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.

 

 

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Abraham

Introduction to the Text:

The Apocalypse of Abraham is a narrative that was composed within the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. and expresses two aspects of Abraham not spoken of in the book of Genesis. First, chapters 1-8 focus on Abraham’s childhood and how he comes to the conclusion that idols, namely physical representations of deities, should not be worshiped. Second, chapters 9-32 is an apocalyptic vision revealed to Abraham by God. Based on textual analysis, it is most reasonable to assume that the original composition, aside from later Christian interpolations, included chapters 1-6 and 9-32.

In this post, I will assume the same chapter divisions and examine how the text reflects early logic regarding idolatry, God, and how humans should think of the two.

The Logic of Judaism and Christianity

In the account of Abraham’s youth in the Apocalypse of Abraham, the primary focus is the inequality of serving deities represented through stone and wood. Questioning the actual benefit and return of worshiping these deities, Abraham asks: “What is this inequality of activity which my father is doing?” (3:2). Essentially, he observes that Terah, Abraham’s father, constantly crafts new gods; yet, Terah never receives any payments or benefit. In fact, the gods merely break, with nothing in return. The focus on the long-term value of a manufactured representation of a deity is re-enforced when Abraham suggests an alternative deity: “For behold, Zouchaios, my brther Nahor’s god is more venerable than your god Marumath because he made of gold, valued by man” (6:7). This deity, of course, doesn’t rust or age. Thus, alongside the question of what a god can give in return, the narrative in the Apocalypse of Abraham raises the questions of the longevity of gods.

So, as Chapters 9-32 transition into the apocalyptic portion of the text, the narrative points towards hope for a deity that doesn’t rust or age and also returns something for worship. Approaching the remainder of the apocalypse from this perspective may be beneficial in illustrating and drawing out literary motifs within the text. For example, in the beginning of the apocalyptic revelation, God says the following: “Behold, it is I. Fear not, for I am Before-the-World and Mighty, the God who created previously, before the light of the age. I am the protector for you and I am your helper” (9:3-4). In the introduction, the first thing we see is God’s re-affirmation that he has longevity and is eternal, a value emphasized in Abraham’s encouragement to worship gold idols, and that he acts to protect and help Abraham, a value initially criticized by Abraham regarding Terah’s gods.

These considerations help us to understand the logic of Jews and early Christians in the 1st century C.E. with regard to their conceptualization of idolatry, God, and why humanity should focus on the latter rather than the former. The text itself is undeniably a Jewish text; however, due to parallel expressions between the Apocalypse of Abraham and the New Testament, it is clear that both documents drew from a common tradition. Thus, the Apocalypse of Abraham is important for understanding the historical theological and philosophical foundations of early Judaism and Christianity.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Testament of Moses

Introduction to the Text:

Although the Testament of Moses is cut off half-way through the manuscript, it is nonetheless helpful in reconstructing ideologies and worldviews from the Levant in the 1st century C.E., and even earlier if we assume the text had previous written and oral traditions preceding it’s composition. The testament claims to be “the prophecy which was made by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy”; however, while it takes up a similar tone, the testament incorporates material relevant to the Maccabean Period, indicative of the late date of the text.

Based on the previous information, it is evident that we should read the Testament of Moses as its own piece of literary work, self-sustaining and independent. What we will consider today is Moses’ role as a divinator in the Testament of Moses.

Divination, Prophecy, and Moses

Contrary to popular opinion, there is not really any distinction between magic and prophecy in the ancient world. Both are considered divination and imply access to divine knowledge (Hamori, 2015). The following will briefly examine some moments in which divination is relevant. Following the data, I will attempt to draw some sort of conclusion as to the nature of divination in the Testament of Moses.

1:5 notes that the book, that is the Testament of Moses, was actually the one made in the book of Deuteronomy. As noted previously, the account is obviously late. Additionally, the text specifically notes the prophecy occurring “after the Exodus”. By placing the prophecy within a historical period, albeit a mythologized historical period, we see divination as something which needs to be rooted in a particular period. In other words, one does not merely have access to divine knowledge; rather, the access must be within a specific period. In this situation, the period is following the exodus in Amman.

In 1:15, Moses claims he was created “to be the mediator of his covenant”. Although mediator does not necessarily imply divination, it is one possible interpretation. As a mediator and one who interpreted the words of God to Israel, Moses must have some sort of access to divine knowledge, a high sphere of wisdom.

