakh de, St. Petersburg, 1874;
  • D. Kaufmann, in Jewish Quarterly Review iii. 512, note;
  • P. H. Külb, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc. section ii., part 23, p. 134;
  • I. Lévi, in R. E. J. xxviii. 147 et seq.;
  • I. B. Levinsohn, Bet Yehudah, p. 156, Warsaw, 1878;
  • Lilienblum, in Ha-Meliẓ, xx. 366;
  • Jewish Quarterly Review xi. 355 et seq.;
  • Azariah dei Rossi, Me'or 'Enayim, p. 866, Mantua, 1574;
  • Rapoport, Saadia Gaon, note 39;
  • idem, Eliezer Kalir, p. 102, note 7, and Supplement, p. 13;
  • idem, Natan ben Yehiel, p. 44;
  • idem, in Parhon's Aruch, p. x.;
  • idem, Catalogus Bodleiana col. 1547 et seq.;
  • idem, Hebr. Uebers. p. 898;
  • idem, Hebr. Bibl. ix. 18 et seq.;
  • idem, Die Geschichtslitteratur der Juden, pp. 28 et seq.;
  • idem, in Jewish Quarterly Review xvi. 393;
  • Trieber, in Nachrichten der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1895, pp. 381 et seq.;
  • F. Vogel, De Hegesippo Qui Dicitur Josephi Interprete, Erlangen, 1881;
  • Hermann Vogelstein and Paul Rieger, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, i. 185 et seq.;
  • Isaac Hirsch Weiss, Dor, iv. 224, note 5;
  • Winter and Wünsche, Die, Jüdische, Litteratur, iii. 292 et seq.;
  • J. Wellhausen, Der Arabische Josippus, in Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaft zu Göttingen, vol. i., Berlin, 1897;
  • Zunz, Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums, pp. 304 et seq.;
  • idem, G. V. pp. 154 et seq.;
  • idem, Z. G. p. 62, passim;
  • idem, in Benjamin of Tudela's Itinerary, ed. Asher, ii. 246.

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