Libyans, Assyrians and Arabians: Kleodemos and Josephos on Abraham and Keturah’s descendants and their many colonies (second or first century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Libyans, Assyrians and Arabians: Kleodemos and Josephos on Abraham and Keturah’s descendants and their many colonies (second or first century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 29, 2023,

Ancient authors: Kleodemos Malchos (first century BCE or earlier), Inquiries on Judeans, as summarized by Alexander Polyhistor and cited by Josephos, Judean Antiquities 1.238-241 (link). Cf. Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 9.20.2-4, citing the same passage in Josephos (link; link to Greek).

Comments: This fascinating yet confusing (especially on varied name spellings) little passage in Josephos based on the obscure Kleodemos (or: Cleodemus) claims Abraham as father of many specific peoples via his wife (after Sarah’s death), Keturah. Earlier in his narrative, Josephos himself had an extensive interpretation of the so called “table of nations” in Genesis in connection with the Babel story (link). There Josephos transforms this material into a story of colonization with numerous known peoples of his own time viewed as descendants of figures in the Hebrew Bible. So our passage in this post supplements that in a strange way.

Josephos begins by stating that Keturah’s offspring sent out colonies to the western shore of the Red Sea into the area also associated with “Cave-dwellers” (Troglodytes – link) and to the eastern shore in the area occupied by various Arabian peoples in Josephos’ time. Also implied by the presence of Asshurim is the origin of the Assyrians, of course. Then Josephos claims that Libyans or Africans are also descendants of Abraham and Keturah (in part due to the sound of some of the names, it seems). This is when Josephos cites the confusing passage by Kleodemos (as summarized by Polyhistor), an author about which we know nothing but what we’ve got here.

Kleodemos claims Assyrians as descendants of Abraham as well. More emphatically, however, he goes into some detail regarding Libyan or African colonization. Kleodemos does so in a way that also appropriates well-known Greek stories of Herakles’ campaigns in Libya (link to Diodoros’ account), bringing the hero Herakles himself into the family of Abraham.

Works consulted: J.J. Collins, Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000 [1983]), 51-52 (link).

Source of translation: H.S.J. Thackeray and R. Marcus, Josephus, volumes 1-7; LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1926-43), public domain (Thackeray passed away in 1930, Marcus passed away in 1956, and copyright not renewed), adapted by Harland.

[Josephos’ comments on colonization by the descendants of Abraham and Keturah]

Abraham afterwards [after the death of Sarah] married Keturah (Katura), with whom he had six sons, strong to labour and quick of understanding, namely: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Zembranes, Jazares, Madanes, Madianes, Lousoubakos, and Souos [in the Greek]).

These sons also had families: Shuah had Sheba and Dedan (Sabakines and Dadanes), from whom came Asshurim, Letushim and Leummim (Latousimos, Assuris, and Lououris); and, Medan had Ephah, Epher, Anochos, Abida and Eldaah (Ephas, Eophren, Anochos, Ebidas, and Eldas).

Abraham planned to send all these sons and grandsons out to found colonies, and they took possession of Troglodytis [territory of the Cave-dwellers on the west-central shore of the Red Sea, modern Sudan and Eritrea] and that part of Arabia Felix which extends to the Erythraian sea [i.e the equivalent of modern Saudia Arabia, Yemen and Oman] .

Moreover, it is said that this Epher led a campaign against Libya and occupied it and that his grandsons settled there and called the land after his name “Africa.” I have a witness to this statement in Alexander Polyhistor, whose words are as follows:

[Josephos’ reference to Polyhistor’s citation of Kleodemos on further colonization]

“In his Inquiries on Judeans, Kleodemos (or: Cleodemus) the prophet, also called Malchos, relates that – just as their lawgiver Moses records – Abraham had several sons by Keturah. He also says their names, mentioning three: Apheras, Sures, and Japhras. He adds that Sures gave his name to Assyria, and the two others, Japhras and Apheras, gave their names to the city of Aphra [or: Ephra, in some manuscripts] and the country of Africa. In fact, he adds, these latter joined Herakles in his campaign against Libya and Antaios. Herakles, who married the daughter of Aphranes [likely a misspelling of one of the other similarly spelled names], had with her a son Didoros, who had a son named Sophon, from whom the Sophakian barbarians take their name.”

. . . [omitted narrative as Josephos returns to the story of Isaac and Rebecca, following the Genesis narrative].

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *