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

Fred­er­ic Raphael
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By – December 19, 2012

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.

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

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