by Lion Feuchtwanger

Reviewed by Annis

Josephus by Lion Feuchtwanger, book cover A compelling novel with a poignant subtext, Josephus covers the early career of controversial first-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, focusing on his role in the First Jewish-Roman War.

Joseph ben Matthias, Judæan aristocrat and priest of the first rank, is pleased with himself as he steps out into the great city of Rome. He's clever, handsome, fêted by his Jewish hosts, and on a righteous mission to free three venerable Jews wrongfully imprisoned as rebels. He secures an audience with Nero's beautiful young empress, Poppæa. Charmed by Joseph's zeal, she asks the Minister of Oriental Affairs to release the prisoners. The Minister seizes the opportunity to trade his assent for the Imperial seal on an edict guaranteed to outrage and mobilise the Jews of Judæa; Rome needs an excuse to comprehensively crush ongoing Jewish resistance. His scheme bears fruit. In AD 66 Judæa revolts.

Led by canny old commander Vespasian, Roman forces prevail until only the fortified city of Jerusalem remains in the hands of Jewish rebels. Vespasian is acclaimed Emperor and returns to Rome, leaving the siege to his son Titus. Weeks drag by. Jerusalem, with its lofty, magnificent Temple, becomes to the besieging Romans a symbol of obdurate Jewish arrogance to be overthrown. Haunted by his part in Judæa’s catastrophe, Joseph vows to expiate his guilt by standing as history's witness to the destruction of Jerusalem, the very heart of Judaism.

Rebel commander, Roman captive and Flavian protege, Josephus, long reviled as a traitor and Roman toady, is portrayed with clear-eyed empathy as a complex, talented man who craves recognition, and whose desire to become a "citizen of the world" conflicts with his Jewish identity.

Feuchtwanger, a German Jew, used the medium of historical fiction to draw a clear parallel between the Roman Empire's brutal repression of the Jews and the Third Reich's "final solution". Josephus brings home his eloquent message about the human cost of rabid nationalism and imperial ambition. (1932, 530 pages)

More about Josephus at

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

Josephus is the first novel in a trilogy:

#2 The Jew of Rome (1935). More info

#3 The Day Will Come, also titled Josephus and the Emperor (1942).
More info

Other novels about Judæan rebellions against Rome:

The Antagonists by Ernest K. Gann (1970; also titled Masada), about the Roman general Flavius Silva and the Jewish rebels he besieged at Masada. More info

The Triumph by Ernest K. Gann (1986), the sequel to The Antagonists, about the Roman general Flavius Silva's involvement in the power struggle between Titus and Domitian for control of Rome. More info

Violent Sands by Sean Young (2006), about Barrabas and the Zealots. More info

Nonfiction about the Judæan rebellion and Flavius Josephus:

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

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman (2007). More info

Jerusalem's Traitor: Josephus, Masada and the Fall of Judea by Desmond Seward (2009). More info


"Lion Feuchtwanger and his Josephus Trilogy" by Jim Bloom, at the Preterist Archive website

Wikipedia article about Flavius Josephus

Back to Historical Novels: Ancient History

Back to Directory of Book Reviews