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Temple as cosmos

The Jerusalem temple Imagery in Josephus' writings
PhD ceremony:Mr J. (Joabson) Xavier Pena
When:November 05, 2020
Supervisors:prof. dr. S.N. (Steve) Mason, prof. dr. J.T.A.G.M. (Jacques) van Ruiten
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Theology and Religious Studies
Temple as cosmos

Flavius Josephus, the first-century Judean historian, provides in his writings a vivid description of the Temple in Jerusalem and its predecessor, the Tabernacle. One of his most fascinating accounts of the Temple is its characterisation as a model of the cosmos in Judean War 5.207-237 and Judean Antiquities 3.108-187. Josephus writes, for instance, that the types of material used to weave the Temple’s textile indicate the basic elements of nature. The tripartite division of the Tabernacle reflects the cosmological geography: the land, the sea, and the sky. The lampstand and the twelve loaves of bread within the cult site signify heavenly bodies, and the priestly vestments reflect the nature of the universe. The aim of this thesis, therefore, is to elucidate the cosmological interpretation of the Jerusalem Temple in the writings of Josephus.

The thesis shows that the cosmological reading of the Temple/Tabernacle by Josephus should be understood in light of the powerful Judean God he sought to depict. Josephus seeks to convince his Roman audience that God is not only a local deity but the supreme ruler of the entire universe, who once established the Temple as the centre from where he exercised authority over the world and its peoples. Making use of philosophical elements, Josephus indicates that the Temple embodied the universe as created and maintained by God. Seen from this perspective, we observe Josephus in dialogue with a well-established Roman Imperial tradition of symbolic depiction of buildings as images of the cosmos.