BMCR 2006.10.45

Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome

, , , Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. xvi, 400 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780199262120 $135.00.

Table of Contents

Two collections of essays, the select fruit of two conferences on Josephus, were published last autumn. Joseph Sievers and Gaia Lembi edited Josephus and Jewish History in Flavian Rome and Beyond (Journal for the Study of Judaism, Suppl., v. 104: Brill 2005), containing twenty-two essays focused on Josephus the author. Here I discuss the other collection. The title, Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome, is apt, for the contributors inform us as much about Flavian society as they do of Josephus. These two collections exhibit, as expected, some overlap. I refer, as relevant, to essays in Sievers and Lembi, and to a complementary compendium: A.J. Boyle and W.J. Dominik (eds.), Flavian Rome: Culture, Image, Text (Brill 2003).

Edmondson’s “Introduction” sketches Josephus’ life and works1 within the worlds of first-century CE Jewish experience and Roman society, while placing J. and the present contributions in several different contexts of modern scholarship. As we expect of an introduction to this type of volume, Edmondson summarizes each contribution and skillfully notes the contributors’ complementary and divergent arguments. Frequent cross-references throughout the volume direct the reader to where other contributors discuss the topic at issue.

Cotton and Eck, in “Josephus’ Roman Audience: Josephus and the Roman Elites”, present a conservative assessment of Josephus’ social standing in Rome. Their careful prosopographical analysis indicates that, outside the imperial household, J.’s contacts with the elite in Rome were minimal. He dedicated his later works, to be sure, to Epaphroditus: this was surely not Nero’s freedman (Suet. Dom. 14.4), but the grammarian and bibliophile mentioned by the Suda (E 2004 ed. Adler), whom recent research cannot confirm as a freedman of any prefect of Egypt. Cotton and Eck starkly conclude that J. held “no prominent position in the social life of Flavian Rome…[he was] in all likelihood extremely lonely and extremely isolated in Rome”. As Cotton and Eck remind us, J. did not in Rome reside on the Palatine and walk the corridors and pathways of power. He lived in the Flavian domus on the Quirinal (J. Vita 423; Suet. Dom. 1: “domus ad malum punicum”), where the Flavians occupied several properties.2 And where did J. live after Domitian’s assassination? In his Vita (429), J. asserted that Domitia (Domitian’s wife) never ceased bestowing favors on him. Cotton and Eck (p. 45) remark: “what these favors consisted of or amounted to is left unclear”. Perhaps Domitia provided lodging at her suburban villa near Gabii (she lived on until at least 123 CE3). If so, J. was truly isolated from Roman society after Domitian’s death.4

Bowersock’s “Foreign Elites at Rome” provides a concise commentary on Seneca’s description of aliens resident at Rome ( Helv. 6.2-3), then draws attention to first-century (mostly eastern Mediterranean) elites who enjoyed Flavian patronage. Bowersock places in political and military contexts the travails of Antiochus IV of Commagene who, driven from his kingdom by the legate Caesennius Paetus, sojourned in luxury at Sparta (Bowersock is convincing as to why there), then resided in Rome. The old king established at Rome the foundation for the senatorial career of his grandson, C. Iulius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus (suffect consul in 109). Bowersock uses the career of Antiochus IV to illustrate the Flavian revival of “residential diplomacy” of an earlier era, when the roles of Josephus, Berenice, Agrippa II, and Antiochus were played by Nicolaus of Damascus, Berenice I, and Agrippa I. (Bowersock comments cogently on the extent to which Nicolaus was and was not a “prefiguration” of Josephus.) Thus did the Flavians attempt to “consolidate the victory in Jerusalem”.

In “Herodians and Ioudaioi in Flavian Rome”, Schwartz revisits a semantic issue he convincingly (to this reader) addressed in 1992: how to understand Greek “Ioudaioi” and Latin “Iudaei”. Here, Schwartz closely examines Josephan usage to argue that “Judaean” in geographical/territorial senses evolved to a “more nebulous” national and religious connotation for which “Jew(s)” is an apposite translation. Likewise, the Greek adjective “Ioudaikos”: J.’s later usage is more restricted to the religious sphere (e.g., AJ 18.55). Schwartz’s discussion demonstrates that context must observed carefully when translating specific terms: one size does not fit all. Schwartz shows how the terms he discusses subtly change in meaning from the BJ to the AJ. I add that J’s late contra Apionem illustrates Schwartz’s points well.5 Schwartz connects this non-territorial usage to the simple fact that Judaeans no longer had (with the decline of the Herodians) a ruling house. The absence of a priestly hierarchy in a specific place (Jerusalem) is also, of course, relevant. I think that what we observe in J.’s evolving connotation is part of the general Jewish awareness that τὸ Ἰουδαικόν was now where communities of those who followed the Torah resided.

