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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Other Jewish Literature

It is useful to distinguish between Jewish literature written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic and that composed in Greek. Although some of the Greek compositions may have been written in Judea, most of them come from Jews living outside of Palestine, especially in the Egyptian Diaspora. Although Greek culture influenced Jews wherever they lived, the imprint of Greek literary and cultural values is more pronounced in the literature of the Diaspora.

WORKS COMPOSED IN HEBREW OR ARAMAIC. Works written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic tend to resemble the types of literature found among the nonsectarian texts from the Dead Sea caves. For example, the retelling and supplementing of biblical narrative is represented by a work known as the Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo. This text, traditionally but wrongly attributed to the Jewish philosopher Philo, retells the biblical story from Genesis through 1. Samuel. It is probably to be dated to the first century C.E. A contemporary work, The Lives of the Prophets, gives a brief account of “the names of the prophets, where they are from, where they died and how, and where they lie,” supplemented in places with legendary accounts of their activities.

As with 1 Enoch, described above, there are other texts that present figures from the past as recipients of revelations about the heavenly world and the end time. The Testament of Moses purports to be the private farewell speech of Moses to Joshua. Moses explains to Joshua what will be the course of history of the Israelites until, at the climax of an acute period of sin and oppression, a priest and his seven sons will be martyred. This event will trigger the intervention of the heavenly armies under an angelic leader and will secure for Israel a heavenly blessedness. The Testament of Moses was originally written during the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, about 165 B.C.E. The apocalypse of 2 Baruch comes from a later period, after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. Since the historical Baruch was a scribe who served Jeremiah at the time of the Babylonian destruction of the first temple, he is an especially suitable figure for an apocalypse concerned with the later destruction. As Baruch prays and laments, he is shown a vision of the history of the world, symbolized in alternating dark and bright rains, culminating in the final triumph of God's anointed. Another vision symbolically represents the overthrow of the Roman empire by the messiah. Second Baruch is roughly contemporary with the Apocryphal book 2 Esdras 3–14 (often known as 4 Ezra). A third apocalypse that is probably from this period, the Apocalypse of Abraham, contains extensive legendary material about Abraham's conversion from idolatry as well as a description of Abraham's ascent to heaven, where he is shown a vision of the history of the world until its appointed end.

Religious poetry is represented in the collection known as the Psalms of Solomon. The title, which is not original, has nothing to do with the contents. Although most of the psalms are written in traditional language and refer in general terms to conflict between the righteous and the sinners, several of them refer specifically to the events of the mid-first century B.C.E., when the Romans captured Judea. The author of the Psalms of Solomon considered the native Hasmonean kings of Judea to be illegitimate but was even more appalled by the Roman occupation. The Psalms of Solomon look forward to a legitimate Davidic king who will restore the land.

WORKS COMPOSED IN GREEK. Although Jewish literature composed in Greek includes some genres developed originally in Hebrew and Aramaic, most of it reflects the cultural influence of the cosmopolitan Greek-speaking cities. The testament, or death-bed farewell speech, is an example of a literary type that was popular both in Hebrew/Aramaic and in Greek versions. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs was probably composed in Greek but based on earlier Hebrew or Aramaic models. In this text each of Jacob's twelve sons tells his children the story of his life, using it as an example of a particular virtue or vice. The dying man urges his children to live a moral life according to his advice. He also predicts the future of the tribe, stressing the leading role of the tribes of Levi and Judah. The Testament of Job recasts the book of Job as a testament in which the dying Job gathers his children in order to recount his life. Unlike the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, it contains little moral admonition and no prediction of the future. Casting the conflict as a struggle between Satan and Job, one of its central concerns is to condemn paganism and the worship of idols, while commending loyalty to God. Although the Testament of Abraham is not, properly speaking, a testament, it is a highly original and gently ironic piece of literature. When God sends an angel to require Abraham to prepare for his death, Abraham resists and tries to bargain for time. Part of the text concerns a heavenly journey during the course of which Abraham learns to value compassion over moral rigor. In the end Death takes Abraham's soul by a trick.

