Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Adam

Introduction to the Text: 

The Apocalypse of Adam is preserved in a manuscript discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1946. It is one of many manuscripts of gnostic secret revelations. In this particular text, Adam communicates knowledge to his son Seth, the progenitor of the race of gnostics. In the story, he receives messages from three figures. Three stories are revealed, all of which find biblical precedents: the great Flood, re-population of the world, and  “a cosmic conflagration that is perhaps based on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:707). Each event is explained as the creator God’s attempt to destroy the race of Seth. At the end of the text, the author equate baptisms with knowledge.

God Judging Adam 1795 by William Blake 1757-1827

God Judging Adam 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 (

Because dating the text is difficult, G. Macrae dates it anytime between the first and fourth centuries CE, more likely earlier than later (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:708). Present form of the text, though, occurred through a growth process of narrative and language elements. Although we may be tempted to consider it either a Jewish or Christian text, depiction of the Illuminator of Knowledge, a major figure within the text, is neither absolutely one or the other. Thus, it may represent a transition period from a form of apocalyptic Judaism to Gnosticism, the latter being a distinct system of practices and beliefs. Macrae suggests that it reflects “an encounter between Jewish practitioners of baptism and sectarian gnostics, who diverge from them on this issue in particular” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:709).

Musings on the Mythological Background for the Apocalypse of Adam

As I read through this text, I was intrigued by the implicit and explicit references to Greek mythology. I list a few examples below:

Text Reference
“Then God, the ruler of the aeons and the powers, separated us…” (ApAdam 1:4)



The idea that Adam and Eve were once a single androgynous being reflects the androgyne myth (Aristophanes’s Speech from Plato’s Symposium)



“And God will say to Noah – whom the nations will call Deucalion” (ApAdam 3:8)



In the Greek flood story, Deucalion is the hero (See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1.7.2; Pseuo-Lucian, De Dea Syria 12-13)



“He is a drop. It came from heaven to earth. Dragons brought him down to caves” (ApAdam 7:24)



“The infant Zeus is said to have been hidden and nourished in a cave; cf. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.1.6-7” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:717, footnote j)



“Of the nine Muses on separated away” (ApAdam 7:31)



Although this reference is not to any particular story, the Apocalypse of Adam continue to note that the Muse became androgynous and conceived. This is a common motif in Greek myth (See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.3.5)



Although this list of references is quite brief, it does well to highlight how Greek mythology informed the way in which the author of the Apocalypse of Adam approached and viewed the world and history. Each reference to Greek mythology was appropriated for his specific purpose. No doubt he was influenced by Greek myth. At the same time, no doubt he viewed the world in a way unique to him and his community.

My point is that, as people viewing texts 2,000 years after the fact, it is important to recognize two aspects of every culture: (1) each culture should be permitted to stand independently and read on their own terms, and (2) we should recognize that each culture influences the other. Seeing that texts are products of cultures, these aspects are equally applicable to texts. In the case of the Apocalypse of Adam, Greek mythology and thought influenced the text; however, the text is also an independent testament of a particular historical situation and worldview. Balancing these two aspects is one of the greatest challenges when reading ancient texts and seeking to understand how ideas developed.

*For those who read Pseudepigrapha Saturday consistently, please be aware that I will be wrapping up my Pseudepigrapha Saturday posts for the foreseeable future. I am doing this because I start at the University of Chicago mid-September. While I still plan on using my blog as a way to study (i.e. posting about major texts in my courses, posting about approaches and methodologies, etc.), I will not be posting on a weekly, consistent basis. 

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Eldad and Modad

UPDATE: 8/2/2016

I should clarify that the Book of Eldad and Modad is only cited by title at one point, namely in The Shepherd of Hermas. In this post, I am not focused on the traditions surrounding the text as much as how the quote expands upon Numbers. Being made aware of my lack of clarity, I will work more diligently to provide more thorough introductions for my Pseudepigrapha Saturday posts.

