Customer Review

91 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Forgotten Classic in an accessible yet scholarly edition, November 4, 1998
This review is from: The Jewish War: Revised Edition (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The "real" Josephus is a very hot topic among Christian theologians looking for the actuality behind the gospels and students of Judaica trying to go beyond Josephus' usual superficial "traitor" image. If you can't read the original Greek, the next best thing is to read the Loeb (Harvard U. Press) Classics edition with facing English and Greek text. However, even that format might be heavy going for the more casual, but curious, reader. The Penguin edition is far from a watered down popularized version of the Loeb. It is a condensed rendering without sacrificing essential detail. The liberties taken by Williamson largely consist of rearranging J's clumsy seven parts into 23 easily digested chapters. The most valuable part of this edition, however, is not Willliamson's lucid translation but E. Mary Smallwood's outstanding notes and appendices. Her historical asides provide a crash course in the then-current scholarship on the Josephus Problem.
The narrator is a self-serving,wiley ex-Priest of the Jerusalem Temple who was a "general" on the crucial Galilee front, until he was taken captive under mysterious circumstances. He cleverly prophesized" that his captor, Vespasian, would be the next emperor. Meanwhile, J served his former enemy as an intelligence analyst and intermediary. Eventually, after the fall of Judaea, he became a protege Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, soon to be successor. Using his own notes and memory (quite selective and filtered) and the official field reports as well as the war diaries of Vespasian and Titus, Jewish expatriate Josephus wrote what amounts to the official Roman military history of the war against the Jews. Yet he did not totally sell out. He managed to portray his countrymen as mounting a valiant, though nherently futile, effort.
This is no dry dusty "classic" -- it is an exciting, dramatic illustration of how Roman military power deals with an intractable and fanatic province. Apart from Julius Caesar's accounts of his military exploits, there are few such detailed expositions of imperial Rome at war.
If you have any interest in the crisis of Judaism, the birth of Christianity, the Roman War Machine, or simply a cracking good adventure yarn...this book is for you. Josephus' story behind the history would make an excellent topic for a screenplay.
Jim Bloom
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 22, 2012 5:26:41 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 22, 2012 5:27:14 AM PDT
C. Cleal says:
I liked the review because it contained a reference to commentary, which I understand is necessary as Josephus is not always accurate. tlhis would obviously be an edition I would buy, as I can't afford the Loeb - the Holy Grail of Josephus translations.

Posted on Oct 9, 2012 12:13:43 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 9, 2012 12:25:19 PM PDT
bukhtan says:
Thanks for your review. You should be teaching history in the AP class.

Addendum: it just occurred to me that this remark might not be taken as a compliment. It was in fact intended as one. I spend a lot of time hearing parents talk about their kids' experience in high school, and would like to think that occasionally these kids get some inkling of why these subjects matter.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 9, 2012 1:40:47 PM PDT
Thank you for that. I am glad to know that my comments are useful and especially that you consider them worthy of an AP instructor. I don't find that objectionable in the least. I would be pleased to know that my efforts would be appreciated by high school students and get them involved in reading other classics of history and literature.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 3, 2014 4:12:21 AM PST
Very good review. You are so right to not immediately dismiss his useful account because of his 'iffy' personal history. Josephus is a bit like the Druid who Caesar 'befriended' and uses for information. Actually the Druids are not that dissimilar to the Essenes, or depending on how you see the Druids, either Pythagorean or like ritual priest, like the Saducees. But is there a more recent academic series of Josephus work in larger hardcover along the lines of Daniel Matt's Zohar series? Also how abridged is the Penguin" Thanks
Thanks for your cogent review

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 3, 2014 7:02:30 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 3, 2014 7:04:03 AM PST
The Penguin is sufficiently full for the general reader and for college-level students of religion or ancient literature. However, if you'd like a translation and copious commentary comparable to the Zohar series of Matt, then I recommend the Brill publishing's series of translations with opposing Greek text, of the Josephus opus. They are very expensive, but when the series is complete they will represent the gold standard for Josephus scholars. I have the first volume of the Antiquities by Louis Feldman and the Life by Steve Mason. The translation is highly accurate and the commentary, running to about three times the amount of the text, and conveniently arranged in footnotes as well as introductions and appendices, is wonderfully comprehensive and clear. The progress of the translations is very slow, and I believe that only the first five books of the War is available now, and just about all of the Antiquities.

Hoping to help.
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