Chapter III. The Old Faith Preparing for the New - Development of Hellenist Theology: The Apocrypha, Aristeas, Aristobulus, and the Pseud-Epigraphic Writings.
The translation of the Old Testament into Greek may be regarded as the starting-point of Hellenism. It rendered possible the hope that what in its original form had been confined to the few, might become accessible to the world at large. But much yet remained to be done. If the religion of the Old Testament had been brought near to the Grecian world of thought, the latter had still to be brought near to Judaism. Some intermediate stage must be found; some common ground on which the two might meet; some original kindredness of spirit to which their later divergences might be carried back, and where they might finally be reconciled. As the first attempt in this direction - first in order, if not always in time - we mark the so-called Apocryphal literature, most of which was either written in Greek, or is the product of Hellenising Jews. Its general object was twofold. First, of course, it was apologetic - intended to fill gaps in Jewish history or thought, but especially to strengthen the Jewish mind against attacks from without, and generally to extol the dignity, of Israel. Thus, more withering sarcasm could scarcely be poured on heathenism than in the apocryphal story of ‘Bel and the Dragon,’ or in the so-called ‘Epistle of Jeremy,’ with which the Book of ‘Baruch’ closes. The same strain, only in more lofty tones, resounds through the Book of the ‘Wisdom of Solomon,’ along with the constantly implied contrast between the righteous, or Israel, and sinners or the heathen. But the next object was to show that the deeper and purer thinking of heathenism in its highest Philosophy supported - nay, in some respects, was identical with - the fundamental teaching of the Old Testament. This, of course, was apologetic of the Old Testament, but it also prepared the way for a reconciliation with Greek Philosophy. We notice this especially in the so-called Fourth Book of Maccabees, so long erroneously attributed to Josephus, and in the ‘Wisdom of Solomon.’ The first postulate here would be the acknowledgment of truth among the Gentiles, which was the outcome of Wisdom - and Wisdom was the revelation of God. This seems already implied in so thoroughly Jewish a book as that of Jesus the Son of Sirach. Of course there could be no alliance with Epicureanism, which was at the opposite pole of the Old Testament. But the brilliancy of Plato’s speculations would charm, while the stern self-abnegation of Stoicism would prove almost equally attractive. The one would show why they believed, the other why they lived, as they did. Thus the theology of the Old Testament would find a rational basis in the ontology of Plato, and its ethics in the moral Philosophy of the Stoics. Indeed, this is the very line of argument which Josephus follows in the conclusion of his treatise against Apion. This, then, was an unassailable position to take: contempt poured on heathenism as such, and a rational Philosophical basis for Judaism. They were not deep, only acute thinkers, these Alexandrians, and the result of their speculations was a curious Eclecticism, in which Platonism and Stoicism are found, often heterogeneously, side by side. Thus, without further details, it may be said that the Fourth Book of Maccabees is a Jewish Stoical treatise on the Stoical theme of ‘the supremacy of reason’ - the proposition, stated at the outset, that ‘pious reason bears absolute sway over the passions,’ being illustrated by the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar, and of the mother and her seven sons. On the other hand, that sublime work, the ‘Wisdom of Solomon,’ contains Platonic and Stoic elements - chiefly perhaps the latter - the two occurring side by side. Thus ‘Wisdom,’ which is so concretely presented as to be almost hypostatised, is first described in the language of Stoicism, and afterwards set forth, in that of Platonism, as ‘the breath of the power of God,’ as ‘a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness.’ Similarly, we have a Stoical enumeration of the four cardinal virtues, temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude, and close by it the Platonic idea of the soul’s pre-existence, and of earth and matter pressing it down. How such views would point in the direction of the need of a perfect revelation from on high, as in the Bible, and of its rational possibility, need scarcely be shown.
But how did Eastern Judaism bear itself towards this Apocryphal literature? We find it described by a term which seems to correspond to our ‘Apocrypha,’ as sep̱arim genuzim, ‘hidden books,’ i.e., either such whose origin was hidden, or, more likely, books withdrawn from common or congregational use. Although they were, of course, carefully distinguished from the canonical Scriptures, as not being sacred, their use was not only allowed, but many of them are quoted in Talmudical writings. In this respect they are placed on a very different footing from the so-called sep̱arim ḥiṣonim, or ‘outside books,’ which probably included both the products of a certain class of Jewish Hellenistic literature, and the sip̱rē minim, or writings of the heretics. Against these Rabbinism can scarcely find terms of sufficient violence, even debarring from share in the world to come those who read them. This, not only because they were used in controversy, but because their secret influence on orthodox Judaism was dreaded. For similar reasons, later Judaism forbade the use of the Apocrypha in the same manner as that of the sep̱arim ḥiṣonim. But their influence had already made itself felt. The Apocrypha, the more greedily perused, not only for their glorification of Judaism, but that they were, so to speak, doubtful reading, which yet afforded a glimpse into that forbidden Greek world, opened the way for other Hellenistic literature, of which unacknowledged but frequent traces occur in Talmudical writings.