Special thanks to Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica for his comment.

Introduction to the Text:

Unlike texts for which an entire document or multiple fragments exists (i.e. Jubilees, Maccabees, Pseudo-Phocylides, Theodotus, etc.), the Book of Eldad and Modad is only cited one time within a second century Christian work called the Shepherd of Hermas. The text says the following:

“The LORD is near to those who turn (to him),” as it is written in the (book of) Eldad and Modad, who prophesied in the desert to the people.

– Hermas, Vision, 2.3.4

This brief citation from the Book of Eldad and Modad expands upon an occurrence in Numbers 11:26. In Numbers 11:25, Eldad, Modad, and the rest of the elders prophesied, altogether 70 elders. While 68 of the elders stopped, Eldad and Modad continued prophesying. A person reported to Moses that they were still prophesying. Moses responded: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (NIV, Numbers 11:29).The Book of Eldad and Modad, therefore, expands upon the ambiguity of what these two men prophesied.

The Book of Eldad and Modad as an Expansion for Literary Structure

Although we lack a full version of the Book of Eldad and Modad, we can conjecture as to how the book, and the citation in particular, changes the structure and overall aim of Numbers 11:26-29. As previously noted, it provides more color for characters by revealing previously unknown and ambiguous prophecy. Concurrently, inclusion of this prophecy by Eldad and Modad helps to shape the text as a whole. Consider Numbers 11 with and without inclusion of the prophecy (possible location for the prophecy is italicized and bolded):

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp, saying “the LORD is near to those who turn (to him)”. 

27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”

29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!

Numbers 11:26-29 (ESV)

As a literary expansion, elucidation of the particular prophecy of Eldad and Modad serves as a foil to both Joshua and the young man. It effectively makes them both look silly because they choose want to silence prophecy that is of the LORD. It also strengthens Moses’ claim because by highlighting that prophecy for all is a good thing. The opposition between Joshua’s and young man’s reaction and Moses’ reaction suggests that the expansion was intended to justify and make more pointed Moses’ statement.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Demetrius the Chronographer

Introduction to the Text:

Demetrius was an ancient historian who wrote about the “inconsistencies and obscurities found in the biblical tradition, especially in matters of chronography” [1]. A chronologist is one who records the order in which things happen. So, Demetrius, as a chronologist writing from a Jewish perspective, attempts to provide a coherent timeline of events within the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

At the moment, we only have six extant (existing) fragments. Each fragment is present via excerpts of Alexander Polyhistor (yet another ancient historian) in Praeparatio Evangélica by Eusibius (and yet, another yet: an ancient, Christian historian). That is to say that we don’t have any full manuscripts, only quotes and citations from other authors.

On the Nature Chronography by Demetrius 

As noted previously, Demetrius was chiefly interested in writing a cogent history of biblical tradition with special regard for chronology. What some have missed, though, is exactly what constitutes “chronology”. In the few extant fragments, what can we learn about how Demetrius, and thereby others in a similar school of thought, conceptualized chronology and decided what was relevant?

Fragment 2 focuses on the chronology from Jacob to Joseph, with specifics about the life cycle of each figure and major geographical movements. Fragment 2 specifically notes that, after Jacob left Laban following a twenty year period, Jacob met and wrestled God. Consequently, his name was changed to Israel.

“And while he was going to Canaan, an angel of the Lord wrestled with him, and touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, and he became numb and went lame; on account of this the tendon of the thigh of cattle is not eaten. And the angel said to him that from that time on he would no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” [2].

Although this could be interpreted as a transition explaining to the reader why Demetrius now briefly refers to Jacob as Israel, and to note that they are the same people, it is important consider the context of this statement. Unlike the original Genesis narrative, Demetrius is primarily providing a chronology. Thus, it is important to read the brief digression as a part of the genealogical chronology [3].

