Among the central players of Josephus’s autobiography are those he refers to as “the Galileans.” Patronized by their one-time general as a restive and emotional mob ready to ignite at the slightest indignation, “the Galileans” are of vital importance to Josephus’s imagined success as general of the Jewish forces in Galilee. Josephus’s condescension toward “the Galileans,” strange as it is, is compounded by the fact that he regularly contrasts them with the inhabitants of Galilee’s major cities, principally Sepphoris, Tiberias, and Gabara. This essay revisits the curious presentation of “the Galileans” in Josephus’s writings, picking up an inchoate suggestion of Shaye Cohen of a Galilean ethnos. I argue that Josephus does indeed view “the Galileans” as an ethnos of their own, distinguishable from the Jews of Galilee, who mainly reside in the region’s urban centers. That is, the term “Galileans” in Josephus’s works functions first as a marker of ethnic belonging and so is not equivalent to “an inhabitant of Galilee” tout court. Josephus’s presentation of “the Galileans,” moreover, is colored by an ethnic prejudice that essentializes a few traits and makes them foils for the virtues of Josephus and the Jews. The introduction to “the Galileans” in his Jewish War (J.W. 3.42), which portrays them as “pugnacious from infancy,” converges with their characterization in Life, written some two decades later. I briefly consider the historical implications that follow from this reevaluation of “the Galileans” in Josephus.
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