Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Treatise of Shem (Belated Edition)

Generally I post Pseudepigrapha Saturday on Saturdays. Unfortunately, due to the business of #AARSBL15 and thanksgiving time, I have been unable to post it. Well, now I present you with the exclusive “Belated Edition” of Pseudepigrapha Saturday. The only difference is that I am posting on Sunday instead of Saturday.

Introduction to the Text:

The Treatise of Shem follows the zodiac counterclockwise and reverses the order the Aquarius and Pisces. The first zodiac sign, Aries, begins with gloomy imagery, while the final zodiac sign in regular the regular order, Pisces, reflects a far more positive outlook. Written in the late twenties B.C.E. in Egypt, Charlesworth suggests that it demonstrates Jewish astrological concerns during the first century B.C.E. and symbolically reflects Octavian’s defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (31 B.C.E.), a likely candidate for the battle which birthed the Roman Empire (See The Battle of Actium by Joshua J. Mark).

synagogue-zodiacs-11-260x213

“The synagogue at Zippori (Sepphoris) provided the most recent of the zodiac mosaic discoveries, although unfortunately it is not very well preserved. In the center of the zodiac wheel, Helios once again drives his four-horse chariot, but rather than the figure of a man, the god is depicted as the sun itself.” – Source: Biblical Archaeology Society

 

 

The Treatise of Shem and the “Variegated Nature of Intertestamental Judaism”

In his introduction to the Treatise of Shem, Charlesworth notes that “Diasporic Judaism, and even Palestinian Judaism, was not guided by an established orthodoxy. The Treatise of Shem significantly improves our perception of the variegated nature of intertestamental Judaism” (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Dovetailing from this point, the Treatise of Shem also illustrates the breadth of theological convictions throughout history. Take, for example, Genesis 1:14 which notes that the sun and moon as things which give signs and seasons. This Priestly text, of course, assumes a culture with an agricultural locus; thus, to follow the signs of the sky would not seem odd. After all, the seasons, signs, times, and astrology all go hand-in-hand.

Two later texts oppose astrology. Deuteronomy 18:10-14 bans divination, something which encompasses astrology. And the book of Jubilees rejects astrology all together (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Clearly, the various traditions from biblical literature indicate that Jewish literature (however anachronistic those terms may seem) was multifaceted and inherited traditions, ideas, and religious practices from their own contexts.

Shifting to more contemporary significance, perhaps the multifaceted approach to communal religion and personal, lived religion should be embraced by religious communities of the 21st centuries. In a world of globalization, multi-religious dialogue is an absolute must. Note, though, that I am not calling for pluralism. Pluralism demands that multiple sources are all correct. I simply call for multi-religious dialogue, in which multiple sources can engage with each other to seek commonalities for moving forward and also agree to disagree about differences.

This is the sort of diversity which seems to be present in the Treatise of Shem, one of many examples of variegation in Second Temple Period Judaism. Maybe we should learn from our human predecessors and move forward with those convictions: difference within tradition is not detrimental, but good.

Note: I am aware that this post went off the main focus of my blog, but I think it is important. So I said it. I am also aware that I am not necessarily taking into account the historical relationship between the variegated forms of Second Temple Period Judaism. Even so, I believe that multi-faith dialogue is a necessity for constructing a more palatable and lively world.

Bibliography:

Joshua J. Mark. “The Battle of Actium”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. http://www.ancient.eu/article/187/  (accessed 11/29/2015).

J. H. Charlesworth. “Treatise of Shem”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 473-486.

Walter Zanger. “Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols”. Bible History Daily. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/jewish-worship-pagan-symbols/ (accessed 11/29/2015).

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Treatise of Shem (Belated Edition)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s