Although many Jewish apocalypses were translated into Greek, there are only a few surviving texts that were originally composed in Greek. The Apocalypse of Zephaniah and 3 Baruch are probable examples. Hellenistic Jews also took up a form of pagan prophetic literature, the Sibylline oracle. According to tradition, the Sibyl was an aged woman who gave ecstatic prophecies. The Jewish Sybil is said to have been a daughter or daughter-in-law of Noah. Only brief fragments of pagan Sibylline oracles have survived, but some of the Jewish examples are simply Jewish adaptations of pagan oracles. Others are original Jewish compositions. The form was also used by Christians. In content the Sibylline oracles are strongly historical and political, with numerous predictions concerning the end time. Many of the oracles also contain ethical teachings.

In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Hellenistic culture each ethnic community was self-conscious of its historical traditions and of the way in which these traditions related to those of other groups. Historiography, ranging from the scholarly to the unabashedly popular, became an important literary enterprise. The work of most of these historians exists now only in quotations and extracts in the writings of later Christian writers, so that the nature and extent of their histories is not always known. The earliest of these writers is Demetrius, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the late third century B.C.E. Demetrius, who worked exclusively from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was primarily interested in matters of chronology and in the explanation of apparent logical inconsistencies and moral lapses in the biblical narrative. In second century B.C.E. Palestine a bilingual, upper class Jew named Eupolemus wrote a history entitled Concerning the Kings in Judea, though its scope was actually much broader. Eupolemus, a friend of Judah the Maccabee, was concerned to glorify Israelite history and he elaborated the biblical narrative with additional legendary details. He presents Moses as a culture-bringer, specifically as the inventor of the alphabet, which was later borrowed by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. The influence and splendor of the Israelite kingdom under David and Solomon was a particular theme of Eupolemus. He describes the lavishness and superb construction of the temple, along with the contributions made by Hiram, king of Tyre, and Vaphres, king of Egypt. According to Eupolemus, Solomon responded to these contributions with extravagant gifts of his own, including a gold pillar for the temple of Zeus in Tyre.

An anonymous writer, probably a Samaritan, wrote a highly legendary history in which various details of Greek and Babylonian mythology are harmonized with biblical traditions. He identifies Enoch, for instance, with the Greek Atlas. Abraham is presented as the discoverer of astrology, which he taught to the Egyptians during his sojourn there. The correlation of biblical figures with pagan mythological and heroic figures is characteristic of several of these Hellenistic Jewish historians, most notably Artapanus. More a writer of historical romances than a historian, Artapanus recounts the stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. Moses is presented as an inventor of basic technologies, a philosopher, a general in the Egyptian army, the organizer of Egyptian religion (!), and a man regarded as a virtual god by the Egyptians, who identified him with Hermes (the Greek equivalent of the Egyptian god Thoth). Moses also appears in Artapanus as the hero who rescues the Jews from the oppressions of the Egyptians.

The interest of Egyptian Jews in the figure of Joseph is reflected in a composition that is perhaps best described as a romantic novel, Joseph and Asenath. Taking as its topic the marriage of Joseph to the Egyptian noblewoman Asenath, the story portrays Asenath as the model of a convert to Judaism. Both the plot and the depiction of characters reflect the complexity of Jewish-gentile relations in Hellenistic Egypt. Although biblical history was the most popular subject for Hellenistic Jewish writers, more recent periods sometimes provided topics. The book known as 3 Maccabees, for instance, is a historical romance set in the time of Ptolemy IV Philopator, king of Egypt from 221 to 204 B.C.E. It has been suggested, though, that the book was actually written during the Roman period in the first century C.E. The story is one of persecution and miraculous deliverance for the Jewish community of Egypt. Although not reliable in its historical detail, the narrative reflects the vulnerability Egyptian Jews experienced with respect to their legal status and safety.

