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: 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: 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-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.

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.



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: 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: 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: 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: Philo the Epic Poet


To be completely honest, this picture has nothing to do with the post. I merely enjoyed it and hope others will do the same.

Introduction to Philo the Epic Poet:

This pseudepigrapha by Philo (henceforth, PhEPoet; this is not the Hellenistic Jewish Philosopher Philo who lived c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE) is titled On Jerusalem or Concerning Jerusalem. Fragments only exist in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica 9  (Eng. Preparation for the Gospel; Grk. Εὑαγγελικὴ προπαρασκευή; written circa 310 CE). He draws on 1st century historian Alexander Polyhistor throughout his work. Literary evidence suggests authorship with Alexandria, Egypt.

Fragment 1 provides an image of Abraham leaving Chaldea, follow by Fragment 2’s brief poem of the Akedah (Abraham’s binding of Isaac). Fragment 3 praises Joseph’s role an interpreter of dreams. Fragments 4-6 provide vivid imagery of an aqueduct system in Jerusalem. All in all, the fragments only consist of about one page. Thus, PhEPoet is not well preserved; though, it is possible and important to glean what we can from the brief fragment.

PhEPoet on Dreams

Fragment 3 (Præparatio Evangelica 9.24.1) places high value on Joseph for his abilities to interpret dreams for the scepter bearer, or the Pharaoh. The final line of the poem regarding Joseph is as follows: “revolving time’s secrets with the flood of fate”. H. Attridge comments that “this rather sententious line simply refers to Joseph’s ability as a prophetic interpreter of dreams” (OTP Vol. 2, pg. 784, Fragment 3, footnote g). I wonder, though, if dismissing the passage as “sententious” and simply about prophecy loses touch with a possible point of the fragment, namely the possibility Fragment 3 is moralizing prophecy in a pompous or affected manner because it played a large role in culture and society during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.

Consider one perspective. During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, the economic situation was constantly one in which the majority of people were attempting to sustain themselves with basic necessities. Within the Joseph narrative in Genesis, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and prophesy paved his way towards working in the Pharaoh’s court. Perhaps PhEPoet’s description is so sententious because, within his socio-economic context, Joseph’s prophetic abilities pulled him from prison (barely able to survive) into the Pharaoh’s court, wherein he could thrive.

I am fully aware that this claim is a stretch, which is why I make it extremely tentatively. It is also important to read literature not only within its own ideological and social context, but also within its own economic context.


H. Attridge. “Philo the Epic Poet”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2. Peabody, MA: 1983.