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.
Josephus, excerpts [0:54]
- Retelling 1 Macc on Judah Maccabee (PDF)
- Retelling Exodus 14 on the Red Sea (HTML)
- Retelling 2 Samuel 7:11-16 and 1 Chronicles 17:10-14 on the Davidic Covenant (HTML)
- Retelling 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36 on the end of the monarchy, exile, and destruction of the first temple (HTML)
- Wisdom of Solomon 10-19 [1:00]
- Pseudo-Philo, Book of Biblical Antiquities 30-33 (PDF) [0:24]
- Philo, excerpt on the Red Sea (below) [0:06]
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Pseudo-Philo, Book of Biblical Antiquities
- The role of the audience in shaping story telling.
- The influence of Greek philosophy on Jewish philosophies of history (fate, providence)
- Competitive historiography
Introduction to Josephus
Josephus’ Historical Context
- Source: his own autobiography
- Jewish general in the war that began 66 CE
- Captured and befriended by Vespasian
- Lived in Vespasian’s private home when Vespasian became Emperor in 69 CE
- Primary audience: wrote accounts of the Jewish War, and subsequently all of Jewish history, for the Roman elites
(also an autobiography and a response to a polemic against the Jews)
- Secondary audience (?): Jews in Diaspora adjusting to life without a homeland
Tendencies in Josephus
- Style: elevated language, psychology, drama, eroticism
- Elevates heroes (response to accusations that there have been no great men among the Jews)
- Roman standards of honorable warfare
- Jews as good neighbors (response to accusations of misanthropy)
- God as an invisible presence, almost a philosophical principle, often referred to as “providence”
- Prophecy continues, seems to consider himself a prophet
- Scholars differ on the reliability of Josephus’ accounts
Josephus’ retelling of the story of Judah Maccabee
This side-by-side layout
will indicate that Josephus follows 1 Maccabees as a source, but makes substantial changes.
- Was Judah harsher on fellow Jews or Gentiles? (1 Macc 2:5-9 and parallel)
- How is the us vs. them line drawn? Who are the good guys and bad guys? (1 Macc 2:10-17 and parallel)
- What is the role of God? Does God show favoritism to one people over another? (1 Macc 2:18-22 and parallel)
- Is Judah fighting a holy war or a war of self-defense? (1 Macc 4:36-47 and parallel)
- Has prophecy ended? (1 Macc 4:46; 9:27 and parallel)
Josephus’ retelling of major moments we have been tracking
- Josephus’ retelling of the Red Sea (HTML), Exodus 14
- Josephus’ retelling of the Davidic Covenant (HTML), 2 Sam 7:11-16; 1 Chron 17:10-14
- Josephus’ retelling of the end of the monarchy, exile, and destruction of the first temple (HTML), 2 Kings 25; 2 Chron 36
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?
- How would gentiles have responded to the story as recorded in the book of Exodus?
- What is the relative emphasis on divine action and human virtue?
Pay attention to agency. Is God the subject of verbs or the object of verbs?
- What virtues are emphasized?
- Can you spot the traces and interpretation of the oracle of the Davidic dynasty?
- How does Josephus explain the destruction of Jerusalem?
- Who is more pious, Zedekiah or Nebuchadnezzar? What does that tell us about the nature of God?
- Who is released from prison? Cf. 2 Kings 25:27.
Introduction to the Wisdom of Solomon
- Written in Alexandria, Egypt around the turn of the era
- Composed in Greek using Hellenistic rhetoric and literary genres
- Reflects awareness of Greek philosophy: embraces Stoicism and Middle Platonism, rejects Epicureanism
- Canonicity: included in the Greek collection of writings adopted as scripture in the early church and Catholicism;
unlikely to have ever been translated into Hebrew so not close to being included in the traditional Hebrew collection preserved by rabbinic Judaism.
- Chapters 10-19 use the Hellenistic genre of “encomium” (hymn of praise), addressed to wisdom (she).
Our interest is as a retelling of the history of Israel, particularly the exodus.
Theology of history in Wisdom of Solomon
History as illustrative of theological and philosophical truth
- Suffering of the wicked - the punishment fits the crime
- Suffering of the righteous
- good known through contrast with evil (11:8, Stoicism)
- Chastisement ≠ condemnation
- Prosperity of the wicked
- allows a chance for repentance
- no collateral damage
Goodness of creation
- Everything has a good purpose
- Creation can be used for good or bad as required
- Everything (except humans) follows God’s commands perfectly
- Miracles are not necessary because nature works for God
- Implied social location
Fundamental theology: What can other nations be expected to know about God and morality if they did not receive revelation from God at Sinai?
- All nations have access to God
- Creator is known through the created
- 13:1-7, Hierarchy of worshipping manmade objects, lower creation, higher creation, creator
- Greek philosophers describe the same basic truth as Judaism
- The idea that certain moral truths are universal and absolute, not culturally constructed
- Embedded by creator in creation
History corrected using the 4-7 assumptions of premodern interpreters
- Perfectly consistent within the story
- Perfectly unified with all of scripture
- Morally perfect
- Perfectly consistent with my religion
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.
- Pseudo-Philo 31-33 (I’ll include chapter 30 for a little context)
- Italics represent a quotation of a canonical passage. Marginal citations also include allusions that are not quotations.
- Between reading and rereading also review Judges 4-5
- Also review Genesis 22
- Review the four to seven assumptions of premodern interpretation that we covered at the beginning of the course
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.
- How central are the stars in Pseudo-Philo? In Judges? (hint: there is enough of a mention to justify the expansion)
- How evil is Sisera in each?
(Hint: morally perfect can mean good figures are perfectly good
OR that bad figures are perfectly evil.)
- How is the character of Jael developed from Judges to Pseudo-Philo? (look for deliberate, prayerful, others)
- How is the role of God developed from Judges to Pseudo-Philo?
- How does Pseudo-Philo reconcile the contradiction between Judges 4:21 and 5:27?
- 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.
- Why does God command Abraham to kill Isaac in Genesis 22? In Pseudo-Philo?
- Did Abraham deceive Isaac in Genesis 22? In Pseudo-Philo?
- Was Isaac willing?
- Is there an afterlife?
- 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?
- What is the emphasis in the summary of the exodus event?
- What more do we learn about the afterlife and intercession from Deborah before she dies?
Introduction to Philo of Alexandria
- Lived roughly 15 bce to 50 ce
- Wealthy, educated leader of Jewish community in Alexandria
- Combined Jewish traditions and Platonic philosophy
- Allegorical biblical interpretation: reading a story as symbolic such that ordinary persons and objects represent abstract and lofty ideas
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.
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