When the Jews revolted against Rome in 66 CE, Josephus, a Jerusalem aristocrat, was made a general in his nation’s army. Captured by the Romans, he saved his skin by finding favor with the emperor Vespasian. He then served as an adviser to the Roman legions, running a network of spies inside Jerusalem, in the belief that the Jews’ only hope of survival lay in surrender to Rome.
As a Jewish eyewitness who was given access to Vespasian’s campaign notebooks, Josephus is our only source of information for the war of extermination that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the amazing times in which he lived. He is of vital importance for anyone interested in the Middle East, Jewish history, and the early history of Christianity.
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A retelling of Josephus's "The Jewish War"
It is a pretty accurate re-telling of what is in Josephus's writings. That's what is good.
It is for the most part untainted by more modern scholarship. The author quotes Josephus on numbers of people (usually killed), actions of troops, what speeches leaders gave, etc. mostly without criticism and little comment, except to say that, for example, "Titus probably did say that," or "Simon's speech said this," even if Josephus wasn't there. His numbers are probably fantasies. Josephus quotes the population of Jerusalem around the time of the siege as about 1 million. Modern scholars have put the figure at far less, perhaps 20,000, so there cannot have been 500,000 dead, even taking into account the pilgrims who happened to be there for the Passover. In 2011, the population of a vastly expanded Jerusalem was about 250,000.
I am not criticizing the author for reporting what Josephus says, but he hardly ever (except, I think, for one time) says that Josephus's numbers are not to be believed. The book also repeats, usually uncritically, laudatory comments about the Romans, particularly Titus, as well as condemnations that could do with some more contemporary views.
For example: Masada. The zealots holed up in that fortress were probably siccari, assassins who, before the war, assassinated Jews who dealt with Romans, and probably killed a lot of prominent people. After they took Masada, they never came out to attack the Romans, even from the rear during the siege of Jerusalem, and they lived by preying on the nearby Jewish population. Some historical discussion of this would have been useful.
If you want to know what Josephus wrote, without having to slog through the ancient verbiage, this book does just that for you. That is what makes it worth reading. Just be aware that much of it is colored by the self-serving intent of Josephus, and it is not necessarily (indeed, it almost certainly is not) accurate in much of what is written. I just wish the book's author had written with a more critical eye.
Of course, we have little other information about the Jewish War