The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

By Andrea M. Berlin; J. Andrew Overman | Go to book overview

Introduction

Andrea M. Berlin and J. Andrew Overman

Titus, on entering [Jerusalem], was amazed at its strength, but chiefly at the towers, which the tyrants, in their infatuation, had abandoned … “God indeed, ” he exclaimed, “had been with us in the war. God it was who brought down the Jews from these strongholds; for what power have human hands or engines against these towers?”

(War 6.409-12)

With these words placed in the mouth of the General Titus, the first century historian Josephus (37-97 C.E.) offered an apology and an explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Revolt against Rome, which occurred from 66-70 C.E. In this passage, Josephus asserts that God had sided with the Romans during this time and epoch. And the rebels of Judea and Galilee, the so-called “tyrants, ” had opposed God and the Romans, through whom God exercised rule. Social conflict, theology, personal hubris-these are only three of the possible causes for what was, for Josephus and his Jewish contemporaries, a momentous event. This famous and provocative first-century historian is the single most vital source of information and interpretation about the Revolt. Josephus produced his corpus between ten to twenty-five years after the Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem. His first major work was The Jewish War, followed by the exhaustive The Antiquities of the Jews. The former was most likely finished during the short reign of the Emperor Titus (79-81 C.E.), and the latter was written during the longer reign of Titus' brother and successor, Domitian (81-96 C.E.). Under Domitian Josephus also produced two shorter works, his Life, an autobiography, and a defense and explanation of Judaism called Contra Apionem.

Josephus pursues a number of questions and agendas as writer and historian. He is a defender of Jewish traditions and the Jewish people to a predominantly Roman audience. He often depicts the people of Judea and Galilee as noble, virtuous, fervent in their commitment to their God, and on the whole good citizens of the empire. He was an eyewitness to many of the developments and events surrounding the Revolt and therefore constitutes an invaluable though, as has often been noted, tendentious historical source.

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