Rajak, in “Josephus in the Diaspora”, observes that J. certainly presents himself as a “diaspora Jew”, but not as an exile. J. saw himself as the exponent of an ecumenical Mediterranean Jewish community. He therefore has much to say of Jewish local history and circumstances in Alexandria, Antioch, and eastern realms. Rajak points to gaps in J.’s knowledge: Philo ( Legatio 281-3) and the NT Acts of the Apostles (13.5-14.25; 16.1-13) knew of Jewish communities along the Black Sea, in Greece, Macedonia, Cyprus, and rural Anatolia not mentioned by J. Rajak’s J. is a much-traveled man. She canvasses the possibilities of J.’s personal acquaintance with Cyrene and Crete, his travels along the Anatolian coast, and late return to Judaea (Jamnia, perhaps?). However implausible the persona of J. the periegete, Rajak convincingly extracts from J.’s writings a “dynamic” driving J.’s role as spokesperson for diaspora Jewry: to maintain group identity, while attempting to live in mutually-respectful relationship with local and imperial authorities. To ring a change on Rajak’s conclusion, we observe little evidence J.’s Jewish audience read him and benefited.

In Millar’s “Last Year in Jerusalem: Monuments of the Jewish War in Rome”, J.’s well-known report of the triumphal procession of 71 ( BJ 7.123-57) receives informed commentary on the numerous problems in J.’s often imprecise topographical statements. Millar also studies what we actually know of the Flavian “Templum Pacis” (between the Domitianic-Nervan “Forum Transitorium” and Titus’ baths) and what that temple contained. He offers an informative discussion of the fates of the Jewish goods once displayed at the “Templum Pacis”. Millar reminds us that a second arch dedicated to Titus once stood in the Circus Maximus, adorned with a remarkable example of historical revisionism. The dedicatory inscription asserted that Titus had destroyed Jerusalem, a city previously unsuccessfully sought by “all commanders, kings, peoples”.6 So much (to go no further) for Mark Antony’s general C. Sosius, in 37 BCE (Broughton, MRR II, s.a. 37, p. 398). Sosius may well have used booty from the holy city for the magnificent temple of Apollo Sosianus, some columns and the platform of which still adorn the area beside the Theater of Marcellus. Millar also reviews the one piece of written evidence explicitly connecting the Flavian amphitheater to the Jewish war: Geza Alföldy’s remarkable reconstruction (based on the placement of the attachment holes for the metal letters) of the original dedicatory inscription:7 “I[mp(erator)] Caes(ar) Vespasi[anus Aug(ustus)] / amphitheatru[m novum? / ex] manubis [vacat ca. 6] [fieri iussit?]”. The first line was then modified to assert the primacy of Titus: “I[mp(erator)] T(itus) Caes(ar) Vespasi[anus Aug(ustus)]”. Millar tacitly accentuates a subtle theme of this volume: how each Flavian son sought to define himself in relation to his predecessor.

Barnes, in “The Sack of the Temple in Josephus and Tacitus”, also examines the triumph of 71, viewing that spectacle as the founding event of the new dynasty. How the three successive Flavian emperors were treated by contemporary literary folk is Barnes’ particular concern. (He comments shrewdly on Silius Italicus’ and Valerius Flaccus’ attempts to imbue younger brother Domitian with elder brother Titus’ military prestige.) After a survey of J.’s account (in BJ 6 and 7) of the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple, Barnes offers a compelling historiographic discussion of what we may surmise was the Tacitean tradition of these events in the missing portions of Tacitus’ Historiae. B. argues that J., Plutarch, and Tacitus drew on a common source for the events of 69 and that source may well have been the Elder Pliny’s History.8

Rives raises anew the question of whether the Romans (i.e., Titus) destroyed the Temple as a matter of policy or whether its destruction was an “accident of war”. In “Flavian Religious Policy and the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple”, Rives argues that Flavian policy evolved to a conscious decision to end the Temple cult (and, necessarily, to obliterate the physical locus of that cult), with the aim of encouraging (?) the integration of a marginal, but troublesome, group into imperial society. An episode Rives himself notes suggests a more pragmatic strategy: Vespasian ordered the destruction of the Jewish temple in Egyptian Leontopolis, because (as Josephus plausibly remarks: BJ 7.421) he did not want yet another Jewish cult center to become the site of armed resistance.

