Study of the reception of a classic work of literature lends itself more than most subjects in the humanities to collaborative research. No single scholar can hope to come to grips fully both with the world of the original work and with the variety of cultures and societies in which that text has been interpreted. For no author is this more true than for Josephus, whose varied oeuvre has been used and abused in remarkably varied ways over the millennia since its composition. This volume is the product of a series of such collaborations over more than three years.
The collaboration began in 2008 with the discovery by Tessa Rajak and myself that we had by chance committed ourselves independently to different publishers to write on aspects of the reception of Josephus’s writings but that we both felt our knowledge of Jewish uses of Josephus since the Enlightenment was impressionistic at best. It was clear that, after centuries in which Josephus had mostly been left to Christian readers, Jews from the early nineteenth century developed strong views both about the adoption of Josephus as a great Jewish historian and about the morality of his political career between Jerusalem and Rome, and that, although Josephus’s reputation as a traitor to his people was often taken by Jews to invalidate his authority as a historian, in practice his writings were frequently cited as a prime source for understanding the Jewish past.
Since both Tessa and I are ancient historians by training, we rapidly realised that we needed help from students of modern Jewish cultural history, and we turned to an international team of collaborators – Sarah Pearce, Zuleika Rodgers, David Sorkin, Daniel Schwartz and Irene Zwiep – and to Andrea Schatz, the editor of this volume, to help us in convening four workshops in Oxford in 2013–2014. We are immensely grateful to these colleagues; to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their support; to the Faculty of Oriental Studies in Oxford and to Kings College London for hosting the project; to the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies for providing facilities and superb administrative support for the workshops; to the two Project Officers (Cassiope Sydoriak and Annelies Cazemier) for their work in sorting out the logistics; and, above all to the colleagues who, between them, presented no fewer than 42 papers at the workshops (see the programmes listed at http://josephus.orinst.ox.ac.uk/workshops). Their contributions have hugely expanded our knowledge and understanding of Jewish responses to Josephus over the past two centuries against the background of ancient and medieval reception of his works among Christians as well as Jews and in light of the multifarious complexities of Jewish life in the modern world.
We are grateful also for the many comments and suggestions made by participants in the panels held to present the preliminary findings of the project at the meetings of the World Congress for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem in 2013, the Congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies in Paris in 2014, and the Annual Meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies held in Baltimore in 2014. At each of these meetings, colleagues from many different branches of Jewish Studies provided leads and ideas which have borne much fruit.
Since this volume can contain only a fraction of the new findings presented in the workshops, selected and expertly edited by Andrea Schatz to constitute a coherent collection, the studies presented here should be read alongside many other important contributions arising from the project which can be found in the Josephus Reception Archive (http://josephus.orinst.ox.ac.uk/archive). The archive, created by Tessa Rajak and Annelies Cazemier and curated by Michal Molcho, has been designed to allow further expansion as more data accrues on the reception of this remarkable author and his works.
It seems highly unlikely that Josephus will cease to be a controversial figure among Jews in future generations as he has been in the past. If our project and this volume can encourage greater awareness of the complex origins of his disputed reputation both as a man and as a historian, it will have served its purpose.