During the Roman siege of the Galilean town of Jotapata (Yodfat) in 67 CE, the Jewish commander Josephus, seeing (by his own later account) that defeat was at hand, made a pact with his comrades to run on each other’s swords rather than be captured. After the others were dead, he instead surrendered, flattered his way into the good graces of the Roman general, and lived the rest of his life comfortably in Rome writing books about Jews and Judaism. Martin Goodman’s Josephus’ “The Jewish War”: A Biography is a history of the best-known of those books. David Polansky writes in his review:
As befits its author, who moved between such different worlds in his own lifetime, The Jewish War’s legacy proves complex. It owed its initial dissemination (and, arguably, preservation) to the early Christians, whose own purposes differed vastly from Josephus’. Though both Josephus and his early Christian readers were concerned with accounting for the destruction visited upon the Judeans, Josephus attributed it to a combination of elite corruption and imprudent radicalism, as opposed to their rejection of Jesus. Early Christians, such as Eusebius and Cyril of Alexandria, were primarily interested in demonstrating the terrible punishment the Jews incurred through their [alleged] complicity in the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. (One especially gruesome episode of a starving Jerusalemite eating her own child was a favorite.)
It would take nearly a millennium for The Jewish War to be rediscovered by Jews themselves, albeit as only one source for a composite narrative of the destruction of Jerusalem, which entered the medieval rabbinic canon under the name Sefer Yosippon, [and] would eclipse Josephus’ text among pious European Jews for centuries thenceforward.
For early Zionists, The Jewish War, written in Greek and aspiring to the scholarly rigor of other classical historical texts, offered authoritative proof of the ancient Jews’ status as a people with rooted attachment to the Levant. At the same time, the Zionists were (and in some cases still are) perhaps uniquely concerned with the controversial status of the historian who wrote it. How far could a work by such a man be trusted?