The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture
Our project has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The home of the project is in the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Unit of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford; and it is supported by the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.
The members of the team are Professor Martin Goodman, Oxford (Chief Investigator), Professor Tessa Rajak, Oxford, and Dr Andrea Schatz, King’s College London (Co-Investigators). Our project officers have been Dr Annelies Cazemier and Cassiope Sydoriak.
The writer Flavius Josephus belongs equally to Jewish and to Graeco-Roman history, and his writings proved crucial to the formation and evolution of Christianity and to its relationship with Judaism. A prominent Jerusalem priest, Josephus was a participant in and chronicler of the great Jewish revolt of 66-73 against Rome and he witnessed the fall of the Jerusalem Temple. In his Jewish War, Antiquities, and Against Apion, written in Greek, Josephus documented the Jewish communities in the land of Israel and in the diaspora within the Roman imperial context; he retold biblical history from Genesis to the outbreak of the revolt; and he defended Judaism against its Greek detractors.
About the Project
Josephus has been crucial in the formation of modern Jewish identity. Our project explores how Jews since the middle of the 18th century have used and recreated his writings and how they have built on earlier uses of them for their own purposes.
We are interested in both literary and popular culture, both religious and secular thought, and in a wide range of texts and artefacts. We look at fluctuations of interest over the centuries in a wide range of places, and we concern ourselves particularly with how such preferences were influenced by contemporary issues and how they in turn made a difference in their own time.
Josephus was a touchstone. Responses to his writings were intertwined with responses to the man himself, as a controversial participant in complex political events and a problematic moral agent. A key element in the story is the interaction between non-Jewish understanding of Josephus and Jewish preoccupations. Josephus’s importance to the Christian world through the centuries is hard to overestimate and this forms the background to his Jewish reception.
Activities of the Project
We organized a series of four workshops in Oxford between January 2013 and June 2014. These addressed the reception of Josephus from late antiquity to the 21st century. The first workshop included papers on the Christian context to the historian’s Jewish reception. You can see their programmes, abstracts of the papers presented, and some of the papers in full on our Workshops page.
On this website you will also find a new, ongoing reference resource, the Josephus Reception Archive, now available to the public.
The project team has presented its findings at key international conferences: the World Union of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, 2014); the European Association of Jewish Studies (Paris, 2015); and the Association of Jewish Studies (Boston, 2015).
Public Appearances by Individual Team Members
On 3rd April 2013, Tessa Rajak was interviewed by Timothy Michael Law: ‘Tessa Rajak talks to Timothy Michael Law about the Reception of Josephus’, Marginalia, Los Angeles Review of Books. You can listen to the recording here.
On 21st May 2015, Martin Goodman and Tessa Rajak discussed Josephus on Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time, You can listen to the programme here.
On 3 October 2015, Tessa Rajak gave the Raymond Westbrook Memorial Lecture at University College, London, on the subject of ‘Josephus and Modern Jewish Identity’.
On 29 December 2015, Martin Goodman and Tessa Rajak presented different aspects of the Jewish reception at Limmud, Birmingham UK.
On 14 January, 2016, Tessa Rajak lectured to the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society and the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London, on ‘Masada from Yadin to Unesco’.