Babylonian diasporas: Josephos and other Judeans on legends of migration from Babel (first-second centuries CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Babylonian diasporas: Josephos and other Judeans on legends of migration from Babel (first-second centuries CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 31, 2024,

Ancient authors: Genesis 9-11; Josephos (late first century CE), Judean Antiquities 1.109-139, 143-154 (link); Pseudo-Philo (first century CE), Biblical Antiquities 6-7 (link); Hebrew version of the Testament of Naphtali 8-10 (link); Sibylline Oracles 8.1-16 (late second century CE) (link to Greek).

Comments: Within an Israelite or Judean context, the biblical story of the tower of Babel combined with the genealogies (or the so-called “table of nations”) which surround it provided further opportunities for engaging the diversity of peoples in the Hellenistic and Roman periods and addressing questions about ancient migration. The account in Genesis itself (also included below for comparison) already has a focus on explaining the origins of various peoples with differing languages. This provides the seed for later adaptations and expansions. The biblical narrative has southern Babylonia (Babel linked to Shinar = Sumer) as the site from which all peoples disperse, so this also continues to be a legend of Babylonian migrations. Citing and expanding one’s own ancestral writings (here Israelite or Judean writings) as supposedly reliable and authoritative information regarding the peoples of the world could be, simultaneously, an intervention in ethnic competition in order to claim the superiority of one’s own legends and people.

The ethnographic development of the Babel story is most plain and extensive in a long passage from Josephos’ Judean Antiquities (below). Josephos accounts for virtually every people a Greek or Roman might be able to think of – from Iberians in the far west to Indians and Serians in the far east and from Scythians in the north to Ethiopians in the south. He does so through an interpretation and expansion of the biblical account (with some tricks around etymology and usually coincidental phonetic similarities). There is a sense in which one can imagine this account as an attempted replacement for all Greek ethnographic writing.  One need go no further than ancient Judean writings, and Josephos’ authoritative interpretation of them, to understand all peoples everywhere, he implies to his Greek-speaking audience.

While Josephos is most systematic in his ethnographic expansions, other accounts nonetheless take a similar approach in attempting to explain current differences among peoples. So, for instance, the author (“Pseudo-Philo”) of a work on Biblical Antiquities (first century CE) takes a story of linguistic diversification and dispersion and adds in an episode about writing names (of gods) on bricks (and Abram’s refusal to do so) in order to explain why different peoples have different gods. Similarly, the Hebrew version of the Testament of Naphtali (medieval but likely based on a version of the late Hellenistic era) incorporates an additional tale about seventy angels. Each angel introduces not only one of the seventy languages but also (perhaps accidentally) one of seventy gods (i.e. the angels are the gods or mistaken for gods). Writing in the late second century CE, the author of the eighth Sibylline Oracle, like Josephos but far more briefly, has the Babel situation as the explanation for a series of subsequent dominant peoples from Egyptians and Persians to Macedonians and, worst of all, Italians. In all cases, these Judean or Israelite authors are actively engaging questions of ethnic diversity, ethnic competition, and colonial power in their own times.

While the Book of Jubilees (mid-second century BCE), which is not presented here, does expound on the descendants of, and territory allottments for, Noah’s sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth (building on Genesis 10), as well as a brief notice about Babel, that narrative is not nearly as focussed on explaining the origins of peoples in comparison with Josephos (see Jubilees 8-10 – link). This brings into further relief Josephos’ ethnographic disposition in his interpretation of biblical materials.

Later on, authors in circles devoted to Jesus, such as Hippolytos of Rome and Epiphanios of Salamis, would continue such ethnographic approaches to the Genesis account of Noah and the tower of Babel in connection with enumerating contemporary peoples of their own times (link).

Works consulted: Sabrina Inowlocki, “Josephus’ Rewriting of the Babel Narrative (Gen. 11:1-9),” JSJ 37 (2006): 169–91 (link).

