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A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus, by Frederic Raphael

New York: Pantheon, 2013. Pp. xxvi, 336. Notes, biblio., index. $28.95. ISBN: 0307378160.

A life and times of the very interesting, and ever controversial Flavius Josephus.

Josephus was a Judean general who turned his coat during the Romano-Jewish War of AD 66-71 to become an advisor to emperors, an historian, and, despite his actions, a defender of Judaism.  In A Jew Among Romans, Raphael, a novelist, biographer, screenwriter, and classical scholar, sets Josephus within the world of the First Century and follows his reputation down the ages.  In keeping with Josephus’ history, Raphael has produced a complex work.  Naturally, he gives us a look at Josephus as a Judean of his times and as a general in the great Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73.  Raphael examines the curious circumstances by which Josephus became first a prisoner of the Romans, then a collaborator, an intimate of the imperial house, and an historian of his own war and of the Jewish people.

Raphael discusses Josephus within the framework of his times, and there’s much useful material here for the student of military history as well as of Jewish, Roman, and Hellenic culture in the period.  He also delves into the complexities of religion and culture of the age: what was “Judaism” in those times, was Graeco-Roman society “anti-Semitic”, and more, including the still very complex question of “who is a Jew?”  Raphael doesn’t stop there, for he carries the story of Josephus to the present, raising questions of the man’s influence on historiography, theology (Jewish, Christian, and Moslem), and how these still influence us today.  Although there are occasional errors in things like dates that better editing should have caught, these by no means detract from the overall value of the book. 

A Jew Among Romans will prove rewarding reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the world of the First Century, a time when the Roman Empire was reaching its greatest heights and the formative period of both Christianity and modern Judaism.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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