Tiberius Julius Alexander

Written by Daniel M. Friedenberg
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

Tiberius Julius Alexander was a real historical figure, born a Jew in the city of Alexandria in the first century AD. In this fictional memoir, he tells the story of his life, including his break with his Jewish heritage, his rise in the Roman army, and his participation, on the Roman side, in the siege of Jerusalem. In the novel, he personally allows a Roman soldier to burn down the Second Temple where his family has worshipped, the holiest place to believing Jews. In the context of the novel, this act becomes understandable. The author succeeds in making Alexander seem like a flawed human being rather than a monster, which takes some doing. He rapes his true love and then runs from the suggestion that he marry her. He watches crucifixions with pleasure. He never becomes likable, though at times the reader may pity him.

I have a serious interest in Roman history and am awed by the author’s learning. We get insightful thumbnail sketches of many historical figures. Even the brief, throw- away comments on individuals as varied as the Gracchi, Augustus, and Ovid are striking and astute. I sense that the author’s knowledge of ancient Jewish, Greek, and Egyptian, as well as Roman, history is profound. There are interesting reflections on politics, philosophy and religion. But the novel is long on exposition and has few fully developed scenes between the characters. It abounds in lengthy, convoluted sentences densely packed with information, which can be laborious reading. Just the same, if you are entranced by the history of the ancient world, you will find this book extremely rewarding.