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: Demetrius the Chronographer

Introduction to the Text:

Demetrius was an ancient historian who wrote about the “inconsistencies and obscurities found in the biblical tradition, especially in matters of chronography” [1]. A chronologist is one who records the order in which things happen. So, Demetrius, as a chronologist writing from a Jewish perspective, attempts to provide a coherent timeline of events within the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

At the moment, we only have six extant (existing) fragments. Each fragment is present via excerpts of Alexander Polyhistor (yet another ancient historian) in Praeparatio Evangélica by Eusibius (and yet, another yet: an ancient, Christian historian). That is to say that we don’t have any full manuscripts, only quotes and citations from other authors.

On the Nature Chronography by Demetrius 

As noted previously, Demetrius was chiefly interested in writing a cogent history of biblical tradition with special regard for chronology. What some have missed, though, is exactly what constitutes “chronology”. In the few extant fragments, what can we learn about how Demetrius, and thereby others in a similar school of thought, conceptualized chronology and decided what was relevant?

Fragment 2 focuses on the chronology from Jacob to Joseph, with specifics about the life cycle of each figure and major geographical movements. Fragment 2 specifically notes that, after Jacob left Laban following a twenty year period, Jacob met and wrestled God. Consequently, his name was changed to Israel.

“And while he was going to Canaan, an angel of the Lord wrestled with him, and touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, and he became numb and went lame; on account of this the tendon of the thigh of cattle is not eaten. And the angel said to him that from that time on he would no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” [2].

Although this could be interpreted as a transition explaining to the reader why Demetrius now briefly refers to Jacob as Israel, and to note that they are the same people, it is important consider the context of this statement. Unlike the original Genesis narrative, Demetrius is primarily providing a chronology. Thus, it is important to read the brief digression as a part of the genealogical chronology [3].

Within Demetrius the Chronographer, the sudden digression into the name change of Jacob is an important part of the genealogy. Surrounding context only focuses on geography and chronology. So, the sudden addition of the name change account must have some purpose and connection to its surrounding context, for it doesn’t serve any explanatory purpose of an inconsistency or incongruity. If we read the name change account as a part of the genealogy, then, it becomes evident that Demetrius understands Jacob’s geographical movement into the land of Canaan and subsequent encounter with God as a new generation.

So, a change in name, and thereby identity, is just as important to Demetrius as the birth of a child or age of a person. Having been written in the 3rd century BCE, it highlights the importance of and relationship between names and identities. When considering the method of Demetrius in constructing a coherent chronology, one must consider that what Demetrius considered to be relevant to chronology is not necessarily what we consider to be relevant to chronology.

[1] J. Hanson.”Demetrius the Chronographer”. James H. Charlesworth (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume II, Third Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013.

[2] Ibid., 849.

[3] Lorenzo DiTommaso, “A Note on Demetrius the Chronographer, Fr 2.11 (=Eusebius, PrEv 9.21.11),” Journal For The Study Of Judaism In The Persian, Hellenistic And Roman Period 29, no. 1 (February 1998): 81-91.

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.

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.


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: 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: 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.