The more serious tradition of ancient Jewish historiography culminates in two figures from the first century C.E. who were bitter enemies: Justus of Tiberias and Josephus. The works of Justus have been completely lost, though it appears that he wrote two important books. One, a chronicle of world history, traced events from the time of Moses to the death of Agrippa II in 100 C.E. The other book was a history of the Jewish revolt against Rome, a work in which he explicitly criticized some of Josephus' actions during the war. Josephus' works, on the other hand, have been well preserved. In Antiquities of the Jews Josephus undertakes to retell the history of the Jewish people from Adam until his own time. Although much of the earlier part of the Antiquities consists of biblical paraphrase, Josephus' presentation of the material and his style reflect the influence of classical Greek historiography. In The Jewish War Josephus gives a detailed account of the revolt against Rome in which he participated. A brief work, the Life, is Josephus' reply to the criticism Justus of Tiberias directed at him in his history of the revolt. The other surviving work of Josephus, Against Apion, is a book devoted to refuting slanders leveled against Jews by gentile writers. It testifies to the competitive environment in which various ethnic groups interpreted their history and traditions in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Surviving fragments of Jewish poetic works composed in Greek are strongly influenced by Greek literary styles. Theodotus and Philo the Epic Poet wrote poems in hexameter verse about the cities of Shechem and Jerusalem, respectively. Such poetry, praising cities and countries, was popular in the Hellenistic period. Theodotus in particular seems to have been influenced by Homeric style, as can be seen in his account of the hand-to-hand combat between Jacob's sons Levi and Simeon and their opponents Hamor and Shechem (cf. Genesis 34 ). Unfortunately, very little of either poet's work is preserved. Much more extensive fragments remain of a tragic drama, The Exodus, written by Ezekiel the Tragedian. Moses is the hero of this drama, which probably covered the events of Exodus 1–15 . Composed in iambic trimeter verse, the style of the play is influenced by that of the Greek dramatists Aeschylus and Euripides. Opinion remains divided as to whether these poets and playwrights lived in Palestine, in Egypt, or elsewhere in the Diaspora.

As early as the second century B.C.E. Alexandria produced a Jewish philosopher in the person of Aristobulus. Although his work survives only in quotations, he apparently wrote an extensive philosophical commentary on the Pentateuch. Aristobulus claimed that the law of Moses already contained what Greek philosophy later expounded. Indeed, he argued that Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato derived their ideas from the Jewish law.

Whether or not there was a tradition of Hellenistic Jewish philosophers, the Egyptian Diaspora produced a truly significant intellectual figure in Philo of Alexandria, who flourished around the turn of the era. Philo's thought shows the imprint of Greek philosophy, Stoic, Pythagorean, and especially Platonic. But to describe Philo simply in terms of philosophy would be misleading. Although he occasionally wrote philosophical treatises and dialogues in the Greek fashion, the largest part of Philo's extensive works are commentaries on the Pentateuch. In some of these works Philo retells the biblical narrative, incorporating his philosophical comments into the narrative. In others an allegorical and philosophical commentary takes the form of a verse by verse exposition of biblical texts. Throughout his writings, however, philosophy and biblical interpretation are always closely intertwined as Philo attempts to show that true philosophy is nothing other than the understanding of the Law of Moses.

Although there is no other Hellenistic Jewish philosopher comparable to Philo, a number of literary and rhetorical works show the extent to which a degree of philosophical knowledge can be assumed on the part of an educated Jewish audience of that era. The Letter of Aristeas, which dates from the second century B.C.E., is a fictional account of the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek. Aristeas is presented as a Greek member of the court of Ptolemy II, although the actual author of the work is unquestionably Jewish. In one section the High Priest presents Moses as a philosopher and interprets the laws allegorically in the spirit of Aristobulus. Later at a banquet with the king the Jewish translators discuss the nature and practice of kingship, a common topic in Hellenistic political philosophy. A later and more philosophically self-conscious work is the book of 4 Maccabees. Perhaps composed as a speech commemorating the martyrs of the Maccabean persecutions, the work is a discourse on the topic of the sovereignty of reason over the passions. Its vocabulary and thought is closest to a type of Stoic philosophy, but the work has a thoroughly Jewish cast to it. The reason that is praised is religious reason, reason obedient to the law of God. Here, as with most of the Jewish literature written in Greek, one can see the concern to interpret the meaningfulness of ancestral traditions within a cultural context that was overwhelmingly gentile. The creative vitality with which the Jewish Diaspora met this challenge is reflected in the rich variety of literature it produced.

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