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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Moses as a Legislator
By Josephus (37–100)
 
From the Preface to the ‘Antiquities’: Translation of William Whiston

ONE who will peruse this history may principally learn from it, that all events succeed well, even to an incredible degree, and the reward of felicity is proposed by God: but then it is to those that follow his will, and do not venture to break his excellent laws; and that so far as men any way apostatize from the accurate observation of them, what was practicable before becomes impracticable; and whatsoever they set about as a good thing is converted into an incurable calamity. And now I exhort all those who peruse these books, to apply their minds to God: and to examine the mind of our legislator, whether he hath not understood his nature in a manner worthy of him; and hath not ever ascribed to him such operations as become his power; and hath not preserved his own writings from those indecent fables which others have framed, although by the great distance of time when he lived he might have securely forged such lies,—for he lived two thousand years ago, at which vast distance of ages the poets themselves have not been so hardy as to fix even the generations of their gods, much less the actions of their men or their own laws. As I proceed, therefore, I shall accurately describe what is contained in our records, in the order of time that belongs to them,… without adding anything to what is therein contained, or taking away anything therefrom.  1
  But because almost all our constitution depends on the wisdom of Moses our legislator, I cannot avoid saying somewhat concerning him beforehand, though I shall do it briefly; I mean, because otherwise those that read my books may wonder how it comes to pass that my discourse, which promises an account of laws and historical facts, contains so much of philosophy. The reader is therefore to know that Moses deemed it exceeding necessary that he who would conduct his own life well, and give laws to others, in the first place should consider the Divine nature; and upon the contemplation of God’s operations, should thereby imitate the best of all patterns, so far as it is possible for human nature to do, and to endeavor to follow after it; neither could the legislator himself have a right mind without such a contemplation; nor would anything he should write tend to the promotion of virtue in his readers: I mean, unless they be taught first of all that God is the Father and Lord of all things, and sees all things; and that hence he bestows a happy life upon those that follow him, but plunges such as do not walk in the paths of virtue into inevitable miseries. Now when Moses was desirous to teach this lesson to his countrymen, he did not begin the establishment of his laws after the same manner that other legislators did,—I mean, upon contracts and other rights between one man and another, but by raising their minds upwards to regard God and his creation of the world; and by persuading them that we men are the most excellent of the creatures of God upon earth. Now when once he had brought them to submit to religion, he easily persuaded them to submit in all other things; for as to other legislators, they followed fables, and by their discourses transferred the most reproachful of human vices unto the gods, and so afforded wicked men the most plausible excuses for their crimes; but as for our legislator, when he had once demonstrated that God was possessed of perfect virtue, he supposed men also ought to strive after the participation of it; and on those who did not so think and so believe, he inflicted the severest punishments. I exhort, therefore, my readers to examine this whole undertaking in that view; for thereby it will appear to them that there is nothing therein disagreeable either to the majesty of God, or to his love for mankind: for all things have here a reference to the nature of the universe; while our legislator speaks some things wisely but enigmatically, and others under a decent allegory, but still explains such things as required a direct explication, plainly and expressly.  2
 
 
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