3:12 suggests the Israelites will recognize Moses as their mediator for God’s commandments. They also recognize that he made prophecies known to them. Thus, in this occurrence, it apparent the community recognizes their lack of access to divine knowledge. Moses alone made information known through his prophecies.

11:8 may contain a reference to Moses’ divination. When we consider the ancient Near Eastern influence on the Palestinian region, it adds another dimension to Joshua’s statement that Moses’ sepulcher, or life, “is from the rising to the setting of the sun”. I wonder if there may be here an appropriation of the idea that the sun deity, whether, Ra or Šamaš, travels across the sky and then descends into the underworld. In Moses’ case though, by using this motif, two things become evident. First, Moses is associated with deities, and access to divine knowledge therein. Second, by describing Moses’ life as a sun setting, he is placed far about the rest of humanity, likely due to his access to divine knowledge of God’s will and commandments as the mediator.

In 11:16, Joshua refers to Moses as “the divine prophet for the whole earth”, a bold claim for any human. Yet, because Moses is characterized through a motif associated with the divine, it is not so surprising. Importantly, Joshua is not calling Moses a god, for to be “divine” can be read as a range (angels, demons, etc.) rather than an on/off switch. In this verse, though, we see how the text justifies the results of Moses’ divination, namely that he is “divine” and thereby has access to divine knowledge.

Drawing these observations, we realize an important fact about the characterization of Moses in the 1st century C.E.. In many respects, Moses is elevated to a position of a lower-deity, though not of divine essence. The author of the Testament of Moses successfully writes in a such a manner that permits and justifies Moses’ direct access to the divine by associating him with the divine; yet, the author is also careful to avoid turning Moses into a deity.

One point that would be interesting to explore in the future is how the representation of Moses’ divination in the Testament of Moses compares to the representation of Moses’ divination throughout the Pentateuch.

References

Duling, D. C.. “Testament of Solomon”. James Charlesworth ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983.

Hamori, Esther J. Women’s Divination in Biblical Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Testament of Job

Introduction to the Text:

I posted about this book previously. So, here is my previous introduction:

The Testament of Job (henceforth TJob) is a tale about the life of Job. Unlike the book of Job in the LXX (Greek translation called the Septuagint) or MT (Masoretic Text also known as the Hebrew Bible), TJob recasts the story as Job telling his children about his life while he is on his deathbed. This stylistic choice influenced scholars to consider it to be a “testament” on four premises: a deathbed scene; celebration of virtues; moral exhortations; death, burial, and lamentation. TJob, though, modifies this testament genre by treating a character from wisdom literature rather than one from the Torah. According to R. P. Spittler, this indicates that TJob is more haggadic in nature than hortatory. Or, to put in simpler words, TJob is more interested presenting a narrative story than exhorting the audience. In this respect, TJob is more akin to 21st century novels than many other Pseudepigraphal testaments.

Written between the 1st century B.C.E. and C.E. in Egypt, it is “a valuable monument to the rich variety of hellenistic Jewish piety” (836). Of course, another large value of TJob is how it reflects cultural standards and societal expectations, and how it uses other biblical literature.

Last time I read TJob, I considered the cultural expectations present in the book. Today, I will consider one aspect of the anthropology of the Testament of Job, that is an aspect of the nature of man as present in the book.

Opening Act and Follow-Up:

In TJob, Job becomes afflicted because he obeys God’s command to destroy a temple of Satan. Regarding the idol temple, God says: “his is the power of the devil, by whom human nature is deceived” (TJob 3:3). The key, opening act is that “human nature is deceived”. It suggests rather explicitly that there is a clear human nature lacking ambiguity. In this case, pure human nature is oriented towards God. Anything which steps outside of it is an example of corruptness. Following, I will consider a few more example of what constitutes human nature in TJob.

