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William den Hollander: Josephus, the Emperor, and the City of Rome. From Hostage to Historian (= Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums; Vol. 86), Leiden / Boston: Brill 2014, XII + 410 S., ISBN 978-90-04-26433-5, EUR 115,00
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Rezension von:
Michael Tuval
Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Michael Tuval: Rezension von: William den Hollander: Josephus, the Emperor, and the City of Rome. From Hostage to Historian, Leiden / Boston: Brill 2014, in: sehepunkte 14 (2014), Nr. 11 [15.11.2014], URL:

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William den Hollander: Josephus, the Emperor, and the City of Rome

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The book is a revision of 2012 doctoral thesis with an almost identical title (York University [Toronto, Canada]), which was supervised first by Steve Mason, and then by Jonathan Edmondson. It is the first monograph-length study to explore Josephus' relationship with the Flavian emperors, as well as his various Roman contexts. The author aims at "establish[ing] as clearly as possible Josephus' social position in the city of Rome ... and developing a nuanced understanding of where he fit within the social scene of Flavian Rome, [thus] creat[ing] a background against which to evaluate Josephus' narratives" (26).

Chapter 1 forms an introduction to the study, in which the author discusses Josephus' career as it was described by Josephus himself. He is careful to state that this account "is a summary of Josephus' claims regarding his early life and is not meant to be a critical analysis of the problems associated with these accounts" (1, n. 4). Then, den Hollander provides a succinct overview of recent scholarship and discusses the contribution and scope of the study at hand.

Chapter 2 discusses Josephus' visit to Neronian Rome, described in Vita 13-16. It is a detailed study of the various questions related to this brief story, and it represents an important contribution to Josephan scholarship. Scholars routinely mention the fact that Josephus briefly visited Rome before the Revolt, but they rarely try to reconstruct the context of this visit to any extensive degree. This has now been accomplished by den Hollander.

Chapter 3 discusses Josephus' relationships with Vespasian from the time of his surrender until his becoming a client of the emperors. The period of Josephus' imprisonment is dealt with at length in the context of rich comparative material, then his "prophecy" to Vespasian is discussed, as is his becoming a Flavian client and, most importantly, the character of his history-writing. Similarly to Steve Mason, den Hollander does not see Josephus' first composition, the Judean War, as a work of pro-Flavian propaganda to any meaningful degree, and believes that the reasons why Josephus turned to history-writing after his coming to Rome must be sought elsewhere.

Chapter 4 examines Josephus' relationship with Titus in the Roman war camp in his various but related functions as interpreter/mediator and interviewer/interrogator, then it looks at his time in the Roman camp during the mop-up operations and, finally, as a Flavian client and historian in the city of Rome. Here, his conclusions are that Josephus' provision of services to Titus was "restricted by and large to the tenure of the revolt. Upon his arrival in Rome, Josephus pursued his own interests, and those of his people, seeking to remedy the negative atmosphere that had appeared in the aftermath of the revolt" (199). According to den Hollander's analysis, Josephus was no Flavian lackey at all.

Chapter 5 deals with Josephus' Roman context in the period of Domitian's rule. This period is of tremendous importance for the understanding of "late" Josephus, since three out of his four compositions were published under Domitian - in a political and cultural atmosphere which was rather different from the time under Vespasian and Titus. Den Hollander examines Josephus' continuing status as an imperial client, as the latter stresses that his privileges were not, in fact, taken away by Domitian, but actually increased. In contrast to Vespasian and Titus, who at least in some way were involved in or, according to den Hollander, related to Josephus' literary activities, it is the author's conclusion that Domitian had nothing to do with them whatsoever. The discussion of Josephus' Roman context under Domitian pays much attention to the latter's censorship of contemporary authors, as well as his anti-Jewish policies.

Chapter 6 discusses "Josephus and the inhabitants of Rome." First, his neighbors in the Roman camp are scrutinized, then the Herodians, Josephus' literary circle, and the Roman Jewish community. It is a good discussion of the available evidence and scholarly theories, but, unfortunately, we wish we knew more than both what Josephus tells us and what can be reconstructed from external evidence.

Although the present reviewer would not exonerate early Josephus from being a "Flavian lackey" to the same degree as den Hollander, the book is a very useful addition to the library of Josephan studies, and should be consulted by anybody interested in Josephus and his works. In my view, the author succeeds in achieving his stated goal of providing as much of the Roman social context as possible on the basis of the available evidence, and provides a more solid context for the interpretation of Josephus' works. It is well written, and apart from some minor problems with the bibliography, well proofread (e.g., Schwartz 2007b is missing from the bibliography, and Uriel Rappaport is credited with Agada und Exegese bei Flavius Josephus, written by Salomo Rappaport and published in Vienna in 1930).

However - and for this den Hollander is not to blame in any respect - my copy of the book was a disaster from a totally different point of view - that of the quality of the product. It literally fell apart the moment I opened it. In my experience, this is not the first, and even not the second time this happens with books published by Brill.

Michael Tuval