I have argued that Josephus’s invective against John and his rebel cohort should be read within a wider Roman discourse on transgressive gender, both the tendency in political invective to cast tyrants as effeminate objects of anal penetration, as well as the gendered power structures integral to Roman imperial ideology. Effeminacy, and especially sexual passivity, were inextricably linked with an unrestrained lust for power, and the urge to defy boundaries between the sheets, as it were, betrayed a compulsion to disturb the political boundaries that ensure civic and national stability. In one sense, then, this text bears the unmistakable imprint of a foreign (Judaean) author who has been living in the shadow of Rome’s imperial dominance. Yet in another sense, it underscores the extent to which Josephus had absorbed the cultural categories and assumptions of his conqueror, even employing this gender paradigm to bolster his own claim to manliness. Josephus thus exploits not a homophobic but perhaps a cinaedo-phobic or pathico-phobic current in Rome to elicit a sympathetic ear, invoking for his Roman reader a familiar and timely warning: effeminizing tyranny is like a disease, invariably infecting the state with its passive inclinations. In so doing, Josephus underscores just how alike Judaeans and Romans really were. Both were afflicted with a decadent and effeminate tyrant—Nero in Rome and John in Galilee/Judaea. Both were then plagued by a consequent rebellion and civil war that threatened to undermine the very foundation of civic order, potentially destroying the state itself. In Rome’s case, however, effeminate decadence met its match with the Flavians, at least in the pre-Domitian era of B.J.; sadly, for Josephus, the Judaean state did not fare as well.
Jason von Ehrenkrook, “Effeminacy in the Shadow of Empire: The Politics of Transgressive Gender in Josephus’s Bellum Judaicum,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 101:2 (Spring 2011), 162-163.