Jerusalem’s Trai­tor: Jose­phus, Masa­da, and the Fall of Judea

Desmond Seward
  • Review
By – September 26, 2011

His­to­ry is usu­al­ly writ­ten by writ­ers, not war­riors. Of course, there are well­known excep­tions, such as the famed war mem­oirs of Ulysses S. Grant, or the works of Julius Cae­sar on his con­quest of Gaul. Gen­er­al­ly, how­ev­er, this kind of per­son­al his­to­ry of war is writ­ten by the hero­ic vic­tor in order to cement his rep­u­ta­tion. It is rare indeed to find such a work penned by the los­er, a man whose very name is some­times used as a byword for betray­al, loss, and self-ser­vice. Flav­ius Jose­phus is that rare man. 

Even his name demon­strates his betray­al. A Jew­ish aris­to­crat­ic mem­ber of a priest­ly fam­i­ly in Jerusalem dur­ing the last days of the Sec­ond Tem­ple, he was appoint­ed a Gen­er­al dur­ing the revolt against the Romans. After desert­ing his post and troops a num­ber of times, he is even­tu­al­ly cap­tured by the future emper­or Ves­pasian, whose fam­i­ly name, Flav­ius, he adopt­ed as his own. He remained on the Fla­vian pay­roll for the rest of his life, liv­ing in Rome and writ­ing apolo­gia for the Jew­ish peo­ple for the Greek read­ing public. 

With this his­to­ry, it would be fair­ly hard to accept what he wrote as accu­rate or unbi­ased, but unfor­tu­nate­ly, Jose­phus’ tes­ti­mo­ny is almost unique from this crit­i­cal his­tor­i­cal peri­od. It was left to him alone to give us much of the details of the reign of Herod and his chil­dren, the great revolt, and the begin­nings of the exile. While the mate­r­i­al is fas­ci­nat­ing and impor­tant, Seward’s treat­ment of it is less so. It might serve the read­er bet­ter to delve into the orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al, which in good trans­la­tion is emi­nent­ly readable.

Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

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