Several contributors to this volume adduce Nerva’s famous sestertius (three issues in 96 and 97 CE) displaying, on the reverse, a palm tree (numismatic symbol for Judaea) and the legend φισξι ιυδαιξι ξαλυμνια συβλατα .C.).9 This legend has commonly been interpreted, with reference to Suetonius, Dom. 12.2, and Cassius Dio 68.1.2,10 as Nerva’s reform of a practice tolerated by Domitian: non-Jews maliciously accused of Judaizing (and, if convicted, therefore liable for the two drachma tax levied by Titus: BJ 7.218). In “The Fiscus Iudaicus and Gentile Attitudes to Judaism in Flavian Rome”, Goodman stresses the lack of evidence for any sizable group of Judaizers in Rome during the Domitianic era; he is (properly, I think) skeptical of the attractions Judaism would have had, at this time, for most non-Jews. Goodman argues that the coin legend did not concern Judaizers, but Jews who had lived a Jewish life secretly and those living as Jews openly, but hoping to avoid the tax by denying their origin. Nerva’s reform, therefore, concerned native, practicing Jews and abolished the fiscus Iudaicus. I do not find this convincing. Cotton and Eck (pp. 45-6) are surely correct: the “calumnia” refers to exacting the tax based on malicious denunciation.

Kraus’ essay, “From Exempla to Exemplar? Writing History around the Emperor in Imperial Rome”, looks to be the odd Latin petunia in a Greek onion-patch. But she makes an important point: much Latin historiography has not survived; Tacitus (and Syme’s Tacitus, in particular) remains. The reader of Josephus should reflect on who was writing history in Latin and whom Josephus may have used.11 Kraus stresses the tendency of Latin historiography from the Augustan era onwards towards “exemplarity”: delineating good and bad characters to assess the present and judge the past.12 To a certain extent, the use of “exemplarity” blurred the genres of biography and history; to a considerable extent, as Kraus observes, “exemplarity” reveals the potent influence on historical writing of declamation and panegyric. Now it would be helpful to see this analysis applied to instances of “exemplarity” in the BJ and AJ.

Jones’ concise contribution, “Josephus and Greek Literature in Flavian Rome”, examines Josephus within the context of Domitian’s latter-day Hellenism. Jones points out the distinctly Greek flavor (in addition, of course, to language) of J.’s writings, especially the AJ. Jones is under no illusions as to J.’s impact on contemporary or later (non-Christian) readers: “there is no sign that either of his two major works made any dent in Greek historiography or thought.” Jones identifies those Greeks at Rome with whom J. might have had contact and who might have influenced his writings. Jones is properly cautious as to first-hand acquaintance, but he does note some similar topics (and topoi) in J.’s works and in the early works of his contemporaries Epictetus, Plutarch, and (most interestingly) Dio Chrysostom. None of this hints at the participation of J. in any sort of Second Sophistic circle at Rome. Cotton and Eck’s vision of J. as an isolated figure remains. But I do not need to meet you to read and be influenced by you.

With “Parallel Lives of Two Lawgivers: Josephus’ Moses and Plutarch’s Lycurgus”, Feldman contributes to a sub-discipline of which he is the manifest master: how J. clothed the heroic figures of the Hebraic scriptures in the garments of Greek historiography. Feldman here examines the Greek figure of the lawgiver, comparing J.’s Moses, presented by J. as an Hellenic “natural philosopher” (see especially AJ 1. prolog. 18-20; 2.217; c. Ap. II.154-6713) juxtaposed with the Lycurgus tradition of Plutarch. (For J.’s acquaintance with the Lycurgan tradition, see c. Ap. II. 225, cf. II.154). Feldman’s discursive study identifies a number of similarities in J. and Plutarch in presentation of personality, as well as in genealogy (according to Hellenistic speculation, both Moses and Lycurgus had kinship connections to Herakles). Feldman shows (once again) how well J. learned to exploit the literary arsenal of Greek weapons of historiographic analysis, description, and presentation. Feldman thereby implicitly suggests that we should believe J.’s assertion ( AJ 20.263) of extensive reading in Greek literature. Feldman does not argue for a Josephan use of Plutarch. Comparative chronology of composition alone would seem to forbid. Whether the reverse is possible is a question Feldman raises, but cannot (on present evidence) answer, not least in terms of Jones’ contribution (supra) to this same volume.

