In the Hellenistic Context


Jubilees and Hellenistic Jewish Historiography



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1. Jubilees and Hellenistic Jewish Historiography

Hellenistic Jewish Historiography


The main thrust of Hellenistic Jewish historiography is to emphasize the Jewish contribution to Hellenistic culture,46 and to confirm the Jews’ participation in the relevant cultural frameworks without arousing a sense of conflict.47 Historians achieved this end through two means: through identification of biblical figures with familiar figures from Greek mythology and historiography, and by designation of Jewish culture heroes.

Identification of biblical figures with Greek ones. “Pseudo-Eupolemus” is the scholarly designation for a Samaritan who lived and wrote in Palestine and Egypt, who, based upon his acquaintance with the Temple of Onias, lived no earlier than the mid-second century BCE48. Because he takes the Bible as his point of departure, his work has been classified as Hellenistic Jewish literature.49 Pseudo-Eupolemus identifies biblical figures from the dawn of human history with gods familiar from the Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions. Enoch, who learned astrology from the angels, is Atlas (credited in the Hellenistic world with teaching mankind astrology); Noah is Bel and Cronos (because he was associated with giants like Cronos).50 Shem is also Bel (as he bears his father’s name). Bel, the creator of the world according to Berosus, and Cronos, father of Zeus, are thus human beings known to us from the Bible,51 making mythology not a religion, but rather part of human history. Pseudo-Eupolemus defends the authenticity of biblical tradition and averts a possible clash between the Bible and foreign literature, between the Jewish faith and the religion of the Hellenistic world.

Culture heroes. Another means of mediating between Judaism and Hellenism was to claim that biblical characters were culture heroes responsible for such significant inventions as astrology, agriculture, and philosophy. The concept of culture hero, as it developed in the Hellenistic world, played a role in the important debate regarding the question of which is the most ancient nation in the world. “As to the antiquity of the human race,” Diodorus Siculus tells us, “not only the Greeks make their claim, but the barbarians as well; they all believe that they are the autochthonous people, the first to discover things of importance to life; and that the events experienced by their people were the earliest events worthy of being told.”52 Greece, Egypt, Babylonia and Phoenicia all claimed the crown of antecedence;53 each argued that the most important culture heroes (Kulturbringer) came in larger numbers from its nation.54

Pseudo-Eupolemus mentions such a culture hero in his attempt to interpret the works of Berosus, a Babylonian author who translated and rewrote Babylonian history in terms of Greek language and concepts. Berosus refers to a righteous man who lived in the tenth postdiluvian generation and who was proficient in Chaldean science. Pseudo-Eupolemus identifies this individual as Abraham.55 Abraham was adept at astrology, in which he instructed the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. Aware of the above-mentioned international competition, Pseudo-Eupolemus points to the Phoenicians as the victors: they, not the Egyptians, were the first to learn Chaldean science. But the prime victor was the Jewish people, for the Chaldean sage came from their ranks.

Pseudo-Eupolemus’ argument that this culture hero was a Jew illustrates his desire to include the Jewish people among the most ancient and important nations. An interesting point is how this provides an implied solution to the problem of the conflict between Judaism and Hellenism: since these culture heroes were Jews, it follows that the Hellenistic culture that they created is not problematic for the Jewish people.

A similar approach was taken by Artapanus,56 who depicts the three biblical heroes who lived in Egypt—Abraham, Joseph, and Moses—as the founders of Egyptian culture and religion. Abraham taught the Egyptians astrology; Joseph introduced agricultural reform and invented a system of measurements; and Moses invented ships, stone-lifting machines, Egyptian weapons, water pumps, military lore, and philosophy. Furthermore, Moses is identified with Hermes (another example of the above-cited category of identification), who taught the goddess Isis. Moses is also identified with Musaeus, who (according to Artapanus) taught Orpheus. While tradition has it that Musaeus was Orpheus’ pupil rather than his teacher, Artapanus inverts the chronological order, by means of this inversion able to argue that Greek culture and wisdom, as represented by Orpheus, originated with the Jew Moses (Musaeus). In other words, Artapanus claims that the Jews are the best and most talented nation, the proof being Hellenism itself.57

Artapanus’ works were perhaps a response to anti-Jewish propaganda, as represented by Manetho, the Egyptian priest who rewrote Egyptian history in a Greek context in the early third century BCE.58 Artapanus’ primary goal was, however, to resolve the conflict of his Jewish contemporaries living in Egypt. The ancient Jewish heroes were not only heroes of the Jewish nation, but also the creators of Hellenistic culture; hence any Jew who adopts that culture is not betraying his national traditions but simply enjoying the fruits of his ancestors’ works.59

The emphasis by both Artapanus and Pseudo-Eupolemus on the national aspect of Judaism is striking.60 Because the past heroes of the Jewish people were heroes of humanity as a whole, therefore, in the present, Jews may take pride in their national identity.61 One challenge that Artapanus and Pseudo-Eupolemus do not face, however, is the meaning of the Torah’s laws in the world of Hellenistic culture.62 Neither is this tackled in the work of Eupolemus,63 a Jerusalem priest, possessing Hellenistic education, who lived around the time of the Hasmonean Revolt. His main goal was to emphasize the centrality of the Jewish people and its leaders to the surrounding world. Availing himself of the epistolographic model common in the Hellenistic world,64 he tells the story of King Solomon and his relations with Tyre and Egypt during the construction of the Jerusalem Temple, portraying Solomon as the strongest figure in the land of Israel and the neighboring kingdoms. Eupolemus writes of Moses as a culture hero; because Moses invented writing, it is therefore obvious that writing originated in the land of Israel and not in Greece. He was also, claims Eupolemus, the first wise man and the first legislator.65 Mosaic law, however, has no meaning outside the confines of the Jewish people. Jewish identity is innately linked to the Jewish nation, and its center of gravity is the Temple.66 On the other hand, Eupolemus does not reject the religions or laws of other nations,67 even relating that Solomon sent the king of Tyre a gold pillar, which now stands in Zeus’ temple in that city.

In summation: Identification of biblical characters with mythological figures and the concept of culture hero were used by Hellenistic Jewish authors as tools to meditate between Judaism and Hellenism. I argue in the following that examination of Jubilees reveals a calculated use of these two tools to achieve a diametrically opposite goal.



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