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About us Faculty of Religion, Culture and Society Organization Staff PhD Research Jewish, Christian and Islamic Origins

Eelco Glas

Character Formation in Josephus’ Judaean War

Flavius Josephus (AD 37‒ca. 100) is by far the most prolific surviving historical writer from the first century AD. His Judaean War, considered to be Josephus’ most important work by many, takes its readers to the heart of the Jewish revolt of 66‒74 AD. Judaean War describes the events leading up to the revolt, the revolt itself, and its aftermath. Despite several clashes between the Judaeans and the Romans, both parties are busier with internal conflicts: both Judaea and Rome were torn apart by civil war (stasis). Despite their heroic defense, however, the Judaeans are eventually beaten by the Romans, with as collateral damage the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.

A fundamental problem for Josephus was how to persuade the Graeco-Roman audience he aimed for. He was a Judaean, a people not particularly popular in his days. He had even fought against the Romans as general in the Judaean army. The only luck he had was ending up as protégé of the newborn Flavian imperial dynasty. Nevertheless, Josephus’ problem was that of most ancient historians, though perhaps slightly more pressing: how to convince an audience of their credibility in general and specifically regarding their field of expertise? This could only be reached by proper imitation (mimesis) which means that through their language and analyses historians were expected to imitate the nature of things, reality. The historian’s choice of words should suit the subject matter.

For the historian it was crucial that his descriptions matched the expectations of his audience. Events were usually seen in relation to others, forming chains of events. These chains were usually explainable through patterns of behavior and/or words of certain individuals or groups. And through patterns of behavior could be explained through their character. How a historian characterized individuals and groups in his history was of pivotal importance. A proper historical work should educate an audience by supplying them with accurate examples of behavior that could be applied in situations perceived as similar to past ones. What is more, characters featuring in ancient histories were usually employed as rhetorical devices supporting the main arguments and themes of the composition.

The aim of this project is to determine patterns of characterization in Judaean War and their impact for understanding the historiographical composition as a whole. This aim will be realized through the following key-objectives:

1.       To identify patterns related to the use of characterization in Josephus’ War.

2.       To correlate these patterns with larger trends in Graeco-Roman historiographical traditions and explain these patterns through this tradition.

3.       To re-examine existing views on the aims and themes of War.

Close-up relief Arch of Titus showing the spoils from the siege of Jerusalem. Source:
Close-up relief Arch of Titus showing the spoils from the siege of Jerusalem. Source:
Last modified:25 July 2023 12.08 p.m.