Invoking Frederick Ahl’s influential study, “The Art of Safe Criticism in Greece and Rome,” AJP 105 (1984): 174-208, Mason proceeds to consider “Figured Speech and Irony in T. Flavius Josephus”. Mason’s study has the virtue of surveying all of J.’s writings; his identification and analysis of ironic discourse and narratives of mis-direction, especially in the Vita, is insightful. Whether or not every reader agrees with Mason as to the figural and ironic intent of every passage identified is of less importance than his compilation of a dossier of texts from which we may assess J.’s acquired mastery of Greek rhetoric. A lengthy review (necessary for this particular community of readers?) of Greek terminology for ironic discourse is prelude to a fine demonstration of how often the BJ undermines an informed audience’s expectations.14 I note especially Mason’s witty discussion of J.’s presentation of Domitian’s juvenile military campaign. Indeed, Mason shrewdly observes the necessity for J. (as for Dio Chrysostom and other literary folk of the era) to speak ironically or periphrastically of the ruling house.15 Mason is sometimes better at pointing to plausible irony and possible word-play than at explaining. His disquisition, for example, on the role of the mime-actor Aliturus on the occasion of J.’s first visit to Rome ( Vita 16) is suggestive. Mason is certainly correct in viewing Aliturus as an odd name (and not, I believe, one otherwise attested). Yes, of course “aliturus” looks like the future active participle of “alo, -ere”. But to leap from that observation to hypothesize some sensible (to Greek readers?) pun based on the Homerically-named, Neronian mime-actor Paris, and the Latin verbs “pascere”, “pavere”, or “parere” is not convincing.

In “Spectacle in Josephus’ Jewish War”, Chapman surveys a variety of spectacles J. presents, with particular attention to the destruction of the Temple. J.’s descriptions of these events of course have literary aims; Chapman argues that they also are political statements. In particular, J. employs the techniques of Greek historiography to monumentalize the Temple. Chapman exploits well recent scholarship to illustrate how well J. learned the techniques of his predecessors to describe the events of war as spectacle.16 We might add that J.’s writing of pitiable and pitiful scenes (e.g., BJ 3.393-7—discussed well by Chapman) owes no little to the Hellenistic historiographic tradition of sensational history associated with Duris of Samos and Phylarchus—a style of history famously castigated by Polybius (2.56-62).17 Chapman is adept at distinguishing J. the dispassionate observer and J. the involved witness. She cogently argues that J.’s description of the destruction of the Temple aimed to encourage readers to view that act as tragedy. This reader doubts, however, that J. expected (or even hoped) to encourage the “reconstruction of Jerusalem and its sanctuary for law-abiding Jewish people”.

Barclay’s trendy title, “The Empire Writes Back: Josephan Rhetoric in Flavian Rome”, suggests his topic: can post-colonial theory (which Barclay sets out with admirable clarity) be applied fruitfully to J.? For many provincial groups within the Roman empire, we may have some material evidence for the uneven processes of Romanization (or, if one prefers, acculturation to, and accommodation with, the hegemonic order), but minimal or no indigenous literature to ascertain perceptions of Romanization. Jewish writings (Josephus notably, but not exclusively) offer a textual record to assess how one subordinate group expressed (in Barclay’s words) its “own values and traditions, but under the constraints, and to some degree within the terms, of the dominant” Greco-Roman culture. Barclay proceeds to an analysis of Josephan rhetoric in contra Apionem II, with a dissection of c. Ap. II.125-34, to demonstrate how J. employed Greek rhetorical tools in his defense of Jews and Jewish tradition.

