JP On Gaming

Friday, October 11, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] The Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus

This is a book I had on my list for a very long time, and I listened to it as a free Audiobook from

For those who do not know, Josephus was a Jew who chronicled the world during and around the Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian). First captured by Vespasian, he was freed and served him during the campaign. So this book is a report by someone who party to the events described therein, not someone far removed from them.

Josephus began as a rebel general who fought against Vespasian in Galilee before being captured, enslaved, and then freed by him. So we deal with someone who was there, dealt with the situation and had first-hand knowledge. A few times in the narrative, he is sent to speak with the Jews to ask them to surrender to Titus.

There are seven books with the narrative beginning around 200BC, through the period of the rise of Christianity, to the naming of Vespasian as commander of the army to punish the rebels by Nero, to the Year of the Four Emperors, to Titus' destruction of Jerusalem, and the destruction of Massada which ended the war.

The First few books presents the wars of the Seleucid kings in Judea and the many regime changes in Judea: the one king, then the tetrachy, and the Roman intervention. A veritable who's who of the late Roman Republic pass through: Pompey, Caesar, Octavian, Antony, and Cleopatra all appear influencing the region. I was fascinated.

Like many, I knew of the region around that time was from the Christmas story: King Herrod and Salome. They appear here but in the context of the wider world. In fact, they seem to be mere local despots with limited power overall with the kingdom of the Jews broken into four pieces and each king named tetrach (ruler over a fourth (roughly): Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and coastal regions).

Josephus describes the area as a hotbed for rebellious activity: under the Greek/Seleucids, then under the Romans with only limited periods of peace in-between. Religious fanatics, corrupt and avaricious governors and family squabbles contributed to the destabilization of the area.

So the wars begin and the Jews enjoy a fair amount of early successes, ejecting the Romans from their lands and continuing the administration in place.

Nero assigns Vespasian command of an army to conquer the territory.

This is the part where we must be wary and apply some common sense. As Vespasian was Josephus' patron, the book from here on does a fair a amount of what I think is propaganda as the Roman commanders (particularly Vespasian and Titus) are always portrayed as fair and generous. Still the narrative is interesting and pretty clear.

I never visited Jerusalem or Israel but after reading this book, I can say I have a pretty good idea what the city looked like.

Josephus provides us with ample stories anecdotes - many of them absolutely horrible of the famine in the besieged city. The worse is that of the woman who cooked and ate her own son.


Yeah. That was hard.

This book demonizes many of the players in the who affair, such as the leaders of the Zealots. It is clear that he regrets the whole war and its conducts but at the same time he admires and commends the Jews for their courage and spirit.

Another fun thing... The narrative definitely reminded me of terms and expressions taken from the Bible, particularly the most historical books - such as the Book of Kings.

So this book came in perfectly as I received a new war game: SPQR which I cannot wait but try with ActionMan. It's an ancients skirmish game of which I'll post more later.

Rating? Really? You ask me for a rating of a book that held my attention for over twenty hours??

FIVE EAGLES (out of five).

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