The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL:
THE JEWISH WORLD IN THE DAYS OF CHRIST
THE OLD FAITH PREPARING FOR
DEVELOPMENT OF HELLENIST THEOLOGY: THE APOCRYPHA, ARISTEAS,
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.1
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.2
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,'3
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,4
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.5
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.6
This, then, was an unassailable position to take: contempt poured on heathenism
as such,7 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.8
On the other hand, that sublime work, the 'Wisdom of Solomon,' contains
Platonic and Stoic elements9
- chiefly perhaps the latter - the two occurring side by side. Thus10
'Wisdom,' which is so concretely presented as to be almost hypostatised,11
is first described in the language of Stoicism,12
and afterwards set forth, in that of Platonism,13
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 have14
a Stoical enumeration of the four cardinal virtues, temperance, prudence,
justice, and fortitude, and close by it the Platonic idea of the soul's
and of earth and matter pressing it down.16
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
1. Philo, de Vita Mos. ed. Mangey, ii. p. 140.
the Apocrypha were originally written in Greek, except 1 Macc., Judith, part of
Baruch, probably Tobit, and, of course, the 'Wisdom of Jesus the Son of
3. Comp. x. - xx.
4. It is printed in Havercamp's edition of Josephus, vol. ii. pp. 497-520. The best edition is in Fritzsche, Libri Apocryphi Vet. Test. (Lips. 1871).
5. Comp. for ex. Ecclus. xxiv. 6.
6. ii. 39, 40.
7. Comp. also Jos. Ag. Ap. ii. 34.
8. Comp. 2 Macc. vi. 18 - vii. 41.
9. Ewald (Gesch. d. Volkes Isr., vol. iv. pp. 626-632) has given a glowing
sketch of it. Ewald rightly says that its Grecian elements have been exaggerated;
but Bucher (Lehre vom Logos, pp. 59-62) utterly fails in denying their
10. Ch. vii. 22-27.
especially Wis. Sol. ix. 1; xviii. 14-16, where the idea of soyia passes into that of the logoV. Of course the above remarks are not intended to
depreciate the great value of this book, alike in itself, and in its practical
teaching, in its clear enunciation of a retribution as awaiting man, and in its
important bearing on the New Testament revelation of the logoV.
12. Vv. 22-24.
13. Vv. 25-29.
14. In ch. viii. 7.
15. In vv. 19, 20.
16. ix. 15.
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 'Sepharim 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.17
In this respect they are placed on a very different footing from the so-called Sepharim
Chitsonim, or 'outside books,' which probably included both the products of
a certain class of Jewish Hellenistic literature, and the Siphrey 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.18 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 Sepharim Chitsonim.
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.19
Apocryphal books which have not been preserved to us are mentioned in
Talmudical writings, among them one, 'The roll of the building of the Temple,'
alas, lost to us! Comp. Hamburger, vol. ii. pp. 66-70.
18. Sanh 100.
19. Comp. Siegfried, Philo von Alex. pp. 275-299, who, however, perhaps overstates the matter.
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 philosophers 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 philosophers 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, &c., it became easy to prove almost anything, or
to extract from these philosophical truths ethical principles, and even the
later results of natural science.20
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 method21
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
20. Comp. Siegfried, pp. 9-16; Hartmann, Enge Verb. d. A. Test. mit d. N., pp. 568-572.
21. This is to be carefully distinguished from the typical interpretation and from the mystical - the type being prophetic, the mystery spiritually understood.
to speak of such sounder interpretations as that of the brazen serpent (Wisd.
xvi. 6, 7), and of the Fall (ii. 24), or of the view presented of the early
history of the chosen race in ch. x., we may mention as instances of
allegorical interpretation that of the manna (xvi. 26-28), and of the
high-priestly dress (xviii. 24), to which, no doubt, others might be added. But
I cannot find sufficient evidence of this allegorical method in the Wisdom of
Jesus the Son of Sirach. The reasoning of Hartmann (u. s., pp. 542-547)
seems to me greatly strained. Of the existence of allegorical interpretations
in the Synoptic Gospels, or of any connection with Hellenism, such as Hartmann,
Siegfried, and Loesner (Obs. ad. N.T. e Phil. Alex) put into them, I
cannot, on examination, discover any evidence. Similarity of expressions, or
even of thought, afford no evidence of inward connection. Of the Gospel by St.
