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The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature

The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period

Bezalel Bar-Kochva
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 632
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  • Book Info
    The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature
    Book Description:

    This landmark contribution to ongoing debates about perceptions of the Jews in antiquity examines the attitudes of Greek writers of the Hellenistic period toward the Jewish people. Among the leading Greek intellectuals who devoted special attention to the Jews were Theophrastus (the successor of Aristotle), Hecataeus of Abdera (the father of "scientific" ethnography), and Apollonius Molon (probably the greatest rhetorician of the Hellenistic world). Bezalel Bar-Kochva examines the references of these writers and others to the Jews in light of their literary output and personal background; their religious, social, and political views; their literary and stylistic methods; ethnographic stereotypes current at the time; and more.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94363-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    B. B.
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Ever since the triumph of Christianity, Jews have drawn much more attention in Western civilization than have most other ethnic groups, as a result of both their central place in the Christian tradition and their dispersal among nations. It is no wonder, then, that opinions about the Jews—whether expressed by Jews or by Gentiles—have rarely been objective or disinterested. The personal circumstances of scholars and current trends of thought and feelings concerning Jews and Judaism have also influenced research in the field of history. The well-known controversy between Theodor Mommsen and Heinrich Graetz, in nineteenth-century Germany, as to...


    • 1 Theophrastus on Jewish Sacrificial Practices and the Jews as a Community of Philosophers
      (pp. 15-39)

      Theophrastus was the first of the four Greek authors of the early Hellenistic period to write on the Jews.¹ He was born in Eresus on the island of Lesbos in the late seventies of the fourth century b.c.e., and was to spend some decades of his life in the company of Aristotle, first in Assos on the northwest coast of Asia Minor, then in the Macedonian court at Stagira in Chalcidice, and finally in Athens. When Aristotle died in 322, Theophrastus was left as head of the Peripatetic school in Athens, and he lived on there, apart from two years...

    • 2 Aristotle, the Learned Jew, and the Indian Kalanoi in Clearchus
      (pp. 40-89)

      InContra Apionem1. 177–82, Josephus offers a fragment and a testimonium from a passage about the Jews in a work by Clearchus of Soli, a Peripatetic author and one of Aristotle’s pupils, who flourished at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. The passage, taken from Clearchus’s lost workOn Sleep, described an interesting meeting between an intellectual Jew and Aristotle while the great Greek philosopher was staying in Asia Minor (347–345 b.c.e.). The passage included details concerning the origin of the Jews, their abode, and the particular qualities of the Jew who met Aristotle.

      Clearchus provides the...

    • 3 The Jewish Ethnographic Excursus by Hecataeus of Abdera
      (pp. 90-135)

      The first Greek author to leave us a relatively extensive description of the Jewish people is Hecataeus of Abdera. The description, included in an excursus worked into his monumental ethnographic work on Egypt, constituted a mini-ethnography on the Jewish people and is one of the most detailed surviving accounts on Jews and Judaism in Greek and Roman literature. Its position as the first Jewish ethnography, coupled with the fame of the Egyptian ethnography of which it was a part, and the reputation of Hecataeus as a trailblazer in the ethnographic genre, all contributed to making it a sort of vulgate...

    • 4 Megasthenes on the “Physics” of the Greeks, Brahmans, and Jews
      (pp. 136-163)

      Alexander’s campaign in India and the subsequent unification under one rule of the lands from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent for various periods during the third century b.c.e. greatly facilitated communication and accessibility between Greece, the Near East, and India. This necessarily led to an exchange of cultural influences. A number of authors and professionals accompanying Alexander on his Indian campaign or who were in the area at the time wrote a great deal about the land of India, its wonders, and the customs of its peoples. Later authors copied from them, with occasional improvements from their own imaginations....

    • 5 Hermippus of Smyrna on Pythagoras, the Jews, and the Thracians
      (pp. 164-205)

      At the head of the passages from Greek literature that Josephus adduces inContra Apionemto support his claim that the Jews were of great antiquity and were always admired by Greek authors, there appears an excerpt from a biography of Pythagoras written by Hermippus of Smyrna. Hermippus, a late third-century b.c.e. Alexandrian scholar and biographer, was for five centuries considered by Greek and Roman authors alike to be a significant and respectable source for the history of the philosophers. Josephus regards the excerpt as evidence for the great influence Jews had on the customs Pythagoras established for his disciples...

    • 6 The Diachronic Libels and Accusations (A): Mnaseas of Patara and the Origins and Development of the Ass Libel
      (pp. 206-250)

      The libel that a statue of an ass was to be found in the Jerusalem Temple (and Jewish onolatry by and large) is considered by scholars (following Josephus) to be one of the three most humiliating charges leveled against the Jews in ancient times (the two others being the leper libel and the blood libel). The present chapter concentrates mainly on the story of the theft of an ass head from the Jewish Temple, adduced by Mnaseas of Patara in Lycia (third–second century b.c.e.), the first Greek author known to have reported the ass libel. I shall attempt below...


    • 7 The Diachronic Libels and Accusations (B): The Seleucid Court Scribe(s) and the Blood Libel
      (pp. 253-279)

      The Hellenistic blood libel against the Jews does not refer to the murder of children, nor, apparently, to the actual drinking of blood or the use of blood for cultic purposes. Such stories, prevalent in the medieval blood libel, were well documented in Greek and Roman ethnographic literature (e.g., Hdt. 3. 11) and were even used by the Jews themselves as a justification for expelling the Canaanites from the Holy Land (Sap. Salmon. 12.5); yet they were not aimed against Jews and indeed were, for much of the Roman period, directed mainly against Christians.¹ This said, the Hellenistic blood libel...

