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