Josephus in Modern Jewish Culture is the outcome of an AHRC-funded research project, based at the University of Oxford and King’s, on the reception of the ancient historian in the modern Jewish world.
14 authors from Europe, Israel and the United States explore how Jews read and re-imagined Josephus’s life and works for their own times.
Whether in early modern Amsterdam, in Moses Mendelssohn’s Berlin, in the pages of London’s Jewish Chronicle, in post-Napoleonic France, among Orthodox historians in Europe, Palestine or New York, in the theatre, radio and newspapers of the Yishuv, or in the Ghettos of Warsaw and Vilna, Josephus was evoked as a model, a warning, or an intriguing companion for the present moment. He was admired, imitated, criticized and put on trial as if he were a contemporary figure: a modern Jew avant la lettre.
Josephus’s presence in Jewish debates about the modern world is striking in its immediacy, whether he was addressed as a hero or a traitor, but, as this volume shows, such immediacy was the effect of many intense and fascinating efforts to mediate between ambivalent ancient texts and complex modern concerns.
Sarah Pearce highlights a particularly fruitful period of mediation and re-appropriation in the Jewish Chronicle:
For [the] proponents of Jewish advancement and emancipation in Britain, Josephus is in many respects the model for key arguments about the contribution of Jews to western civilization and the compatibility of Jewish culture with Anglican Britain. As so many of the voices represented in the Jewish Chronicle make plain – from Hurwitz to Aguilar to Raphall – what was so urgently needed was a new Josephus to make the case for Jews in nineteenth-century Britain.
Alongside the volume, the research project, led by Martin Goodman, has set up the Josephus Reception Archive, curated by Tessa Rajak, which offers a wide range of short introductions to key moments, authors and texts in the modern reception of Josephus. It also invites scholars to contribute their own findings about the modern Josephus and Josephus’s modernity.
Josephus in Modern Jewish Culture, ed. Andrea Schatz (Studies in Jewish History and Culture, vol. 55), Leiden: Brill, 2019 .