Rethinking the Jewish War – October 2018

Rethinking the Jewish War (66-74 CE)
Echo from an international Conference at EBAF (30 Oct – 1 Nov.)

The “Jewish War” or “First Revolt” against Rome (66–74) remains of the most perennially captivating conflicts of all time. A major study of the war recently written by Steve Mason, a renowned expert on Flavius Josephus at the University of Groningen, has now presented scholars an important new synthesis and reconstruction of the events—and ignited some controversy in the process[1]. Taking the text as a convenient conversation starter, the École biblique hosted a large three-day conference (30 Oct – 1 Nov)—“Rethinking the Jewish War: Archeology, Society, Tactics, and Traditions”—gathering a group of international experts, from diverse fields, institutions, and perspectives to examine together central aspects of the war.

Excellent contributions were made on a wide range of specialized topics, from archeology, numismatics, and epigraphy, to the interpretation of Second Temple, rabbinic, and early Christian texts. Two experts in Roman military history, Professors Yann Le Bohec and Giovanni Brizzi, also added an important interdisciplinary perspective on the significance of the conflict in first-century Judea. At the heart of the discussion several fundamental, methodological controversies emerged, above all the place of “religion” in understanding the Jewish Revolt, a category that Mason finds unhelpful, but others see as essential. While resolution of all the issues is hardly to be hoped for, first steps in an important dialogue were taken.

In the end, all were struck not only by the extremely high quality of all the various papers, but above all by the remarkable diversity represented and the warm spirit of collegiality and hospitality that prevailed. Despite the challenging and highly specialized nature of the material—including papers delivered in four different languages—the conference attracted a large number of people and a generous new public was introduced to the École. The school was delighted to facilitate this scholarly exchange, which helps promote a clearer, common academic understanding of a truly critical event in the formative period of both Judaism and Christianity. The École was no less pleased to establish a new network of professional colleagues, contacts, and friends. The proceedings of the event will now be edited and published and recordings of the papers will also be prepared and posted online.

[1] Steve MASON, A History of the Jewish War (A.D. 66-74), Cambridge University Press, 2016, 689 p.