In the Hellenistic Context



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Jubilees exhibits striking similarities with the Hellenistic Jewish work that became the third book of the Sybilline Oracles.73 Before embarking on its admonitions to the nations of the world, Book III describes the postdiluvian period. The text refers to three kingdoms established after the Flood; Cronos, Titan, and Iapetus then reigned, after having divided the world among themselves by lot. At first they lived in peace, both because of the oath they had sworn to their father, and because the division of the earth among them was just (110–115). However, after their father's death the oath was violated, and the three brothers—Cronos, Titan, and Iapetus—fought one another, each desiring to rule humanity (117–121). They finally reached an agreement that Cronos would rule over all, but would undertake to beget no children, so that Titan would succeed him after his death. However, Cronos did have children, one of whom was Zeus. Upon hearing of this, the children of Titan attacked Cronos and Rhea and took them captive (151). Their sons, however, came to the rescue, and a great war ensued (147–153). At this point, the Sibyl sums up, saying: “This is the beginning of war for all mortals” (154–155), and also the beginning of the rule of empires in the world (158–161). Thus, the Sibyl, like Jubilees, describes the division of the world (Jub. 8:10–9:13; Sib. III, 114–115); the oath sworn by Noah’s sons (Jub. 8:14–15; Sib. III, 116); Noah’s death (Jub. 8:15–17; Sib. III, 117–118); violation of the oath (Jub. 10:28–33 [referring to Canaan]; Sib. III, 118–121); the desire to rule the entire world, the first war, and the taking of prisoners of war (Jub. 11:2; Sib. III, 120–161).74

I suggest that these passages in the Sibylline Oracles, like those in Jubilees, are based upon the identification of Ninus with Nimrod. Note that, in Book III, the empire begins in the second and third generations after the Flood. This brings us to the generation of Nimrod, grandson of Ham, who lived in the third generation after the Flood. The Sibyl also associates the beginning of the empire with the first wars and the capture of prisoners, as in the description of the first empire in the time of Ninus in Greek historiography.

There are certainly differences between the Sibyl and Jubilees. In Jubilees we have a detailed account of the division of the earth among Noah’s sons, whereas the Sibyl describes the division in one terse sentence; Jubilees, on the other hand, mentions the desire for empires and wars in a single verse, whereas the parallel account in the Sibylline Oracles is quite detailed, with (euhemeristic) use of Hesiod’s Theogony (421–424, 629–638). On the evidence of these differences, the author of Jubilees was most likely not acquainted with, and did not use, Book III of the Sibylline Oracles. Presumably, both works made use of the same historiographic work—some Hellenistic Jewish work identifying biblical figures with familiar figures from mythology and historiography. I surmise that this unknown work identifies Nimrod with Ninus and incorporates the tradition of empire and wars.75 If correct, this conjecture implies that the author of Jubilees employed a Hellenistic Jewish work to create a barrier between Abraham and the rest of humanity.

Culture heroes. Above I suggested that the concept of culture hero, so central to Hellenistic Jewish historiography, was a major tool in the effort to promote the integration of Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic world. Ostensibly, in examining the role of culture heroes in Jubilees, it can be argued that Jubilees' familiarity with this concept is not necessarily an outgrowth of acquaintance with Hellenism, because culture heroes appear in the book of Genesis, which Jubilees rewrites. Thus, we read in Genesis of Jabal, “the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds” (4:20); of Jubal, “the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe” (v. 21); and of Tubal-Cain, “who forged all implements of copper and iron” (v. 22). Yet, Jubilees' awareness and deliberate use of the concept of culture hero can only emerge from its conversance with Hellenistic and with Hellenistic Jewish literature. Figures portrayed as culture heroes in Jubilees take part in what I identify as the book’s polemic against Hellenistic Jewish literature.



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