[XTalk] Re: Joseph and Asenath
- (Frank McCoy-Initial Statement
<< Judging by what Burchard states (Ibid., p. 103),
the oldest manuscript evidence for it dates to the
century and consists of a Greek fragment and a Latin
digest. There is considerable later manuscript
evidence: which can be divided into a number of
textual traditions. These manuscripts are in Greek,
Latin, Syrian, Aremenian, and Serbo-Slavonic. >>
does the evidence suddenly explode into view (for
which there may be multiple explainations of course,
but one may be that it was new or suddenly
well-known) or are the first evidences more evenly
spread chronologically, as in, from its normal
underground obscurity, a peek here, a peek there?
I do not know the answer.
<< There are still some scholars who take it to be a
Christian work. However, most scholars take it to be
a Jewish work written sometime between 100 BCE and 138
CE. Burchard (p. 104) states, "Most scholars would
agree nowadays that JosAs was written in Greek in the
Egyptian Diaspora no later than Hadrian (117-138) or
more probably Trajan (98-117), and not earlier than
100 B.C. >>
How do they now figure that? Are there a couple or
more evident puns that would fit only Egyptian koine?
Are there terms whose cultural geographical
isobars fit only here?
I have not read any of the detailed analyses of the
various texts and languages to see why Greek has been
chosen by most scholars as being the original
language. My knowledge of languages and of textual
criticism techniques is inadquate for me to properly
evaluate such analyses.
There certainly are some cultural geographical isobars
that give JosAs an Egyptian environment and, more
specifically, an Alexandrian envioronment.
For example, I have found evidence that the author of
JosAs not only knew that Asenath, as a daughter of a
priest of Heliopolis, would have worshipped Ra, but
had considerable information regarding the Ra cult.
This is a key point because, by the beginning of the
CE period, Heliopolis was a ghost town and its
priests had moved to Alexandria. In The Gods of the
Egyptians (Vol. I, p. 332), E.A. Wallis Budge states,
"During the period of the Persian invasion the
prosperity of the priesthood of Heliopolis declined,
and it is said that later, during the reign of Ptolemy
II (B.C. 285-247) many of its members found an asylum
at Alexandria, where their tradition for learning
caused them to be welcomed....Some time, however,
before the Christian era, the temple buildings were in
ruins, and the glory of Heliopolis had departed, and
it was frequented only by those who went there to
carry away sone or anything which would be useful in
building or farming operations."
So, this evidence that the author of JosAs was quite
knowledgeable regarding the belief system of the Ra
cult indicates a sitz im leben of Alexandria.
Further, it indicates a date of writing that is
earlier than the triumph of Christianity in Egypt and
the suppression of the various Pagan religions there.
Here is an outline of some (but hardly all) of the
evidence that the author of JosAs was quite
knowledgeable regarding the belief system of the Ra
According to it,t Ra was the first god, with one of
his titles being that of Father of the Gods. So, in
Egyptian Mythology (p. 41), Veronica Ions relates, "Ra
was called 'father of the gods' and their head or
In addition, according to it, Ra could be worshipped
as a lion and even kept some lions at the temple in
Heliopolis. Budge (Ibid, Vol. 2, pp. 359-60) states,
"The cult of the LION was also very ancient in Egypt,
and it seems to have been tolerably widespread in
early dynastic times; the animal was worshipped on
account of his great strength and courage, and was
usually assuociated with the Sun-god, Horus or
Ra,...AElian mentions (xii. 7) that liions were kept
in the temple at Heliopolis,..".
Now, let us turn to JosAs (XII), where Asenath, upon
converting to the religion of Joseph, cries out to
God, "For lo! the ancient and savage and cruel lion
pursueth me, for that he is father of the gods of the
Egyptians, and the gods of the idol-maniacs are his
children, and I have come to hate them, and I made
away with them, because they are a lion's children,
and I cast away all the gods of the Egyptians from me
and i did them away, and the lion, or their father,
the devil, in wrath against me is trying to swallow me
Here, she is pictured as identifying the Devil with
Ra--who, according to his followers, is the supreme
god, is the father of the gods, and can be worshipped
as a lion. This tells us that the author of JosAs had
been knowledgeable regarding the belief system of the
Helopolian priests and knew that, as the daughter of a
Heliopolian priest, Asenath would have been raised to
be a worshipper of Ra.
Notice that this identification of Ra with the Devil
leads to a very unusual image of the Devil--which is
that of a "savage and cruel lion" who pursues and
tries to swallow up hapless souls.
