Academic journal article Shofar

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

Academic journal article Shofar

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

Article excerpt

Jerusalem's Traitor: Josephus, Masada and the Fall of Judea, by Desmond Seward. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2009. 314 pp. $28.00.

Perhaps the title of this book is a lure to readers that have heard Josephus was a traitor and want to see Seward's take on the lurid details. If that be the case, such a reader will be disappointed.

Instead, if she stay till the end, the reader will realize that Josephus lived in a moment when events seemed to be on the threshold of the apocalypse if not indeed in the thick of it. He was a survivor, not by any means passive, at a time when his people living in Judea were torn with internal strife largely prompted by different responses to revulsion at Rome's heavy, often brutal hand. In the ferocious war that was the result, Josephus somehow emerged from personal defeat to become its historian.

Such histories are usually written by the victors, spelling out the glories of the winners and the faults of the losers. Though Josephus writes scathingly of the most vehement of the zealots that insisted on pursuing their path to destruction, and though he had as patrons the generals that were raised to the purple in the course of the war, his chiding of the zealots was tinted with praise where it was due, and with obvious personal sorrow at their violent end. He does not write the kind of history a conqueror writes because he was a captive, a victim too of this war.

He wanted to be other than this. In the last days of the war he hoped to salvage something for his people. It was because of this, as he tried to make something less than total destruction come about for his people, that he came to look like a traitor. After all, how does a person escape from such a desperate struggle to live in the emperor's former villa unless one is a traitor?

Desmond Seward tells this story remarkably. Yet he is not a member of thejosephus-guild. He has also published books on Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Hundred Years War, and the involvement of monastic orders in the Crusades. Of these I have only become acquainted with The Monks of War. There, in an entirely different quarry, he digs out detail and brings to fight a vivid picture of another immensely tragic epoch in human history.

Whereas Seward draws on a few of the eminent Josephus scholars of our day, he did his own spade work. It is no slur to say that here is a book that may not be quoted in the research of Josephus scholars because it does not unearth new facts. …

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