John we shall speak in the sequel. In the Pauline Epistles we find, as might be
expected, some allegorical interpretations, chiefly in those to the
Corinthians, perhaps owing to the connection of that church with Apollos. Comp
here 1 Cor. ix. 9; x. 4 (Philo, Quod deter. potiori insid. 31); 2 Cor. iii. 16;
Gal. iv. 21. Of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse we cannot here speak.
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.23
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.24 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.25
23. See p. 25.
similar principle applied to the prohibition of such species as the mouse or
the weasel, not only because they destroyed everything, but because the latter,
from its mode of conceiving and bearing, symbolized listening to evil tales,
and exaggerated, lying, or malicious speech.
25. Of course this method is constantly adopted by Josephus. Comp. for example, Ant. iii. 1. 6; 7. 7.
This was an important line to take, and it differed in
principle from the allegorical method adopted by the Eastern Jews. Not only the
or searches 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,'27
and did not this imply a twofold meaning; nay, could not the Torah be explained
by many different methods?28
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.'29
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,30
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 Eusebius31).
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
26. Or Dorshey Chamuroth, searchers of difficult passages. Zunz. Gottesd. Vortr. p. 323. note b.
27. Ps. lxii. 11; Sanh. 34 a.
seventy languages in which the Law was supposed to have been written below
Mount Ebal (Sotah vii. 5). I cannot help feeling this may in part also refer to
the various modes of interpreting Holy Scripture, and that there is an allusion
to this Shabb. 88 b, where Ps. lxviii. 12. and Jer. xxiii. 29, are
quoted, the latter to show that the word of God is like a hammer that breaks
the rock in a thousand pieces. Comp. Rashi on Gen. xxxiii. 20.
we ought here to point out one of the most important principles of Rabbinism,
which has been almost entirely overlooked in modern criticism of the Talmud. It
is this: that any ordinance, not only of the Divine law, but of the Rabbis,
even though only given for a particular time or occasion, or for a special
reason, remains in full force for all time unless it be expressly recalled
(Betsah 5 b). Thus Maimonides (Sepher ha Mitsv.) declares the law
to extirpate the Canaanites as continuing in its obligations. The inferences as
to the perpetual obligation, not only of the ceremonial law, but of
sacrifices, will be obvious, and their bearing on the Jewish controversy need
not be explained. Comp. Chief Rabbi Holdheim. d. Ceremonial Gesetz in
30. About 160 b.c.
31. Pr�par. Evang. vii. 14. 1 ; vii. 10. 1-17; xiii. 12.
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,32
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-Grecia 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
32. As Val. Kenaer puts it, Daitr. de Aristob. Jud. p. 73.
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
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'3435
of the Advent of the Messiah. Viewed in this light, they embody the ardent aspirations
and the inmost hopes36
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
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, Ruth, 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?
33. 4 Esdras xiv. 44, 46.
34. Rom. xiii. 11.
kairoV of St. Paul seems here
used in exactly the same sense as in later Hebrew Nmz. The Septuagint renders it so in five
passages (Ezr. 5:3; Dan. 4:33; 6:10; 7:22, 25).
36. Of course, it suits Jewish, writers, like Dr. Jost, to deprecate the value of
the Pseudepigrapha. Their ardour of expectancy ill agrees with the modern
theories, which would eliminate, if possible, the Messianic hope from ancient
37. Comp. Dillmann in Herzog's Real-Encykl. vol. xii. p. 301.
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.38
38. For a brief review of the 'Pseudepigraphic Writings,' see Appendix
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
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 lacun�. It was probably
written about the time of Christ - and this gives it a special interest - by a
Palestinian, and in Hebrew, or rather Aram�an. But, like the rest of the
Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature which comes from Palestine, or was
originally written in Hebrew, we posses it no longer in that language, but only
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.