Chapters 9-15 focus on the good works of Job’s household and those around him. Although nothing directly relates to human nature, such praise Job’s generosity, outreach, and kindness sets him as an exemplar of undisturbed human nature. Human nature is open towards neighbors and foreigners, offers support to the broken, and, regardless of the amount of good works, remains completely and wholly humble. TJob 15:6-9 considers the question of humility: “Possibly, my sons may have sinned before the Lord through boasting by saying with disdain, ‘We are sons of this rich man, and these goods are ours. Why then do we also serve?’ ” For pride is an abomination before God. And again, I offered up a select calf on the altar of God, lest my sons may have though evil things in their heart toward God” (TJob 15:6-9). Human nature is, thus, humble toward God and not prideful. Before considering what ties together these views of human nature, I will provide one more example.

In 25:9-10, Sitis, Job’s wife, encourages him to “speak some word against the Lord and die”. While her statement, and Job’s response in calling her a senseless woman, has garnered much discussion, the question prior to Job’s response should be emphasized. After providing reason for not cursing the Lord, he raises a question: “Do you not see the devil standing behind you and unsettling your reasoning so that he might deceive me too?” (TJob 26:6a). Yet again, the question of deceit arises. Recall that earlier TJob indicates deceit from the devil is a corruption of human nature. Furthermore, when we realize that in antiquity there was not so much distinction between action and thought as in modern times, it becomes evident that speech is just as much a part of human nature as is humility, for it comes from the same place. Therefore, human nature speaks praises of God rather than blasphemes.

What connects all of this information? At the core of each example is a deity focused world. Unlike the 21st century where the I seems not to have a Thou, solely You(s) – or more simply that modern views of human nature tend to lack relationship to a deity, and only focus on other people and self -, the TJob reflects a culture in which socio-religious praxis, or actualized beliefs, were integral to their conceptions of what constituted humans and, consequently, proper human nature. In this case, pure human nature is totally oriented towards God.

R. P. Spittler.”Testament of Job”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: 1 Enoch

Introduction to the Text:

I provided a brief introduction to 1 Enoch previously:

The Ethiopic Book of Enoch is the earliest of three works attributed to him. It is rooted in Genesis 5:24 where Enoch “walked with God… and then he vanished because God took him”. Written in portions between the 2nd century B.C.E. and 1st century C.E., the text explores the unknown mysteries of the universe revealed to Enoch alone. Further complicating the date, it is composite literature composed of multiples strata.

1 Enoch consists of five Books: The Book of the Watchers, the Book of the Similitude, the Book of Astronomical Writings, the Book of Dream Visions, and the Book of the Epistle of Enoch. As mentioned previously, various fragments demonstrate its composite nature. (Source)

Essentially 1 Enoch is a tradition “of Enoch’s spiritual relocation… when he was taken away by God, saw the secrets of of the mysteries of the universe, the future of the world, and the predetermined course of human history” [1].

In this post, though, I will briefly consider the scribe or righteousness. More so, I will raise a question and note provide an answer.

1 Enoch,Writing, and Scribes:

In a recent contribution to Evil and Death: Conceptions of the human in Biblical, Early Jewish, Greco-Roman and Egyptian Literature, Ekaterina Matusova suggests that the “great rivers” in 1 Enoch 17:5-6, generally attributed to Greek influence, are part of a substratum of Mesopotamian  influence [2]. What I’d like to question is other areas where the influence may not necessarily have been Greek .

In 1 Enoch 13:4-7a, Azaz’el and his followers, fallen angels, requests Enoch to write for them:

“And they begged me to write for them a memorial prayer in order that there may be for them a prayer of forgiveness, and so that I may raise their memorial prayer unto the Lord of heaven. For, as for themselves, from henceforth they will not be able to speak, nor will they raise their eyes unto heaven as a result of their sins which have been condemned. And then I wrote down their memorial prayers and the petitions on behalf of their spirits and the deeds of each one of them…”

This portion of text is intriguing because, if I am reading it correctly, writing is directly associated with the act of Enoch as an intercessor. Azaz’el does not request intercession; rather, he requests a written petition. Matthew Black translates “they besought me to draw up for them a memorial and petition” [3]. In either case, it is evident that writing is integral to Enoch’s intercessory role.

I wonder from where this influence arrived. Is writing integral to Enoch’s intercessory role due to Greek influence, Biblical tradition, or Mesopotamian thought? While I am unable to answer, or even provide a thorough answer, it is something to consider. For in 1 Enoch 15:1, Enoch is called “righteous man, scribe of righteousness”. Based at least on these two reference, it seems that the author(s), namely the scribal community, intend to speak something about themselves through how they speak of writing, or something about how they fit within certain cultural standards of scribal practice.

