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Jerusalem's Traitor

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Jerusalem's Traitor: Josephus, Masada, and the Fall of Judea
By Desmond Seward. ( Da Capo Press Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2009. Pg. xvi, 314. Illustrations, Maps.) ISBN: 978-0-306-81807-3.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - September 1, 2009

Titus Flavius Josephus (Yosef Ben Matityahu), was a Jewish aristocrat, priest, and military leader who was captured by the Romans during the First Jewish-Roman War of 6673. He is best known simply as the historian Josephus, who wrote The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. There is some question as to whether he turned traitor, or simply went over to the Roman to save his own skin, but not long after his capture, Josephus not only acquired Roman citizenship, but was also given a pension by the Flavians. What is certain is that Josephus was an eyewitness to many of the pivotal moments of Jewish and Roman history: including the First Jewish-Roman War, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Siege of Masada, the Fall of Judea, the Maccabees, the role of the Pharisees in both Jewish life and in regard to the Jewish-Roman wars, and what Jewish life and culture were like both in Rome and Judea during this period. There is however, a great deal of controversy as to how accurate his histories are - was he faithful to the real events, or was he simply writing Roman propaganda and assuring his position as a 'good Roman'? There are also the nagging questions that remain as to whether or not Josephus was a traitor or simply someone making the best of a bad situation. These and many other controversies are tackled in Desmond Seward's rousing historical narrative, Jerusalem's Traitor: Josephus, Masada, and the Fall of Judea.

Writing with the flare of a novelist, Seward not only brings Josephus to life, but also crafts a vivid picture of what caused the Jewish Revolt of 66, the Roman response, and the ongoing conflict which was to influence Jewish history and culture for generations to follow. Jerusalem's Traitor: Josephus, Masada, and the Fall of Judea is, at its heart, an insightful biography of Josephus, one that is told not only through Josephus's own words, but also of through those of his contemporaries. As such, Seward has compiled what is perhaps the most comprehensive and authoritative account of Josephus life, the controversies surrounding his actions, and the accuracies of his histories. Through Josephus, Seward has provided us with a window through which to view the events of this period and their long term consequence.

Jerusalem's Traitor: Josephus, Masada, and the Fall of Judea is popular history at its best. Seward tells a rousing tale, one that is well researched and insightful, yet without any of the pedantic word play that often turns readers away from history books. Although written for a general audience, historians and other scholars with an interest in Jewish, Roman, Middle Eastern, and early Christian history will also find this book of great value. I highly recommend this book to readers of every ilk, even those who are not normally intrigued by 'history' books. Jerusalem's Traitor is a ripping good read, filled with intrigue, war, love, and conflict. Seward writes with the skill of a novelist, and the only difference between reading this book and suspense novel, is that Seward's book is all true, and it includes footnotes and an up-to-date bibliography which will prove useful to anyone wishing to explore the fascinating life, world, and works of Josephus in greater detail.


Desmond Seward is an historian and author of several popular histories, including The Monks of War, The Hundred Years War, The Wars of the Roses, and Caravaggio: A Passionate Life.


Related Reviews:

The Roman-Jewish Wars and Hebrew Cultural Nationalism, By Moshe Aberbach and David Aberbach.
This book covers two interrelated subjects - the Roman-Jewish wars and the development of Hebrew cultural nationalism. This is accomplished via a discussion the short and long term causes of the three revolts that erupted between the Jews and the Graeco-Romans, which occurred in 66-70, 115-17, and 132-35 C.E.

Between Rome and Jerusalem, By Martin Sicker.
In this book, Sicker demonstrates how, and why, Judea played such a large role in Roman Politics, in Rome's expansionist goals, and why it was important that Rome subjugate Judea.

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