Judeans: Hekataios, pseudo-Hekataios and Diodoros on Judean origins and migration with the exodus (first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans: Hekataios, pseudo-Hekataios and Diodoros on Judean origins and migration with the exodus (first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 28, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=14053.

Ancient authors: Hekataios of Abdera (late fourth century BCE) and/or pseudo-Hekataios, as discussed in Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE), Library of History 1.28; 1.55; and, 34/35.1 and 40.3 (link), as summarized by Photios (ninth century CE), Library, codex 244, 379b-381a.

Comments: There are three main places where Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE) turns to the Judeans (Jews) as a people in connection with migration and origins (including alternative exodus accounts). In the midst of his account of Egyptians in the time of pharaoh Sesoosis (Sesostris / Senwosret) in book one, Diodoros or his source proposes that the campaigns of that pharaoh resulted in the dissemination of Egyptian customs to a variety of peoples. (Often the source is thought to be Hekataios / Hecataeus, even though Hekataios is only mentioned by name once in 1.46.8). Once again this is a story of Egyptian priority in the development of civilization, with the need for migration to found colonies or to influence other less-civilized peoples.

The second and third sections with details about Judeans occur in the now fragmentary books (34/35 and 40), which come down to us by way of Photios’ ninth century summaries or citations of Diodoros. It is Photios that groups together these two passages that upset him; the two passages would have been separated in Diodoros’ own work.

In the first of these incidents reported by Photios, Diodoros was dealing with Antiochos VII Sidetes’ siege of Jerusalem. Diodoros has Sidetes’ friends offering reports about supposed origins of Judeans and about earlier incidents with Antiochos Epiphanes. Here it is characters in the story that are said to know about legends of Judean origins and practices, and the alternative exodus story told by these “friends” seems to align with negative tales like those in other Egyptian authors, including Manetho and Chairemon (link).

In the second passage reported by Photios, Diodoros gives a more detailed account of Judean origins likewise involving migration from Egypt. Diodoros draws on a less negative and, in some respects, quite positive account in Hekataios, or perhaps a pseudo-Hekataios. In this case it is foreigners settled in Egypt (including Moses and those who accompanied him) that engage in the migration in the wake of a pandemic. But this account of a pandemic as the basis of the departure (exodus) differs considerably from other accounts that may align with Sidetes’ “friends” and other negative Egyptian exodus stories (on which, again, see this link).

Diodoros positions this ethnographic passage as an aside just before his description of Pompey’s campaign in Judea (63 BCE). Photios states expressly that Diodoros claimed to derive this story of Judean origins from Hekataios (although Photios – or is it Diorodos? or a copyist of either? – mixes up his Hekataioses, referring to Hekataios of Miletos (sixth century BCE) instead of Hekataios of Abdera (late fourth century BCE).

This digression attributed to Hekataios (ca. 300 BCE) combines somewhat positive characterizations of Moses and the Judean people with neutral or somewhat negative statements. Yet, if really drawn from Hekataios, it is also the earliest negative caricature of the Judean people as a whole as anti-social haters of foreigners or misanthropists. While some scholars feel that this account does derive from Hekataios himself (see Berthelot), Schwartz has outlined problems with that and proposes that this (like another passage attributed to Hekataios by Josephos – link) seems to come from a pseudonymous work of the first century BCE (which, nonetheless, Diodoros believed was by Hekataios). There are various factors here, but one notable thing is that the material attributed (by scholars) to Hekataios regarding Egyptian migration in book one seems quite different than the account of migration and Judean involvement attributed to Hekataios (by Diodoros himself) in book forty. But what a modern scholar might consider “inconsistencies” are also common in ancient sources generally, of course. Regardless of what source Diodoros uses, we are still gaining insight into how a Greek author in the mid-first century BCE (i.e. Diodoros) might choose to portray Judeans.

Works consulted: K. Berthelot, “Hecataeus of Abdera and Jewish ‘Misanthropy,’” Bulletin du Centre de Recherche Français à Jérusalem 19 (2008) (link); D.R. Schwartz, “Diodorus 40.3: Hecataeus or Pseudo-Hecataeus,” in Jews and Gentiles in the Holy Land in the Days of the Second Temple, the Mishnah, and the Talmud, ed. M. Mor (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2003), 181–97 (link).


