18 May 2017
The Jewish War
Josephus, translated by Martin Hammond
(Oxford World’s Classics, 608 PP, £10.99)
tablet bookshop price £9.90 • tel 01420 592974
It is June of the year 67, the second year of the Jewish war against Rome, and the Galilean campaign is going badly for the Jews. The Romans under Vespasian have taken Jotapata. Josephus, commander of the Judaean forces in Galilee, is hiding nearby in a cave with 40 others.
They are betrayed, and Vespasian sends a pair of tribunes to lure them out – to lure him out, Josephus says. His companions urge him to die rather than surrender; if he does not kill himself, they will kill him. But Josephus, a prophet, has foreseen Vespasian’s ascendancy; he must get out, and pass on the message. In an emotive speech, he convinces the others to draw lots and kill one another rather than surrender; he will throw in his lot with the rest. Fate, or Providence, intervenes and Josephus is left with just one other man, whom he persuades to live. Thus Josephus walks out and into the arms of his future patron. At the Siege of Jerusalem three years later, he will act for Vespasian’s son Titus as interpreter and ambassador, begging his fellow Jews to accept the inevitability of Roman victory, and accept it gracefully.
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