Aristobulus and Cleodemus Malchus


by Mary Kathryn Jauregui

[Mary Jauregui is a third-year undergraduate in the M.Theol. program at the University of St. Andrews.–JRD]

The Jewish historian Aristobulus represents one of the first major figures in the tradition of Jewish Hellenistic exegetes. The fragments of Aristobulus delineate an apologetic, didactic work that sought to demonstrate to both conservative Jewish intellectuals and the Hellenised world the Greek dependence and derivation of Peripatetic philosophy on the Law. Written in the form of a dialogue, the work was originally addressed to king Ptolemy VI Philometer and has been dated from 175-170 BCE.

There are five existing fragments of the work of Aristobulus, which are preserved in the works of Clement, Anatolius, and Eusebius. The prescript to a letter from Palestinean Jews to Egyptian Jews in 2 Macc 1.10 is the earliest biblical reference to a Jewish figure named Aristobulus. The prescript identifies him as a member of a priestly family, a teacher of Ptolemy (unspecified) the king, and links him to the Jews in Egypt. Although the Ptolemy to which the prescript refers is unnamed, readers are expected to identify Philometer (181-145) from the context of the letter and the text of 2 Maccabees. The testimony of 2 Maccabees/ Clement/ Eusebius can be seen to represent one independent tradition. The account of Anatolius, bishop of Laodicea, represents a second independent tradition. Like his counterparts, Anatolius identifies Aristobulus as the eminent Jewish author of ‘commentaries on the Law of Moses’ which were dedicated to a king Ptolemy. However, his testimony diverges from the first in the following ways:

1) Anatolius dates Aristobulus earlier than Philo and Josephus.
2) He links him with the translation of the LXX under the auspices of Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphus. By doing so he indicates that the work is dedicated to these kings rather than to Philometer, as both Clement and Eusebius claim.
3) Aristobulus is designated the role of LXX translator rather than Peripatetic philosopher.
4) Anatolius fails to mention his priestly status.
5) He fails to mention Aristobulus’ allegorical approach to scripture, focusing instead on his astronomical observations relating to Passover.

The scholars Hody and Simon began a tradition of scepticism, beginning in the 17th century, which sought to disprove the authenticity of the work of Aristobulus. They claimed that the account of the origins of the LXX as presented by The Epistle of Aristeas was unreliable. The reliability of this assumption rested on the belief that an independent tradition had been previously cited by Aristobulus. Hody and his followers attempted to prove that Aristobulus was later than Aristeas and that his account only perpetuated the fantastic story of the LXX origins. Against this claim stands Walter, whose work represents the most decisive case for authenticity. He argues, among other points, that Aristobulus stands at the beginning of a long line of tradition of Jewish Alexandrian exegesis.

Cleodemus Malchus was a Hellenistic historian who flourished around the second century BCE. There exists only one fragment of his work, and it is exists in two separate forms. This fragment is cited by Eusebius, who cites from Josephus, who in turn cites from Alexander Polyhistor. Cleodemus is given the title of prophet and is reported to have written a work on the history of the Jews. Scholarly debate has focused on the following:

1) Cleodemus’ identity: what are the ethnic origins and meaning of his surname, Malchus?
2) The meaning of the appellation ‘prophet.’
3) The blending of pagan mythological traditions with biblical traditions as reflected in the fragment.

The text of Cleodemus consists of an elaboration on the genealogical description of Abraham’s descendents. The work represents an attempt to link the history and people of Africa and Assyria to Abraham.

(c) 1999
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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