FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS by Mireille Hadas-Lebel

FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

Eyewitness to Rome's First-Century Conquest of Judaea

KIRKUS REVIEW

 French writer Hadas-Lebel offers a scholarly buy terse biography of the enigmatic Jewish-Roman general and historian Flavius Josephus (37 A.D. - c. 95? A.D.), who participated in, witnessed, and then recorded the Jewish uprising against Roman rule (67 A.D. - 73 A.D.). Hadas-Lebel presents Josephus as an unusually clever but otherwise typical upper-class Jewish male of the priestly class, thoroughly grounded in Jewish Pharisaical traditions, and acquainted as well with the classical Greco-Latin learning of the regnant Romans. A patriotic Jew who feared and admired Roman strength, which he saw firsthand on a youthful visit to Rome, Josephus was a pragmatist who saw no hope in resisting Roman rule (his realism starkly contrasted with the mystical fatalism of many of the other Jewish leaders). Because of his priestly lineage and evident intellect, he became a natural, albeit reluctant, military leader of the rebellion (the causes of which are not explained in any depth); although he opposed the uprising against Rome, Hadas- Lebel speculates, he would have been executed if he has opposed the fanatical Jewish leaders. After an initial victory, the Jewish leaders were reduced to defending their fortified cities against the Roman armies of Vespasian and his son Titus. Josephus, designated by the rebels as the Governor-General of Galilee, defended Jotapata, often thwarting the more numerous and better armed Romans through a variety of clever stratagems. However, Jotapata finally fell, and after its destruction, Josephus befriended Vespasian and Titus through flattering prophecies about their ultimately becoming Emperors (which came true). The Roman generals spared him, and Josephus became the ally of the Romans and witness to their destruction of Judaea, including Jerusalem in 70 A.D. After the loss of Jerusalem, Josephus accompanied his captors to Rome, where he stayed for the rest of his life, and wrote the Jewish War (75?) and Jewish Antiquities (93?), among other works. Much is missing here: there is little analysis of the causes of the Jewish rebellion or of the civil war among Jewish factions (to which, in part, Hadas-Lebel attributes the fall of Jerusalem). Nonetheless, sticking faithfully to extant sources, Hadas-Lebel succeeds in making the astute, practical Josephus, and his moral compromises, come alive, and leaves the reader to decide whether Josephus was a despicable traitor or an admirable realist.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-547161-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993




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