Perhaps I’ll explore the topic of writing, reading, and scribal practices in 1 Enoch in the near future.

 

[1] E. Isaac,“1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) ENOCH”, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 5.

[2] Ekaterina Matusova, “The Post-mortem Divisions of the Dead in 1 Enoch 22:1-13”, eds. Beato Ego and Ulrike Mittmann, in Evil and Death: Conceptions of the human in Biblical, Early Jewish, Greco-Roman and Egyptian Literature (Berlin: de Gruyter: 2015), 149-177.

[3] Matthew Black, The Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch (Leiden: Brill: 1985), 32.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Martyrdom of Isaiah

Introduction to the Text:

The Martyrdom of Isaiah (henceforth MartIs) was written, at the earliest, during the 2nd century BCE in Hebrew. Eventual textual additions led to its title Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, inserting text outside of and in-between the primary narrative (1:1-3:12; 5:1-16). MartIs tells the story of how Isaiah eventually met his death due to Isaiah’s truthful prophecies and the wickedness of Manasseh.[1]

Additionally significant is how MartIs elaborates on the world of heavenly beings, namely angels and demons. In this account, Sammael Malkira, a chief archangel in Jewish traditions, is the power source of wickedness behind Manasseh. Sammael attaches to Manasseh and Manasseh eventually abandons God and serves Satan, “and his angels, and his powers”. The spiritual influence is also the drive behind the prophetic nature of the text. The whole of MartIs is riddled with prophetic conflict: one prophet is telling a lie versus the Other who is being truthful. All in all, it is important text to understanding how prophecy, and heaven and earth intersected in the Jewish conceptual world during the 2nd century BCE.

I, however, plan on focusing on a small portion of text in which Isaiah says “I see more than Moses the prophet” (3:8b).

From Yahweh to Moses:

MartIs notes in 3:8b that Isaiah sees “more than Moses the prophet”. Interestingly, the text (MartIs) notes that Moses said, “There is no man who can see the LORD and live”. In the Hebrew Bible, though, Yahweh says, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (NASB, Ex. 33:20). The author of MartIs basically attributes to Moses words originally spoken (at least based off of current manuscripts) by Yahweh. Why is such a shift necessary, though?

The answer, I think, is simple. Imagine if the author of MartIs had not changed the words. Rather than disagreeing with Moses that man cannot see Yahweh’s face, Isaiah would be disagreeing with Yahweh himself, a grave and potentially dangerous offense of religious sensibilities. Furthermore, it justifies Isaiah in the eyes of Manasseh. After all, were Isaiah to call out Yahweh and say he was wrong, Isaiah would look like the fool and liar in the situation. Simply put, the author placed the Yahweh’s words in the mouth of Moses so as to depict Isaiah as truthful.

Consequently, this textual shift indicates an important fact about biblical traditions in the 2nd century BCE. Although it is already a well-established idea, this brief analysis reinforces the idea that central to the religious practices c. 200 BCE was not so much the Hebrew Scriptures, but the biblical tradition. Unlike the modern era in which the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is canonized and the final form of the text is the object leading towards veneration of God, in the 2nd century BCE the biblical tradition was the object leading towards veneration of God. I emphasize tradition because the religiosity in that period was more focused on how to redact, develop, and build upon traditions of the past, not maintain stagnate beliefs and practices which never changed.

Reinhard Kratz summarizes this idea well: “During the time in question, neither “the Bible” as some fixed canon nor a uniform textual tradition normative for all had yet come into being. Accordingly, the para-biblical literature (Pseudepigrapha) and the biblical tradition exist on the same level, the former no more or less “biblical” than the latter. The para-biblical literature continues only what began in biblical tradition: the ongoing interpretation and reinterpretation of traditional texts conceptualized as authoritative in the course of literary production” [2].

[1] M. A. Knibb, “Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah”, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 143-176.

[2] Reinhard G. Kratz, Historical & Biblical Israel: The History, Tradition, and Archives of Israel and Judah (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2015), 129.

