In the Hellenistic Context



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20-Jan-21

Jubilees in the Hellenistic Context*
Cana Werman
The question of the degree to which Hellenistic culture influenced those inhabitants of Palestine who worshipped the God of Israel has yet to be settled.1 As two scholars suggest, any discussion of this issue must distinguish between Hellenism as a movement advocating deliberate public adoption of customs and cults from the Hellenistic world and Hellenization as a process whereby such customs and cults are assimilated and adopted, sometimes unconsciously,2 with a resultant reshaping of the local culture, religion, or language.3

Hellenism as a movement certainly existed in Herodian Palestine.4 Furthermore, recent research indicates that members of the Hasmonean family also consciously adopted Hellenistic culture, a phenomenon that, according to the above definition, should be defined as Hellenism.5 More difficult, however, is the task of determining the intensity of the process of Hellenization. Martin Hengel's attempt to identify Hellenistic influence in all Jewish literary-cultural strata from the third to the first century BCE has not won scholarly acceptance.6 Yet, whereas the majority of Greek Hellenistic Jewish literature—strongly influenced by Greek literature and philosophy—was composed outside the land of Israel, we cannot rule out the possibility that some small part was written there and not in the Hellenistic Diaspora. Nor can we ignore the potential existence of Hellenistic influence on Hebrew and Aramaic works written in Palestine during the centuries in question. Accordingly, additional research is called for.7 This paper examines the familiarity of Jubilees, written in Hebrew,8 in Palestine, with the Hellenistic world and with Hellenistic Jewish literature. I hope to make a contribution to the discussion of the broader issue outlined above.9

The date of Jubilees' composition remains a matter of scholarly debate. Some attribute its composition to as far back as the beginning of the second century BCE;10 others submit that it was written at the time of Antiochus IV’s edicts and the Hasmonean Revolt;11 and still others date it even later, to the late second or early first century BCE.12 However, even the earliest date proposed for this rewritten version of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus places it after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Palestine, namely, during the Hellenistic period there. Two outstanding features of Jubilees are related to the Hellenistic period. Jubilees' author calculates and dates early events according to jubilees, weeks, years, and months from Creation. Interest in chronology is a definitive characteristic of the Hellenistic age, which explains the efforts by Jubilees (or by his predecessors) to calculate epochs and years.13 In addition, Jubilees stresses the sanctity and importance of the Hebrew language (Jub. 12:25–27). Thus, while there is evidence that Jubilees' author was familiar with and used works written in Aramaic, such as the Ethiopic book(s) of Enoch, the Genesis Apocryphon,14 and the Aramaic Levi Document,15 he deliberately chose to write in Hebrew. The choice of Hebrew testifies to an intercultural struggle during the formative period for the concepts of Judaism and Hellenism.16 In this paper I point to additional features and details that would not have been included had this work been written earlier. Two broad areas will be addressed here: Jubilees' knowledge of Hellenistic science, as evidenced by its map of the world, and of Hellenistic literature, historiographical and philosophical works in particular. Ultimately, I shall attempt to show how Jubilees utilized its familiarity with Hellenizing trends in order to rebut them.
Jubilees and Hellenistic Science

The chapters of Jubilees devoted to the story of the period from Noah to Abraham attest to its author's acquaintance with Hellenistic science. In its description of the parcellation of the world by lot among Noah’s sons, the text reveals a certain underlying map of the world. Other scholars have already noted that this was the Ionic map—the standard map of the Hellenistic world.17 This map envisaged the world as a flat disk with its “navel” at Delphi, with the three continents—Asia, Europe and Africa—in the center, surrounded by the ocean. Although rejected by Alexandrian scientists, in particular, Eratosthenes (third century BCE), it is clear that, with the exception of a small circle of scholars who understood the complex mathematical theory of Eratosthenes and his colleagues, the educated Greek world adhered to this map for an extended period.18 Jubilees utilizes an updated version of the map (that of Dicaearchus, fl. 326–296 BCE19), in which the “equator” passes through the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar), the Taurus () Mountains, and the Himalayas. However, the author of Jubilees, who views the map from a Jewish, and biblical, standpoint, describes this line as passing through “the mouth of the Great Sea”, that is, Gadir (present-day Cadiz, at the Straits of Gibraltar), to Mount Zion, and thence to the Garden of Eden, on the map’s eastern side.20 According to Jubilees, the omphalos is not Delphi but rather Mount Zion.

The biblical outlook is particularly prominent in Jubilees identification of the continents according to the names of Noah’s sons. Shem’s portion, Asia, is situated in the middle of the map, in a temperate region. Japheth received Europe, the northern region of the disk, with its excessively cold climate, and Ham received Africa, the excessively hot continent in its southern part.

As noted earlier, Jubilees was acquainted with Aramaic works such as Enoch and the Genesis Apocryphon. There is a parallel, but fragmentary, description of the division of the world among Noah’s sons in the Genesis Apocryphon. Considerable effort has gone into decipherment of the fragments of the Genesis Apocryphon, and the final results were published about ten years ago.21 A comparison of the vestigial description of the earth in the Genesis Apocryphon with the relevant passages from Jubilees is most instructive. The following table sets out the two texts:




Genesis Apocryphon


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