Sculpting Idolatry in Flavian Rome

(An)Iconic Rhetoric in the Writings of Flavius Josephus


This book investigates the discourse on idolatry and images, especially statues, in the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, with a particular focus on his numerous accounts of a contentious and at times iconoclastic relationship between Jews and images. Placing this narrative material within a wider comparative context, both Jewish and non-Jewish, demonstrates that the impression of strict aniconism—uniform and categorical opposition to all figurative art—emerging from Josephus is in part a rhetorical construct, an effort to reframe Jewish iconoclastic behavior not as a resistance to Roman domination but as an expression of certain cultural values shared by Jews and Romans alike. Josephus thus articulates in this discourse on images an idea of Jewish identity that functioned to mitigate an increasingly tense relationship between Romans and Jews in the wake of the Jewish revolt against Rome.

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Jason von Ehrenkrook is Perlow Lecturer in Classical Judaism at the University of Pittsburgh.
Abbreviations Acknowledgments 1. Reading Idolatry in(to) Josephus 2. Jewish Responses to Images in Cultural Context 3. The Second Commandment in Josephus and Greco-Roman Jewish Literature 4. Sculpture and the Politics of Space in Bellum Judaicum 5. Idealizing an Aniconic Past in Antiquitates Judaicae 6. The Poetics of Idolatry and the Politics of Identity Appendix 1: Statuary Lexicon in the Josephan Corpus Appendix 2: Th e Second Commandment in Josephus Bibliography Index of Ancient Sources Index of Modern Authors Subject Index