 

 

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Prayer of Manasseh

Introduction to the Text:

The Prayer of Manasseh, written in the last two centuries BCE, was authored by a Hellenistic Jew well-versed in both Hebrew and Greek. The text, therefore, contains a beautiful tapestry of language choices and exquisite poetic style. Scholars frequently point to the structural similarities between 2 Chronicles 33 and the Prayer of Manasseh, indicative that the author wrote the Prayer of Manasseh as both an extension of 2 Chronicles 33 and a prayer of conversion (this point will be explained below).

Click here to read the short text.

The Prayer of Repentance or Conversion?

After reading the prayer, most people would argue that it is penitential in nature, a prayer in which Manasseh is portrayed as repenting for his sins. J. H. Charlesworth even falls into that habit, defining four main features of the prayer: acknowledgement of God’s infinite power, full confession of sins, affirmation of God’s power and willingness to forgive, and a commitment to act righteously and give praise [1]. Charlesworth’s analysis, though, misses the nuance of repentance in the prayer. In a recent work by David Lambert (Oxford, 2015), Lambert argues that the idea of repentance was never a rigid concept of penitential, internal behavior; rather, it went through many developments due to social-religious influences [2].

Regarding the Prayer of Manasseh, Lambert argues that it demonstrates a naturalized repentance, one in which repentance in hardwired into creation itself. He points to verse 7: “you have promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the multitude of your mercies, you have constituted repentance for sinners, for salvation” [3]. This is an important reading because Lambert emphasizes an important element of the Prayer of Manasseh which is ignored by Charlesworth, namely the meaning of repentance on the historical continuum of repentance as a developing concept. While the author’s universal outlook on salvation is nothing extraordinarily unique in extra-biblical literature, it does permit us to make two note regarding how we read the biblical literature.

First of all, we must always set aside our own theological assumptions and attempt to read the literature through the lens of the author. In the Prayer of Manasseh, and in agreement with Lambert, modern reading must set aside the “penitential lens”. Only by doing this are we able to accurately read the literature at hand within its own terms and context. Second, we should develop an understanding of the context within which literature is written, whether it be an understanding of concurrent literary trends or historical events. Doing so allows us to avoid cherry picking based on convenient information and more fully engage with the history and literature. So, when reading the Prayer of Manasseh, we should understand where ‘repentance’ is on the continuum of repentance, what constitutes Greek  and Hebrew poetry, the general atmosphere regarding universally hardwired outlooks on repentance, etc.

 

[1] J. H. Charlesworth, “Prayer of Manasseh”, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 629-630.

[2] David Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 1-10.

[3] Cited from Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical, 170.

 

 

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Sibylline Oracles, Book 1

Introduction to the Text:

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.

Because I previously wrote about an aspect of the Sibylline Oracles, the I simply copied my previous introduction. This time, however, I will examine a different aspect of the oracles. In Book 1 (5-37; written before 150 CE), the creation account is presented through a Greek worldview. The Sibyl writes that “It was he who created the whole world, saying, “let it come to be” and it came to be. For he established the earth, draping it around with Tartarus, and he himself gave sweet light” (1.7b-10). Genesis 1:1-3 is similar in style: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (2)The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. (3) Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light” (NASB).

Interestingly, it seems as if the Sibyl’s use of Tartarus and the rabbinic understand of deep, formless, and void (tehom, tohu, and bohu) are interrelated too a certain extent.

Tartarus and Tehom

Tartarus is the place of punishment in Greek mythology, akin to hell [1]. Although the triad of pre-creation terminology (tehomtohu, and bohu) does not explicitly relate to hell at any point in the Hebrew Bible, a concept already illusive in it, there are traditions which connect the tohu and bohu to Tartarus. In Midrash Rabbah, classical Rabbinic literature commenting on various aspects of Genesis, Rabbi Judah ben Simon (Rabbi Judah son of Simon) relates the ‘deep things’ to Gehenna, a term for hell [2]. So, there is some sort of continuity between the tradition of God “draping it around with Tartarus” in Book 1 of the Sibylline Oracles and Jewish thought of the period.

Although this is an incredibly brief, underexplored, and not well explained idea, it may be a possible route for studies in the relationship between Rabbinic literature and Jewish Pseudepigrapha.

[1] So Louw Nida, 1.25.

[2] I was only able to access Midrash Rabbah through a web archive. So, in order to locate it, search “GENESIS (BERESHITH) [I. 5-6” on this page.

