Funding Success for Prof. emeritus Tessa Rajak

Prof. Tessa Rajak (Reading/Oxford) was successful as Co-Investigator in a joint funding bid with Prof. Martin Goodman (Oxford, PI) and Dr Andrea Schatz (KCL, Co-I). Their AHRC grant of £139k will run from 2012-15:

‘The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture from the 18th Century to the Present’

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish priest from Jerusalem who took part in the war against Rome in 66 CE until he was captured and, inspired (so he said) by divine guidance, changed to the Roman side and devoted his retirement in Rome to writing about the history and customs of the Jews.

The focus of this multidisciplinary research project will be on the way Jews in the last 250 years have built on earlier Jewish and Christian uses of the writings of Josephus for a variety of very different purposes. Josephus’ writings were not acknowledged in the Jewish tradition preserved by the rabbis in Hebrew and Aramaic in late antiquity, and the survival of his works is due entirely to the value ascribed to them by early Christians. The project will investigate the attitudes to these writings and to Josephus as an individual to be found among Jews from the 18th century to the present.

The historian Flavius Josephus has given both religions their basic understanding of their own historical origins. He provides most of our knowledge of the period in which both Judaism and Christianity took shape, providing the only documentation of many momentous events, above all the detailed narrative of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, which determined the fate of three religions. Here too lie the roots of their conflict. Myth and reality have become inseparable in this extremely sensitive area. Josephus lies at the heart of Europe’s formation. As a Jewish author whose writings were adopted and for many centuries transmitted and exploited by the Church, Josephus has been received and read in many different ways. For centuries, he was a shaper of Christianity. But, especially in the modern period, Jews have revalorized this part of their heritage, and conferred new significance and new meanings on the material, which became intertwined with their own progress into modernity. To reflect on this extraordinary multiplicity of treasured and highly influential readings of the same text is to come close to getting inside the mindset of the ‘other’, relinquishing dogmatism, and achieving real tolerance. Josephus records a multi-ethnic world and speaks for the first diaspora in western history as an insider, illuminating problems of co-existence that are acute today, and even offering remedies.

At the same time, the project will take its place in the fast-growing and lively field of reception studies of Classical authors. An appreciation is growing among Classicists that Josephus belongs to the canon of Greek historians as well as being a Jewish writer, an awareness that has advantageously widened the horizons of Classics as a discipline and helped to temper old tendencies to Hellenocentricity.