A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus by Frederic Raphael - review by Martin Goodman

Martin Goodman

Fighter, Writer, Prophet, Priest

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


Pantheon Books 368pp £19 order from our bookshop

The historian Josephus left to posterity a remarkable amount of information about his tortuous political career. He tells us that he was born into a priestly family in Jerusalem in AD 37, and that he was sufficiently enmeshed in the political life of the city to cross the Mediterranean to Rome in his mid-twenties to plead on behalf of some friends who had been sent there for trial. On the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against Rome in AD 66, he was appointed commander of the rebel forces in Galilee, but he was unsuccessful as a military leader and, on the brink of defeat, surrendered to the enemy, abandoning his comrades with whom he had made a suicide pact. God revealed to him, so he claimed, that his Roman captor, a senator of obscure origin called Vespasian, would become emperor. When this came about, most unexpectedly, two years later, Josephus was hailed as a prophet of the new regime. Freed from captivity and granted Roman citizenship, he was in the headquarters of the Roman force besieging Jerusalem in AD 70 when Titus, one of Vespasian’s sons, destroyed the Temple, where Josephus had served as a priest. Josephus moved to Rome as a protégé of the new emperor and, over the next thirty years or so, wrote a series of books in Greek about Jews and Judaism.

The best known of these works was The Jewish War, an account of the revolt in which Josephus had participated, but he also composed the Antiquities of the Jews, a history in twenty books of the Jewish people from the Creation to the outbreak of the revolt, as well as

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