This post is part of the Biblical peoples redux series:

  • Descendents of Noah’s sons Shem, Japheth and Ham in Josephos and Pseudo-Philo (link)
  • Ishmaelites (Arabians) in Jubilees, Molon and Josephos (link)
  • Edomites (Idumeans) in Josephos (link)
  • Amalekites in Josephos and Philo (link)
  • Canaanites (Phoenicians) in Jubilees (link) and in Wisdom of Solomon (link)
  • Kushites (Ethiopians) in Artapanos, Josephos and others (link)
  • Midianites and Moabites (Arabians) in Philo and Josephos (link)
  • Chutheans or Samaritans in Josephos (link) and in biographies of Jesus / gospels (link)


Genesis 10-12 (trans. World English Bible, adapted)

10 Now this is the history of the generations of the sons of Noah and of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood. The sons of Japheth were: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer were: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan were: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. (5) Of these were the islands of the peoples divided in their lands, everyone after his language, after their families, in their peoples.  The sons of Ham were: Kush (or: Cush), Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Kush were: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah were: Sheba and Dedan. Kush became the father of Nimrod. He began to be a powerful one in the earth. He was a powerful hunter before Yahweh. Therefore it is said, “like Nimrod, a powerful hunter before Yahweh.” (10) The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar [i.e. Sumer in southern Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf]. Out of that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and the great city Calah. Mizraim became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (which the Philistines descended from), and Caphtorim. (15) Canaan became the father of Sidon (his firstborn), Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were spread abroad. The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon—as you go toward Gerar—to Gaza—as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim—to Lasha. (20) These are the sons of Ham, after their families, according to their languages, in their lands and their peoples. Children were also born to Shem (the elder brother of Japheth), the father of all the children of Eber. The sons of Shem were: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. The sons of Aram were: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. Arpachshad became the father of Shelah. Shelah became the father of Eber. (25) To Eber were born two sons. The name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided. His brother’s name was Joktan. Joktan became the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan. (30) Their dwelling extended from Mesha, as you go toward Sephar, the mountain of the east. These are the sons of Shem, by their families, according to their languages, lands, and peoples. These are the families of the sons of Noah, by their generations, according to their peoples. The peoples divided from these in the earth after the flood.

11 The whole earth was of one language and of one speech. As they traveled east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar [i.e. Sumer], and they lived there. They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top reaches to the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves, so that we are not scattered abroad [Septuagint: “before being scattered”, suggesting the human characters already know about the plan] on the surface of the whole earth.”

(5) Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do. Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do. Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth. They stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called “Babel,” because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth. From there, Yahweh scattered them abroad on the surface of all the earth.

(10) This is the history of the generations of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old when he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood. Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Arpachshad lived thirty-five years and became the father of Shelah. Arpachshad lived four hundred three years after he became the father of Shelah, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber. (15) Shelah lived four hundred three years after he became the father of Eber, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Eber lived thirty-four years, and became the father of Peleg. Eber lived four hundred thirty years after he became the father of Peleg, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Peleg lived thirty years, and became the father of Reu. Peleg lived two hundred nine years after he became the father of Reu, and became the father of more sons and daughters. (20) Reu lived thirty-two years, and became the father of Serug. Reu lived two hundred seven years after he became the father of Serug, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Serug lived thirty years, and became the father of Nahor. Serug lived two hundred years after he became the father of Nahor, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah. (25) Nahor lived one hundred nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and became the father of more sons and daughters. Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now this is the history of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran became the father of Lot. Haran died in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldees, while his father Terah was still alive. Abram and Nahor married wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, who was also the father of Iscah. (30) Sarai was barren. She had no child. Terah took Abram his son, Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife. They went from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan. They came to Haran and lived there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years. Terah died in Haran.

12 Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great people. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” . . .


Josephos, Judean Antiquites

[Shem, Japhet and Ham’s post-flood descent to inhabit the plains]

(1.109-139) The three sons of Noah – Shem, Japhet and Ham – born a hundred years before the flood, were the first to descend from the mountains to the plains and to make their home there [drawing on Genesis 9]. They persuaded the rest of the people, who were very afraid of the plains and hesitant to descend from the heights because of the flood, to be courageous and follow their example. The plain where they first settled is called Shinar (Senaar) [i.e. Sumer].

