Temple as Cosmos: The Jerusalem Temple Imagery in Josephus' Writings

Xavier Pena, J., 2020, [Groningen]: University of Groningen. 263 p.

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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The Judaean-Roman historian Flavius Josephus (ca. 37 CE – ca. 100 CE) is among the thinkers of the early Imperial Age who provides a colourful description of the Jerusalem Temple and its predecessor, the wilderness Tent. Josephus’ elaborate descriptions of the Temple’s symbolism assign cosmological meaning to the structure of the cult site, its appurtenances, the associated services, and the priests’ attire. Those narratives found in Judaean War 5.207-237 and Judaean Antiquities 3.108-187 have not received as much notice as other areas of Josephan scholarship have over the past decades. The aim of this thesis, therefore, is to elucidate the Temple-as-cosmos idea in the writings of Josephus. To this end, I approach Josephus’ narrative on the cosmological symbolism of the Jerusalem Temple and its prototype the Tent through historical investigation. I interpret his narratives in detail, considering the conventions of the time and milieu in which Josephus writes to determine the meaning of his language.

The thesis shows that the cosmological reading of the Temple/Tent by Josephus should be understood in light of the powerful Judaean deity he sought to depict. Josephus seeks to convince his Roman readership that the Judaean god is not only a national and local deity, but the Most High God, the supreme ruler of the entire universe, who once established the Temple/Tent as the centre from where he exercised authority over the world and its peoples. Making use of philosophical elements, Josephus indicates that the arrangement of the cult site, its personnel, ritual practices, and implements 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. Additionally, Josephus demonstrates in his Judaean Antiquities that the Temple arrangement conforms to Judaean Law, which in its turn codifies the cosmic law created by God.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
Award date5-Nov-2020
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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