[Sesoosis’ / Sesostris’ campaigns and the dissemination of Egyptian ways, involving Judeans]

(1.28, sometimes thought to be drawing on Hekataios based on 1.46.8) Now the Egyptians say that also after these events [Isis’ and Osiris’ sharing of key civilizational discoveries to Egyptians] a great number of colonies (apoikia) were spread from Egypt over all the inhabited world. To Babylon, for instance, colonists were led by Belos, who was held to be the son of Poseidon and Libya. After establishing himself on the Euphrates river he appointed priests, called Chaldeans by the Babylonians, who were exempt from taxation and free from every kind of civic service, as are the priests of Egypt. They also make observations of the stars, following the example of the Egyptian priests, physicists, and astrologers.

They also say that those who set forth with Danaos, likewise from Egypt, settled what is practically the oldest city in Greece, namely Argos. They say that the people (ethnos) of the Kolchians in Pontos [east of the Black Sea] and the people of the Judeans situated between Arabia and Syria were founded as colonies by certain emigrants from their country. This is the reason why it is a long-established institution among these two peoples to circumcise their male children, the custom having been brought over from Egypt. . . . [link to the full Egyptian account by Diodoros].

[Reference again to Sesostris and the dissemination of Egyptian ways, involving Judeans]

. . . (1.55.4-5) For he [pharaoh Sesoosis / Sesostris / Senwosret] even passed over the river Ganges and visited all of India as far as the ocean, as well as the tribes of the Scythians as far as the river Tanais, which divides Europe from Asia. It was at this time, they say, that some of the Egyptians, having been left behind near the lake Maiotis [Sea of Azov], founded the people (ethnos) of the Kolchians [east of the Black Sea in the Caucasus area]. (5) They offer proof of the Egyptian origin of this people by pointing to the fact that the Kolchians practise circumcision like the Egyptians do, the custom continuing among the colonists sent out from Egypt as it also did in the case of the Judeans.


[Antiochos VII Sidetes hears negative stories about Moses and the exodus during a siege of Jerusalem]

(34/35.1, as summarized by Photios, Library, codex , 379b) Diodoros says that:

When king Antiochos [VII Sidetes] was laying siege to Jerusalem [134 BCE], the Judeans withstood for some time. But when all their supplies were exhausted, they found themselves forced to send embassies for ending hostilities. Now the majority of his friends advised the king to take the city and to completely destroy the descent group (genos) of the Judeans, since they alone of all peoples (ethnē) did not socialize with any other people and looked upon everyone as enemies. They also pointed out that the ancestors of the Judeans had been driven out of Egypt as impious and detested by the gods. But, since they had white or leprous marks on their bodies, for the sake of purification they were thrown out as though under a curse, assembling together beyond the frontier [cf. the exodus account of Manetho and others – link]. Those sent beyond the frontier took over territory around Jerusalem. After organizing the people (ethnos) of the Judeans, they made it a tradition to have hatred towards humanity. Because of this, they introduced completely strange laws: to not eat meals with any other people and to not show them any good will whatsoever.

His friends also reminded Antiochos about the hatred his ancestors had towards this people. For Antiochos, called Epiphanes, on subjugating the Judeans had entered the innermost precinct of the god, where it was only lawful for the priest to enter [ca. 170 BCE]. Finding a marble statue there of a heavily bearded man with a book in his hands and seated on an ass, he assumed it was an image of Moses, the founder of Jerusalem and organizer of the people, the man who had framed for the Judeans customs concerning hatred toward humanity and a lawless way of life. Since Epiphanes was shocked by such hatred towards all peoples, he was striving to destroy their customs. For this reason he sacrificed a large wild pig in front of the image of the founder and the open-air altar of the god, and poured its blood over them. Then, having prepared its flesh, he ordered that their holy books, containing the laws about hating foreigners, should be sprinkled with the broth of the meat; that the lamp, which they call eternal and which burns continually in the temple, should be extinguished; and, that the high priest and the rest of the Judeans should be forcibly fed the meat.

Going through this in detail, the friends of Antiochos [Sidetes in 134 BCE] called on him most of all to destroy the descent group (genos) completely or, failing that, to abolish their customs and force them to change their ways. But the king, being generous and mild-mannered, took hostages but dismissed the charges against the Judeans, once he had obtained the tribute that was owed and had removed the walls of Jerusalem.

