Although this is ostensibly a book about the life of Josephus – and in its first half the author does follow the events in his subject’s life, as recounted in his own works – it is in fact a book about the lives of many people, which intersect -thematically, temporally, or literarily but rarely literally – with that of Josephus. Sometimes the author makes explicit the parallels between these lives and that of Josephus; at other times the reader is left to fill in the gaps – often with difficulty, because of the breadth of Raphael’s scholarship. This is a book which takes time and persistence to fully appreciate; the effort is rewarding.

In a chapter that opens with Josephus’ visit to Rome as a young man, the author speculates about what might have resulted from a meeting there between Josephus and Seneca (they did not meet- the dates do not work out). This is the opening for a several page excursus on the Roman writer, which occupies the rest of the chapter. In a chapter about Alexandria , a city that Josephus had never visited, he describes Philo’s visit to Rome as a member of a delegation of Alexandrian Jews who were petitioning the emperor Caligula on behalf of their community. This might be relevant background to the Alexandrian Greek, Apion’s diatribe against Jews, to which Josephus wrote a response many years later. Equally, we could see Philo as another “Jew among Romans”. Elsewhere, starting with the Convivenza in Spain under Muslim rule, we detour through Yehuda HaLevi and the Kuzari, the rationalism of Maimonides, and eventually reach the Reconquista and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. This takes us to Amsterdam, the place where many of them found refuge, where we finally catch up with Spinoza, apparently the real terminus of this quest. Raphael wants us to understand that here was another Jew who like Josephus was “in a ghetto of one”. Other points of similarity are illusive; Spinoza was a philosopher, not a historian; his writing undermined Judaism – and all religion – while Josephus continued to defend his religion; he remained celibate, whereas Josephus married again in Rome and had two sons. Perhaps the fact that they both wrote in an “alien” language – Josephus in Greek, Spinoza in Latin – or that both have been described as “bad Jews” is sufficient convergence ?

That Raphael is an accomplished classical scholar is evident throughout the book. Unfortunately, the fact that his scholarship does not extend so deeply into early Judaism is also evident. He refers to the Judea of Josephus as “Palestine” – an anomaly, as the country was not given this name until some 70 years after the period he is describing – although he is not alone in this perhaps conventional – if incorrect – nomenclature; he mixes up which of the Herod Agrippa’s was a friend of the emperor Claudius (it was I not II); most egregiously, he refers to King Zedekiah as the Judean king who had resisted the 8th century BCE Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, and who had diverted the waters of the Gihon spring in anticipation of the siege (any 10 year old who has toured Jerusalem would know that it was King Hezekiah). His dismissal – on the grounds that Jewish belief was too narrowly defined by Mosaic Law to allow diversity – of any parallel between Josephus’ early studies of different Jewish philosophies and Greek writers’ exposure to alternative schools of philosophy, ignores the profound differences of belief and practice that existed between different Jewish sects of the time. More interestingly, he contradicts Josephus’ own statements that the Antonia Fortress was named in honor of Herod’s friend and patron Mark Anthony. There may be some merit to Raphael’s assertion that it was named after Antonia, Mark Anthony’s daughter, and that Josephus was referring to another earlier fortress guarding Jerusalem’s Temple; but, in spite of his penchant for long and often marginally relevant footnotes, in this case he makes no attempt to discuss the historical and archaeological issues that might support his contrarian assertion.

At various points throughout the book, Raphael makes reference to a remark that he attributes to the Israeli archaeologist and politician, Yigael Yadin, that Josephus was a “bad Jew”. His purpose is to contrast Josephus’ move to the Roman camp with that of other individuals whose lives followed similar trajectories. Thus he recounts the story of Themistokles, a 5th century BCE Athenian politician who, once having saved his fellow citizens from defeat by the Persians, subsequently accepted a governorship of a Persian province in western Asia. No one apparently ever accused him of being a bad Greek. This, and other efforts the author makes to defend Josephus from Jewish criticism seem to be part of a polemic against Jewish particularism. The polemic extends both backwards and forwards from the time of Josephus, and sometimes runs afoul of the author’s imperfect historical sensibility. His reference, for example, to a succession of empires who were exasperated with Jews’ refusal to worship their idols is completely ahistorical ; all the empires that ruled Judea – Persian, Macedonian and Roman until 70 CE – implicitly or explicitly regarded the Jews’ “ancient practices” – including both the Temple rites and the exclusivity of the Jewish God – as the “constitution” of the Judean or Jewish people. The policies of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes should be seen as an exception to this rule, rather than conforming to a pattern. Even after putting down the Great Revolt and destroying the temple, the Romans did not ban the practice of Judaism or persecute Jews because of their religion. The author himself know this, as he spends a whole chapter establishing how it was not pagan Rome, but the early Church – whose tactics included rewriting or adding a gloss to Josephus’ words – that set about delegitimizing Judaism.

Much has been written about how Josephus, an exile from his people and country and living in Rome at the pleasure of Vespasian and the two sons who succeeded him as emperor, had to tread carefully in his writing. There has been much speculation about how his objectivity might have been compromised both by the desire to justify his own actions and the need to flatter – or at least not offend – his imperial patrons. Raphael compares him to other Jews , such as Spinoza or Nachmanides, whose opinions had to be expressed circumspectly because of the hostile – usually Christian – environment in which they lived, and he gives Josephus the benefit of the doubt. In his long discussion of the often virulent criticism by Jews of other Jews, he points out that the “self-hate” of the Jew is often a mask for criticism directed at gentile persecutors or anti-Semites. No holds barred may be a safer way to play within the tribe. Might Josephus, with his criticism of the hot-headed zealots and descriptions of the intra-communal violence among the Jews, have been directing his real ire against the larger-scale, state-sponsored violence of the Romans ?

Despite its imperfections, this is a hugely worthwhile book. It is not just a historical biography of Josephus. The author has a distinct agenda, which is to rehabilitate Josephus from the indictment of being a traitor to his people, and to bring his exile to an end. In so doing, he recapitulates a journey that started with the destruction of Jerusalem and the birth of the wandering Jew, and ends with the re-creation of a Jewish homeland in modern Israel. The author too seems to make a journey, from a rather clinical declaration, in the prologue, of his own state of exile from Judaism, to his concluding embrace of the restoration of Jerusalem to Jewish sovereignty. With this, it is as if he succeeds in accompanying Josephus home to rejoin his people.