Within Demetrius the Chronographer, the sudden digression into the name change of Jacob is an important part of the genealogy. Surrounding context only focuses on geography and chronology. So, the sudden addition of the name change account must have some purpose and connection to its surrounding context, for it doesn’t serve any explanatory purpose of an inconsistency or incongruity. If we read the name change account as a part of the genealogy, then, it becomes evident that Demetrius understands Jacob’s geographical movement into the land of Canaan and subsequent encounter with God as a new generation.

So, a change in name, and thereby identity, is just as important to Demetrius as the birth of a child or age of a person. Having been written in the 3rd century BCE, it highlights the importance of and relationship between names and identities. When considering the method of Demetrius in constructing a coherent chronology, one must consider that what Demetrius considered to be relevant to chronology is not necessarily what we consider to be relevant to chronology.

[1] J. Hanson.”Demetrius the Chronographer”. James H. Charlesworth (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume II, Third Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013.

[2] Ibid., 849.

[3] Lorenzo DiTommaso, “A Note on Demetrius the Chronographer, Fr 2.11 (=Eusebius, PrEv 9.21.11),” Journal For The Study Of Judaism In The Persian, Hellenistic And Roman Period 29, no. 1 (February 1998): 81-91.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Sedrach

Introduction to the Text:

The  Apocalypse of Sedrach begins with a sermon about the importance of love for Christians. The second portion of the text, the apocalypse itself, is about Sedrach’s questioning of God’s ways. Near the end of the text, Sedrach even convinces God to decrease the required amount of time for repentance from 3 years to 20 days. Because of God’s mercy, Sedrach allows God to take his spirit to heaven.

The Apocalypse of Sedrach was written between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, ultimately receiving its final form in the 10th or 11th century CE. In terms of the content, though, the text is derived and pieced together from two different circles: the sermon developed as a product of Byzantine Christianity and the apocalypse developed as a product of Judaism.

Historical Roots and Parallel Growth: 

As I’ve demonstrated many times previously, Pseudepigrapha provide insights into the worldviews of various Jewish and Christian groups. In other words, they provide individual voices to history. This is an important point in reading the Apocalypse of Sedrach. The compiled text includes products of both both Byzantine Christianity and Judaism. Being from different traditions, each portion of text was composed at a different period of time and eventually merged into one document. This inconspicuous and essential detail, though, is important to understanding the historical relationship between Jews and Christians between the 5th and 10th/11th centuries.

In order for divergent traditions to come together in a single text, people or materials from each tradition must have been in each others presence at one time or other. While the Apocalypse of Sedrach does not clearly illuminate any specific moments of history, it more generally reflects the nature of the relationship between some Jews and Christians. The Apocalypse of Sedrach would have required conscious synchronization of Jewish and Christian ideas, indicating that religious cross-pollination was an active and important thing in some regions where both traditions were practiced. Methodologically speaking, it highlights the importance of focusing on more flexible categories of what constitutes religion and avoiding the tendency of developing rigid categories for what constitutes religion.

Although there are many primary source documents to explore the relationship between Jews and Christians during the period at hand, I intentionally did not refer to or even consider them. For my goal was to demonstrate that this particular Pseudepigraphon (singular of Pseudepigrapha) is an independent and autonomous attestation of the nature of Jewish-Christian relations during the Middle-Ages.


S. Agourides. “Apocalypse of Sedrach”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.


Pseudepigrapha Saturday: 1 Enoch, The Dream Visions

*All quotes from 1 Enoch are taken from James H. Charlesworth’s translation of 1 Enoch in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume I. 

Introduction to the Text:

The Dream Visions is Book Four in 1 Enoch. As a whole, 1 Enoch was written and composed between the 2nd century BCE and 1st century CE. The Dream Visions in particular was written 165-161 BCE. In the book, Enoch reveals to Methuselah, his son, two visions he had seen prior to being married. In the first vision, Enoch sees the sky hurled towards earth and the earth being swallowed up, hills sinking, and trees being uprooted and tossed into the abyss. After waking up, Enoch says that his grandfather, Mahalalel, told him to pray and praise Yahweh, which he does.

