The Jew of Rome

by Lion Feuchtwanger


Reviewed by David Maclaine


The Jew of Rome is the second novel in Lion Feuchtwanger’s trilogy about the controversial first-century historian who wrote The Jewish War, the man who would become known as Flavius Josephus. The city of Rome is the novel's main setting. The time frame is tighter than in the other volumes, beginning with the death of Vespasian - a capstone to the rich characterization of that emperor in Josephus - and ending just before the end of the short reign of his son and successor Titus. Sons are very much the focus of this novel, which covers Josephus’ composition of his great history and the consequences of its success. Depending on an educated scribe to produce a Greek version of his book, Josephus soon realizes that between his Greek servant and his Alexandrian wife, he is fast losing the chance to raise her son as a Jew. Matters become more complicated when his discarded Jewish first wife brings their son to Rome. The historian soon discovers that although his book earns him higher honors than any other writer of his people has received, his relations with that people remain constrained. Meanwhile his family life lurches toward fresh catastrophe.

The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at the climax of Josephus has lasting consequences that play out in The Jew of Rome. The stern treatment of the conquered people after their rebellion forces the Jews to walk a tightrope, and their new leaders ponder issues that will have enormous historic importance. Should they accept or reject the new Jewish sect known mostly as Minyans but sometimes as Christians? Should they take the politically safe path and renounce any attempt to proselytize, rejecting the universal message implicit in their claim to worship the one true God? These issues, which will go far to shape the future of two great religions, intertwine with the personal trials of the Empire’s most famous Jew, trapped at the crux of Roman culture, his faith, and ambition. (1935 in the original German; 1936 English edition 565 pages)

More about The Jew of Rome at Amazon.com

The Jew of Rome appears on the list of The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History


Other novels about the Jewish rebellion against Rome:

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (2011), about four Jewish women and their lives among the Jewish rebels at Masada. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Antagonists by Ernest K. Gann (1971; also titled Masada), about the Siege of Masada. More info

Masada: The Last Fortress by Gloria D. Miklowitz (1998), for young readers aged 12 and up. More info


Nonfiction by and about Josephus:

The Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus (originally written around 75 AD; also titled The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem in some modern English editions). Free online at www.ccel.org. Or see Powell's Books for a print edition.

Josephus by Tessa Rajak (1984). More info

Flavius Josephus: Eyewitness to Rome's First-Century Conquest of Judea by Mireille Hadas-Lebel (2009). More info


Online:

The Flavius Josephus home page at Josephus.org


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