TH6317 The Interpretation of the History of Israel

Roman Period Histories


Plan to draft a section a week for March 21, 28, and April 4.


Major sources

Major themes

Introduction to Josephus

Josephus’ Historical Context

Tendencies in Josephus

Josephus’ retelling of the story of Judah Maccabee

This side-by-side layout (PDF) will indicate that Josephus follows 1 Maccabees as a source, but makes substantial changes.

Josephus’ retelling of major moments we have been tracking

Identify differences between the way Josephus tells the stories and the way his sources tell the stories. How do those differences correlate with his audience and his own context and theology?

Introduction to the Wisdom of Solomon

Theology of history in Wisdom of Solomon

History as illustrative of theological and philosophical truth


Goodness of creation

Fundamental theology: What can other nations be expected to know about God and morality if they did not receive revelation from God at Sinai?

Natural law

History corrected using the 4-7 assumptions of premodern interpreters

Pseudo-Philo’s Book of Biblical Antiquities

This text is a retelling of Genesis through the death of Saul. It was composed in Hebrew in the first century. It has its name because some of the Christians who preserved the work in Latin falsely attributed it to Philo of Alexandria. Our main interest in the work is as a retelling of history using the four to seven assumptions.

Rather than assigning a large chunk, let’s focus only on the retelling of the story of Deborah and Jael in Judges 4-5.

Keep an eye out for variations between Pseudo-Philo and the earlier story in Judges 4-5. In particular, note the following and try to match them with one or more of the four to seven assumptions.

  1. How central are the stars in Pseudo-Philo? In Judges? (hint: there is enough of a mention to justify the expansion)
  2. How evil is Sisera in each? (Hint: morally perfect can mean good figures are perfectly good OR that bad figures are perfectly evil.)
  3. How is the character of Jael developed from Judges to Pseudo-Philo? (look for deliberate, prayerful, others)
  4. How is the role of God developed from Judges to Pseudo-Philo?
  5. How does Pseudo-Philo reconcile the contradiction between Judges 4:21 and 5:27?
  6. How does Pseudo-Philo 32:1 interpret Genesis 15:7? It will be necessary to know that the place name “Ur” resembles the Hebrew word for “fire.”
    I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.
  7. Why does God command Abraham to kill Isaac in Genesis 22? In Pseudo-Philo?
  8. Did Abraham deceive Isaac in Genesis 22? In Pseudo-Philo?
  9. Was Isaac willing?
  10. Is there an afterlife?
  11. Don’t take the time to re-read the Jacob and Esau stories in Genesis, but if you do recall bits of that story, what is strikingly different?
  12. What is the emphasis in the summary of the exodus event?
  13. What more do we learn about the afterlife and intercession from Deborah before she dies?

Introduction to Philo of Alexandria

Brief passage on allegorical meaning of Red Sea

Philo of Alexandria, De Ebrietate 111

XXIX. And Moses indeed, in the same manner, when he saw the king of Egypt, [Exodus 14:7] that arrogant man with his six hundred chariots, that is to say, with the six carefully arranged motions of the organic body, and with the governors who were appointed to manage them, who, while none of all created things are by nature calculated to stand still, think nevertheless that they may look upon everything as solidly settled and admitting of no alteration; when he, I say, saw that this king had met with the punishment due to his impiety, and that the people, who were practicers of virtue, had escaped from the attacks of their enemies, and had been saved by mighty power beyond their expectation, he then sang a hymn to God as a just and true judge, beginning a hymn in a manner most becoming and most exactly suited to the events that had happened, “because the horse and his rider he had thrown into the sea;” [Exodus 15:4] having utterly destroyed that mind which rode upon the irrational impulses of that four-footed and restive animal, passion, and had become an ally, and defender, and protector of the seeing soul, so as to bestow upon it complete safety.

That is one long sentence so it will take several reads before it starts to make sense. Note allegorical interpretation, body-soul dualism, and other elements of Greek philosophy.

Further reading

Livneh, Atar. Studies on Jewish and Christian Historical Summaries from the Hellenistic and Early Roman Periods. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 95. Leuven: Peeters, 2019.

Attridge, “Jewish Historiography” in Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters 1986