Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Philo the Epic Poet

Philosoraptor-8

To be completely honest, this picture has nothing to do with the post. I merely enjoyed it and hope others will do the same.

Introduction to Philo the Epic Poet:

This pseudepigrapha by Philo (henceforth, PhEPoet; this is not the Hellenistic Jewish Philosopher Philo who lived c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE) is titled On Jerusalem or Concerning Jerusalem. Fragments only exist in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica 9  (Eng. Preparation for the Gospel; Grk. Εὑαγγελικὴ προπαρασκευή; written circa 310 CE). He draws on 1st century historian Alexander Polyhistor throughout his work. Literary evidence suggests authorship with Alexandria, Egypt.

Fragment 1 provides an image of Abraham leaving Chaldea, follow by Fragment 2’s brief poem of the Akedah (Abraham’s binding of Isaac). Fragment 3 praises Joseph’s role an interpreter of dreams. Fragments 4-6 provide vivid imagery of an aqueduct system in Jerusalem. All in all, the fragments only consist of about one page. Thus, PhEPoet is not well preserved; though, it is possible and important to glean what we can from the brief fragment.

PhEPoet on Dreams

Fragment 3 (Præparatio Evangelica 9.24.1) places high value on Joseph for his abilities to interpret dreams for the scepter bearer, or the Pharaoh. The final line of the poem regarding Joseph is as follows: “revolving time’s secrets with the flood of fate”. H. Attridge comments that “this rather sententious line simply refers to Joseph’s ability as a prophetic interpreter of dreams” (OTP Vol. 2, pg. 784, Fragment 3, footnote g). I wonder, though, if dismissing the passage as “sententious” and simply about prophecy loses touch with a possible point of the fragment, namely the possibility Fragment 3 is moralizing prophecy in a pompous or affected manner because it played a large role in culture and society during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.

Consider one perspective. During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, the economic situation was constantly one in which the majority of people were attempting to sustain themselves with basic necessities. Within the Joseph narrative in Genesis, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and prophesy paved his way towards working in the Pharaoh’s court. Perhaps PhEPoet’s description is so sententious because, within his socio-economic context, Joseph’s prophetic abilities pulled him from prison (barely able to survive) into the Pharaoh’s court, wherein he could thrive.

I am fully aware that this claim is a stretch, which is why I make it extremely tentatively. It is also important to read literature not only within its own ideological and social context, but also within its own economic context.

Bibliography:

H. Attridge. “Philo the Epic Poet”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2. Peabody, MA: 1983.

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