2015-05-26

Moses and Exodus according to an early Roman Historian

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing . . .

The first century B.C.E. (Celtic) Roman historian Pompeius Trogus wrote Historicae Philippicae (Philippic History), of which an epitome survives. The relevant section:

But a prosperous family of ten sons made Israhel more famous than any of his ancestors. Having divided, his kingdom, in consequence, into ten governments, he committed them to his sons, and called the whole people Jews from Judas, who died soon after the division, and ordered his memory to be held in veneration by them all, as his portion was shared among them. The youngest of the brothers was Joseph, whom the others, fearing his extraordinary abilities, secretly made prisoner, and sold to some foreign merchants. Being carried by them into Egypt, and having there, by his great powers of mind, made himself master of the arts of magic, he found in a short time great favour with the king; for he was eminently skilled in prodigies, and was the first to establish the science of interpreting dreams; and nothing, indeed, of divine or human law seems to have been unknown to him; so that he foretold a dearth in the land some years before it happened, and all Egypt would have perished by famine, had not the king, by his advice, ordered the corn to be laid up for several years; such being the proofs of his knowledge, that his admonitions seemed to proceed, not from a mortal, but a god.

His son was Moses, whom, besides the inheritance of his father’s knowledge, the comeliness of his person also recommended.

But the Egyptians, being troubled with scabies and leprosy, and moved by some oracular prediction, expelled him, with those who had the disease, out of Egypt, that the distemper might not spread among a greater number.

Becoming leader, accordingly, of the exiles, he carried off by stealth the sacred utensils of the Egyptians, who, endeavouring to recover them by force of arms, were obliged by tempests to return home;

and Moses, having reached Damascus, the birth-place of his forefathers, took possession of mount Sinai, on his arrival at which, after having suffered, together with his followers, from a seven days’ fast in the deserts of Arabia, he consecrated every seventh day (according to the present custom of the nation) for a fast-day, and to be perpetually called a sabbath, because that day had ended at once their hunger and their wanderings.

And as they remembered that they had been driven from Egypt for fear of spreading infection, they took care, in order that they might not become odious, from the same cause, to the inhabitants of the country, to have no communication with strangers; a rule which, from having been adopted on that particular occasion, gradually became a custom and part of their religion.

After the death of Moses, his son Aruas was made priest for celebrating the rites which they brought from Egypt, and soon after created king; and ever afterwards it was a custom among the Jews to have the same chiefs both for kings and priests; and, by uniting religion with the administration of justice, it is almost incredible how powerful they became.

Details singled out by Assmann for attention:

  • Here Moses is not an Egyptian but the son of Joseph;
  • The reason for the exodus is once again an epidemic;
  • This reason for their exile also accounts for their legislation to avoid close relations with foreigners;
  • The religion he establishes is Egyptian in character. (The Egyptians had attempted to recover their sacred objects but were forced by storms to return home.)

 

 

 

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