Monday, February 27, 2017

Review of Mason, A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66-74

Steve Mason, A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66-74. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 689. ISBN 9780521853293. $150.00.

Reviewed by Matthew V. Novenson, University of Edinburgh (


When I discovered the package containing Steve Mason’s A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66-74 in my office mailbox, my first response was excitement, since I, like many scholars of Judaism in antiquity, had known about and been anticipating Mason’s summa on the war for some years now. My second response, upon opening the package, was surprise at the book’s title, since one of Mason’s professional calling cards is his insistence upon using “Judaean” rather than “Jew” or “Jewish” for Greek Ἰουδαῖος and Latin Iudaeus. (I can only guess that the title represents a compromise between author and publisher, since in the pages of the book Mason uses his customary “Judaean” throughout.) My third and lasting response, upon reading the book, was deep appreciation for Mason’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the contexts of the war and his nimble handling of numerous historiographical problems. Mason’s Jewish War was originally commissioned for Cambridge University Press’s Key Conflicts of Classical Antiquity series, a match made in publishing heaven. But whereas the previous entries in that series—Michael Kulikowski’s Rome’s Gothic Wars and Waldemar Heckel’s Conquests of Alexander the Great—weigh in at about 240 pages, Mason’s Jewish War runs to nearly 700. While a series-appropriate 240-page “foundation for undergraduates with no background in ancient history” (as per the series description in the CUP catalogue) on the Jewish War from Mason would be very welcome, the book that he has in fact produced is a far more interesting one.