Josephus' Jewish war as a narrative five-act tragedy


Shenoy, Suresh A.. (2006). Josephus' Jewish war as a narrative five-act tragedy [Thesis].
AuthorsShenoy, Suresh A.
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The Dissertation, Josephus' Jewish War as a Narrative Five-act Tragedy, develops a method of reading the war narrative of Josephus that is consistent with the textual design of the literary work. Traditionally Bellum Judaicum has been held as a history, with little discrimination among the many types of history. A different understanding of the genre of the war narrative of Josephus is proposed in this study from what has been traditional, namely, that in addition to being a narrative history, B.J. is also a narrative five-act tragedy. Given the ease of recognition, the narrative history may be considered as placed in the foreground and the narrative of five-act tragedy in the background. It is a rare literary phenomenon here named genres disjunction. This raises the issue of what motivated Josephus to undertake such an extraordinary literary creation. It is argued in Chapters 2 to 4 of this study that the author of B.J. was led to this manner of writing by his covert political dissidence against the Romans in general, and against the Flavians in particular. In this, Josephus had a precedent in Lucius Annaeus Seneca in his public life and a model in his writings. In the latter, the nine tragedies in general, with exceptional relevance of Hercules Furens, served as source and inspiration for constructing B.J. in genres disjunction. After briefly discussing that B.J. is a composite work with sections in the expository and narrative modes, it is recognised as a narrative history. However, the major emphasis from Chapters 6 to 10 has been on B.J. as a narrative five-act tragedy. The implications from the newer understanding of the dual genres of B.J. have been drawn in the last section, titled Conclusion. The implications affect the Text, the Creator of the Text and the Reader-Responder to the Text. The text of B.J.;easily accessible to any reader is one in the genre of narrative history, whereas the text of the narrative of five-act tragedy calls for a more skilled reading. The second text, structured as a five-act tragedy, is constituted with B.J. 1 - 2 as the Exposition, B.J. 3 the Complication, B.J. 4 the Crisis/Climax, B.J. 5 the Reversal and B.J. 6 - 7.162 the Resolution. The issue of how to read the two texts in genres disjunction is a major challenge, particularly with each text holding its own valid meaning. The most appropriate strategy is for the reader to follow what was available to the historical reader to determine meaning of the texts. It is argued that to determine which of the two meanings is preferred, or which is both valid and relevant, is to apply the Roman reading strategy of the ironic mode as developed in Cicero's De Oratore and in Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria. The Creator of B.J. is the historical person Flavius Josephus, with three roles as the historical author, the implied author and the character in the narrative. In each of these roles Josephus' involvement in the Text is different in kind. Unless these roles are identified and their distance from the text determined, it is impossible to read the Text as it calls to be read. Associated with the role of the historical author is another much vexing question of the alleged help of Assistants. Implications of having such Assistants are drawn from the study. The implications of reading successfully a work in genres disjunction of two texts, places added obligations on the reader-responder as the historical reader. Not only is this reader expected to be well-versed in classical Greek and Latin literature of the time, but also to be in the author's confidence as a covert dissident against the Flavians. With appropriate changes, these expectations would cover all the actual readers of B.J.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
Final version
Publication dates01 Aug 2006
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