Barclay’s final essay discussing Josephus’ final treatise fittingly concludes a book that indeed advances our understanding of Flavius Josephus in Flavian Rome. As several scholars have observed of late,18 Josephus should be studied within the mainstream of the classical studies curriculum. Not the least of this volume’s accomplishments is to complicate our perceptions of Josephus, while embedding him more firmly in his Hellenic contexts and in cosmopolitan Flavian society.


1. I refer to Josephus’ writings in the conventional fashion: BJ : Jewish War; AJ : Archaeology/Antiquities of the Jews; Vita; c. Ap. : contra Apionem.

2. Mario Torelli and Werner Eck, in Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae II (1995): 102-4, s.vv. “Domus: T. Flavius Sabinus”, “Domus: T. Flavius Salinator”, “Domus: T. Flavius Vespasianus”; L. Richardson, Jr., New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore 1992):127, 137-8, 140; F. Coarelli, Roma Sepolta (Rome 1984):146-55.

3. Domitia and property near Gabii: CIL 14.2795 (= ILS 272); 15.548a-9d, 7451.

4. See also Jonathan J. Price, “The Provincial Historian in Rome,” in Sievers and Lembi: 101-18.

5. In c. Ap. I.32-33, 42, J. distinguishes between country (“Ioudaia”) and those of the religious community, wherever they may be. At c. Ap. I.59, “to genos” is the religious-ethnic community; at I.71-2, “Ioudaioi” is the Jewish community.

6. The arch is attested on fragments of the Severan Forma Urbis and was known into the ninth-century: Richardson, NewTDAR, s.v. “Arcus Titi (1)”, p. 30. The dedicatory inscription: CIL 6.944 = ILS 264.

7. Alföldy’s reconstruction appeared as “Eine Bauinschrift aus dem Colosseum,” ZPE 109 (1995): 195-226. See also CIL 6.40454a; AE 1995: 111b. A well-illustrated discussion by Louis Feldman appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2001: 22-31, 60-61. Some skepticism (not shared by this reviewer) in Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard, The Colosseum (Harvard 2005): 32-4. ( BMCR 2006.03.03).

8. Barnes’ argument was also advanced, with typical vigor, by Mary Beard, “The Triumph of Flavius Josephus,” in Boyle and Dominik: 543-58. Fragments of Pliny’s “a fine Aufidi Bassi triginta unus” in H. Peter, Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae II: 110-12. Pliny’s “Bellorum Germaniae viginti” (for both: Pliny Minor, Ep. 3.5.4-5) may also have served as a source.

9. British Museum Catalogue: Roman Empire III: numbers 66, p. 15; 98, p. 17; 105-6, p.19.

10. Cary’s Loeb translation of Dio is here misleading: “no persons were permitted to accuse anybody of ‘maiestas’ or of adopting the Jewish mode of life.” No “adopting”: “he [Nerva] permitted no accusations of ‘asebeia’ or of the Jewish life.”

11. As, notably, in late books of the AJ : 8 on Parthian affairs; 19 on the violent transition from Gaius to Claudius.

12. We recall Syme’s “Obituaries in Tacitus,” now in R. Syme, Ten Studies in Tacitus (Oxford 1970): 79-90.

13. On which, see also Lucio Troiani, Commento storico al “contro Apione” di Giuseppe (Pisa 1977): 180-9.

14. Here Mason implicitly invokes an argument he has frequently presented: that the AJ, Vita, and c. Ap. were primarily aimed at a non-Jewish audience. See Mason, “Flavius Josephus in Flavian Rome,” in Boyle and Dominik: 559-89; “Of audience and meaning: Reading Josephus’ Bellum Judaicum in the context of a Flavian audience,” in Sievers and Lembi: 71-100. Contrast, in the present volume, Cotton and Eck, p. 44.

15. See also, Marcus Wilson, “After the Silence: Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal,” in Boyle and Dominik: 523-42.

16. See also Erik Gunderson, “The Flavian Amphitheatre: all the world as stage,” in Boyle and Dominik: 637-58.

17. Compare Fausto Parente, “The Impotence of Titus, or Josephus’ Bellum Judaicum as an example of ‘pathetic’ historiography,” in Sievers and Lembi: 45-69.

18. See Jones in the present volume (204) and Mary Beard’s comments in Boyle and Dominik: 542-8.