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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

"Joseph and Aseneth" in Greek Literary History: the Case of the "First Novel"

P. 79-105.

The Old Testament apocrypha "Joseph and Aseneth" (J&A) was written (according to "communis opinion") between the second half of the second century BC and the beginning of the second century AD. Sharing Bohak's view that J&A can be regarded as an apology for the schismatic temple of Onias in Egypt, and expanding his argumentation further, I determine its Sitz im Leben not later than the end of the second century BC, which induces the analysis of the chronological paradoxes of  J&A genre identification. J&A was recognized by scholars as a kind of an erotic novel, which emerged in  Alexandria's Jewish community under  Greek strong literary influence. However, it probably preceded any of the Greek novels that survived in totoI return to Braun's idea about romances of the national hero which  appeared  within non-Hellenic communities of the Hellenistic world prior to love stories (Ninus and Semiramis. Sesostris. Nectanebus. Moses, Joseph etc.). J&A was just one of  many stories about Joseph. Dedicated to his unusual marriage mentioned in the Bible, it acquired semblance to what we know as an “erotic novel”. So did J&A author really needed Greek erotic novel to generate his work? The genre identification of J&A depends on the context of the text itself. I assert that it can be safely positioned in the context of the Jewish post-biblical literature for it has its own raison d'être and no influence of Greek literature is really required. J&A language and images often got their explanation through parallel expressions in Greek novels; I demonstrate that their templates are in Septuagint. Then  I compare scenes, images and situations containing significant resemblances in J&A and  with analogous ones in "Chaereas andCallirrhoe" (Ch&C), - such as, the heroines' awakening, a swarm of bees surrounding them, etc. and do not accept from the start that it is J&A rather than Ch&C that was influenced. The similarity is not total, and similar scenes consistently reveal differences of one specific feature: the ceremonial kiss in J&A corresponds to the sentimental one in Ch&C, symbolic "death" of repentance in J&A is mirrored in the false death in Ch&C, Aseneth exclaims: “It was God who visited me!” And she is right. Chaereas exclaims: “It was a Goddess who left me!”, and he is wrong etc. Literary images and everyday life in Ch&C corresponds to the symbolic or sacral reality in J&A. That J&A is a work of sacral character about conversion-marriage and rebirth-transfiguration whereas Chariton's novel is a literary fiction is rather obvious. Though the problem of primacy of the sacral over the fictional cannot be solved in this paper, common sense would admit that reality (even sacral) precedes fiction (even realistic). From J&A, the Greek novel takes over the plot with obstacles to marriage, but discards the their sacral character as irrelevant for polytheistic mentality. This kind of comparison makes the Greek novel more comprehensible, while the attempts to explain J&A via the Greek romance can only point to superficial influence without clarifying the apocrypha's genesis and function.

In book

Edited by: M. P. Futre Pinheiro, J. Perkins, R. Richard Pervo. Barkhuis Publishing, 2012.