    • 8 Agatharchides of Cnidus on the Sabbath as a Superstition
      (pp. 280-305)

      In three of the previous chapters we have encountered the scholarship of Alexandria in the fields of ethnography, biography, and regional folklore. Agatharchides of Cnidus, the historian who flourished in Alexandria in the mid-second century b.c.e., gives us an insight into yet another field of Alexandrian scholarship. Agatharchides’ talents, personality, and proximity to the Ptolemaic court facilitated his historiographical achievements. Some modern scholars regard him as the best and most eminent of the Alexandrian historians of the third and second centuries b.c.e., quite apart from his remarkable contribution to geographical and ethnographic literature.¹ This actually seems to have been the...

    • 9 The Diachronic Libels and Accusations (C): Lysimachus of Alexandria and the Hostile Accounts of the Exodus
      (pp. 306-337)

      The most detailed description of the Exodus from Egypt that has come down to us from the Hellenistic-Roman period was written by an author named Lysimachus. The account has been preserved in Josephus’sContra Apionem(1. 305–11). Independently of this passage, Josephus includes in the second book ofContra Apionem, in his own shortened formulation, a number of statements—mostly hostile—made by Lysimachus about the Jewish people and about Moses (2. 16, 20, 145, 236). Lysimachus’s description of the Exodus is relatively detailed, and so of considerable value. Yet, despite its many implications for the history of hatred...

    • 10 Posidonius of Apamea (A): The Man and His Writings
      (pp. 338-354)

      Posidonius deserves an introduction considerably more detailed than those devoted to other authors dealt with in this book, both because of the uniqueness of his approach to the Jews and Judaism, along with the number of surviving references, and because of the complexity of questions surrounding his life and writings. This survey concentrates on the question of his dates and origin, important landmarks in his biography, and the contents of some of his works. The celebrated “Posidonian question” will also be considered in general terms. Not all the major problems associated with Posidonius will be discussed here, but only those...

    • 11 Posidonius of Apamea (B): The Jewish Ethnography in Strabo’s Geographica—Mosaic Judaism versus Second Temple Judaism
      (pp. 355-398)

      In the context of the geographical description of the coast of Coile Syria and Phoenicia and of Judaea in Strabo’sGeographica(16. 25–45), there is a mini-ethnography on the Jewish people (35–37). This excursus is the most enthusiastic account of the origin of the Jewish people to have been written by a non-Jewish ancient author. Strabo, a Greek from Asia Minor, flourished in Rome at the time of Augustus, when, in the wake of political and military developments, a number of accusations and libels concerning the origin of the Jews and the Mosaic legacy had already spread to...

    • 12 Posidonius of Apamea (C): Josephus on the Siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus VII Sidetes (132/1 b.c.e.)—Antiochus the Pious and Hyrcanus the Tyrant
      (pp. 399-439)

      In book 13 of hisJewish Antiquities, Josephus describes in relatively great detail the siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus VII Sidetes (paras. 236–47). The account contains unique features not to be found elsewhere in Josephus’s works. A few scholars have already assumed that Josephus’s version is based, directly or indirectly, on Posidonius.¹ Some consider Nicolaus or both Nicolaus and Strabo to be Josephus’s immediate sources.² Others have suggested that Josephus drew on a Jewish source, alone or in addition to Gentile sources.³ The account expresses definite views on the religion and customs of the Jews, and on their ruler...

    • 13 Posidonius of Apamea (D): The Anti-Jewish Libels and Accusations in Diodorus and Apion
      (pp. 440-457)

      We have seen in chapters 11–12 that Posidonius used Moses and Mosaic Judaism to portray his own religious, social, and political ideals. We have also observed that in accordance with his theory of two main periods in the development of civilization he went on to describe the period of decline of Judaism, where first, under the rule of priests, customs crept into Judaism that were based on superstition, leading to a later phase where greedy tyrants gained power and maltreated not only their own people, but also their neighbors. On the other hand, we are in possession of two...

    • 14 The Geographical Description of Jerusalem by Timochares, the Siege, and the Libels
      (pp. 458-468)

      Posidonius of Apamea was not an eyewitness to the events of 132/1 b.c.e. and may not even have been born when the siege took place. Yet his version, however imaginary and tendentious it may have been, abounds in detail. When Posidonius wrote hisHistoriesin Rhodes, forty to fifty years after the siege, he is unlikely to have held personal interviews with eyewitnesses, or based his account on notes from earlier interviews, and he obviously required a written source for his version of the siege. It is now time to attempt to trace his source both for the siege of...

    • 15 The Anti-Jewish Ethnographic Treatise by Apollonius Molon
      (pp. 469-516)

      Apollonius Molon, the celebrated rhetor who was active in Rhodes in the first half of the first century b.c.e., was considered by Josephus to be, along with Apion, the most venomous of Jew haters. In the concluding sentence ofContra Apionem, Josephus expresses his hope that his discussion about the Jewish precepts will suffice to refute the libels of “the Apions and the Molons” (2. 295). What Josephus seems to regard as a refutation of Apollonius Molon would appear to be his detailed description of Jewish customs and faith, including the famous passage on Jewish “theocracy” (2. 165 ff.).¹ The...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 517-524)

    The detailed analysis of Greek authors and their accounts of the Jews obliges us to reject the accepted notion of a consistently linear development in the attitude of Greek authors toward Judaism. That reconstruction assumes a logical, coherent line from admiration at the time of first contacts between Greeks and Jews through a cooling-off period as Greeks learned more about the Jews to extreme hostility with the rupture between Jews and the Greek world following the religious persecutions by Antiochus Epiphanes. The split is said to have exacerbated by the aggressive policy of the Hasmonaean rulers against the centers of...

  10. Appendix: The God of Moses in Strabo
    (pp. 525-542)
    Ivor Ludlam
    (pp. 543-576)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 577-606)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 607-608)