Bibliography

J. J. Collins “Sibylline Oracles”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 317-472.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Epistle to Diognetus

 

Diognetus

Introduction:

 

The Epistle to Diognetus was written in the mid to late 2nd-century church by an unknown author [1]. Although there are not extant manuscripts, we do have transcriptions by scholars in the earlier centuries. Like many written sources in literature of antiquity, the epistle began in an oral form and over time was written into a literary composition. Its current form is best regarded as an apology [2]. Even these conclusion, though, are not certain because we have so little information regarding the text.

The epistle is divided into 12 chapters [3]. Jefford divides it into 7 sections:

  1. Prologue (1.1-2)
  2. On Greeks (2.1-10)
  3. On Jews (3.1-4.6)
  4. On Christians (5.1-6.10)
  5. About God’s Power (7.1-9.6)
  6. About God’s Plan (10.1-8)
  7. The Witness of the Word (11.1-12.9) [4]

Essentials chapters 1-4 attempt to dissuade the listener from Greek and Jewish religion options. Chapters 5-6 focuses on why Christian worship is superior to the alternatives and good for the societal cohesion. Chapter 7-10 transition into more theological issues, such as the role of God, his power, divine revelation, etc. Chapters 11-12, later editorial additions, clearly stand apart as later theological developments; however, the editor demonstrably attempted to smoothly add them into the greater framework of the epistle.

The Epistle to Diognetus, Theurgy, and Rabbinic Judaism

In his discourse on Jews, the author writes that Jews “should rather consider it folly {i.e., Temple sacrifices}, not worship, when they imagine that they offer these things to God as though he needed them” (3.4) Although the authors ties the sacrifices back to the folly of Greeks worshiping “deaf images”, each group, Jews and Greeks, are still autonomous to a certain extent and we need not necessarily analyze the presentation of Jews solely in context of Greek descriptors. So, chapter 6 transitions into a critique of Jewish practices like food laws, Sabbath, and circumcision, and fasting and new moons. For each of these descriptions of Jewish practices, the author offers an alternative in chapters 7-10. What, though, is the underlying historical theology behind the Jews whom the author references?

Yair Lorberbaum’s groundbreaking work on conceptions of zelem Elohim (in the image of God) in Rabbinic Judaism sheds important light on the historical theology of Jews during the period of the epistle. Essentially, Lorberbaum argues that zelem Elohim underlies all commandments in Talmudic literature and Rabbinic Judaism. As he summarizes towards the end of his work, “in the tannaitic [5] understanding, the commandments are a form of Imatio Dei, a view based on the conception of man (including Israel) as Imago Dei” [6]. Such an understanding suggests that all actions of mankind are, therefore, theurgical. That is, human actions have potential to grow or diminish God because humans are eikons, or physical extensions, of God.

If we apply this framework to the epistle’s description of Jewish practices, they don’t seem as irrelevant. Unlike Christian praxis in the community behind the epistle which focused on ethical and spiritual issues t0 bring God’s rule, Jewish tannaitic praxis focused on obeying the traditional commandments and understanding how to do so in order to bring God’s rule and augment his presence. Where this splinter in ideology occurs historically is beyond the scope of this post; however, it is evident that at some point Judaism and Christianity went different directions in this regard of what constitutes praxis [7].

What we see here allows us to read the epistle more critically and avoid reading our own theological biases into early Christian literature. Additionally, this helps to historically contextualize the epistle within its own period. Consequently we see a fuller image of what theological currents existed during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE and how various traditions interacted.

 

[1] Clayton N. Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus (With the Fragment of Quadratus), Oxford Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 28.

[2] Ibid., 56, calls the earlier form of chapters 1-10 protreptic discourse. When chapters 11-12 were added, the editor refashioned the entire text into apologetic discourse.

[3] Although scholars often separate the text into different periods from editorial emendations, for the most part we will read it as a unified text, aside from chapters 11 and 12 which are late additions.

[4] Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 31. See footnote 2 for alternative divisions by scholars.

[5] The tannaitic period was c. 10-220 CE; therefore, it was concurrent with the epistle.

[6] Yair Lorberbaum, In God’s Image (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 284.

[7] So Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 97-98.

Bibliography

Jefford, Clayton N. The Epistle to Diognetus (With the Fragment of Quadratus). Oxford Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Lorberbaum, Yair. In God’s Image. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.