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3 Caligula and the Jews: Some Historiographic Reflections Occasioned by Gaius in Polychrome

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Chapter Summary

Historians of the Jewish past have had a particularly complicated relationship with Caligula. The Caligula incident as described by Philo and Josephus bore particular resonance for Western Jews of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Jewish-Roman negotiations surrounding the imperial cult are a good example of the ways that this modus vivendi had developed before Caligula. The beautiful statue of Gaius that stands at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of only two that survived a very thorough, if unofficial, Roman damnatio. This sculpture provides a valuable window into what ancient Jews "saw" in the synagogues of Alexandria, what they feared Caligula would place in the Temple, and what was, visually, at stake. For classicists, Caligula continues to be a touchstone, a place to reflect upon the Roman heritage, and for some, a site to play out a subversive streak against their own Christian culture.

Keywords: Alexandria; Caligula; Gaius; Jews; Josephus; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts



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