BMCR 1997.12.09

1997.12.09, Pseudo-Hecataeus, “On the Jews”. Legitimizing the Jewish Diaspora. Hellenistic Culture and Society xxi

, Pseudo-Hecataeus, On the Jews : legitimizing the Jewish diaspora. Hellenistic culture and society ; 21. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. 1 online resource (xii, 396 pages) : illustrations, maps.. ISBN 9780585087054. $55.00.

The late lamented Menahem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (3 vols., Jerusalem 1974-84) provides an invaluable tool for the assessment of ancient Judaism in its classical context. Like all the best works of its sort, it gives birth, or at least acts as midwife, to a host of new studies. No doubt the book under review is one of the most important and thorough of these. A main conclusion from a survey of all the available evidence suggests that, contrary to the opinion of most of later antiquity, the early Hellenistic encounters with the Jews produced a favourable impression. Among the central characters in this period pride of place belongs to Hecataeus of Abdera, a writer of ethnographic and other studies. It is not doubted even by professional doubters that the account in Diodorus xl, preserved in Photius, is an abbreviated paraphrase of Hecataeus’ relation of Jewish origins and customs, which formed an excursus of his work on Egypt. On the other hand, the extensive passages in Josephus, contra Apionem, ascribed to Hecataeus’On the Jews, have been the subject of lengthy and sometimes embittered controversies in modern scholarship. (In fact, for whatever it is worth, the authenticity of the work had been doubted already by Herennius Philo in the second century.) The present study is the latest, and perhaps most extensive, work discussing (Pseudo)-Hecataeus; it is also most ambitious in attempting to date the author and to assign him to a definite political and cultural milieu. Moreover, B(ar-Kochva) does not easily succumb to fashions: though scholars have judged the work each by his own lights, it may be observed that Jewish scholars on the whole tended to support its authenticity (sometimes in a modified form, viz. assuming an adaptation by Josephus, or an earlier Jewish writer, of his source material), while gentiles, and especially those not sympathetic to Judaism, like Willrich, came down more often than not on the side of those denying the ascription to Hecataeus. It may also be remarked that our age seems to react against what appears to many a hypercritical stance and is more readily inclined than previous generations to accept ancient attributions of texts. B. sides firmly with those who see in the book the work of a Jewish forger.

The book starts with an analysis of the genuine Hecataeus preserved in Diodorus/Photius and arrives at the conclusion that, far from being an idealized account, ‘the excursus is, by and large, an interpretatio Graca of Jewish history and life’ (43). Next, after the passages in contra Apionem, accompanied by a literal translation, comes the first focus of the study, ‘The Question of Authenticity’ (ch. iii, pp.54-121). An analysis of the Mosollamus story, presented as an eye-witness account by Hecataeus, firmly concludes that its author was not acquainted with Greek augural lore and that its entire stance cannot be harmonized with what we know about the genuine Hecataeus, or, in fact, any educated Greek writer. Next, an analysis of the story of Hezekiah the High Priest, who is said to have migrated to Egypt (which should be read together with the Appendix on the Hezekiah coins, coauthored with the numismatist A. Kindler), identifies Hezekiah with the last governor of Persian Palestine still active in the generation of Alexander and the Successors, who may well have been banished to Egypt by Ptolemy I in 302/1. Other arguments against authenticity include Jewish attitudes to persecution and martyrdom, implausible before the age of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the positive attitude to the destruction of pagan temples and altars, utterly unimaginable in a Greek author like Hecataeus. Finally B., best known for his studies of Hellenistic armies and of the battles of Judas Maccabaeus, takes exception to geographical and political data in the text, including the passage in Book ii of contra Apionem, which attributes to Alexander the Great the annexation of Samaria to Judaea: the anachronisms are, in B.’s view, too blatant and too numerous to be accepted even as an adaptation by Josephus or an earlier Jewish writer.

Having thus disposed of the ascription to Hecataeus, it remains to reveal the true date, authorship and purpose of the work. B.’s solutions are firm and unequivocal. An analysis of the anachronisms suggests 107, or rather 103/2 as the terminus post quem and 96-93 as the terminus ante quem, just a few years after the Letter of Aristeas, dated in a separate Appendix between the years 116 or 118 and 113. The author is an Egyptian Jew, according to B. of a moderately conservative persuasion, ‘not a “Hellenistic Jew” in the strict sense’ (181), whose purpose it was ‘to legitimize and justify Jewish residence in Egypt’ (246); thus his intended readers were Jews rather than Greeks—contrary to many earlier advocates of a pseudonymous work B. does not classify it as apologetic. In this, as in the dating, B. sees a close connexion with Pseudo-Aristeas, works intended for internal rather than external consumption. ‘The treatise attended to the basic facts and concerns of Egyptian Jewry and the Hasmonean state from the viewpoint of a conservative Diaspora Jew’ (252); this amounts to the ‘oldest extant evaluation of the secular [sic!] national role of the Jewish Diaspora’ (ibid.).

This is a detailed and persuasively argued monograph of impeccable scholarship. The main exception one wishes to take is that it suffers, from the point of view of methodology, from an excessive dose of optimism, especially perhaps in dealing with argumenta e silentio, a special case of the belief in the philological method even when data are scanty. This is evident, e.g., in chapter vi, ‘The Framework, Literary Genre, Structure and Contents’. At issue is a book-length monograph by an Alexandrian Jewish writer; even if relatively short, it could have been hardly less than the equivalent of twenty-five pages or so of printed Greek text. The surviving fragments—not all of them in direct speech—amount to 10-15% of this, about a quarter of it taken up by the Mosollamus-anecdote. B. professes not only to know what the book contained and its structure, but also what was not included in it. Though the method, starting with a discussion of the literary genre, is sound, it should be kept in mind that in fact we do not possess even one example of an entire ethnographic monograph and that we are compelled to deduce from fragments and excursuses to the fragments of Pseudo-Hecataeus; and secondly, the rules of genres apply far less rigidly for works of prose than in poetry. Take a sentence like this: ‘Hezekiah being the only Jewish leader mentioned, the story could not be part of a section on rulers’ histories either’ (220) against the above-mentioned background to get a fairly typical example of B.’s optimism. Nor is one easily convinced that we do know as much about the internal ideological divisions of Alexandrian Jewry as this study professes to know. The cautious reader will be impressed with the scholarship and the acuteness of the argument, but will not necessarily be convinced by all its conclusions.