Sunday, June 12, 2022

Fortnightly Book, June 12

 Josephus, son of Matthias, was born to  a wealthy priestly family in Jerusalem; he studied for priestly duties, but eventually seems to have grown tired of them. He went on a diplomatic mission to Rome to negotiate with Nero for the release of some Jewish prisoners, which he was able to obtain by the favor of Poppaea, who had an interest in Judaism, and, after staying in Rome for a while, returned to a nation that was beginning to rise in rebellion against Rome. Josephus was opposed to any such thing, but it came nonetheless; he was appointed military governor of Galilee by the rebels. He was quite competent at this, but was constantly having problems with other rebel factions, which the Romans put to an end by invading. This could have ended very poorly, but he was eventually captured by (or surrendered to) the Romans, and remarked to the general, Flavius Vespasian, that he would be emperor one day. Vespasian was intrigued enough that he kept Josephus for two years instead of sending him on to the emperor for punishment, and Josephus's fortune was made when Vespasian actually did become emperor. He was freed, but stayed generally attached first to Vespasian, then to Vespasian's son, Titus; he accompanied the latter on his campaign against Jerusalem. His service to Titus on that mission -- repeatedly trying to get the Jews to surrender -- branded him a traitor among his own people, but raised him in the favor of the Flavians. They showered him with real estate, and eventually Roman citizenship, at which he took the name Flavius in honor of his patrons. 

He is one of the reasons we have an unusually extensive knowledge of the Jewish role in the Roman empire of his day, something we lack for most other ethnic groups in the empire. The fortnightly book is The Jewish War, the original title of which in Greek was something like 'Books of the Narrative of the Jewish War Against the Romans', which Josephus wrote in part from his own experiences and in part from other sources, in order to correct previous accounts that he thought were false. Supposedly he wrote it originally in Aramaic, but translated it into Greek for the Romans, but we only have the Greek. 

I'll be reading the Penguin Classics version, translated by G. A. Williamson.