Judean wisdom: Eupolemos on contributions by Abraham and Moses (before the mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judean wisdom: Eupolemos on contributions by Abraham and Moses (before the mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified June 2, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=6272.

Ancient authors: Eupolemos, as summarized by Alexander Polyhistor (mid-first century BCE) and later cited by Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation for the Gospel 9.26.1 (+ Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 23.153.4) and 9.17.2-9 (early fourth century CE) (link to Greek text; link to full transation).

Comments: The fragments of Eupolemos’ work that were cited by Alexander Polyhistor in the mid-first century BCE focus on presenting the Israelite figures Abraham and Moses as the source of knowledge and astrology that was passed on to other civilizations, including Phoenicians, Egyptians and Greeks. In this way, ancestors of Israelites and Judeans are presented as the ultimate wise foreigners. The inherent competition with other ethnic groups who made similar claims of civilizational priority is evident. On Abraham and astrology, it is noteworthy that astrological works attributed to Abraham circulated before Vettius Valens wrote in the mid-second century CE (see Anthologies 2.29-30 [external link]).

dSource of the translation: E.H. Gifford, Eusebius: Preparation for the Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1903), public domain, was used as the base for a new translation by Harland, based the critical edition of the Greek by K. Mras, Eusebius: Die Praeparatio evangelica, 2 vols. (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1954).


Fragment 1, on Moses’ introduction of the alphabet and laws (Eusebius, Preparation 9.26.1 and Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 23.153.4)

That is what Polyhistor states on this subject. Concerning Moses, the same author again presents many things, which are worth hearing: “Eupolemus states that the first wise man was Moses. He was the first to teach the Judeans letters for writing, and the Phoenicians received them from the Judeans, and the Greeks received them from the Phoenicians. Also, Moses was the first to give written laws to the Judeans.”

In his work On the Kings of Judea, Eupolemus says that Moses was the first wise man and the first person to transmit to the Judeans letters for writing, and Phoenicians received them from Judeans, and Greeks received them from Phoenicians.

Fragment sometimes attributed to “Pseudo-Eupolemos,” on Abraham’s introduction of astrological knowledge to Phoenicians and Egyptians (Eusebius, Preparation 9.17.2-9)

In his work on the Judeans, Eupolemus states that the city of Babylon in Assyria was first founded by those who escaped from the flood, and that they were giants and built the tower renowned in history. But when the tower had been destroyed by the act of God, the giants were dispersed over the whole earth. He states that in the tenth generation, Abraham, who surpassed all men in nobility and wisdom, was born in Camarina, a city of Babylonia, which some others say was the city Uria (which means the city of the Chaldeans) but in the thirteenth generation. Abraham was also the inventor of astrology and Chaldaean wisdom, and pleased God well by his enthusiasm for piety.

Because of God’s commands, this man came and settled in Phoenicia, and pleased their king by teaching the Phoenicians the movements of the sun and moon and everything like that. Afterwards the Armenians invaded the Phoenicians and, when they had been victorious and had taken his nephew prisoner, Abraham came to the rescue with his household-slaves, prevailed over the captors, and made prisoners of the wives and children of the enemies. When ambassadors came to Abraham asking if he would ransom them for money, he did not choose to trample on the unfortunate but returned the ones he had captured, taking only food for his young men. He was also received as a guest by the city in the temple Argarizin (Gerizim), which means “Mountain of the Most High,” and received gifts from Melchizedek, who was the king and the priest of God.

But when a famine struck, Abraham moved to Egypt with his whole household and settled there. The king of Egypt married Abraham’s wife, since Abraham said that she was his sister. Eupolemos also related fully that the king was unable to have intercourse with her, and that his people and his household were perishing. After he had called for the diviners (manteis), they said that the woman was not a widow. So the king of Egypt learned that she was Abraham’s wife, and gave her back to her husband.

Abraham lived with the Egyptian priests in Heliopolis and taught them many things. It was Abraham who introduced astrology and other similar things to them, saying that the Babylonians and himself had found these things out, but Abraham traced the first discovery back to Enoch. Abraham was saying that Enoch, and not the Egyptians, had first invented astrology. For the Babylonians say that the first man was Belos, who is Kronos; that Belos had the sons Belos and Canaan; and, that this Canaan had the ancestor of the Phoenicians, whose son was Kush (who is called “Asbolos” [literally “Sooty”] by the Greeks). Kush was the ancestor of the Ethiopians [i.e. literally burnt-skinned ones] and a brother of Mestraim, the ancestor of the Egyptians. Now the Greeks say that Atlas invented astrology, but this Atlas is the same as Enoch. The son of Enoch was Methuselah, who learned all things from angels of God, and this is the way knowledge came to us.

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