This is an important point because this highly unusual
image of the Devil is found in I Peter 5:8, "Be sober,
be watchful. Your adversary the Devil prowls around
like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." So,
ISTM, it is likely that the author of this epistle
had read JosAs.
<< Third, in JosAs, virginity is revered and it is
linked to the number seven. So (II), we read, "And
remaining seven chambers the seven virgins who
ministered to Asenath occuped, each one having one
With all the hassle about virginity here, and in
relation to the LXX Isaiah virgin, you'd think we
thought virgins were as hard to come by in those times
as in our own, but here's seven of them together. Of
course, the likelihood of its having a relation to our
Joe/Mary because they're both virgins is less with
every virgin, being that in that case there'd be a lot
of Joes with virgins at that time, assuming Joseph is
a common name.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no allusion to
the LXX Isaiah virgin in JosAs. Certainly, in it,
once Asenath is married to Joseph, they have sex and
this is how she conceived and gave birth to her
I seriously doubt that your assumption that few first
century CE Jewish females kept their virginity until
they were betrothed. Do you have any evidence to back
Where did you get the idea that Joseph was a virgin
before his marraige to Mary?
Now, just as, in JosAs, the virgin Asenath had seven
virgins who ministered to her, so, in at least one
early Christian tradition, the virgin Mary had seven
virgins who ministered to her. See The Gospel of Mary
6:7, "But the Virgin of the Lord, Mary, with seven
other virgins of the same age, who had been weaned at
the same time, and who had been appointed to attend
her by the (high) priest, returned to her parents'
house in Galilee."
The parallel is even more remarkable in that, in each
case, all eight virgins are of the same age. So, just
as the seven virgins who ministered to the virgin Mary
were of the same age as her, so the seven viirgins who
ministered to the virgin Asenath were of the same age
as her. See JosAs II, "For that they were of the same
age, born on the same night with Asenath, and she
loved them much".
What I suspect is that this legend of the virgin Mary
having seven virgins, of the same age as her,
ministering to her arose among early Christians who
had read JosAs and, so, knew of its account of the
virgin Asenath having seven virgins, of the same age
as her, ministering to her.
Fourth, in JosAs Asenath (XIII) declares to God, "Lo!
I have also, Master, been fasting seven days and seven
nights and neither ate bread nor drank water." This
reminds us of the Therapeutae, whose cult meals
consisted of bread and water. Further, they were
zealous fasters who didn't eat or drink between dawn
and dusk--with the most zealous fasting for days at a
Hold on. Here, Asenath fasts and has bread and water
only, which is probably a starvation diet for someone
not used to it, but for the Therapeutae this was a
normal thing? I don't have the text; does the context
seem that she's trying to fit in because of this, or
is she implying that she has gone above and beyond?
(and also, please send me an url for this text?)
Her statement apparently assumes that a normal meal
consists of bread and water. This appears to reflect
a Therapeutic influence. See Cont. (97), "Still they
eat nothing costly, only common bread with salt for a
relish flavoured further by the daintier with hyssop,
and their drink is spring water. For as nature has
set hunger and thirst as mistresses over mortal kind
they propitiate them without using anything to curry
favour but only such things as are actually needed and
without which life cannot be maintained."
What Philo says seems to imply, ISTM, that a
Therapeute's normal meal consisted only of bread and
water. However, since he says this in the context of
discussing their cult meal of bread and water and
since he ends his statement by emphasising that they
had a simple diet, I do not think that, this means,
they never had anything other than bread and water.
<< Fifth, in JosAs, Asenath (XI) turns to the east at
dawn to pray to God, "When the dawn came and the birds
were already chirping and the dogs barking at
passers-by, >> masterful narrative touch, this <<
Asenath...rose up from the wall where she was sitting,
and raised heself upon her knees towards the east and
directed her eyes toward heaven and opened her mouth
and said to God...". Similarly, the Therapeutae
prayed to the east at the time of the dawning sun.
See Cont (89), where, Philo states, "They stand with
their faces and whole body turned to the east and when
they see the sun rising they stretch their hands up to
heaven and pray...".>>
This strikes a chord - doesn't Justin imply the same
dawn behavior for the xians of his time?
Can you cite the relevant passage? I'm not aware of
<< If this is a Therapeutic work, then it probably
dates to later than 20 BCE (for the sect was
founded one or two generations before Philo visited
them) but earlier than 60 CE (for this sect appears to
have died out soon after Philo's death c. 50 CE). >>
(This is fun) Why do they figure they died out
instead of becoming less popular (than however popular
they were) and going underground? I always thought
that this was a very obscure cult but actually never
really focussed on it very much to see what other
evidence exists, or how far the common evidence in
some NT intros would imply.
