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: 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: 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: Artapanus

PharaohIntroduction to the Text:

Artpanus deals with Abraham, Joseph and Moses, each presented as founders of culture in Egypt. Three fragments of his work are present in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica. J. J. Collins offers a tentative date of composition at the end of the 3rd century BCE. More broadly, he proposes any possible date from 250-100 BCE.

Artapanus expands on three biblical stories: Genesis 12:10-20, Genesis 37-50, and Exodus 1-16. He expands each of these texts significantly and re-appropriates it as apologetic literature for late 3rd century Judaism, which Collins calls “competitive historiography”. Competitive historiography sought to establish the primacy of cultural traditions in antiquity. Especially in a predominately Greek culture which tended to critique the Judean ethnos (Manetho, Apion, etc.), his work applied Greek concepts to Abraham, Joseph, and Moses in order to make them more favorable to Greeks. For example, Artapanus considers Moses a “divine man” (theios aner). Moses is also called Hermes by priests and is auspicious in warfare.   These sorts of elements made Moses in antiquity, along with Abraham and Joseph, more favorable to Greeks.

Magic in Artapanus

Artapanus displays an interesting religious synchronizing tendencies; however, perhaps it is too much to say his use of magic of synchronic. The multiple references to magic in Fragment 3 include ibises [1], burning fire without wood or kindling [2], the name of Yahweh [3], and the plagues [4]. These occurrences of magic may not be due to synchronizing various religious traditions. As has been noted by many scholars, ancient Israel practiced magic, albeit not in the modern sense of Harry Potter (Perhaps closer to Lord of the Rings?). Jeremy Smoak, for example, argues that the Aaronic Benediction (Numbers 6:23-27) was part of a wider apotropaic magic blessing formula, evidenced by archaeology and the Hebrew Bible [5]. Likewise, the Urim and Thummin have been associated with divination [6]. These two examples demonstrate that, perhaps, Moses’ magic in Artapanus was not heretical or abnormal in any sense; rather, it merely represented magic through Greek ideas rather than ancient Mesopotamian ideas. In short, magic was an important part of the ancient world, and modern sensibilities should not attempt to sever the important role it played in a variety of traditions, as each tradition appropriates magic according to their culture [7].

[1] Ibises have an apotropaic function in 3.27.4, 3.27.9. See also Donna Runnals, “Moses’ Ethiopian Campaign”, in Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period, 14 no 2 (Dec 1983), 135-156.

[2] Although this is a reference to the burning bush in Exodus, the brevity and historical context of Artapanus’ statement indicates a possible explanation of magic as the origin for the fire in 3.27.2. The text does not explicitly or implicitly imply that God’s presence was in the fire; rather, the fire was primarily a miracle in nature. See Collins, “Artapanus”, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. 2 (Peabody: 1983), 901, n. g2.

[3] “But he [Moses] bent forward and pronounced it in his ear. When the king heard it, he fell down speechless but revived when taken hold of by Moses” 3.27.25, translation by J. J. Collins. The name of God holds power to stun the king, indicating that the name held a sort of magical function.

[4] Like the burning bush, the series of plagues in Artapanus come across as a series of magic tricks when compared to Exodus. Unlike Exodus, Artapanus does not attribute the plagues and miracles directly to God. Furthermore, the plagues do not follow the same order and also include additions ones, such as an earthquake.

[5] Jeremy D. Smoak, The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[6] Victor Horwitz, “Urim and Thummim in Light of a Psephomancy Ritual from Assur (LKA 137)”, in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Studies 21 (1992), 95-115, esp. 114.

[7] Horowitz, “Urim and Thummim”, 115, notes that “in Mesopotamia, psephomancy was assimilated to rpevailing religious practices, “Shamashzing” it, while in Israelite religion it was “Yahwehized”.


Collins, J. J.. “Artapanus,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. 2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983). 889-903.

Horwitz, Victor. “Urim and Thummim in Light of a Psephomancy Ritual from Assur (LKA 137),” in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Studies 21 (1992). 95-115. Click here to view online.

Smoak, Jeremy D. The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).


Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Psalms of David

DDSIntroduction to the Text: 

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, there were some additional Psalms, one of which was Psalm 155 (keep in mind that the typical Bible only has 150 Psalms). It was likely written in the 1st century BCE. Although it is impossible to determine authorship, there is a specific element I wish to draw attention to after having read How Repentance Became Biblical by David Lambert. Regarding 11QPsᵃ 155 (11Q=Cave 11 at Qumran, Ps=Psalms), there is a later Syriac translation (5ApocSyrPs 3). This later translation is irrelevant for this study because I hope to demonstrate something about the greater theological landscape through the earlier text.