[God’s repeated order for colonization, and the lack of response]

Due to the increasing population, God commanded them to send out colonies (apoikiai) so that they would not quarrel with each other but cultivate much of the earth and enjoy an abundance of its produce [section freely adapting and diverging from Genesis 11:1-9]. However, in their blindness they did not listen to God, and in consequence were plunged into disasters which made them realize their mistake. For when they had a flourishing youthful population, God again counselled them to colonize. However, never thinking that they owed their blessings to his benevolence and regarding their own ability as the cause of their success, they refused to obey. No, even more, they added to this disobedience against God’s will the suspicion that God was plotting against them in urging them to emigrate so that, when they were divided, they might be more open to attack.

[Nimrod and the building of the tower]

They were incited to this outrageous contempt for God by Nimrod (Nebrodes) [not in the Genesis Babel story but immediately preceding it in 10:8] – grandson of Ham who was himself the son of Noah – a tough man who was courageous in action. He persuaded them to attribute their prosperity not to God but to their own courage, and he gradually transformed arrangements into a tyranny, holding that the only way to detach men from the fear of God was by making them continuously dependent upon his own power. Nimrod threatened to have his revenge on God if God wanted to inundate the earth again. Nimrod would build a tower higher than the water could reach and avenge the destruction of their ancestors.

(3) The people were eager to follow this advice of Nimrod, considering it slavery to submit to God. So they set out to build the tower with unstoppable work and no slackening in the task. It was built at a speed beyond all expectation, thanks to the multitude of hands. Its thickness, however, was so wide as to dwarf its apparent height. It was built of baked bricks cemented with bitumen to prevent them from being washed away.

[God’s reaction and the introduction of different languages]

Seeing their mad enterprise, God was not thinking about completely exterminating them because even the destruction of the first victims [i.e. the flood just before Nimrod] had not taught their descendants wisdom. But God created discord among them by making them speak different languages, through the variety of which they could not understand one another. The place where they built the tower is now called Babylon from the confusion of that primitive speech once intelligible to all, for the Hebrews call “confusion” “Babel.”

This tower and the confusion of the tongues of men are mentioned also by the Sibyl [Sibylline Oracles 3.97, paraphrased] in the following terms: “When all men spoke a common language, certain of them built an exceeding high tower, thinking to mount to heaven by this means. But the gods sent winds against it and overturned the tower and gave to every person a peculiar language. This is why the city was called ‘Babylon’.” Concerning the plain called Shinar (Senaar) in the region of Babylon, Hestiaios [author of a lost work on Phoenician Matters] speaks as follows: “Now the priests who escaped took the sacred vessels of Zeus Enyalios [epithet for a war god] and came to Shinar in Babylonia.”

[Colonization as a result of multi-lingual situation]

From that hour, therefore, they were dispersed as a result of their diversity of languages and founded colonies (apoikiai) everywhere, each group occupying the country that they happened upon and to which God led them. The result was that every continent was peopled by them, the interior and the seaboard alike. Some crossed the sea by ship and settled in the islands.

[Peoples that descend from these migrants from Babel]

[Greek attempts to take credit for other peoples’ accomplishments]

Of these peoples some still preserve the names which were given them by their founders, some have changed them, while still others have modified them to make them more intelligible to their neighbours. The Greeks are responsible for changing designations, because when the Greeks rose to power in later times they appropriated even the achievements of the past, embellishing the peoples (ethnē) with names which they could understand and imposing on them forms of civic organization, as though they were descended from Greeks.

[Peoples descending from Japheth: Galatians, Scythians, Iberians, Medes, etc.]

Noah’s children had sons who were honoured by having their names conferred upon the peoples by the first occupants of the several lands [drawing on Genesis 10]. Japheth son of Noah had seven sons. Beginning by inhabiting the mountains of Tauros [Taurus] and Amanos [modern Nur mountains], these descendents of Japheth advanced in Asia up to the river Tanais [Don in southern Russia] and in Europe as far as Gadeira [Cádiz, Spain], occupying the territory they happened on and, as no inhabitant had preceded them, giving their own names to the peoples.

So those whom the Greeks call “Galatians” today were named “Gomarites,” having been founded by Gomar [perhaps the Greek’s “Kimmerians” are in mind]. Magog founded the Magogians, thus named after him, but who by the Greeks are called “Scythians.” Two other sons of Japheth, Javan and Mados, had descendents, the latter to the Madaians – the people called “Medes” by the Greeks – the former to Ionia and all the “Greeks.”

