Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Pseudo-Hecataeus


Pseudo-Hecataeus (henceforth Ps-Hec) is based on historian Hecataeus of Abdera from 300 BCE. Multiple fragments attest to different Ps-Hec. Unfortunately, fragments are only available via Josephus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and the Letter of Aristeas. The fragments offer insight into how Greeks, or non-Jews, viewed Jews around 300 BCE. Because the text is so short, as we are only looking at the fragment from the Letter of Aristeas 31, it is posted below:

“You should have accurate translations of these works, because this legislation, as it is divine, is highly philosophic and pure. However, writers, poets and most historians have not mentioned the aforesaid books and the men who have lived (and are living [1]) in accordance with them, because the views proposed in these books are in some way holy and reverent, as Hecataeus of Abdera says.” – Translation by R. Doran.

“These (books) also must be in your library in an accurate version, because this legislation, as could be expected from its divine nature, is very philosophical and genuine. Writers therefore and poets and the whole army of historians have been reluctant to refer to the aforementioned books, and to the men past (and present) who featured largely in them, because the consideration of them is sacred and hallowed, as Hecataeus of Abdera says.” – Translation by R. J. H. Shutt [2]

Pseudo-Hecataeus, 2nd Temple Period Jews, and Holy Books

The manner is which Ps-Hec presents books of the Jews demonstrates limited knowledge of Judaism [3]. His note that the books are holy and reverent is interesting because, in some ways, it reflects the historical development on the authority of scripture [4] from an external perspective. Doran and Shutt ‘s translations also differ significantly, with each drawing on differing linguistic emphases and literary focuses to guide their translations. Doran focuses more on the men who lived in agreement with the scripture, while Shutt focuses more on the men who were part of scripture. Due to the philosophical focus of Greeks, in which students sat and considered Plato, Aristotle, etc., it seems more likely that Shutt’s translation accurately translates the passage. Rather than portraying men as adhering to Scripture like Doran, Shutt appeals to Greek sensibilities regarding the consideration of ancient wisdom. This also fits with other concurrent literature in which Moses is portrayed as having taught astronomy and philosophy to Egyptians and Greek.

Essentially, if we agree with Shutt’s translation, characters in the scriptures are given a sort of a-historical, philosophical wisdom that is viable through the ages. Ultimately, the wise people of the past are the sacred and hallowed, not the scriptures themselves. Perhaps, though, this is important in the development of scripture from normative to authoritative. When prophets and characters in scripture became philosophical figures who transcended history, perhaps it was a contribution to or began the evolution of scripture from normative to authoritative by expanding understanding the sacred, holy, and reverent men of the past to the sacred, holy, reverent book from the divine [5].

[1] R. Doran, “Pseudo-Hecataeus”, ed. James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 1. Letter of Aristeas 31, n. b, demonstrates that this is a late addition.

[2] R. J. H. Shutt, “Letter of Aristeas”, ed. James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983).

[3] R. Doran, “Pseudo-Hecataeus”, 1. Letter of Aristeas 31, n. c.

[4] I use the term “scripture” loosely, without pre-conceived notions of exactly what books and elements composed the normative texts of the period. Scripture in the 3rd century BCE is akin to “Christianity” in the 21st century: it is a fluid term and means different things to different people.

[5] For further reading on Pseudo-Hecataeus citations in Diodorus of Sicily, see Bezalel Bar-Kochva, Pseudo-Hecataeus on the Jews: Legitimizing the Jewish Diaspora (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997), availble on the UC Books E-Collection.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Treatise of Shem (Belated Edition)

Generally I post Pseudepigrapha Saturday on Saturdays. Unfortunately, due to the business of #AARSBL15 and thanksgiving time, I have been unable to post it. Well, now I present you with the exclusive “Belated Edition” of Pseudepigrapha Saturday. The only difference is that I am posting on Sunday instead of Saturday.

Introduction to the Text:

The Treatise of Shem follows the zodiac counterclockwise and reverses the order the Aquarius and Pisces. The first zodiac sign, Aries, begins with gloomy imagery, while the final zodiac sign in regular the regular order, Pisces, reflects a far more positive outlook. Written in the late twenties B.C.E. in Egypt, Charlesworth suggests that it demonstrates Jewish astrological concerns during the first century B.C.E. and symbolically reflects Octavian’s defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (31 B.C.E.), a likely candidate for the battle which birthed the Roman Empire (See The Battle of Actium by Joshua J. Mark).