Here is the text that I am examining:

5  Build me up;
and do not cast me down.

6  And do not abandon (me)
before the wicked ones.

7  The rewards of evil,
may the Judge of Truth remove from me.

8  O Lord, do not condemn me according to my sins;
for no one living is righteous before you.

J. H. Charlesworth with J. A. Sanders. “More Psalms of David: 155 (11QPsᵃ 155)”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

11QPs 155 and the Role of Repentance:

Scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls has been utilized to provide “background” of the “penitential movements” in the early Jesus movement; however, as David Lambert shows, the sectarian Qumran community “assumed “the mantle of the new, eschatological Israel, with its attendant practices and possibilities for transformation” (142, 2015). Essentially, Qumran didn’t see themselves as a community changing their morals due to their sin, a concept formed later in history and assumed in old historical records. In the Qumranite mind, Yahweh was the one who made the change. I believe this greatly exemplified in 11QPsᵃ 155.

Allow me to begin with verse 5. Interestingly enough, the footnotes of Charlesworth’s translation would allow the verse to be translated as follows:

“Build [my soul] up; / and [do not cast it] down”.

This is important to note because it focuses more on Yahweh being the one who determines the state of the soul. Unfortunately, Charlesworth’s translation fails to consider that Yahweh is the agent who changes the state of the human. Take, for example, Florentino Martinez’s more recent translation of the same passage: “build up my heart and do not erode it” (Col. XXIV (Psalm 155)). Martinez’s translation more accurately captures the essence of the Psalm, namely that God is the agent at work in changing the state of the soul.

Verse 7  is accurate to the period in the translations of Martinez and Charlesworth, as each of them capture Yahweh as the agent who removes the “rewards of evil” or “recompenses of evil”.

I find verse 8 to be the most intriguing because it specifically references sin. With such a verse, it would be easy to read it as repentance. How, though, is one to read “sin” within this Psalm in light of the previous verses, which reference Yahweh as the agent who changes ones state and Lambert’s note that the Qumran community was not about moral changes?

Perhaps the best way is to approach it as Lambert did, whereby sin is more a form of rhetoric that permits the reader to attain a renewed state via Yahweh as the agent. Read in this light, confession of sin within the Psalm is not a penitential act; rather, it demonstrates recognition that all people have some sort of sin. Consequently, this “confession” establishes Yahweh as the king and the Psalmist as his subject. Sin is more akin to a state of being in time and space, something attached to the soul (see verse 7) rather than something a person has done.


Florentino Martinez. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans and E. J. Brill, 1996.

J. H. Charlesworth with J. A. Sanders. “More Psalms of David”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2. Peabody, MA: 1983.

David Lambert. How Repentance Became Biblical. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.


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.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Levi

Introduction to the Text:

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs expand upon Jacob’s words in Genesis 49. In each utterance, each son of Jacob recounts their life upon the death bed with confessions, refelctions, exhortation, and eschatological predictions. Aside from late Christian interpolations (additions to the text) in the 2nd century CE, the texts were likely written around the 2nd century BCE. Like many pseudepigrapha, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs “bears witness to the diversity of outlook that developed within Judaism in the period prior to the Maccabean Revolt and flourished throughout the Maccabean period” (778, OTP, Volume I).

What I intend to focus on within the testaments is the Testament of Levi (hereafter TLevi).TLevi provides a view into the 2nd century BCE through understanding how the author represents other texts with the same story.

Levi’s Recasting in TLevi as a Divine Warrior

TLevi 5-6 provides Levi’s account Genesis 34. In Genesis 34, a Shechemite rapes Dinah. After the Schechemite requests Dinah for marriage, Jacob demands that they be circumcised. While they are recovering from the circumcision, Simeon and Levi kill the men of the city. Later in Gensis 49, Simeon and Levi are cursed for doing so. TLevi’s recounting of the story essentially justifies Levi’s action as divine command. What motif(s), though, did the author utilize to legitimize his actions?

In an article exploring the the biblical exegesis in TLevi’s recounting of Genesis 34, James Kugel discusses the roles of the sword and shield given to Levi in TLevi 5:1-3:

“At this moment the angel opened for me the gates of heavena dn I saw the Holy Most High sitting on the throne. And he said to me, ‘Levi, to you I have given the blessing of the priesthood until I shall come and dwell in the midst of Israel.’ Then the angel led me back to the earth, and gave me a shield and a sword, and said to me, ‘Perform vengeance on Shechem for the sake of Dinah, your sister, and I shall be with you, for the LORD sent me'” (TLevi 5:1-3, translation by H. C. Kee).

