Josephus Walks a Fine Line, Sword of the Evil One, Baal the Mediator, Big Government Fills the Void

1.  In Josephus and His Interpreters, Louis Feldman discusses how Josephus tries to present biblical characters as exemplary in terms of Greco-Roman virtues.  Josephus portrays them as physically attractive, wise and precocious in their youth, and militarily adept.  But he doesn’t go too far in lauding the “militarily adept” attribute, for he doesn’t want his Roman audience to think that the Jews are out to overthrow their Roman oppressors.  That’s why he doesn’t applaud Hezekiah’s rebellion against the Assyrians.  So there were cases in which Josephus was walking a fine line.  But there were also times when his agenda of making the biblical characters into Greco-Roman heroes meshed with his goal of appeasing the political sensitivities of his Roman audience.  For example, Greco-Roman philosophy valued being modest and temperate, so Josephus tried to present the Jewish people as such, notwithstanding the few hotheaded Jewish rebels who sought to overthrow Roman rule in first century C.E. Jerusalem.

Josephus also tended to give credit to the biblical characters for their wise decisions and good moves, when the Hebrew Bible glorified God for those things.

2.  In Psalms III: 101-150, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 144.  In his translation of v 10, the Psalmist asks God to deliver him from the sword of the evil one.  I’m not entirely clear about Dahood’s interpretation of that.  He seems to say that Death has a sword, while also acknowledging that the “evil one” takes concrete form in the people out to kill the Psalmist, in this case, the foreigners.

I read all of Dahood’s introductions and his comments that I’m required to read for my comprehensive exams.  So I’m done with Dahood.  It’s been fun!

3.  I finished Theodore Mullen’s Assembly of the Gods while I was enjoying the nice spring weather.  Remember when Job wished that he had a mediator between himself and God—an attorney, or umpire, if you will?  Mullen ties this with Baal’s function as a mediator between certain human beings and El, the high God of the pantheon.  Mullen cites examples of Baal interceding with El so that childless men could have sons.  So we not only see the cultural context of the mediating god (whom Job may or may not have understood as Baal—Job doesn’t exactly say); we also encounter a motif in Ugaritic literature that frequently appears in the Hebrew Bible: that of a childless person getting a child.

4.  On page 112 of A History of Education in Antiquity, H.I. Marrou discusses the “absence of state schools” in Hellenistic culture.  He says that the state supported the ephebia and the gymnasia, which were for adults (see Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 5, Threatened and Threatening Infant, Date of Psalm 132, Ea Thinks the Flood Was Too Drastic, Hellenistic Education).  But generous private benefactors supported the “more elementary schools.”  And they must have done so pretty generously, for the elementary schools were the most inclusive in that many could benefit from them, whereas few completed the educational process after that point.  And many people desired to be known as benefactors, for it was a title of honor.

But, at some point, such generosity declined.  Eventually, patriotism and a desire for fame did not move “an impoverished bourgeoisie” to support the schools.  Consequently, Marrou narrates, the Roman Empire “was obliged to introduce coercive measures to combat this shirking of municipal responsibility,” and that “set the Roman world on the road to the totalitarianism of the Late Empire.”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Greco-Roman, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.