“The synagogue at Zippori (Sepphoris) provided the most recent of the zodiac mosaic discoveries, although unfortunately it is not very well preserved. In the center of the zodiac wheel, Helios once again drives his four-horse chariot, but rather than the figure of a man, the god is depicted as the sun itself.” – Source: Biblical Archaeology Society



The Treatise of Shem and the “Variegated Nature of Intertestamental Judaism”

In his introduction to the Treatise of Shem, Charlesworth notes that “Diasporic Judaism, and even Palestinian Judaism, was not guided by an established orthodoxy. The Treatise of Shem significantly improves our perception of the variegated nature of intertestamental Judaism” (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Dovetailing from this point, the Treatise of Shem also illustrates the breadth of theological convictions throughout history. Take, for example, Genesis 1:14 which notes that the sun and moon as things which give signs and seasons. This Priestly text, of course, assumes a culture with an agricultural locus; thus, to follow the signs of the sky would not seem odd. After all, the seasons, signs, times, and astrology all go hand-in-hand.

Two later texts oppose astrology. Deuteronomy 18:10-14 bans divination, something which encompasses astrology. And the book of Jubilees rejects astrology all together (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Clearly, the various traditions from biblical literature indicate that Jewish literature (however anachronistic those terms may seem) was multifaceted and inherited traditions, ideas, and religious practices from their own contexts.

Shifting to more contemporary significance, perhaps the multifaceted approach to communal religion and personal, lived religion should be embraced by religious communities of the 21st centuries. In a world of globalization, multi-religious dialogue is an absolute must. Note, though, that I am not calling for pluralism. Pluralism demands that multiple sources are all correct. I simply call for multi-religious dialogue, in which multiple sources can engage with each other to seek commonalities for moving forward and also agree to disagree about differences.

This is the sort of diversity which seems to be present in the Treatise of Shem, one of many examples of variegation in Second Temple Period Judaism. Maybe we should learn from our human predecessors and move forward with those convictions: difference within tradition is not detrimental, but good.

Note: I am aware that this post went off the main focus of my blog, but I think it is important. So I said it. I am also aware that I am not necessarily taking into account the historical relationship between the variegated forms of Second Temple Period Judaism. Even so, I believe that multi-faith dialogue is a necessity for constructing a more palatable and lively world.


Joshua J. Mark. “The Battle of Actium”. Ancient History Encyclopedia.  (accessed 11/29/2015).

J. H. Charlesworth. “Treatise of Shem”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 473-486.

Walter Zanger. “Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols”. Bible History Daily. (accessed 11/29/2015).

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: A Brief Introduction

Fragment of 1 Enoch

This is the first post for the new “Pseudepigrapha Saturday”. But rather than begin exploring the Pseudepigrapha, I’ll begin by actually making note of what the Pseudepigrapha actually are.

James H. Charlesworth best defines Pseudepigrapha , as his two edited volumes of the Pseudepigrapha are the most authoritative:

Those writings 1) that… are Jewish or Christian; 2) that are often attributed to ideal figures in Israel’s past; 3) that customarily claim to contain God’s word or message; 4) that frequently build upon ideas and narratives present in the Old Testament; 5) and that almost always were composed either during the period 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 or, though late, apparently preserve… Jewish traditions that date from that period (Charlesworth 2013, xxv).

Historically speaking, the Pseudepigrapha were used in many contexts. The Pseudepigrapha, from a 21st century perspective, can be said to represent the voices of traditions which were not recognized as “canonical” by the Rabbis or the Council of Nicaea, and also represent a significant portion of literature and ideas that shaped the cognitive environment in which the canons took form during the turn of the millennium. After all, contrary to popular belief, the Hebrew Bible was not necessarily an authoritative text in canonized form; rather, it was a series of normative texts were loosely connected as a single document (See Michael Satlow’s How the Bible Became Holy). The Pseudepigrapha writings were integral to the development of ideas in the turn of the millennium and influenced culture in tandem with the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Succinctly put, the Pseudepigrapha are the various traditions that speak to how Jews and Christians thought in antiquity.

One problem with the Pseudepigrapha, though, is that “no universally accepted listing of Pseudepigrapha exists. Some scholars would includes writing found among the DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) as well as certain books sometimes numbered among the Apocrypha” (Soulen 147, 2001). Some scholars even include the works of Josephus and Philo under the broad umbrella of Pseudepigrapha (Vanderkam 58, 2001). Regardless of this, it is best to return to Charlesworth’s five criterion for what should be considered Pseudepigrapha (see previous quotation).

This is a very brief introduction but will become more clear in following weeks as I actually engage with the Pseudepigrapha.


Charlesworth, James (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume One and Volume Two. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013.

Satlow, Michael. How the Bible Became Holy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Soulen, Richard and R. Kendall. Handbook of Biblical Criticism, Third Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Vanderkam, James. An Introduction to Early Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eermans Publishing, 2001.