After exploring the role of the sword in  Judith 9:2, Kugel concludes that this exegetical expansion on Genesis 34 is meant explain that the swords from heaven actually allowed the brothers to take the city victoriously. This is further evidenced by Theodotus’ retelling of the Dinah story (Kugel, 1992). What he does not touch upon, though, is the actual motif being used. As he notes, the sword and shield are not merely physical swords and shields; rather, they are a sword and shield of heavenly origins.

These two heavenly weapons of war suggest that TLevi’s exegetical addition is specifically intended to legitimize the actions of Levi by establishing him as a divinely inspired warrior. Essentially the heavenly realm, headed by Yahweh, declares Levi to be the “divine warrior” by providing him with the weapons. This effectively legitimizes Levi’s passion and hope to destroys the Shechemites and portrays Jacob’s desires not to avenge Dinah, as well as the Shechemites desire for marriage, “as illegitimate, misplaced, unsustainable, or wrongly attained” (Ballentine 190, 1015). With the exegetical addition that Levi receives heavenly weapons in TLevi, he is thereby justified for his actions, actions which Jacob himself curses Levi for in Genesis 49. As Ballentine notes, other authors “employed the conflict motif to promote various secondary divine figure… by characterizing them as future divine warriors endorsed by a primary deity” (Ballentine 2015, 195). In this case, the deity is Yahweh and the divinely sponsored warrior is Levi.




Ballentine, Debra. The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.

H. C. Kee. “Testament of Levi”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Kugel, James. 1992. “The Story of Dinah in the “testament of Levi””. The Harvard Theological Review 85 (1). [Cambridge University Press, Harvard Divinity School]: 1–34.



Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Job

Introduction to the Text:

The Testament of Job (henceforth TJob) is a tale about the life of Job. Unlike the book of Job in the LXX or MT, 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.

Having been 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. Today I will primarily focus on an example of how TJob presents Satan, disguised as a bread seller, using biblical traditions and cultural traditions of mourning.

Reflections of Cultural Expectations in the Testament of Job

TJob reflects cultural expectation quite clearly, along with making implicit references to the Hebrew Bible. Take, for example, chapter 23. In chapter 23, Sitis, Job’s wife, sells her hair to Satan in order to buy bread for herself and her husband. Beyond the fact that Sitis is deceived, for she only receives three loaves of bread in exchange for her hair and the ability “to live for three more days” (23.7bβ), the text further mentions her shame. When recounting her experience, Sitis says that “[Satan disguised as a bread seller] arose and cut [her] hair disgracefully in the market, while the crowd stood by and marveled” (24.10, brackets added for context and italics added for emphasis). The cost for bread is shame; yet, this doesn’t take into account the full context of TJob. In 4.4, God tells Job that Satan will rise up with wrath for battle against Job in response to Job’s destruction of an idolatrous shrine. Because the actions of Satan must be read in context of battle, the cutting of Sitis’ hair becomes an implicit reference to Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, part of the stipulations for those who take captive foreign woman in war and desire to marry them must “have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when capture” (Deuteronomy 21:12b-13a). This was considered a sign of mourning. Likewise, in the 1st centuries woman cutting off their hair in mourning is accounted for. [1] In the case of TJob, there is one major difference: Satan cuts the hair of Sitis in battle, not Sitis herself as mourning calls for. This sort of act not only explicitly shames Sitis but seemingly mocks the situation of Sitis.

I am reminded of Richard of York who, in Shakespeare’s  history plays and in a recent production I saw, is crowned with a rag soaked in the blood of his son Edmund. In essence, the Queen and Clifford command Richard of York to mourn; however, just like in TJob, it is not true mourning, but a bastardized symbol of “mourning” appropriated as a tactic and rhetoric for shaming.

Sitis’ account is intriguing because it presents a unique view of “mourning”. It demonstrates how good practices like mourning are utilized by opposition, or the Other, as tools for shaming. This appropriation of mourning for darker purposes, if you will, is not restricted solely to TJob. In fact, it is an approach to battle used through time and space, whether in biblical literature or Shakespeare.


[1] In his analysis on the discourse of First Corinthians, Ralph Bruce Terry writes the following: “It is also worthy of note that Greek women seem to have cut off their hair in times of mourning. Plutarch, in the context of discussing mourning at funerals, says, “So in Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow . . .” (Moralia, The Roman Questions 14). This would be similar to the Jewish custom of shaving the head as a symbol of grief or mourning (cf. Deut. 21:12-13; Is. 7:20; 15:2; 22:12; Jer. 16:6; Mic. 1:16; and Josephus Antiquities iv.8.23 [§257]).” Available online:



R. P. Spittler.”Testament of Job”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Ralph Bruce Terry. “An Analysis of Certain Features of Discourse in the New Testament Book of 1 Corinthians”. Available online:

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.