Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Cleodemus Malchus

Introduction to the Text:

Cleodemus is a historian referenced by Alexander Polyhistor in his work On the Jews, which no longer exists in full form. So, the only existing fragment of Cleodemus is in Josephus’ 1st century C.E. work titled Antiquities of the Jews (1.239-41). The fragments was originally written in Greek within the 1st century B.C.E.. In it, Cleodemus the prophet provides the names of Keturah’s sons, the wife of Abraham, and connects each with the a geographic region (Surim -> Assyria; Afera and Iafra -> city of Afra and Africa). Additionally, Cleodemus connects Keturah’s sons with having fought with Heracles in Libya, who married the daughter of Afera and then has a son Diodorus. Diodorus’ son is Sophax, which Cleodemus claims is “is from whom the barbarians get the name of Sophakes”. These “barbarians” were a Numidian tribe in Northern Africa, a kingdom from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.E. along the Mediterranean in modern day Algeria and Tunisia). Essentially, Cleodemus presents the origins of the Numidian tribes in Africa in a Judaized form.

Sophax was otherwise known as Syphax. He was the king of the the western Numidian tribe (Masaesyli) prior to the unification of the east and west.

Because the text is so short, I’ve included R. Doran’s translation:

Alexander Polyhistor confirms what I say when he sates: “Cleodemus the prophet, also called Malchas, recorded the history of the Jews, just as Moses, their lawgiver, had done. Cleodemus states tat Keturah bore Abraham mighty sons. Cleodemus gives their names, clalling three of them Afera, Surim, and Iafra. Assyria was named after Surim; the city of Afra and the region Africa were named after Afera and Iafra, for Afera and Iafra fought with Heracles in his campaign in Libya against Antaios. Heracles married the daughter of Afera and had by her a son, Diodorus. Diodorus had a son, Sophax, from whom the barbarians get the name of Sophakes.

(Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. II, p. 887)

Hellenized, Judaized, and Extra-Biblical Traditions

With the reign of Alexander the Great, the influence of Greek culture upon the Eastern Mediterranean increased dramatically. While one could examine Cleodemus and argue that his was a bad historian, it is better to consider a historians role in the ancient world. Historians in the ancient world were not attempting to create a description of the past; rather, historians generally had a stated goal and attempted to establish something. In the case of Cleomedus, he attempts to establish and the justify the antiquity of the Jewish people. So, he takes Hellenistic traditions, otherwise known as Greek traditions, and Judaizes them. Essentially, he creates a mixture of Jewish and Greek tradition to demonstrate the history of Jews. Consequently, Cleomedus’ tradition is extra-biblical, as it does not fall in line with either the Hebrew Bible or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint.

To explain, Cleomedus takes the tradition of Keturah as the wife of Abraham and describes three sons. These sons are then imagined to be the originators of Northern Africa and Assyria. While it is purely conjectural, it is possible that this tradition existed prior to Cleomedus. In fact, it seems highly likely. With the emergence of a strong Greek influence upon Jewish cultural, Cleomedus found it necessary to take this already existing Jewish tradition and infuse it with Greek tradition, namely the tradition of Heracles fighting in Libya. He accomplishes this by merging the family tree of Abraham and Keturah with that of the major Greek hero Heracles. At the end of the day, Cleomedus creates a mythic past which, although outside of biblical tradition, combines elements of Hellenistic and Jewish practice. Nevertheless, it justifies and provides face for Judaism of the period.




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