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Mapping the Intersection of Greek and Jewish Identity in Josephus’ Against Apion

Sarah Christine Teets

University of Virginia

This paper demonstrates that intersectional feminist theory provides a valuable tool for mapping the paradox of identity presented in Josephus’ apologetic treatise Against Apion. The paradox, first observed by Cohen and elaborated by Barclay, is the apparent contradiction between Josephus’ overt criticisms of Greek culture with its marginalization of Jews and their historiographical tradition (including Josephus’ historical works) and his performance of the Greek identity expressed, debated, and policed by the self-styled πεπαιδευμένοι, the elite Hellenophone men who laid claim to and made ostentatious display of Greek παιδεία from the late first century through the mid-third century. This identity at once contains overtones of gender and elite status in addition to education in the Greek tradition (Gleason, Swain). Intersectional feminist theory examines the confluence of social categories that are subject to or implicated in the operation of social power differentials. While originally and perhaps primarily used to analyze the experiences of those who are faced with marginalization or oppression at the intersection of multiple axes, particularly gender and race (Crenshaw), recent work on intersectionality emphasizes the appropriateness of the theory for understanding both marginalized categories as well as dominant, privileged, or normative categories (Carbado). The implication of Carbado’s interpretation of intersectionality is that people who live at the intersection of dominant and subordinate categories can experience both privilege and marginalization at the same time, and that this experience may take unexpected forms. I use intersectionality to argue that Josephus is capable of being marginalized as a Jew at the same time that he is capable of embodying the privileged position of the elite masculine πεπαιδευμένος. It is, in fact, precisely his identity as a Greek πεπαιδευμένος that makes him capable of offering his critique of Greek culture and its marginalization of Jewish historiography: his extensive reading of Greek historiography affords him the knowledge of Greek ignorance of Jews, his rhetorical training underlies the structure of his arguments, and his Atticism constitutes the very language of its expression. By the same token, it is his elite status within the Jerusalem aristocracy and extensive training in the Jewish tradition that informs him of what has been left out of Greek histories. In short, only someone with precisely Josephus’ intersectional identity would have been capable of composing such a treatise. Through analysis of key passages (Apion 1.6, 1.15–16, 1.58, Jewish Antiquities 20.262–5), I examine Josephus’ self presentation in Apion as a case study of how intersectional feminist theory can be used productively not only to illuminate a difficult paradox of identity and self-presentation, but also to demonstrate that an intersectional approach to figures such as Josephus who occupy the intersection of the mainstream of Classical scholarship (e.g. the Greek tradition) and marginalized identities makes for a more holistic inquiry into Mediterranean antiquity.

Session/Panel Title

Global Feminism and the Classics

Session/Paper Number

55.4

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