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: 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.





Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Ezekiel the Tragedian

PhoenixIntroduction to Ezekiel the Tragedian:

Ezekiel the Tragedian re-frames the exodus account as a Greek tragic drama in iambic trimeter, suggesting the original was written in Greek. Dated to the 2nd century BCE, the short drama reflects traditions of the Septuagint, a 3rd-2nd century BCE translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Among various reworked elements of Exodus, the inclusion of a Phoenix at the end of the drama is the most intriguing to me.

The following provides a brief description of the Phoenix:

“The stories of the Egyptian benu-bird formed the inspirations for the classical story of the phoenix, a bird whose mythological life cycle ends in a fiery conflagration that resulted in the renaissance of the new phoenix rising from the ashes of the old. Tales involving the phoenix traveled far and wide throughout the ancient Mediterranean world… The benu-bird had a close association with the sun god and appeared on scarab-shaped [spell] amulets”(134).

“The benu-bird figured in certain Egyptian cosmogonic stories. In Pyramid Text spell 600, the benu-bird is said to appear as the creator god Atum-Khepri at the beginning of time upon the primeval mound rising from the cosmic waters” (134).

Source: Rozenn Bailleul-Leuser (editor). Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt. Oriental Institue Museum Publications 35. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute, 2012. Link:

Having provided a brief description of the role of phoenix in ancient Egypt, the following will explore the phoenix’s significance with regard to use in Jewish materials and its relationship to a “triumphant bull” (268). Before proceeding, here is the portion of text I am examining:

254 Another living creature there we saw,
255 full wondrous, such as man has never seen;
256 ’twas near in scope to twice the eagle’s size
257 with plumage iridescent, rainbow-hued.
258 Its breast appeared deep-dyed with purple’s shade,
259 its legs were red like ochre, and its neck
260 was furnished round with tresses saffron-heud
261 like to a coxcomb did its crest appear,
262 with amber-tinted eye it gazed about,
263 the pupil like some pomegranate seed.
264 Exceeding all, its voice pre-eminent;
265 of every other winged thing, the king,
266 it did appear. For al the birds, as one,
267 in fear did haste to follow after him,
268 and he before, like some triumphant bull
269 went striding forth with rapid step apace.

R. G. Robertson. “Ezekiel the Tragedian”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2. Peabody, MA: 1983.

The Phoenix and the Bull in Ezekiel the Tragedian:

As noted above Egypt associated the phoenix with Egyptian deities. The addition of a phoenix by Ezekiel demonstrates cultural exchange in which certain elements are modified and utilized within another culture. Of course, the Jewish author is likely not attempting to follow the Jewish exodus account with a non-Israelite god. Rather, the author re-appropriated the traditions and mythology behind the phoenix and applied them to Yahweh during the 2nd century BCE. By attributing to the phoenix a king-like status, Ezekiel implicitly declares Yahweh as the phoenix.

Additionally, the phoenix is found in Pyramid Spell 600  at “beginning of time upon the primeval mound rising from the cosmic waters”. The phoenix appears in exodus drama directly after Moses leads the people across the sea to an oasis of sorts: “248 And there we found a meadow shaded o’er / 249 and splashing streams: a place profuse and rich, / 250 which draws from out one rocky ledge twelve springs”. Associating the phoenix of the drama with the springs is akin to Egyptians relating the phoenix to the initial landmass from water. Perhaps I am stretching this connection, but it may have some credibility.

Secondly, the phoenix in compared to a triumphant bull. Common within Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern theology and mythology is the representation of gods as bulls. In this case, the phoenix is likened to a bull. Already associated with deity, the association of the phoenix with a bull further suggests that drama writer wants the audience/reader to recognize the phoenix as a manifestation of the deity active in the exodus drama. Of course, in this drama, the deity is Yahweh, the Judean god during the 2nd century BCE.


Rozenn Bailleul-Leuser (editor). Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt. Oriental Institue Museum Publications 35. Chicago, IL: The Oriental Institute, 2012. Link:

R. G. Robertson. “Ezekiel the Tragedian”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2. Peabody, MA: 1983.