The second vision is a dream which recounts a majority of narrative in the Hebrew Bible; however, in the vision the characters are played by animals, stars, and heavenly beings. From a historical perspective, this is important because it sheds light on the interpretive practices in strands of early Jewish practice and belief. Likewise, it provides a key to understanding the conceptual framework and symbolic meanings of various things from the time period and social group.

The Monstrosity of Fallen Stars:

One of the most intriguing aspects of The Dream Visions, at least for myself, is how the demons are represented in the recounting of the Primeval history (Genesis 1-11) in 1 Enoch 85:1-87:4. Within Chapter 85, the main animals are cows and bulls. What each bovid represents depends on how it connects to Genesis 1-11 and the color ascribed to it within 1 Enoch. In Chapter 86, though, the demons are described as turning into bovids.

“I saw many stars descending and casting themselves down from the sky upon that first star; and they became bovids among those calves and were pastured together with them in their midst.”

Essentially, the demons (fallen angels?) begin in a non-material, divine, and heavenly form. The only way they can interact with the bovids are through looking like bovids. Yet, there is something monstrous about these star turned bovids.

“I kept observing, and behold, I saw all of them extending their sexual organs like horses and commencing to mount upon the heifers, the bovids.”

Because most people are not farmers, this statement just comes across as odd. Examining the biology of these animals, though, brings light to the monstrosity of the demons. Compared to a bull, the penis of a horse enlarges more because it has “a lot of erectile tissue relative to connective tissue” (Wikipedia entry on Penis). So, for the person experienced at working with animals, the idea of a bovid with such a large sexual organ is unnatural and monstrous.

Enoch continues this monstrous description as he reveals the results of the mating between the demon-bovids and heifers:

“They… all became pregnant and bore elephants, camels, and donkeys”.

Rather than bearing more bovids, the mating results in the birth of elephants, camels, and donkeys. Naturally, the unnatural occurrence is results of the monstrosity of the demon-bulls. It serves to re-emphasize the monstrous nature of the demon-bulls. Each instance, namely their changing from stars into bulls, having sexual organs like horses, and mating resulting in non-bovids, serves to emphasize the sheer unnatural and monstrous elements of the demons within The Dream Visions.

Although I won’t explore the nuances how the details of The Dream Visions comments upon and interprets Genesis 1-11, I will provide two preliminary comments. In order to understand the reception of Genesis 1-11, it is of absolute importance to examine how texts like The Dream Visions comment upon it. Furthermore, understanding how The Dream Visions conceptualized demons as the Other provides a helpful tool for analyzing the reception of demons and evil spirits throughout the Hellenistic period.


Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Book of Heavenly Luminaries

The Book of the Itinerary of the Luminaries of Heaven: the position of each and every one, in respect to their ranks, in respect to their authorities, and in respect to their seasons; each one according to their names and their places of origin and according to their months, which Uriel, the holy angel who was with me, and who (also) is their guide, showed me-just as he showed me all their treatises and the nature of the years of the world unto eternity, till the new creation witch abides forever is created.

– 1 Enoch 72:1; Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 1, p. 50

Introduction to the Text: 

The Book of Heavenly Luminaries is one book from the entire composition 1 Enoch, namely Book III. This book in particular highlights elements from the aforementioned quote. Simply put, Book III is a Hellenistic-Jewish piece about astrology (c. 110 BCE). Within it, every observable piece of the heavens are important to understanding how the heavenly realm and divinities operate. For in the ancient world, the observable heavens demonstrated how the deity (or deities) made the entire universe Ordered as opposed to Chaotic. By being in Order, occurrences in the heavens could be read, interpreted, and utilized to make decisions on current events.

Although I plan less on commenting on Book III itself, I hope that this post will help provide a the foundation elements within Babylonian history which may have led to the composition of this particular astrology piece. Consequently, it will provide better insight into the conceptual framework of Book III.

