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A History of the Jewish War: AD 66-74, by Steve Mason

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 690. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $150.00. ISBN: 052185329X.

The First Romano-Jewish War in Perspective

Despite his title, Prof. Mason (Groningen), a specialist in the history of Flavian Rome and Judea, offers the reader much more than just a history of the Romano-Jewish War of A.D. 66-74. Rather, he gives us a wide ranging analytical exploration of the events, setting them within their broader cultural, political, military, and religious dimensions. The book is divided into two parts.

The first part, titled “Context”, takes up about a third of the volume. In it, Mason covers the received historical memory of the war, compares Roman, Christian, and Jewish perceptions of the conflict, gives us a critique of the principal source, the writings of Flavius Josephus (who, throughout the work, comes in for some very critical commentary) and finally discusses “Ancient Warfare in Human Perspective.”

In the second part, “Investigations”, Mason offers a narrative account of the war. He argues that it came about as much from Rome’s penchant for indirect rule as from a Jewish response to Roman oppression, complicated by internal tensions in the Jewish community and broader regional problems. The events are well told, in great detail. Mason regularly interrupts his narrative to make observations on people and events, analyze the available evidence (e.g., Josephus’ claim to have raised an army of “100,000” in Galilee early in the war,) parsing details of chronology, time, distance, and more. He often draws on evidence from other periods to help sort out details, such as soldiers’ physical capabilities and limitations, march rates, and such. Mason also at times makes major comparisons with events from other periods to help throw light on the ancient events (e.g., the destruction of the Second Temple and that of Monte Cassino).

Mason uses graphics to reconcile conflicting evidence, raise questions about the sequence of events, and even demonstrate that the war was not continuous, and, indeed, most probably involved relatively long periods of low levels of combat.

A volume in the series “Key Conflicts of Classical Antiquity”, Mason’s work is an outstanding contribution to the history of this the Jewish War, important for anyone studying the First Century, but is serious going for anyone not very familiar with the period.


Note: A History of the Jewish War is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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