Josephus the ZionistFurther to my comment above, the headline, typically, does not accurately reflect Professor Avineri's view, which is rather more nuanced and which acknowledges my concern:
The publication of a new translation of 'The War of the Jews' affords an opportunity to look at the motivations underlying the betrayal on the battlefield and the historical writing of a complex Jewish figure.
By Shlomo Avineri (Haaretz)
Tags: Israel news
"Toldot Milhemet Hayehudim Baroma'im" ("The War of the Jews Against the Romans"), by Yosef Ben-Matityahu (Josephus Flavius), Hebrew translation by Lisa Ullmann, Carmel, 751 pages, NIS 159
Like every self-respecting Israeli youth movement, my Hanoar Ha'oved branch in Herzliya also held a mock trial for Josephus Flavius, aka Yosef Ben-Matityahu, under the heading "traitor or hero?" The unique thing about our particular trial was that it had two defendants: not only Josephus - the commander of Jewish forces in the Galilee in the first century C.E., who after the fall of Yodfat went over to the Roman side - but also Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai, who fled a besieged Jerusalem to the camp of the besieging 10th Legion, and asked that "Yavneh and its sages" be spared; his wish was granted. Having both figures as defendants made our trial more complicated and interesting, especially since it was held in late 1948, during the charged days of Israel's War of Independence.
Both defendants were acquitted. If I recall correctly, the argument made in their favor was that the harm caused by their respective choices to cross the lines was not as great as the good they did the Jewish people - whether in the form of Josephus' historical enterprise, or in the capacity for survival symbolized by Yavneh and its sages, which made it possible to create an alternative normative framework for Jewish identity after the destruction of the Temple (we in Herzliya at the time were, of course, a bit less scholarly in our phrasing).
When interpreting Josephus, one is always in danger of lapsing into anachronism, and yet without a doubt, to him this was the war of the Jews as a nation against the Roman Empire. One cannot, of course, understand this in terms of the modern nationalism of the 19th century, but although Josephus explains that the uprising started out as a trivial land dispute between Jews and Greco-Syrians in Caesarea, as the rebellion spread, it increasingly came to resemble a war of liberation.Read the whole very long article (and better yet, read Josephus) and see what you think.
The religious element is not the decisive one for Josephus; unlike Antiochus, after all, the Romans did not infringe on Jewish religious ritual and even respected it. It is important to understand how Josephus describes the nature of the war: As modern as the idea of nationalism may be (and this includes Zionism as an expression of Jewish nationalism), modern national movements - as scholar Anthony D. Smith claims - have ancient ethnic-historical roots. If I weren't wary of going too far, I would even say Josephus is the first modern Zionist.
Via David Meadows on Facebook.