Who Was Josephus?

Roman bust believed to be a likeness of Flavius Josephus. Looks Jewish to me.
Roman bust believed to be a likeness of Flavius Josephus. Looks Jewish to me.

Captured by the Romans, Josephus was a Jewish general who ultimately served as a military advisor to General Titus. Josephus recorded his first-hand observations of the destruction of the Temple, and went on to a brilliant literary career in Rome, describing Jews and Judaism to a wider audience. Who was Josephus–traitor to his people or unfortunate captive to his circumstances? Self-hating Jew or apologist for Judaism? This lecture, delivered on October 2, 2013 at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour, discusses some of these questions.

The video is below; please click here for the Prezi.


4 thoughts on “Who Was Josephus?

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  1. Firstly, thank you very much for your interesting and useful introductory presentation on Josephus. Among the many excellent things in it is especially the encouragement and incentive to read Josephus himself – in his original Greek, if that were possible. It does slightly detract from this goal that you hazard to critique Josephus himself as a writer and a historian. This we should only do once we are sure we have understood him and his intentions as a writer. His prefatory remarks in all his works are indispensable in this respect. Perhaps Josephus was not a modern scientific historian or a scholar as we understand those vocations. Perhaps he had other ideas and intentions which reveal our modern limitations and prejudices. However, you yourself immediately rectify this drawback in your presentation by raising the question for us whether Josephus was a traitor to us, an apologist, or a despiser of his own people. The only manner of answering this question unambiguously is to return to the texts of Josephus himself, to understand him as he understood himself – and only then to hazard a criticism of his intentions and knowledge. My prejudices give me the hint that Josephus, I am guessing, is a literary writer of a very high order; and I have noticed that at times he treats his own people tragically, while he casts the Romans in a rather comic manner. However this may be, Josephus was clearly under the spell or persuasion of philosophy, and wrote history as a philosophic-historian as well as a poet. His treatment of the Jewish antiquities surely modifies any pious understanding of the Law: I am somehow reminded of Plato’s Laws. But Josephus’s literary brilliance and his loyalty to his people ought not to be impugned. The great speeches of Eleazer at Masada are evidence of this fact. The enduring treasure of his work for us (at the very least as Zionists) is shown in the heroic nobility of our ancestors and the greatness of our writer who left such a monument to them. It is only fitting that we recall this on Memorial Day, as Jewish Americans.

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