The best history books about Jews and the Roman Empire

Guy MacLean Rogers Author Of For the Freedom of Zion: The Great Revolt of Jews Against Romans, 66-74 CE
By Guy MacLean Rogers

Who am I?

My passion for the topic of relations between Jews and Romans goes back to my introduction to the subject in an undergraduate seminar at University College London taught by the late, great Oxford historian Sir Fergus Millar. Taking the seminar with Millar and reading Josephus’ detailed account of the great revolt of Jews against Romans in 66 CE fascinated me: how and why would a small group of Jews take on the ancient world’s only superpower? This is a question that I've been thinking about for almost 50 years and have now written up my answers to in my book For the Freedom of Zion: The Great Revolt of Jews Against Romans, 66-74 CE


I wrote...

For the Freedom of Zion: The Great Revolt of Jews Against Romans, 66-74 CE

By Guy MacLean Rogers,

Book cover of For the Freedom of Zion: The Great Revolt of Jews Against Romans, 66-74 CE

What is my book about?

My book examines the causes, course, and significance of the Jews’ failed revolt against Rome from 66 to 74 CE, including the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the siege of Masada. I argue that the Jewish rebels fought for their freedom and lost due to military mistakes.

But while the Romans won the war, they lost the peace. When the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple, they thought that they had defeated the God of Israel and eliminated Jews as a strategic threat. Instead, they ensured the Jews’ ultimate victory. After their defeat Jews turned to the written words of their God. Following those words led the Jews to recover their freedom in the promised land, and the war’s tragic outcome still shapes the worldview of billions of people today.

The books I picked & why

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Josephus: The Historian and His Society

By Tessa Rajak,

Book cover of Josephus: The Historian and His Society

Why this book?

Flavius Josephus was a first-century CE Jewish-Roman priest and general and the author of several works about the history of the Jews and Rome, including one about the Jewish Revolt of 66-74 CE. Famouslyor infamously—Josephus fought on the side of the Jewish rebels at the beginning of the war, but then changed over to the Romans after his failed defense of the Jewish fortress of Iotapata. In her biography of Josephus, Tessa Rajak provides an accessible, balanced, and brilliant portrait of Josephus and his world. Rajak’s biography helped me to understand how and why the writings of Josephus, Jewish patriot and traitor, are essential to understanding the causes, course, and outcome of the greatest revolt in Roman imperial history.

Josephus: The Historian and His Society

By Tessa Rajak,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Josephus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Josephus, author of the "Jewish War" and the "Jewish Antiquities", belongs equally to Jewish and to Greco-Roman history. A well-to-do priest and Pharisee at Jerusalem, he was a contemporary and chronicler of the great changes which took place in the Roman Empire in the first century AD and a controversial general in the great Jewish revolt of 66-73 against Rome. Tessa Rajak, an ancient historian versed in both Greek and Hebrew, assesses the varied source material to produce a sociological account of the Jewish revolt which casts fresh light on Josephus' attitudes, placing his achievement in the context of both…


Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth

By Jodi Magness,

Book cover of Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth

Why this book?

In 74 CE, 960 Jews on top of the rock fortress of Masada reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to a Roman army. Their defiant self-sacrifice became a modern, nationalist rallying cry in Israel: “Masada shall not fall again.” Jodi Magness, who directed excavations of the Roman siege-works at Masada and is one of the preeminent archeologists of the ancient world, has written a superb book about Masada, describing its physical setting and development, the history of the site’s excavation, the story of the Roman siege, and the creation of Masada’s hotly contested modern myth. What happened in Masada in 74 CE continues to fascinate, inspire and trouble us: this book explains why.

Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth

By Jodi Magness,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Masada as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new account of the famous site and story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children-the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple-reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State…


Jerusalem Under Siege: The Collapse of the Jewish State, 66-70 C.E.

By Jonathan J. Price,

Book cover of Jerusalem Under Siege: The Collapse of the Jewish State, 66-70 C.E.

Why this book?

Based upon a stellar doctoral dissertation written at Princeton University Jonathan Price’s monograph about the first four years of the war of Jews against Romans is a treasure trove of information and insights about Jewish history, the various factions within Jewish society, and the tragic destruction of the Jewish Temple and a large part of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Sharp intelligence, learning, engagement, and balanced judgment can be found on every page of this impressive and readable book.

Jerusalem Under Siege: The Collapse of the Jewish State, 66-70 C.E.

By Jonathan J. Price,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jerusalem Under Siege as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This internal history of the Jewish rebellion traces factionalism among the Jews from the decades before the war's outbreak through the constantly shifting and dangerous alliances that reigned in Jerusalem from 66 to 70 C.E.; rivalries and divisions are revealed even in the structure of the Jewish army and in the patterns of famine and desertion during the siege. Classical, rabbinic, archaeological and numismatic evidence are brought to bear on a new interpretation of Josephus' Bellum Judaicum.


Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition

By Erich S. Gruen,

Book cover of Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition

Why this book?

This book provided me with a magisterial overview of how Jewish writers both in the diaspora and Judaea during the period from c. 300 BCE until 100 CE produced a variety of texts that simultaneously engaged with Hellenic culture and traditions, and, with amazing creativity, imagination, and often playful humor, used the rich religious and philosophical traditions of Hellenism to assert the superiority of the Jews’ diverse, yet unique heritage. Written by one of the greatest contemporary historians of the ancient world this elegant and beautifully written book was a delight to read.

Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition

By Erich S. Gruen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heritage and Hellenism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The interaction of Jew and Greek in antiquity intrigues the imagination. Both civilizations boasted great traditions, their roots stretching back to legendary ancestors and divine sanction. In the wake of Alexander the Great's triumphant successes, Greeks and Macedonians came as conquerors and settled as ruling classes in the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. Hellenic culture, the culture of the ascendant classes in many of the cities of the Near East, held widespread attraction and appeal. Jews were certainly not immune. In this thoroughly researched, lucidly written work, Erich Gruen draws on a wide variety of literary and historical texts of…


Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations

By Martin Goodman,

Book cover of Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations

Why this book?

This is a work on a grand scale about Rome and Jerusalem and relations between Romans and Jews written by a scholar of both Jewish and Roman history. It goes into great depth about the cultural, political, and religious beliefs and practices of Romans and Jews and uses the evidence for them to explain how and why these two ancient civilizations repeatedly came into tragic conflict. This book is probably the best and most informative guide to the antecedents of the great revolt of Jews against Romans.

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations

By Martin Goodman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rome and Jerusalem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A magisterial history of the titanic struggle between the Roman and Jewish worlds that led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Martin Goodman—equally renowned in Jewish and in Roman studies—examines this conflict, its causes, and its consequences with unprecedented authority and thoroughness. He delineates the incompatibility between the cultural, political, and religious beliefs and practices of the two peoples and explains how Rome's interests were served by a policy of brutality against the Jews. At the same time, Christians began to distance themselves from their origins, becoming increasingly hostile toward Jews as Christian influence spread within the empire. This is the…


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