Jewish antiquity in the sixteenth century: Calvin's reception of Josephus

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An analysis of Calvin's multifaceted use of the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus reveals several things of importance both for scholarship on Renaissance historical and biblical criticism generally, and for Calvin studies in particular. Calvin's reception of Josephus was quite extraordinary in its breadth, and complex in its employment and function. References to the historian are peppered throughout his works in a wide array of contexts, from the special authority of Moses to the length of the Sea of Galilee. Significantly, Calvin not only used Josephus as a source for raw historical data, but also employed him to philosophical, theological, and political ends as well. And while the reformer is not unequivocally positive in his judgment of the historian as a reliable source, an overwhelming majority of the instances where Calvin cites Josephus's texts are used to augment his exegetical works, and at times Josephus's authority comes close to overriding that of the literal biblical account. The purpose of this paper is to show how Calvin's engagement with Josephus in his commentaries reveals him to have been an able and discerning critic who would at times go to great lengths in order to sort out perceived discrepancies or to fill in historiographical lacunae pertinent to the biblical story, but also an opportunistic humanist who would use whatever resources he had at his disposal for clarifying the historical background of the biblical text.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)668-694
Number of pages26
JournalChurch History: Studies in Christianity and Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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