Tubal (Theobel) founded the Theobelians, called “Iberians” these days. The Meschenians, founded by Meschach (Meschos), are to-day called Kappadocians (or: Cappadocians). Yet a clear trace of their ancient designation survives because they still have a city by the name of “Mazaka” [renamed Caesarea; modern Kayseri, Turkey] indicating to the expert that such was formerly the name of the entire people. Tiras (Theires) called his subjects Theirians, whom the Greeks have converted into “Thracians.” So numerous are the peoples founded by the sons of Japheth.

Gomar had three sons, of whom Ashkenaz (Aschanaxes) founded the Aschanaxians, whom the Greeks now call “Reginians [perhaps a corrupted reading],” Riphathes founded the Riphataians – the modern “Paphlagonians” – and Torgamah (Thugrames) founded the Thugramaians, whom the Greeks thought good to call “Phrygians.”

Javan, son of Japhet, also had three sons: of these Elishah (Halisas) gave his name to his subjects the Halisaians – the modern Aiolians (or: Aeolians) – and Tarshish (Tharsos) to the Tharsians. The latter was the ancient name of Cilicia, as is proved by the fact that its principal and capital city is called “Tarsos,” the “Th” having been converted into “T” [Josephos is working with the Greek rather than the Hebrew Tarshish in the bible]. Kittim (Chethimos) held the island of Chethima the modern Kypros (or: Cyprus), from which we get the name “Kittim” (Chethim) given by the Hebrews to all islands and to most maritime countries. Here I call to witness one of the cities of Kypros which has succeeded in preserving the old designation because even in its Hellenized form Kition is not far removed from the name of Kittim.

So many were the countries possessed by the sons and grandsons of Japheth. I have one thing to add which Greeks seem to be unaware of before returning to the narrative where I left off. With a view to euphony and my readers’ pleasure these names have been Hellenized [I, Phil, have provided the biblical terms above, which Josephos is only now acknowledging]. The form in which they here appear [those Grecized names in rounded brackets above] is not that used in our country [the Hebrew / biblical versions of the names I, the translator, have supplied to make the connection to the biblical material clear], where their structure and termination remain always the same. Thus Nochos in Hebrew is Noe (Noah), and the name retains this form in all the cases.

[Peoples descending from Ham: Syrians, Canaanites, Egyptians, Libyans, etc.]

The children of Ham held the countries branching from Syria and the mountain ranges of Amanos and Libanos [Lebanon], occupying all the district in the direction of the sea and appropriating the regions reaching to the ocean. Of the names of these countries, however, some have altogether disappeared, others have been altered and remodelled beyond recognition, and few have been preserved unimpaired. Thus, of the four sons of Ham, the name of one, Kush (Chusaios), has escaped the ravages of time: the Ethiopians, his subjects, are to this day called by themselves and by all in Asia “Kushites” (Chusaians). The Mizraim (Mersaians) also have kept their memory alive in their name, for we in these parts all call Egypt “Merse” and the Egyptians “Mersaians.” Put (Phut) colonized Libya and called the inhabitants after his name “Phutians.” There is moreover a river in Mauretania [in Libya] which bears this name: mention of the river and of the adjacent region, called Phute, is to be found in most Greek historians. But this country has changed its name into that which it now bears, taken from one of the sons of Mersaios named Libys. Soon I will state why it also came to be called Africa [see Antiquities 1.239-241].

Canaan (Chananaioss), the fourth son of Ham, settled in the country now called “Judea” and named it after himself “Canaan.” The sons of Ham had sons in their turn. Kush (Chus) had six, of whom Seba (Sabas) founded the Sabaians, Havilah (Evilas) the Evilaians, who are the Gaitulians [inhabiting the area south of Numidia in northern Africa] of today, Sabta (Sabathes) the Sabathenians, whom the Greeks call “Astabarians,” Sabteca (Sabactas) the Sabactenians, and Raamah (Ramus) the Ramaians. Raamah had two sons, Judadas, founder of the Judadaians, a people of western Ethiopia to whom he left his name, and Sheba (Sabaios), who stood in the same relation to the Sabaians. Nimrod (Nabrodes), [the sixth] son of Kush (Chus), remained in Babylonia, where he held sway, as I have previously related.