Sure, they *might* have gone underground. However,
that they disappear from history about the time that
Christianity spread to Egypt leads me to suspect that
they died out because most of them became Christians.
The survival of some ot their ascetic practices in
some circles of early Egyptian Christian monasticism
(e.g., a diet mainly of bread seasoned with salt,
abstention from wine, and multi-day fasting) supports
this idea. Indeed, the word monasterion appears from
the first time in Therapeutic thought--where it was
used to describe a sacred room in which a Therapeutae
would study and mediate in solitude. Likely, then,
this word (from which are derived such English words
as "monastary" and "monastic") was invented by the
<< Further, Eusebius believed, the Therapeutae had
been true Apostolic Christians converted by Mark--a
siginificant point if, as some evidence indicates, the
very Christian-like JosAs is a Therapeutic work.
Above all, this raises questions as to what degree
what became Christianity had been influenced by the
Therapeutae and Therapeutic thought. >>
I'd have to know more about Eusebius's sources on this
to think it significant that he thought this.
See The History of the Church (Book 2, sects. 16-17).
Basically, what Eusebius argues is that many of the
practices of the Therapeutae described by Philo are
uniquely Christian practices. Since he believed that
Mark was the first to evangelize Egypt, and that he
did so while Philo was still alive (he has Mark dying,
in Alexandria, in 62 CE) this leads him to conclude
that the Therapeutae were people converted to
Christianity by Mark. His closing sentence reads,
"Anyone who is anxious to gain precise knowledge of
these things can learn them from Philo's account:
anyone can see that when he wrote it he had in mind
the first preachers of the gospel teaching and the
customs handed down by the apostles from the
Of course, there are also many practices of the
Therapeutae that are clearly pre-Christian Jewish and
Eusebius did recognize this. This is his explanation,
"And again, when he (i.e., Philo) describes the life
of our ascetics with the greatest precision, it is
plain enought that he not only knew but welcomed with
whole-hearted approval the apostolic men of his day,
who it seems were of Hebrew stock and therefore, in
the Jewish manner, still retained most of their
Barbara Thiering, a member of the Jesus Seminar,
engages in what I deem to be overly-speculative
thinking in Jesus & the Riddle of the Dead Sea
Scrolls, but she just might be right in seeing the
Therapeutae as being intimately connected to the
movement that became Christianity. >>
I've heard that name before (but never linked her with
the JSem). what else did she write?
Well, for one thing, according to her, the Therapeutae
were in control of Qumran c. 5 BCE and Joseph allied
himself with them. She states (p. 55), "Joseph,
returning to visit his family in March, 5 BC, joined
in the protest. In this mood he allied not with the
Palestinian Essenes who followed his father, but with
the Therapeutae, the Egyptian ascetics who now
controlled Qumran. While they occupied the
settlement, Qumran was 'Egypt', and Joseph with them
was 'Joseph in Egypt', evoking the Old Testament
story....The head of Therapeutae at this time was a
man called Theudas. As Diaspora Essenes of his kind
and village Essenes were similar in discipline, Joseph
formed an alliance with him. The two, in warrior
mode, gave themselves titles drawn from an Old
Testament verse: the Star (Joseph, Star of David) and
the Sceptre (Theudas)....Herod now had even more
reason for pursuing Joseph and his family. Joseph
knew that both he and his child were in danger, and he
again asked for direction from his priestly superior,
the 'angel'. He was told: 'Flee into Egypt'. Qumran,
'Egypt' while the Therapeutae were there, was a
suitable place to hide."
This Theudas, she claims, also was one of Jesus'
disciples and, in addition, was Barabbas. She states,
(p. 81), "Thaddeus of the twelve apostles was in fact
Theudas, in a variant of his name. The former
Prodigal Son, he was now much older, remaining head of
the Therapeutae,..His primary association, however,
was with the tetrarch Antipas, who saved him, as
Barabbas, from crucifixion."
I strongly recommend you read it. It's a new and
radical paradigm that she proposes. I think that it
is incorrect. But, in several places in her book,
what she said actually made sense to me and I am now
re-thinking a couple of basic assumptions I have had
regarding early first century CE Judaism.
1809 N. English Apt. 17
Maplewood, MN USA 55109
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