Babylonian Culture and its Inheritors: 

In Babylonian culture, the universe was the cuneiform tablet of the gods and goddesses. Though I am unable to recall where I read it, I recall a recent quote, which I shall paraphrase: “The only tablet big enough for the gods and goddesses to write their wills was the universe”. Understanding this idea is absolutely essential because it allows us, as modern readers, to look beyond the seemingly insignificant importance of Book III. When we choose to read Book III as a late reception of ideas within Babylonian culture, it becomes apparent that, at some level, understanding the heavens was of paramount importance to the social, religious, and political lives of the community and/or scribe(s) standing behind The Book of Heavenly Luminaries.

Too often as modern readers, we lack awareness not only of the direct context of ancient literature but also the historical background, both literary and cultural, which inform the text on some level. Although we should be careful not to assume that the text is dependent on a trend within Babylonian culture, it should at least be considered. Consideration of a text’s influences, in this case the influence of Babylonian culture upon Book III of 1 Enoch, may open up new avenues, approaches, and readings of ancient texts.


Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Pseudo-Phocylides

Introduction to the Text: 

Pseudo-Phocylides is a text of maxims for people in their daily lives. Written between 1st century CE and BCE, the author wrote under the name Phocylides, an Ionic poet who lived in the 6th century BCE, in order to bolster the importance and value of the text. Unlike the original Phocylides, Pseudo-Phocylides merged Jewish and Greek ideas. Consequently, Pseudo-Phocylides is now “representative of that universalistic current in ancient Judaism” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume II; P. W. van der Horst, “Pseudo-Phocylides”, p. 569).

The maxims within the 230 line poetry are remarkably poignant (at least from my modern perspective). As I read Pseudo-Phocylides, I considered how the ideas within the text are actually extremely valuable to our own society. Yet, I also recognized that many of my initial interpretations were very wrong. Certain ideas in the 21st century, for example, did not mean the same thing at the turn of the millennium.

The Threshold and Sacred Ritual: 

Line 24a is the perfect example of something which, in the 21st century, means something very different than it did in the 1st century.

Line 24a: Receive the homeless in (your) house…

Initially the maxim seems straight forward. If a homeless person needs a place to briefly stay or a place to eat, invite them in for a meal. In my interpretation, the focus is on the concept and action of inviting somebody into my house, a relatively simple and mundane act, albeit significant from a social perspective. Reception of this text in my own mind draws out the social emphasis, not any concrete, spatial reality.

In the ancient world, though, receiving the homeless was an incredibly significant act. In order to be received into a household, the homeless person had to cross a threshold, namely the entrance of the household. The threshold “defines a basic opposition between people who own a dwelling place and people who don’t”, a boundary which marks distinction between those with a dwelling place and those without. Now, in religious Greek thought, beggars all come from Zeus. To receive a beggar beyond the threshold (door) and into the dwelling place was a sacred, ritual act (Pietro Giammellaro 2013, 162). So, by receiving a beggar and permitting him/her to cross the threshold, they performed a sacred, ritual act of worship.

Because Pseudo-Phocylides was written within a Hellenistic context, namely a Jewish and Greek context, we should assume that a similar conceptual framework informed the reality of the author. The maxim “receive the homeless in (your) house” is not merely a maxim calling for good deeds; rather, it calls for sanctified and sacred ritual act within a physical space, which results in direct worship Yahweh. In terms of Judaism, it was an act which sanctified the name of God, as the homeless were implicitly sent from Yahweh.