Mizraim (Mersaios) had eight sons, all of whom occupied the territory extending from Gaza to Egypt. But Phylistinos is the only one whose country has preserved the founder’s name, for the Greeks call his portion “Palestine.” Of the rest, Ludim (Lumaios), Anamim (Anamias), Lehabim (Labimos) – who alone settled in Libya and thus gave his name to the country –, Naphtuhim (Nedemos), Pathrusim (Pethrosimos), Casluhim (Chesloimos) and Caphtorim (Cephthomus) we know nothing beyond their names. This is because the Ethiopian war, about which we will speak later [Antiquities 2.238ff], reduced their cities to ruins.

Canaan (Chananaioss) also had sons: Sidonios built in Phoenicia a city named after him, still called “Sidon” by the Greeks; and, the Hamathite (Amathos) founded Amathos, which the inhabitants to this day call “Amathe,” though the Macedonians renamed it “Epiphaneia” after one of Alexander’s successors. The Arvadite (Arudaios) occupied the island of Arados, and the Arkite (Arukaios) occupied Arke in Lebanon. Of the seven others—Euaios [related to Hivites], Chettaios [Hittites], Jebuseus [Jebusites], Amorreus [Amorites], Gergesaeus [Girgishites], Seinaios [Sinites], Samaraeus [Tsemarites] —we have no record in the sacred writings beyond their names because the Hebrews destroyed their cities, which owed this disaster to the following cause. . . [story of Noah’s drunkenness omitted].

[Peoples descending from Shem: Persians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armaians, Syrians, Baktrians]

(1.143-154) Shem, the third of Noah’s sons, had five sons, who inhabited Asia as far as the Indian ocean, beginning at the Euphrates. Elam (Elymos) had for his descendants the Elymaians, ancestors of the Persians. Assyras founded the city of Ninos [Ninevah], and gave his name to his subjects, the Assyrians, who rose to the height of prosperity. Arpachshad (Arphaxades) named those under his rule Arphaxadaians, the Chaldeans of today. Aramos ruled the Aramaians, whom the Greeks term “Syrians.” While those whom they now call Lydians were then Loudians founded by Lud (Loudas). Of the four sons of Aramus, Uz (Uses) founded Trachonitis and Damaskos, situated between Palestine and Coele-Syria, Hul (Uros) founded Armenia, Getheres the Baktrians, and Mash (Mesas) the Mesanaians in the region today called Spasinou Charax [near the Persian Gulf].

[Peoples descending from Arpachshad: Indians and Serians]

Arpachshad (Arphaxades) was the father of Shelah (Seles) and he of Heber, after whom the Jews were originally called “Hebrews.” Heber had Joktan (Jouctas) and Peleg (Phaleg), who was thus called because he was born at the time of the “partition” of territories, phalek being the Hebrew for “division.” Joktan, Heber’s other son, was the father of Almodad (Elmodad), Saleph, Azermoth, Ira, Edoram, Uzal, Dacles, Ebal, Abimael, Sheba (Saphas), Ophir, Havilah (Eueila), Jobab (Jobel). Proceeding from the river Kophen [modern Kabul river in Afghanistan and Pakistan, emptying into the Indus], these peoples inhabited parts of India and of the adjacent country of Seria [likely what is now western China is in mind]. That is all that I have to say about the children of Shem.

[People descending from Peleg: Hebrews]

I will now give an account about the Hebrews. Peleg (Phaleg) son of Heber had a son named Reu (Reus). Reu had Serug, Serug had Nachor, and Nachor had Terah (Therros). Terah was the father of Abraham, who was tenth in descent from Noah and was born in the nine-hundred-and-ninety-second year after the flood. For Terah had Abraham at the age of seventy; Nachor was one hundred and twenty when he had Terah, and Serug was about one hundred and thirty-two when Nachor was born; Reu (Roumos) was one hundred and thirty when he had Serug, and Peleg was the same age at the birth of Reu; Heber was one hundred and thirty-four when he had Peleg, having been begotten himself by Seles when the latter was one hundred and thirty; Seles was born when Arphachshad (Arphaxad) was one hundred and thirty-five, while Arpachshad was son of Shem, and was born twelve years after the flood.

