The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture from the 18th Century to the Present
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Collaborator King's College London
Has co-investigator
Has principal investigator Martin Goodman
Impact This Project will, by illuminating a difficult area of our past, help to enhance public debate of the religious heritage shared by Jews and Christians and thus advance community cohesion. The historian Flavius Josephus has given both religions their basic understanding of their own historical origins. He provides most of our knowledge of the period in which both Judaism and Christianity took shape, providing the only documentation of many momentous events, above all the detailed narrative of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, which determined the fate of three religions. Here too lie the roots of their conflict. Myth and reality have become inseparable in this extremely sensitive area. Josephus lies at the heart of Europe's formation. As a Jewish author whose writings were adopted and for many centuries transmitted and exploited by the Church, Josephus has been received and read in many different ways. For centuries, he was a shaper of Christianity. But, especially in the modern period, Jews have revalorized this part of their heritage, and conferred new significance and new meanings on the material, which became intertwined with their own progress into modernity. To reflect on this extraordinary multiplicity of treasured and highly influential readings of the same text is to come close to getting inside the mindset of the 'other', relinquishing dogmatism, and achieving real tolerance. Josephus records a multi-ethnic world and speaks for the first diaspora in western history as an insider, illuminating problems of co-existence that are acute today, and even offering remedies. Our research will thus benefit members of faith communities who are concerned with self-understanding and interfaith relations; all who seek routes to living in plural societies; and in particular teachers and students who seek to illuminate the present through a better grasp of the past and insight into the damaging effect of narrow readings of complex texts. The Project will result in the publication of two monographs and an edited volume of papers. Both monographs will be based on the Project's findings. Goodman's book is targeted at a wide audience of general readers. Rajak's book, while more detailed and perhaps more demanding, is not planned as a technical academic volume: it will be written in such a way as to be accessible to educated readers from a range of backgrounds, including teachers, students, clergy and other carriers of socio-cultural influence. The edited volume of selected workshop papers will help bring the significance of the Project to the attention of the scholarly public and define the agenda for future research in this field. The Project emphasises the open section of the website, which will make available a range of introductory and supplementary materials. Accounts of the Project workshops, with abstracts of papers and an edited version of the conversation between the investigators, collaborators and workshop participants, will also be available online for those who wish to enter into any topic in more depth. The website will target a global audience, looking beyond the familiar constellation of countries with specialists in Jewish studies or Classics: the investigators are already in close contact with colleagues in Japan, China, Russia and Brazil. The PI and first Co-I are also experienced in outreach lecturing to a wide range of audiences, both live and in the media, and they will lay emphasis on such activities. One important such channel will be the Limmud conference which annually draws hundreds of lay participants from (mainly) the Jewish community to a university campus for several days of culture and activities by volunteer presenters. Other venues will be the meetings of the Council of Christians and Jews, and groups concerned with the Middle East. We thus intend our work to forward religious and ethnic co-existence, with both British society and an international perspective firmly in view.
Status Closed
Identifier AH/J00460X/1
abstract Josephus was a Jewish priest from Jerusalem who took part in the war against Rome in 66 CE until he was captured and, inspired (so he said) by divine guidance, changed to the Roman side and devoted his retirement in Rome to writing about the history and customs of the Jews. His best known work, the Jewish War, was completed by 81 CE, just ten years after the end of the war itself, but he also wrote three further works: the Jewish Antiquities, a twenty-book account of Jewish history from the creation of the world to 66 CE; the Life, an apologetic autobiography designed to uphold a claim never to have been genuinely anti-Roman despite his career in 66-67 as a rebel general; and Against Apion, a defence of Jews and Judaism in two books against calumnies found in the writings of a variety of gentile authors. The project will investigate the attitudes to these writings and to Josephus as an individual to be found among Jews from the 18th century to the present. Josephus' writings were not acknowledged in the Jewish tradition preserved by the rabbis in Hebrew and Aramaic in late antiquity, and the survival of his works is due entirely to the value ascribed to them by early Christians. The re-entry of the Jewish War into the Jewish cultural milieu came about only through a paraphrase of the Latin text of Hegesippus into Hebrew, with additions from Roman and Jewish history, produced by a South Italian Jew ('Josippon') in the tenth century CE, and it was only in the sixteenth century, when, again in Italy, Azariah de'Rossi reintroduced Jews to the writings of Greek Judaism in antiquity, that they became reacquainted with Josephus' original text. The focus of this multidisciplinary research will be on the way Jews in the last 250 years have built on earlier Jewish and Christian uses of the writings of Josephus for a variety of very different purposes. It will look at the use of Josephus by the Maskilim, intellectuals from the late 18th and 19th centuries who sought to open the eyes of their fellow Jews to the world outside, forging a new Jewish consciousness and ultimately a redefined identity. It will examine the attitudes to Josephus of the founders of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement in Germany, who were inclined to see Josephus's version of Jewish history as more reliable than stories in rabbinic texts, even though their attitude to his political stance was ambivalent. It will investigate the uses of Josephus by Rabbinic circles in the nineteenth century, as they came to be influenced by the Haskalah, and by European Jews more generally as part of the wider rhetoric of Jewish identity, especially within the arguments about assimilation throughout Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And it will trace the uses of Josephus both by Zionists from the late nineteenth century through the foundation of the State of Israel to the present day - as expressed in Zionist political speeches, dramas, novels, and by the interpretation of the archaeology and geography of the land during the formation of the Israeli state - and, finally, by 'post-Zionist' historians, sociologists and publicists as part of their re-assessment of the foundation and ideologies of the State of Israel. Among issues for investigation in all these contexts will be the attachment of Jewish interest to some of Josephus' writings more than others, and how Jewish attitudes to those writings were affected by attitudes to the historian as a person, by non-Jewish opinion and by concerns about the relationship of Josephus' Antiquities to the text of scripture. In view of the huge amount of relevant data, the project does not aim to produce an exhaustive analysis of all uses of Josephus by Jews during this period, but rather a representative series of fully documented and analysed case studies to illuminate these complex and diverse issues. The resulting monographs, edited volume, workshop papers and website will address a varied audience.
Type Project
Label The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture from the 18th Century to the Present
Title The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture from the 18th Century to the Present

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