The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

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

3

The Revolt from a regional perspective

Sean Freyne

In a recent study of Josephus, James McLaren, writing about the Jewish Revolt, makes the following statement: “Scholars have constructed their accounts entirely within the boundaries set by Josephus in War 2 and Ant. 18-20. As such they reinforce the extent to which scholarship, allegedly critical of Josephus and conceptually independent, parallels the description of affairs provided by him” (McLaren 1998:207). In this chapter I would like to respond to the implicit challenge that McLaren poses, namely, to examine the events that occurred in Judea in the first century C.E. within a framework different to that provided by Josephus, thereby hopefully also providing a different perspective. The horizon I wish to explore, namely that of regionalism, asks whether it might be possible to understand the events of 66-70 and the disturbances leading up to them as being regional in character, having more to do with local factors than as part of a single plot, dating back to Antiochus Epiphanes, the point where Josephus, in the War, begins his narrative.

In the preface to Jewish War Josephus introduces his topic as follows: “The war of the Jews against the Romans-the greatest not only of the wars of our own time, but, so far as accounts have reached us, well nigh of all that ever broke out between cities and nations.” While one can readily detect the rhetorical flourish here in the interests of nationalistic propaganda, it also points clearly to Josephus's own overall perspective on the events he is about to describe. For him it is a war of the Jews/Ioudaioi, which in this context at least cannot be reduced to “Judean” in the narrow geographical sense (Horsley 1995). Since the controlling perspective is that of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the term “the war of the Jews” includes all those who were prepared to fight on behalf of the distinctive Jewish way of life, expressed in the laws, customs and practices of those who worshiped at the Jerusalem temple, irrespective of where they actually lived (Freyne 1999). Galilee, Idumea, and Perea, as well as Judea in the narrower sense, all participate in the events narrated. Thus, the geographic spread is coextensive with the traditional Jewish territory as recognized in Pompey's division of the Hasmonean state over 100 years earlier. Josephus's account of the action taken by the provisional government after the defeat of Cestius Gallus in

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