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Flavius Josephus, the Zealots and Yavne: Towards a Rereading of the War of the Jews.

By Monette Bohrmann. Trans. Janet Lloyd. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 1994. 392 pp. $40.95.

Bohrmann believes that Josephus's opposition to the war with Rome should be seen as similar to the views of Johanan teen Zakkai and the school at Jabneh, as well as the later traditions in the Talmud. Essentially, Jews saw wars as being either "optional" (wars of conquest) or "compulsory" (wars necessary to prevent the extermination of Jewish belief). Whereas the Zealots viewed war with Rome as "compulsory"--in the same sense the Maccabean Revolt had been two centuries prior--Josephus, King Agrippa II, and Johanan teen Zakkai were moderates who did not believe Jewish faith to be threatened by Rome, but rather suspected that rebellion against the divinely sanctioned rule of Rome would bring greater destruction to the Jewish religion (as indeed it did). Josephus's perceptions differed from those of Johanan and the later rabbinic tradition only in that he spoke of Jewish sins and Zealot atrocities which brought on the war and the deserved destruction of the Temple. The later Jewish tradition inspired by Johanan and the Jabneh school disowned Josephus for his honesty, and this explains why neither Josephus nor Johanan mentioned each other.

To undergird her argument, Bohrmann undertakes two discussions. First, she overviews Jewish beliefs in this era concerning monotheism, circumcision, passover, exodus, sabbath, the Ten Commandments, holiness, land, messianism, idolatry, priestly vestments, and most importantly, war, in order to show how the war was a cultural conflict between Rome and the Jews (pp. 29-147, 165-167, 196-207). To this end she provides extensive quotation of biblical and rabbinic texts. Second, she elaborates and comments on the narratives provided by Josephus on the Jewish revolt to indicate the Jewishness of Josephus's attitudes (pp. 147-164, 168-195, 208-273). She concludes Josephus was not a traitor, but a faithful Jew (pp. 24-26, 274-277).

In evaluating Bohrmann's book one must quickly point out that it certainly is not addressed to Josephan scholars, for the level of discourse is at a popular level. Nor is the author, who is trained in Slavic studies, very familiar with Josephan scholarship, for one fails to find reference to seminal works by authors such as Louis Feldman, Joseph Blenkinsopp, Harold Attridge, and others. The bulk of the work is really a general introduction to Jewish themes in the early rabbinic period, designed for a general audience or college undergraduates. But even then, the text lacks nuance or historical consciousness, as it blends biblical and rabbinic texts and concepts together and attributes them naively to all first century C.E. Jews, which is something Second Temple Jewish scholars have avoided for the past forty years.

The thesis of the book is essentially sound; Josephus should be situated in the mainstream of first century C.E. Jewish thought. Recent assessments of Josephus indeed do stress his Jewish roots; Bohrmann is simply not aware of the contemporary direction of Josephan studies. In the exposition of her thesis, the author spends far too much space elaborating on peripheral or trivial issues, often emphasizing the obvious; she devotes too much space to quoting primary sources, some of dubious value for her argument; and she tends to rehash Josephan narrative in popular expository fashion. (And why include pictures of newspaper articles about the Jewish holocaust on pp. 154-155, 354-356?) The text itself is marred by extensive spelling and printing errors. Ultimately, she provides substantially nothing new in her argument and devotes very few pages to a direct exposition of her thesis. Positively, she shares the contemporary concern of Josephan scholars to understand the person and perspectives of Josephus in a more sensitive fashion.
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Author:Gnuse, Robert
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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