A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus

Pantheon Books  2013


Titus Flavius Josephus, born in Jerusalem (then part of Roman Judea) as Joseph ben Matityahu, lived in the first century C.E. and was descended from the priestly caste on his father’s side. He is a controversial figure in Jewish history and seen by many as a traitor to the Jewish cause for freedom from Rome.

Josephus is the sole chronicler of a war between the Romans and Jews in the first century C.E., and, when the Jews were defeated in 67 C.E, he was taken captive by the General Vespasian, as a hostage and interpreter. After Vespasian became the Roman Emperor, Josephus assumed the Roman family name. Eventually, Josephus became an advisor and translator to Titus and advised the Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. to lay down arms. Titus crushed the Jewish revolt and Josephus became known as the hated Jewish traitor. Josephus’s own words of divine revelation, given to him by God as a prophet and citing the Jews for their own misery, have done nothing to diminish the charge of traitor.

Modern scholarship has sought to see Josephus in a different light, as a man who became an assimilated Jew, and sought appeasement with the enemy to survive Roman rule. His work as a historian is valuable, containing important information on the Jews of the first century C.E., including the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Raphael follows the current modern thought on Josephus and attempts to present a balanced account of the Roman period during the life of Josephus. While his book is not a vindication of Josephus, he does present some thought on what might have been the larger historical forces that caused Josephus to pursue the path he did. The question of Josephus’s motivation will continue to be debated and perhaps never answered.

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