Abraham had brothers named Nachor and Haran (Aran). Haran left a son, Lot, and daughters, Sarai (Sarra) and Melcha. Abraham died in Chaldea in a city called Ur of the Chaldees [in Sumer, near the Persian Gulf], and his grave is visible to this day. Nachor married his niece Melcha, and Abraham his niece Sarai. Since Terah (Therrus) had come to hate Chaldea because of the loss of his lamented Haran (Aran), they all migrated to Harran (Charran) [Harran, Turkey] in Mesopotamia, where Terah also died and was buried, after a life of two hundred and five years. For the duration of human life was already being curtailed and continued to diminish until the birth of Moses, after whom the limit of age was fixed by God at one hundred and twenty years – the length of the life of Moses.

Nachor had eight children by Melcha, namely, Uz (Ux), Buz (Baux), Kemuel (Mathuel), Chesed (Chazam), Hazo (Azau), Pildash (Iadelphas), Jidlaph (Iadaphas), Bethuel (Bathuel). These were Nachor’s legitimate children. Nachor’s other sons, Tebah (Tabai), Gaham (Gadam), Tahash (Taau), and Maacah (Machas), were born of his concubine Ruma. Bathuel, one of the legitimate children, had a daughter Rebecca and a son Laban. Now Abraham, having no legitimate son, adopted Lot, his brother Haran’s (Aran’s) son and the brother of his wife Sarai (Sarra). At the age of seventy-five Abraham left Chaldea, God having called him to leave for Canaan, where he settled and left the country to his descendants.


Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities

[Refusal of Abram and others to make the bricks]

6 Then all those who had been separated and were inhabiting the earth gathered and lived together. And migrating from the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylon. Settling there, each one said to his neighbour [italics reflect citation of Genesis 11:1-9] , “Look, it will happen that every one of us will be scattered from his brother and in the last days we will be fighting one another. Come now, let us build for ourselves a tower whose top will reach the heavens, and we will make a name for ourselves and gain renown on the earth.” And they said, each to his neighbour [11:4], “Let us take bricks, write our names [the names of our gods (?)] on the bricks and burn them with fire. Whatever will be burned through and through will be used for mortar and brick.”

So all of them received their bricks except twelve men who would not take them, and these are their names: Abram, Nahor, Lot, Ruge, Tenute, Zaba, Armodat, Jobab, Esar, Abimahel, Saba, Auphin. The people of that land also seized them and brought them to their chiefs and said, “These are the men who have gone against our plans and would not walk in our ways.” So the leaders said to them, “Why were each of you not willing to cast in bricks along with the people of the land?” Those men answered saying, “We are not casting in bricks, nor are we joining in your scheme. We know the one Lord, and him we worship. Even if you throw us into the fire with your bricks, we will not join you.” . . . [story of Abram being thrown into a furnace follows].

[Dispersion from Babel leads to settlements in other regions, diverse languages and uncivilized lifestyles]

7 After these events it happened that the people of the land were not turned from their malicious schemes, and they came together again to their leaders and said, “The people will not be defeated forever. And now we will come together and build ourselves a city and a tower that will never be taken away.” And when they had begun to build, God saw the city and the tower that human beings were building, and he said, “Behold they are one people and have one language for everyone. But what they have begun to make, neither the earth will put up with it nor will the heavens bear to witness it. And if they are not stopped now, they will be daring in all the things they propose to do. Look now I will divide up their languages and scatter them in all regions so that a man will not understand his own brother and no one will hear the language of his neighbour.”

“I will banish them to the cliffs, and they will build for themselves huts with stalks of straw and will dig caves for themselves and live there like the beasts of the field. In this way they will remain before me all the time so that they will never make such schemes again, and I will consider them like a drop of water and compare them to spit. For some their end will come by water, but others will be dried up with thirst. And before all these I will choose my servant Abram, and I will bring him out from their land and will bring him into the land upon which my eye has looked from of old, when all those inhabiting the earth sinned in my sight and I brought the water of the flood and I did not destroy it but preserved that land. For neither did the springs of my righteous anger burst forth in the land, nor did my water of destruction descend on it. For there I will have my servant Abram dwell and will establish my covenant with him and will bless his seed and be lord for him as God forever.”

