Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity

Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity: Third Maccabees in Its Cultural Context

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 271
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity
    Book Description:

    In this thoughtful and penetrating study, Sara Raup Johnson investigates the creation of historical fictions in a wide range of Hellenistic Jewish texts. Surveying so-called Jewish novels, including theLetter of Aristeas,2 Maccabees, Esther, Daniel, Judith, Tobit, Josephus's account of Alexander's visit to Jerusalem and of the Tobiads, Artapanus, andJoseph and Aseneth,she demonstrates that the use of historical fiction in these texts does not constitute a uniform genre. Instead it cuts across all boundaries of language, provenance, genre, and even purpose. Johnson argues that each author uses historical fiction to construct a particular model of Hellenistic Jewish identity through the reinvention of the past. The models of identity differ, but all seek to explore relations between Jews and the wider non-Jewish world. The author goes on to present a focal in-depth analysis of one text, Third Maccabees. Maintaining that this is a late Hellenistic, not a Roman, work Johnson traces important themes in Third Maccabees within a broader literary context. She evaluates the evidence for the authorship, audience, and purpose of the work and analyzes the historicity of the persecution described in the narrative. Illustrating how the author reinvents history in order to construct his own model for life in the diaspora, Johnson weighs the attitudes and stances, from defiance to assimilation, of this crucial period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92843-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)

    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 1-8)

      Scholarship in recent years has tended increasingly to lump a large number of quasi-fictional Jewish—and, indeed, non-Jewish—texts into the vague category “romance” or “novel.” But this attempt to categorize all the so-called Jewish romances or novels as members of a single genre is both circular and ultimately quite unhelpful. How, then, must we understand the relationship of Jewish historical fictions to one another and to the spectrum of ancient fiction more generally? How do we decide what texts belong under this heading? Is it sensible to assign 3 Maccabees to some larger category, such as historical romance or...

    • 1 Jews at Court
      (pp. 9-55)

      Any study of Jewish texts that purport to be historical while yet exhibiting significant historical anomalies must begin with seven that have survived as independent, self-contained narratives in or associated with the manuscripts of the Septuagint. All purport to give an authentic account of some incident in Jewish history, yet are so compounded with elements of the fantastic that the basic historicity of the events they report has been generally rejected. These texts include four composed originally in Hebrew or Aramaic and later translated into Greek—Esther, Daniel, Judith, and Tobit—and three analogous texts originally composed in Greek, the...

    • 2 Josephus
      (pp. 56-93)

      Josephus preserves in hisJewish Antiquitiesa number of remarkable tales that deserve consideration here, the most notable of them his account of Alexander and the Jews, and the so-called Tales of the Tobiads. These stories, like the texts considered in Chapter 1, treat the relations of the Jews with their foreign rulers, specifically with their Greek rulers, as in 3 Maccabees, theLetter of Aristeas,and 2 Maccabees. Because these tales have not survived as independent texts but have been incorporated into Josephus’s narrative, they present unique problems for our discussion.

      Josephus set out to give a complete history...

    • 3 Patriarchal Fictions
      (pp. 94-120)

      Thus far we have surveyed a wide variety of Jewish fictions about the past, ranging from self-contained fictional narratives like Esther and Judith to fictions embedded in larger works, such as those found in Daniel, 2 Maccabees, and Josephus’sJewish Antiquities.While the fictions found in Josephus in particular required special handling because of the problems of transmission involved, all the fictions treated so far have in common a setting in the relatively recent past, either in the Hellenistic period, with a primarily Greek cultural context (3 Maccabees, theLetter of Aristeas,2 Maccabees, Alexander, the Tobiads), or in an...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 121-128)

      In Part 1, we explored a wide variety of Jewish fictions: 3 Maccabees (in passing),the Letter of Aristeas,2 Maccabees, Esther, Daniel, Judith, Tobit, the tales of Alexander and the Tobiads embedded in the narrative of Josephus, the fragments of Artapanus, andJoseph and Aseneth.Those texts signifi-cantly differ one from another in many respects. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more mixed assortment. Some were composed originally in Greek—3 Maccabees, theLetter of Aristeas,2 Maccabees, Artapanus,Joseph and Aseneth,and, most likely, the sources of the tales taken over by Josephus. Others—Esther, Daniel, Judith,...

    • 4 Date, Literary Context, Authorship, and Audience
      (pp. 129-181)

      The curious historical distortions that abound in Jewish fictions are in no way random but are deliberately employed for rhetorical purposes. In 3 Maccabees we will explore in depth the setting, author, audience, and intent of the text before turning to examine how the author has manipulated history to support his purpose. Third Maccabees has often been misunderstood. Because it recounts a persecution (albeit one miraculously averted at the last moment), it has been seen primarily as a confrontational text rejecting assimilation and interaction with gentiles. I believe, on the contrary, that the author aims to define to what extent...

    • 5 Historicity and Historical Ambivalence
      (pp. 182-216)

      Perhaps the most vexed questions surrounding 3 Maccabees regard the relationship of the text to the factual events of the Hellenistic period. The story takes place under the reign of a known historical figure, Ptolemy IV Philopator (r. 221–204 B.C.E.), and the author has gone to some trouble to supply historical details and official documents to add to the verisimilitude of his setting. We have, however, no independent evidence of a persecution such as he reports taking place in the reign of Philopator; indeed, we do not even have independent evidence suggesting that Philopator was in any way hostile...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-224)

    This study set out to understand the apparently paradoxical juxtaposition of history and fiction, combining historical verisimilitude with a remarkable disregard for historical accuracy, characteristic of a wide variety of Jewish Hellenistic texts. In 3 Maccabees, we have examined one possible model for how and why history and fiction were so combined. Third Maccabees, a late Hellenistic text often seen as confrontational, was not designed to encourage the Jews of Alexandria to separate themselves from their fundamentally hostile surroundings, for all its awareness that confrontation could occur. On the contrary, through the fictional story of a persecution happily averted, it...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-238)
  9. Index
    (pp. 239-254)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-257)