By Flavius Josephus
Read by Jonathan Booth
21 hours


The Jewish War is an extraordinary historical document in that it charts, in considerable detail, a calamitous period of four years during which the Jews pitted themselves against the might of the Roman empire in the hope of throwing off the Roman yoke. It is partly a remarkable account in that its author, Flavius Josephus, (c.37–c.100 CE) was himself a Jew and yet, during the course of the conflict, found himself playing a prominent role for both sides. Furthermore, it is underpinned by the fact that Josephus himself was not only a participant, but also an historian and a scholar of standing. Few such accounts from the Classical period have come down to us, and it makes the whole story intensely vivid and powerful.

The Jewish War actually ran from 66 CE to 70 CE, culminating in the fall of the Jerusalem. But Josephus begins his account decades back, with the purpose of setting the background. Book I (of seven) opens with the taking of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE, before devoting the major part of Book I to the life and influence of  Herod the Great who died in 4 CE. It was his complicated legacy that laid the ground for the uprising of the Jews. In Book II, Josephus tells how the Jewish rose up against violent treatment by the Roman procurator, Florus; how early success against Cestius encouraged the Jews in the hope of ultimate success against the Roman Empire. The succeeding books tell of the gradual dominance by Roman force of arms, under Vespasian and then his son Titus. Torture, starvation, banishment, unremitting and painful slaughter became commonplace across the theatre of war. And the gradual weakening of the Jews was not helped by internecine strife of a horrendous nature – even within Jerusalem itself when it was being besieged by the Roman army. There could be only one conclusion – the utter destruction of Jerusalem, with the final scene of the War being the famous mass suicide at Masada.

Josephus records his own role, leading the defence in the early days, notably building strong walls around various cities. But as months and years passed he realised that the Jewish cause must ultimately fail – it would never win against the might of Rome. This powerful account was written in 75 CE probably either in Aramaic or Hebrew, but it has survived in a Greek version. This recording uses the classic translation by William Whiston.

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