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“The Idumaeans” in Josephus' The Jewish War

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“The Idumaeans” constitute a single, although collective, character in Josephus' The Jewish War. This article discusses whom Josephus meant by “the Idumaeans,” and considers whether, in his mind, they were, as others have suggested, “Jews” from Idumaea or a separate nation or ethnic group. It argues that the character “the Idumaeans” is not in fact a representative picture of Idumaeans of Josephus' time, but may be understood in terms of modern ethnic stereotyping, and that Josephus' stereotype of “the Idumaeans” as bloodthirsty hooligans is ultimately drawn from a continuous Idumaean military tradition. The article concludes by re-reading the War stripped of Josephus' ethnic prejudice against Idumaeans to learn more about the role of Idumaean fighting men in the first war against Rome.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, Yale University, New Haven CT 06520, USA;, Email:


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