(5) Now when the people inhabiting the land had begun to construct the tower, God divided up their languages and changed their appearances, and a man did not recognize his own brother and no one heard the language of his neighbour. So it happened that when the builders would order their assistants to bring bricks, they would bring water; if they demanded water, they would bring straw. And so their plan was frustrated, and they stopped building the city. And the Lord scattered them from there over the face of all the earth. And therefore the name of that place was called “Confusion,” because there God confused their languages and from there he scattered them over the face of all the earth. 8 Now Abram left that place and lived in the land of Canaan and took with him Lot his nephew and Sarai his wife. . . [sections omitted].


Hebrew version of the Testament of Naphtali

[Seventy languages corresponding to seventy angels / gods in the dispersion and diversification of the peoples]

8 [Naphtali to his heirs:] “Further, I tell you my lot will be in the best of the middle of the earth, and you will eat and be satisfied with its delights. I warn you not to kick in your fatness, and not to rebel, and not to oppose the command of the Lord, who satisfies you with the good things of his earth. And do not forget the Lord your God, the God of your fathers, who was chosen by our father Abraham when the peoples were divided in the time of Peleg. For at that time the Lord (blessed be he) came down from his highest heavens, and brought down with him seventy ministering angels, Michael at their head. (5) He commanded them to teach the seventy families which sprang from the loins of Noah seventy languages. Immediately the angels descended and did according to the command of their creator. But the holy language, the Hebrew language, remained only in the house of Shem and Eber, and in the house of Abraham our father, who is one of their descendants.

9 “On that day Michael took a message from the Lord, and said to the seventy peoples, to each people separately: ‘You know the rebellion you engaged in and I know the treacherous alliance into which you entered against the Lord of heaven and earth. Now choose today who you will worship and who will be your intercessor in the height of heaven.’ Nimrod the wicked answered and said, ‘For me there is none greater than he who taught me and my people in one hour the language of Kush.’ Put, Mizraim, Tubal, Javan, Meshech, and Tiras also answered in a similar manner. Every people chose its own angel, and none of them mentioned the name of the Lord (blessed be he). (5) But when Michael said to Abraham our father, ‘Abram, who do you choose and who will you worship?’ Abram answered, ‘I choose and select only him who spoke and the world was created, the one who formed me in the womb of my mother, body within body, the one who placed in me spirit and soul. I choose him and to him I will cling, I and my seed after me, all the days of the world.’”

10 “Then he dispersed the peoples, and apportioned and allotted to every people its share and lot. From that time all the peoples of the earth separated themselves from the Lord (blessed be he). Only the house of Abraham remained with his creator to worship him, and after him Isaac and Jacob did the same. Therefore, my sons, I call on you not to go astray and worship any other god than the one your ancestors have chosen. For know for certain that there is no one like him, and no one else can do as he does or accomplish works like his in heaven and on earth, and there is none who can do wonders like his powerful deeds. (5) You can only see a portion of his power in the creation of man. . . .” (several sentences outlining the wonders of created man omitted).

These, the words of Naphtali the son of Israel which he commended to his sons. They are sweeter than honey to the tongue.


Sibylline Oracles 8.4-16

[Babel dispersians as the origins of Persians, Medes, Ethiopians, Assyrians, Italians and others]

As the great righteous anger comes upon the disobedient world I will demonstrate the righteous anger of God to the final age, prophesying to all people, city by city. (5) From the time when the tower fell and the languages of men were divided into many dialects of mortals, first the Egyptian kingdom, then that of the Persians, Medes, Ethiopians, and Assyrian Babylon, then that of Macedonia, which boasted in great arrogance, then, fifth, the famous lawless kingdom of the Italians. (10) Last of all, I will show many evils to all men and will expend the toils of the men of all the earth. It will lead untiring kings of peoples to the west and will legislate for peoples and subdue all things. The mills of God grind fine flour, though late. (15) Then fire will destroy everything and reduce to fine dust the heads of lofty mountains and of all flesh.


Source of translations: 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); M. Gaster, “The Hebrew Text of One of the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs,” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 16 (1893-1894), 33-49, 109-117 (link), and R. H. Charles, “Appendix I: Translation of a Late Hebrew Testament of Naphtali,” in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 361-363 (link), public domain, adapted by Harland. The brief citations of Pseudo-Philo and the Sibylline Oracles are adapted from the translations in James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1983) (link).

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