Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jewish Historian Learned How to Survive the Roman Empire

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jewish Historian Learned How to Survive the Roman Empire

Article excerpt

Most of what we know of the grisly details of the fall of Jerusalem and the massacre of its inhabitants in the year 70 comes to us thanks to the work of one man, Joseph ben Mattathias, a Jew from the Holy Land who died around the year 100.

These were the seminal times of early Christianity, when the followers of Jesus were a band of Jews who managed to persevere despite the carnage inflicted by the Romans to suppress Jewish revolts.

As Frederic Raphael writes in his introduction to "A Jew Among Romans," his subject greatly influenced Edward Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

"Of all historians, ancient or modern, Titus Flavius Josephus is the one whose shadow falls most obviously across [Gibbon's] work. Yet if the Judean Jews had not embarked on the rebellion against Rome that broke out in 66 C.E., and reached its climax with the capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70, no librarian would ever have catalogued an author of that name."

Josephus was an agile figure in this period of Western history who figured out how to survive in the face of the Roman Empire. Because he did survive, we can understand a great deal about the time in which Jesus lived, the life and times of Jerusalem when it was in great upheaval with various factions of Jews and how the Romans operated in the area we know today as Israel and Palestine.

Josephus changed his name to Titus Flavius Josephus thus currying favor with the rulers to whom he later gave his allegiance when he threw in his lot with the Romans. Rome was the same imperial power that once had tried to kill him for leading his fellow Jews in a revolt against the empire. It was the Roman Titus who led his legions to sack Jerusalem and destroy the Jews' Second Temple built by King Herod.

Hence Raphael's apt title of this fascinating story about a man who wrote for all time his account of himself and his place in the history of the 1st century.

Today, we might look at Josephus as a traitor to his people, but that would be unfair, as Raphael shows by putting this complex man into context at a pivotal point in history. He fought the good fight against the Romans, and he betrayed no one.

Most Jews view him as a chronicler of the age in which he lived. And they admire him for his ability both to lead his people and to find ways to live under Roman rule, a fate which was emblematic for Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple. …

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