Micha Josef Berdyczewski (bin Gorion) (1865-1921)

Hebrew novelist, essayist, scholar, and thinker Micha Josef Berdyczewski was a life-long admirer of Josephus. An autobiographical short story, Be-Derech Rehokah (On a Long and Winding Road), describes Micha Josef’s first encounter with Sefer Yosippon (Book of Yosippon) as a young boy and the historical visions that the thin booklet inspires in him. The story invokes Josephus as a role model for Jews who received a traditional upbringing in segregated Jewish communities, aspiring to claim a place in modern society. Born to a Hasidic family in the Ukraine and trained at the prestigious Volozhin Yeshiva, Berdyczewski became a fervent advocate of the Jewish search for a modern identity away from the strictures of traditional lifestyles, a transition which he dubbed ‘a change of values’ (Shinuy Arachin). ‘On a Long and Winding Road’ offers a glimpse of Josephus’s impact on the young Berdyczewski, who earned a doctorate in philology from Bern University and ultimately settled in Berlin. As a student of ancient religions, Berdyczewski also perused Josephus’s works in search of what he considered authentic accounts of the historical Jesus. These studies were published posthumously by his son, Emanuel bin Gorion. Berdyczewski changed his family name to bin Gorion, the name of the purported author of the Book of Yosippon, in homage to Josephus.

Bin Gorion, Micha Josef. ‘Be-Derech Rehokah.’ (Hebrew) In Sippurim, vol. 1 (Me-Hutz La-Tehum): 21-23. Leipzig, 1923.

Bin Gorion, Micha Josef. Yeshu ben Hanan (Hebrew). Edited by Emanuel bin Gorion. Tel Aviv, 1959.
Bin Gorion, Micha Josef. Shaul ve-Paulus (Hebrew). Edited by Emanuel bin Gorion. Tel Aviv, 1971.

JRA entry contributed by Orr Scharf