Josephus in Early Modern Jewish Thought from Menasseh to Spinoza

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1 Scopus citations


In September 1655, Menasseh ben Israel set out across the North Sea on a mission to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. The mission was the most momentous of Menasseh’s life. In it, he had invested the last of his money and the last of his hopes for an event of messianic significance – the readmission of the Jews to England. Uncertain of the outcome, Menasseh did not bring his whole household and cannot have burdened himself with much of his vast library. One book he did have with him in London, however, was a Greek-Latin edition of Flavius Josephus’s Opera.1

Why did this eminent rabbi so prize a writer long treated as tangential at best, to the orthodox tradition? What was so important about Josephus’s work that Menasseh, as will be discussed below, even thought it merited a new translation into the sacred tongue? And why did Josephus and his work have a hold on Menasseh’s attention in the midst of a crucial mission to resolve the desperate plight of the Jewish diaspora? The answers to these questions can be found in an extraordinary moment in the long and fraught relationship between Josephus and his Jewish readership. It was a moment when Menasseh’s community, the judaized conversos of the Sephardic world, reintroduced Josephus to the mainstream of Jewish religious and political thought. The moment was a brief one, for the great heterodox scion of this community, Baruch de Spinoza, would soon put an end to the short-lived reconciliation between Josephus and the Jews.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Jewish History and Culture
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9789004393097
StatePublished - 16 May 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameStudies in Jewish History and Culture
ISSN (Print)1568-5004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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