As these two interpretations demonstrate, the conceptual framework of the origin of the text is incredibly valuable. My original interpretation highlighted how it was a good deed and socially beneficial to receive the homeless. My interpretation informed by historical and textual studies of Greek culture highlighted how it was a sacred, ritual act to receive the homeless. These two interpretations are both valid; however, the latter allows us to more fully engage with the mind, context, and intentions of the author of Pseudo-Phocylides. For this reason, it is always important to consider the original conceptual environment of any text.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Pseudo-Philo

Introduction to the Text:

Pseudo-Philo is the author of Biblical Antiquities (Latin, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum). As a retelling of the Hebrew Bible up to the death of Saul, it incorporates legends already present within the Hebrew Bible and elements from extra-biblical literature and traditions. Additionally, it contains expansions of texts within the Hebrew Bible by Pseudo-Philo’s hand. Written c. 1st century CE, it is a witness to the reception of the Hebrew Bible and how Pseudo-Philo, along with whatever tradition or community he represented, established traditions that helped to define his social identity. While any passage of Biblical Antiquities helps us to reconstruct the social identity  of Pseudo-Philo, I will choose one particular scene: Moses’ plea before Yahweh after the Israelites worship the Golden Calf.

Reception, Expansion, and Identity: 

After Moses learns that the people worshiped a golden calf, Yahweh threatens to destroy Israel. Moses quickly jumps to their defense, claiming that it would dishonor Yahweh’s own name: “Let not Your anger, O LORD, blaze forth against Your people… Let not the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that He delivered them, only to kill them off in the mountains and annihilate them from the face of the earth'”(Exodus 32:11-12; The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004).Essentially, in the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh is defending his reputation from the Egyptians. Moses’ claim is that the Egyptians will use the death of the Israelites to mock Yahweh and claim that the exodus only took place in order to kill the people.

Within Exodus, Moses’ defense of Israel explicitly establishes Egypt as the Other. Through identifying Egypt as the Other, Israel sharpens its own identity as distinct from the traditions of Egypt. In this situation, Israel is representative of God and they identify with Yahweh in as much as they represent his covenant faithfulness to Egypt.

In a similar vein, Pseudo-Philo touches on this; however, he present a slightly modified paradigm. The Other whom Israel demonstrates Yahweh’s faithfulness is different. In an expanded picture about why Yahweh needs to save Israel, the Other becomes more than Egypt. The Other becomes the whole world.

“Therefore, if you do not have mercy on your vine (namely, Israel), all things, LORD, have been done in vain, and you will not have anyone to glorify you. For even if you plant another vine, this one will not trust you, because you have destroyed the former one. For if you indeed forsake the world, then who will do for you what you say as God?”

(Biblical Antiquities 12:9; Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume II, pg. 320; parenthesis added for clarity)

The vine is Israel. Moses claims, in Biblical Antiquities, that if Yahweh destroys Egypt, no other vines, or covenant people, will trust him because his action is unfaithful. While there are many differences between Pseudo-Philo and Exodus, one major difference is the identification of the Other. Unlike Exodus, Biblical Antiquities expands the Other to be the whole world. So, rather than just representing Yahweh for Israel, Israel, or the Jewish people, now represent God for the whole world. Consequently, the Pseudo-Philo places Jews within a place that identifies them as vastly different from any other group in the world. This new identity is far more exclusive.

Yet, this was an important part of the community which Pseudo-Philo represents. For them, representing Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to the whole world was not enough. For them, representing Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to the whole world is what was necessary. Perhaps such a shift was necessary because Biblical Antiquities was composed during a period of great expansions. As the Roman Empire expanded its territory, it was not enough to be representative only to Egypt. In order to adjust to the socio-political situations, the community developed accordingly. Perhaps, though, “developed” is even the wrong word, for it assumes that the previous social identity was not sufficient. The community, rather, evolved. Recognizing the shifting reality of the Roman Empire, they found it necessary to evolve in order to continue thriving as a community.  The evolution meant identifying their group as representatives to the whole world, not just Egypt.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: 2 Baruch

Introduction to the Text:

2 Baruch was written from the perspective of the scribe of Jeremiah, Baruch. The text, though, was composed during the 1st century CE in Judea [1]. Essentially, the text contains Baruch’s observations and discussion with God by imagining Baruch at the destruction of the first temple (586 BCE). While the text was not actually written by Baruch, hence its designation as Pseudepigrapha, it is a perfect example of how the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, came into existence.

