IJS Events


Please see our IJS Spring Programme for our next events. 

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Poland and Hungary: Jewish Realities Compared


Tuesday 29th January 2019 from 9.30 to 5.30 pm.

For further information please click here

The Rediscovery of Josephus and Modern Jewish Identity

Start: Oct 29, 2015 07:00 PM

Tessa Rajak, University of Oxford

Thursday October 29th



During his lifetime, Josephus was already famous, and already criticized. He was everybody’s historian – Jews and Romans, Greeks and orientals, moderates and pacifists, martyrs and survivors, idealists and pragmatists – and perhaps nobody’s. A prominent Jerusalem priest, he was a participant in and chronicler of the great Jewish revolt of 66-73 against Rome and he witnessed the fall of the Temple. He was a vituperative critic of the zealots and the other rebel factions; the last half of his life was spent largely in Rome. In his 'Jewish War', 'Jewish Antiquities', 'Life', and 'Against Apion', all written in Greek, he revisited the war and depicted the fall of the Temple, he 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; he explained Judaism and he defended the Jewish people and religion against their pagan detractors.

It is hardly surprising that Josephus’ afterlife through the centuries was just as diverse and equally eye-catching. His importance to the Christian world, almost from its beginnings, is understandable, and hard to overestimate. Rabbinic Judaism, by contrast, forgot him. But even then, from the tenth century onwards, the Yosippon, a rewritten, partly legendary would-be Josephus produced in Hebrew somewhere in the south of Italy, was widely read and known, its fortunes intertwined with that of Flavius Josephus.

The story of the rediscovery of the real Josephus since the Enlightenment has been central to the formation of a modern Jewish identity. To have a national historian of repute and a detailed factual narrative of a decisive period in their past contributed immeasurably to the self-respect of Jews of many persuasions. Josephus’ supreme services as chronicler were duly acknowledged; but the general reaction has been, and still is, an almost reflex rush to condemn a reprobate, to revel in disowning a traitor to his people. The popular nineteenth century historian Heinrich Graetz was in the forefront of the pursuit. In Eastern Europe and then also in Eretz Israel, trials of Josephus were regularly conducted. In the lecture, we shall look at the highlights of Josephus’ re-appropriation within Judaism over the past two centuries and we shall try to explain these passionate and often contradictory responses.

Tessa Rajak is Professor of Ancient History Emerita in the University of Reading, Senior Research Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, and co-investigator in the Oxford-based, AHRC-funded project on the Jewish reception of Josephus since 1750. She has held numerous visiting Professorships and Research Fellowships. She is the author of 'Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora' (revised paperback edition 2011); 'Josephus: The Historian and His Society' (2nd edition 2003) and 'The Jewish Dialogue with Greece and Rome' (2001); and of many papers on cultural, social and religious history. She is currently writing a book on the impact of the historian Josephus on Jews and Christians through the ages, and a commentary on the Fourth Book of Maccabees. 

Lecture 7.00pm, Garden Room, South Cloisters, followed by refreshments


Eventbrite - The Rediscovery of Josephus and Modern Jewish Identity

For more events, see our Lectures Programme for Autumn 2015.   

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