To those who thus sought to weld Grecian thought with Hebrew revelation, two objects would naturally present themselves. They must try to connect their Greek philsophers with the Bible, and they must find beneath the letter of Scripture a deeper meaning, which would accord with philosophic truth. So far as the text of Scripture was concerned, they had a method ready to hand. The Stoic philsophers had busied themselves in finding a deeper allegorical meaning, especially in the writings of Homer. By applying it to mythical stories, or to the popular beliefs, and by tracing the supposed symbolical meaning of names, numbers, etc., it became easy to prove almost anything or to extract from these philosophical truths ethical principles, and even the later results of natural science. Such a process was peculiarly pleasing to the imagination, and the results alike astounding and satisfactory, since as they could not be proved, so neither could they be disproved. This allegorical method was the welcome key by which the Hellenists might unlock the hidden treasury of Scripture. In point of fact, we find it applied so early as in the ‘Wisdom of Solomon.’
But as yet Hellenism had scarcely left the domain of sober interpretation. It is otherwise in the letter of the Pseudo-Aristeas, to which reference has already been made. Here the wildest symbolism is put into the mouth of the High-Priest Eleazar, to convince Aristeas and his fellow-ambassador that the Mosaic ordinances concerning food had not only a political reason - to keep Israel separate from impious nations - and a sanitary one, but chiefly a mystical meaning. The birds allowed for food were all tame and pure, and they fed on corn or vegetable products, the opposite being the case with those forbidden. The first lesson which this was intended to teach was, that Israel must be just, and not seek to obtain aught from others by violence; but, so to speak, imitate the habits of those birds which were allowed them. The next lesson would be, that each must learn to govern his passions and inclinations. Similarly, the direction about cloven hoofs pointed to the need of making separation - that is, between good and evil; and that about chewing the cud to the need of remembering, viz. God and His will. In such manner, according to Aristeas, did the High Priest go through the catalogue of things forbidden, and of animals to be sacrificed, showing from their ‘hidden meaning’ the majesty and sanctity of the Law.
This was an important line to take, and it differed in principle from the allegorical method adopted by the Eastern Jews. Not only the doršē rešumot, or searchers out of the subtleties of Scripture, of their indications, but even the ordinary Haggadist employed, indeed, allegoric interpretations. Thereby Akiba vindicated for the ‘Song of Songs’ its place in the Canon. Did not Scripture say: ‘One thing spake God, twofold is what I heard,’ and did not this imply a twofold meaning; nay, could not the Torah be explained by many different methods? What, for example, was the water which Israel sought in the wilderness, or the bread and raiment which Jacob asked in Bethel, but the Torah and the dignity which it conferred? But in all these, and innumerable similar instances, the allegorical interpretation was only an application of Scripture for homiletical purposes, not a searching into a rationale beneath, such as that of the Hellenists. The latter the Rabbis would have utterly repudiated, on their express principle that ‘Scripture goes not beyond its plain meaning.’ They sternly insisted, that we ought not to search into the ulterior object and rationale of a law, but simply obey it. But it was this very rationale of the Law which the Alexandrians sought to find under its letter. It was in this sense that Aristobulus, a Hellenist Jew of Alexandria, sought to explain Scripture. Only a fragment of his work, which seems to have been a Commentary on the Pentateuch, dedicated to King Ptolemy (Philometor), has been preserved to us (by Clement of Alexandria, and by Eusebius). According to Clement of Alexandria, his aim was, ‘to bring the Peripatetic Philosophy out of the law of Moses, and out of the other prophets.’ Thus, when we read that God stood, it meant the stable order of the world; that He created the world in six days, the orderly succession of time; the rest of the Sabbath, the preservation of what was created. And in such manner could the whole system of Aristotle be found in the Bible. But how was this to be accounted for? Of course, the Bible had not learned from Aristotle, but he and all the other Philosophers had learned from the Bible. Thus, according to Aristobulus, Pythagoras, Plato, and all the other sages had really learned from Moses, and the broken rays found in their writings were united in all their glory in the Torah
It was a tempting path on which to enter, and one on which there was no standing still. It only remained to give fixedness to the allegorical method by reducing it to certain principles, or canons of criticism, and to form the heterogeneous mass of Grecian Philosophemes and Jewish theologumena into a compact, if not homogeneous system. This was the work of Philo of Alexandria, born about 20 b.c. It concerns us not here to inquire what were the intermediate links between Aristobulus and Philo. Another and more important point claims our attention. If ancient Greek Philosophy knew the teaching of Moses, where was the historic evidence for it? If such did not exist, it must somehow be invented. Orpheus was a name which had always lent itself to literary fraud, and so Aristobulus boldly produces (whether of his own or of others’ making) a number of spurious citations from Hesiod, Homer, Linus, but especially from Orpheus, all Biblical and Jewish in their cast. Aristobulus was neither the first nor the last to commit such fraud. The Jewish Sibyl boldly, and, as we shall see, successfully personated the heathen oracles. And this opens, generally, quite a vista of Jewish-Grecian literature. In the second, and even in the third century before Christ, there were Hellenist historians, such as Eupolemus, Artapanus, Demetrius, and Aristeas; tragic and epic poets, such as Ezekiel, Pseudo- Philo, and Theodotus, who, after the manner of the ancient classical writers, but for their own purposes, described certain periods of Jewish history, or sang of such themes as the Exodus, Jerusalem, or the rape of Dinah.
