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God Made Manifest: Josephus, Idolatry, and Divine Images in Flavian Rome

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism
Author:
Deborah L. Forger Dartmouth College Hanover, NH USA

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Abstract

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews lived under Flavian lords who peppered Rome’s landscape with sculpted images of themselves, oftentimes suggesting that these images, and the emperors who stood behind them, functioned as gods in embodied form. This paper considers how these divine images impacted Jews, given that these same Jews lived under Roman authority yet also served the God of Israel alone. By analyzing Josephus’s Antiquities 11.331-334 in light of Israel’s strong anti-idolic tradition, I explore how the name of Israel’s God, inscribed on the high priest’s golden miter, may have functioned as visible counterpoint to the Flavians’ graven images. It is widely assumed that first-century Jews viewed God as invisible, incorporeal, and utterly removed from the material realm, but for Josephus at least God’s name offered a means by which Jews could gaze upon an aspect of their God in visible, perceptible, and material form.

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