2 Baruch and the Hebrew Bible:

Many scholars argue that the Hebrew Bible is not, in fact, a historical book. While it is rooted in history, the Torah was not written by Moses, many of the prophetic books were not entirely composed by the named prophet, and many supposed “historical” elements are actually mythological [2]. Even as myths of origin, they still contain nuggets of information valuable for reconstructing history. 2 Baruch is an excellent example. It utilized traditions present and active in the 1st century CE and illustrates an imagined past that is influenced by its context. In this case, the context is the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. So, rather than writing a poem about how terrible the destruction of the Temple was in 70 CE, the author of 2 Baruch retrojected his/her political and social situation into a historical tradition in order to express the truth which he/she needed to express.

Simply put, much of biblical literature is an imagined past. This imagined past, though, was a reality for the people who chose to establish the literature as normative.

[1] Gurtner, Daniel M., with David M. Miller and Ian W. Scott, eds. “2 Baruch.” Edition 2.0. No pages. In The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha. Edited by Ken M. Penner, David M. Miller, and Ian W. Scott. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007. Online:

[2] By “mythological”, I do not mean not historical; rather, in historiographical terms, the Hebrew Bible evolved through a many traditions, social and theological developments, and additions.

Sibylline Oracles: Book 3

The Sibylline Oracles are a series of prophetic texts akin to those found in Roman and Grecian literature. Non-biblical literature Sibylline oracles were prophetic texts by a female prophetess that were either used in serious crises or as political propaganda. The Sibylline Oracles in the Pseudepigrapha consist of  eight books and were written between the mid-second century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. These oracles combined the Mediterranean medium of a prophetic Sibyl and and incorporated them into Jewish literature. J. J. Collins notes that “willingness to incorporate material from pagan oracles shows a significant readiness to build on the common human basis of Jews and gentiles” (OTP, vol. 1, 322). Even with the shared prophetic medium, prophecy still changed and developed, reflecting the time period in which the different books were written. – The Biblical Review: click here for source.

It should be noted that this is my third time examining the Sibylline Oracles. I will primarily focus on one passage in order to illustrate why the descriptions of practices in a historical document are so significant for reconstructing an accurate portrayal of history. In book three of the Sibylline Oracles, the Sibyl writes about idolatry: “You neither revere nor fear God, but wander to no purpose, / worshiping snakes and sacrificing to cats, / speechless idols and stones statues of people” (3.29-31). Through briefly examining this passage, we will demonstrate the value of the understanding the condemnation of non-ideal practices, at least from the viewpoint of the author.

Cats and Egypt

As J. J. Collins notes, the statement about “worshiping snakes and sacrificing to cats” is a polemic specifically against Egyptians. Other portions of the text, likewise, speak specifically of events which took place in Egypt and involved Egyptians Jews. Consequently, Collins proposes that the text was composed in an Egypt. This is significant for historians. First, it provides a better understanding as to how Jewish identity, or identities, formed. There was not single strand of tradition that formed from a void of nothingness into “Judaism”; rather, ideological conflict and cultural exchange contributed the Jewish author’s ability to define identity through establishing Egypt as the Other. In this case, witnessing Egyptian culture(s), war(s), and religious practice(s) became what permitted this Sibyl of Jewish Egyptians to offer an identity for her own community.

So, when the author speaks of “worshiping snakes”, it takes on a cultural meaning because it is a polemic comment. Henceforth, from the author’s perspective, “worshiping snakes” becomes something that is outside of the boundaries of what constitutes the Sibyl’s version of Judaism. The same is true with worshiping cats.

To summarize, we are able to understand a strand of Jewish tradition and identity primarily because of their cultural exchange and polemic with Egypt. Due to these two factors, cultural exchange and polemic, people are able to form an identity with more clear boundaries as to what is correct practice and what is wrong practice.