A Jew Among Romans by Frederic Raphael

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“With the verve of good storyteller, novelist and biographer Raphael recreates Josephus’ life and chaotic times. . . . [A] page-turning chronicle.” —Publishers Weekly

From the acclaimed biographer, screenwriter, and novelist Frederic Raphael, here is an audacious history of Josephus (37–c.100), the Jewish general turned Roman historian, whose emblematic betrayal is a touchstone for the Jew alone in the Gentile world.

Joseph ben Mattathias’s transformation into Titus Flavius Josephus, historian to the Roman emperor Vespasian, is a gripping and dramatic story. His life, in the hands of Frederic Raphael, becomes a point of departure for an appraisal of Diasporan Jews seeking a place in the dominant cultures they inhabit. Raphael brings a scholar’s rigor, a historian’s perspective, and a novelist’s imagination to this project. He goes beyond the fascinating details of Josephus’s life and his singular literary achievements to examine how Josephus has been viewed by posterity, finding in him the prototype for the un-Jewish Jew, the assimilated intellectual, and the abiding apostate: the recurrent figures in the long centuries of the Diaspora. Raphael’s insightful portraits of  Yehuda Halevi, Baruch Spinoza, Karl Kraus, Benjamin Disraeli, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hannah Arendt extend and illuminate the Josephean worldview Raphael so eloquently lays out.

Praise for A Jew Among Romans

“In his marvelous hands, Frederic Raphael transforms Flavius Josephus from the self-hating Jew he is often portrayed as being to the first great critic of religious fundamentalism. A Jew Among Romans is especially relevant to a time when Jews argue so furiously with each other.” —Alan Wolfe, author of Political Evil

“It is astonishing how many modern themes are thrown up by the vicissitudes of Josephus’ life of two millennia ago. With his Cambridge Classics scholars’ eye and his customary sophisticated wit—he simply cannot write a dull sentence—Frederic Raphael uses the life of the general-turned-historian to explore the issues of Jewish alienation and assimilation, of collaboration versus realism, of virility and vanity, of identity, love and the meaning of historical truth. The first modern Jewish historian and the first ever writer to use first-person prose, Josephus emerges as magnificently superior to those critics who have depicted him as a mere turncoat and traitor. Meanwhile, Raphael tells us something insightful on every page, about Edward Gibbon, the Wandering Jew, Stalin’s Jewish executioner, Arthur Koestler, the battle of Masada, Pharisees, Hellenists, Tsarist pogroms, Judas Iscariot, Zionism and the ancient laws on farting.” —Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War

“Only someone with the gifts of Frederic Raphael could have written a book as original and wide-ranging as this one. His purpose is to explore the moral ambiguity of identity and loyalty that Jews from Josephus to Hannah Arendt have tried to deal with ever since the Roman conquest of Judaea. It is exhilarating to read history that properly illuminates the present.” —David Pryce-Jones, author of Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews

Frederic Raphael is the author of more than twenty novels, f ive volumes of short stories, biographies of Byron and W. Somerset Maugham, and five volumes of his personal notebooks and journals. He is also the translator of, among other works, Petronius’s Satyrica and is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement.

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