Universiteit Leiden

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Forum Antiquum 8 december: Writing and Re-writing Masada: Freedom, Faith and Nation

  • Tessa Rajak
Thursday 8 December 2016
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Vossius conference room

On Thursday 8 December Emeritus Professor Tessa Rajak (Reading/Oxford) will lecture on Josephus’ account of the Jewish resistance at Masada. Professor Rajak is a great expert on the work of Josephus and on Judaism in the Graeco-Roman world in general.

The speaker

Tessa Rajak is Professor of Ancient History Emerita in the University of Reading, Senior Research Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, and Co-Investigator in the Oxford-based, AHRC-funded project on ‘The Jewish Reception of Josephus since 1750’. She has held numerous visiting Professorships and Research Fellowships. She is the author of Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora (revised paperback edition 2011); Josephus: The Historian and His Society (2nd edition, London, 2003) and The Jewish Dialogue with Greece and Rome (2001); and of many papers on cultural, social and religious history. She has edited Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers, (2007); Philosophy and Power in the Graeco-Roman World: Essays in Honour of Miriam Griffin, (2002); and The Jews among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire (1992). She is currently writing a book on the legacy of the historian Josephus for Harvard University Press, and a commentary on the Fourth Book of Maccabees for de Gruyter, Berlin and for Yad Ben Zvi, Jerusalem.

Time and venue

The lecture will start at 16:00, taking place in the Vossius conference room in the University Library (south hall, second floor). Afterwards everybody is invited for drinks at De Grote Beer.


The Masada narrative that features so prominently in book 7 of Josephus’s Jewish War, with its two great set speeches, revolves around a multi-faceted ideal of freedom, eleutheria. The concept has here both Greek and Jewish strands, and it carries simultaneously national/ethnic and religious/theological resonance. The mix is of course the author’s, and the speeches are his. How far this mix could reflect anything of the historical stance of the Jewish resistance fighters whom Josephus so wholeheartedly detested is hard to gauge. But the question is worth considering, and the disjunction between the author and his protagonists may not be as complete as it seems. A brief look at modern readings of the Masada episode and its adoption as a narrative of Jewish national identity, as well as at critiques of such valorization, will add further perspectives to our understanding of the intersection of religion and people in Josephus’s multivalent depiction of the Masada suicides and its implications.

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