The mention of these spurious quotations naturally leads us to another class of spurious literature, which, although not Hellenistic, has many elements in common with it, and, even when originating with Palestinian Jews is not Palestinian, nor yet has been preserved in its language. We allude to what are known as the Pseudepigraphic, or Pseudonymic Writings, so called because, with one exception, they bear false names of authorship. It is difficult to arrange them otherwise than chronologically - and even here the greatest difference of opinions prevails. Their general character (with one exception) may be described as anti-heathen, perhaps missionary, but chiefly as Apocalyptic. They are attempts at taking up the key-note struck in the prophecies of Daniel; rather, we should say, to lift the veil only partially raised by him, and to point - alike as concerned Israel, and the kingdoms of the world - to the past, the present, and the future, in the light of the Kingship of the Messiah. Here, if anywhere, we might expect to find traces of New Testament teaching; and yet, side by side with frequent similarity of form, the greatest difference - we had almost said contrast - in spirit, prevails.
Many of these works must have perished. In one of the latest of them they are put down at seventy, probably a round number, having reference to the supposed number of the nations of the earth, or to every possible mode of interpreting Scripture. They are described as intended for ‘the wise among the people,’ probably those whom St. Paul, in the Christian sense, designates as ‘knowing the time, of the Advent of the Messiah. Viewed in this light, they embody the ardent, aspirations and the inmost hopes of those who longed for the ‘consolation of Israel,’ as they understood it. Nor should we judge their personations of authorship according to our Western ideas Pseudonymic writings were common in that age and a Jew might perhaps plead that, even in the Old Testament, books had been headed by names which confessedly were not those of their authors (such as Samuel, Ru, Esther). If those inspired poets who sang in the spirit, and echoed the strains, of Asaph, adopted that designation, and the sons of Korah preferred to be known by that title, might not they, who could no longer claim the authority of inspiration seek attention for their utterances by adopting the names of those in whose spirit they professed to write?
The most interesting as well as the oldest of these books are those known as the Book of Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, the Psalter of Solomon, and the Book of Jubilees, or Little Genesis. Only the briefest notice of them can here find a place.
The Book of Enoch, the oldest parts of which date a century and a half before Christ, comes to us from Palestine. It professes to be a vision vouchsafed to that Patriarch, and tells of the fall of the Angels and its consequences, and of what he saw and heard in his rapt journeys through heaven and earth. Of deepest, though often sad, interest, is what it says of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the advent of Messiah and His Kingdom, and of the last things.
On the other hand, the Sibylline Oracles, of which the oldest portions date from about 160 b.c., come to us from Egypt. It is to the latter only that we here refer. Their most interesting parts are also the most characteristic. In them the ancient heathen myths of the first ages of man are welded together with Old Testament notices, while the heathen Theogony is recast in a Jewish mould. Thus Noah becomes Uranos, Shem Saturn, Ham Titan, and Japheth Japetus. Similarly, we have fragments of ancient heathen oracles, so to speak, recast in a Jewish edition. The strangest circumstance is, that the utterances of this Judaising and Jewish Sibyl seem to have passed as the oracles of the ancient Erythraean, which had predicted the fall of Troy, and as those of the Sibyl of Cumae, which, in the infancy of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus had deposited in the Capitol.
The collection of eighteen hymns known as the Psalter of Solomon dates from more than half a century before our era. No doubt the original was Hebrew, though they breathe a somewhat Hellenistic spirit. They express ardent Messianic aspirations, and a firm faith in the Resurrection, and in eternal rewards and punishments.
Different in character from the preceding works is The Book of Jubilees - so called from its chronological arrangement into ‘Jubilee-periods’ - or ‘Little Genesis.’ It is chiefly a kind of legendary supplement to the Book of Genesis, intended to explain some of its historic difficulties, and to fill up its historic lacunae. It was probably written about the time of Christ - and this gives it a special interest - by a Palestinian, and in Hebrew, or rather Aramaean. But, like the rest of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature which comes from Palestine, or was originally written in Hebrew, we possess it no longer in that language, but only in translation.
If from this brief review of Hellenist and Pseudepigraphic literature we turn to take a retrospect, we can scarcely fail to perceive, on the one hand, the development of the old, and on the other the preparation for the new - in other words, the grand expectancy awakened, and the grand preparation made. One step only remained to complete what Hellenism had already begun. That completion came through one who, although himself untouched by the Gospel, perhaps more than any other prepared alike his co-religionists the Jews, and his countrymen the Greeks, for the new teaching, which, indeed, was presented by many of its early advocates in the forms which they had learned from him. That man was Philo the Jew, of Alexandria.