[Photios’ assessment]

These are the things that Diodoros reports about Mosaic customs and laws, but also speaking falsely about the foundation of Jerusalem and the Judeans’ departure (exodos) from Egypt. He himself was, so to speak, carefully avoiding refutation of the lie by attributing to other figures this account of lies, adding to them the friends of Antiochos. He also writes about the Judeans in the fortieth book of the same Library as follows:

[Origins of the Judeans and the exodus, drawing on either Hekataios or pseudo-Hekataios]

(40.3, as summarized in Photios, Library, codex 244, 380a-381a) Now that we are about to describe the war against the Judeans [ca. 63 BCE, under Pompey], we consider it appropriate to first provide a summary account of the establishment of the people (ethnos) from the beginning and the customs among them:

[Disease in Egypt]

When a disease arose in Egypt in ancient times, the populace ascribed their troubles to a spiritual power because, in fact, their own ancestral honours for the gods had been neglected as a result of many foreigners of all kinds living among them and practising different sacred rites and sacrifices. So the natives of the land interpreted this to mean that their troubles would never be resolved unless they removed the foreigners. Therefore, they banished the different peoples right away.

[Migration and Moses establishment of a society at Jerusalem]

The most outstanding and active among those banished gathered together and, as some say, went to Greece and some other places. Their leaders were notable men, chief among them being Danaos and Kadmos. But the majority were driven into what is now called Judea, which is not far away from Egypt and was completely uninhabited at the time. The colony was headed by a man named Moses, who was distinguished for both his practical wisdom and his courage. On taking possession of the land he founded, besides other cities, one that is now the most famous of all, called Jerusalem. In addition he established the temple that is honoured most by them, instituted their honours and ritual, drew up their laws and ordered their communal organization (politeia). He also divided them into twelve tribes (phylai), because this number is considered most perfect and corresponds to the number of months that make up a year. But he had no statue of deities made for them, being of the opinion that the god is not in human form. Rather the heaven that surrounds the earth alone is god and rules the universe.

[Supposed anti-social and foreigner-hating form of life]

The sacrifices that he established differ from those of other peoples (ethnē), as does their way of living. This is because, as a result of their own expulsion from Egypt, Moses introduced a sort of anti-social (apanthrõpos) and foreigner-hating (misoxenos) mode of life. He picked out the men of most refinement and with the greatest ability to lead the entire people, and appointed them priests. He arranged for them to occupy themselves with the temple, the honours for the god, and the sacrifices. These same men he appointed to be judges in all major disputes, and entrusted to the protection of the laws and customs to them.

[Leadership among Judeans and societal arrangements]

For this reason the Judeans never have a king, and authority over the populace is regularly granted to whichever priest is considered superior to his colleagues in practical wisdom and excellence. They call this man the high priest, and believe that he acts as a messenger to them of the god’s commandments. They say that the high priest announces what is to be accomplished in their assemblies and other gatherings. The Judeans are so compliant in such matters that they immediately fall to the ground and prostrate themselves to the high priest when he interprets these things. At the end of their laws there is even added the statement: These are what Moses has heard from the god and says to the Judeans.

The one who established their law was also careful to provide for military actions, and required the young men to practice manliness, steadfastness, and, generally, the endurance of every difficult experience. He engaged in military campaigns against neighbouring peoples (ethnē). After taking much land, he apportioned it out by assigning equal plots to the common people and larger plots to the priests, in order that the priests, on receiving more ample income, might be free from distractions and continually attend to honours for the god. The common people were forbidden to sell their individual plots in case some others tried to buy them up out of greed and, by oppressing those without resources, bring on a shortage of men for labour. He required those who lived in the land to raise their children, and since offspring could be cared for at little cost, the Judeans were from the start a populous people. Regarding marriage and the burial of the dead, he ensured that their customs would largely differ from those of other people. However, later on many of their ancestral practices were changed when they became subject to foreign rule – both the Persians and the Macedonians who overthrew the Persians – which resulted in their mixing with people of other tribes (allophyloi).

[Photios’ assessment]

This is what Diodoros says here about customs and laws among Judeans, their departure from Egypt, and the divine Moses. He was mostly lying. Once again avoiding refutations of his falsification of the truth, he concocts a retreat for himself by attributing his narrative to someone else. For he adds: “Concerning the Judeans, Hekataios of Miletos [Abdera, not Miletos, is intended] has recorded these things.”


Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (copyright not renewed, passed away in 1954), adapted by Harland. Book thirty-four/thirty-five and forty translated by Harland in consultation with the Loeb translation.

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