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: Eupolemus

Introduction to Eupolemus:

Eupolemus was a Jewish-hellenistic historian in the 2nd century BCE. and wrote work entitled On the Kings in Judea. The only surviving fragments are from Alexander Polyhistor’s On the Jews, preserved by Clement of Alexandria (c. CE 150-216) and Eusebius of Caesarea (c. CE 260-340). Eupolemus was likely of Palestinian origins and functioned as an ambassador to Rome under the reign of Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabees 8:17f; 2 Maccabees 4:11). The fragments present the history of Judean prophets and kings more influenced by Chronicles than Kings. I will focus on Fragment 2 (Praeparatio Evangelica 9.30..1-34.18).

Fragment 2 historiographically traces the lineage of prophets and kings in the early Judean monarchy. Eupolemus traces it as follows:

  • Moses: Prophesied for 40 years
  • Joshua son of Nun: Prophesied for 30 years and established a sacred tabernacle at Shiloh.
  • Samuel: Prophetic reign is not given a period of time.
  • Saul: By the will of God, Samuel chooses Saul to be king, and Saul rules for 21 years, then dies.
  • David: According to Polyhistor, David son of Saul becomes king, subdues the region through warfare, and dies.
  • Solomon: Reigns and builds the temple until the end of Fragment 2.

Historiography and Re-appropriation

Anybody who knows their Bible 101 recognizes that this history of the Judean kings is highly idealized. Already the Deuteronomistic Historian [1] and Chronicle each have unique trajectories and historiographical aims. Each re-appropriates the narrative of the emergence of the ancient Israelite monarchy for their own aims. Eupolemus’s Fragment 2 contributes to an alternative approaches to ancient Israel’s history written for a unique audience.

Based on this idea, I wonder what happens if we choose to understand David as Saul’s son not a scribal error [2]. There are three reasons to consider this possibility. First, Eupolemus fails to indicate any of the failures of Saul found in 1 Samuel. What of Chronicles, though? Even 1 Chronicles is critical of Saul: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, 14 and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (1 Chroniclees 10:13-14, NIV) . So, Eupolemus’ lack of indication regarding Saul’s failures indicates a higher view of him, perhaps due to his apologetic purposes. And as an ambassador to Rome, it seems reasonable that he would hope to present the kingly lineage as unified and strong, rather than admitting inner-Judean strife and conflict.

Second, by referencing David as the son of Saul, greater continuity is brought forth in the early monarchy. Again, assuming Eupolemus was an ambassador, his historiography would be much more attractive than one in which the monarchic rule was unstable and seemingly in constant flux.

Third, after referencing Joshua’s establishment of the sacred tabernacle at Shiloh, the period of the Judges is skipped and he proceeds to Samuel. Samuel’s prophetic calling from Yahweh occurs at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:21)). Thus, even between Joshua and Samuel, it is evident that Eupolemus hoped to illustrate some sort of continuity between various leaders and kings. Perhaps he did so in order to legitimize Judeans as an independent kingdom with strong historical foundations.

While these ideas are conjectural, they are worth considering. Rather than passing off disagreements with the MT or LXX as scribal errors, we should always consider the possibility that it was a choice of the author. In this situation, perhaps, Eupolemus intentionally referenced David as the Son of Saul.

[1] By “Deuteronomistic Historian”, I am merely reference the broader collection of works; not the idea that Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were written as one unified work.

[2] “Eupolemus”, tranlsation and commentary by F. Fallon,  ed. James Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 861-872, Fragment 2, n. g, comments that the “error in identifying David as Saul’s son is probably due to a misunderstanding by Alexander Plyhistory. MS B has corrected the error to son-in-law”.


F. Fallon.”Eupolemus”. Ed. James Charlesworth. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 861-872.

J. Freudenthal. Hellenistiche Studien 1-2: Alexander Polyhistory (Breslau: 1875).

B. Z. Wacholder. Eupolemus: A Study of Judaeo-Greek Literature (Cincinatti: Hebrew Union College, 1974).

David A. Creech. “The Lawless Pride. Jewish Identity in the Fragments of Eupolemus”. Annali di storia dell’esegesi 29 no. 2 (December 2012), 29-51.