Josephus and the Emperor

by Lion Feuchtwanger

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Josephus and the Emperor is the final novel in the splendid trilogy by Lion Feuchtwanger that tracks the career of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus as it interweaves with the lives of the three Flavian emperors. In the first pages of this novel the rulership of the empire falls to Domitian, the least likeable member of the family, who becomes the last in Feuchtwanger’s masterful series of imperial portraits. Josephus has grown more mature in the course of these novels, and in this one he manages a crucial reconciliation that gives him hope for a fresh start. But the wisdom he has gained from past tragedies does not prevent him from making yet another fatal error from sheer excess of ambition. The survival of the Jewish people still hangs in the balance, as danger arises of a new rebellion and the destruction of the delicate compromise that has allowed the Jews to maintain a measure of self-rule. It comes as no surprise that more suffering awaits Josephus, but it remains an open question whether he can ever find peace.

As in the first two volumes of the series, Feuchtwanger fills the pages of Josephus and the Emperor with finely observed characters worthy to stand beside the creations of the great nineteenth-century masters of the novel. His cast includes a Jewish actor who must juggle his artistic vanity and the political currents that bear down on his people, a leader of the university in Judea who must make his own hard decisions when the fate of the Jews hangs in the balance, and a one-time revolutionary turned farmer who offers keen insights into the economic forces that drive men to war. But it is the strained, twisting relationship of the two title characters, the aging historian and the manipulative emperor, that dominates the novel. Do their many sins make atonement impossible? The novel offers a moving answer. (1942 in the original German; 1942 English edition 446 pages)

More about Josephus and the Emperor at

Josephus and the Emperor 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 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


The Flavius Josephus home page at

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