Eupolemus: Diplomat and Historian
By Jared L. Olar
Out of all the extant Jewish historical works of the second century B.C., the two most prominent and informative are I & II Maccabees, which form a part of the Old Testament canon for Catholic and Eastern Christians, but which Protestant Christianity holds to be Old Testament Apocrypha. The two books of Maccabees relate the struggle of the Jewish priest Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers to throw off the yoke of the Seleucid kingdom and reestablish Jewish independence. A significant event in the narrative of I Maccabees was a successful diplomatic initiative of Judas Maccabaeus in 161 B.C., in which he sent two ambassadors to Rome to negotiate a treaty of alliance that would secure the help of the Roman Republic in the Jews’ fight against the Seleucids. Thus, I Maccabees 8:17 says:
“Judas chose Eupolemus the son of John, the son of Haccos, and Jason the son of Eleazar, and he sent them to Rome to make a league of amity and confederacy with them.”
The Jewish ambassador Eupolemus is also mentioned in II Maccabees 4:11:
“Till now, the Jews had followed their own customs, by grace of a royal privilege; it was John that won it for them, father of that Eupolemus, who afterwards went in embassage to Rome, to make a treaty of alliance. But Jason would abrogate these customs; common right should be none, and great wrong should find acceptance instead.”
Thus, the diplomat Eupolemus was himself the son of an earlier Jewish ambassador, a priest named John who in 198 B.C. had represented Jerusalem’s “Gerusia” (Council of Elders) at the court of the Seleucid king Antiochus III. In that year, Antiochus wrested control of the territory of Coele-Syria away from the Egypt, which thus placed the Holy Land under Seleucid control. Thanks to John’s diplomacy, Antiochus agreed to treat the Jews with the same general tolerance as had the Ptolemies. As priests, John and his son Eupolemus both would have been highly educated and would have been fluent in Greek. They belonged to the Aaronite priestly division of Hakkoz (“Haccos”), which King David had designated as the seventh priestly division (I Chronicles 24:10). The division of Hakkoz was temporarily barred from exercising their priesthood because their genealogical records were lost during the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 2:59-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65), but their pedigree must have been confirmed later, as a calendar of the priestly divisions that included Hakkoz was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In his 1974 work, “Eupolemus: A Study of Judaeo-Greek Literature,” pages 4-7, Ben Zion Wacholder showed that the Jewish ambassador Eupolemus was almost certainly the Eupolemus who wrote a Greek-language history of the Jews in 158 B.C. Wacholder laid stress upon the rarity of the name Eupolemus (which literally means “good fighter,” that is, “brave warrior”) among both Jews and Greeks in antiquity – in fact the name appears among Jews before the time of Christ only twice, as that of the Jewish ambassador and as the author of a Jewish history. “Since Eupolemus was not a common name among Greeks and otherwise unheard of among Jews, the burden of proof rests on those who argue that there might have been two famous Jews with such an appellation,” Wacholder wrote. The chronology is also a perfect fit, as the historian Eupolemus wrote only three years after the diplomat Eupolemus helped to negotiate an alliance with the Roman Republic. Wacholder also brought forward extensive arguments and evidence from the historical writings of Eupolemus that show affinity between the historian and the diplomat. In light of what we know, it can hardly be doubted that the historian Eupolemus is the ambassador named in I & II Maccabees.
Unfortunately, as in the case of Demetrius the Chronographer, the writings of Eupolemus are no longer extant in their entirety, but rather survive only in a series of six fragments quoted in Book 9 of Eusebius Pamphilii’s fourth century A.D. Praeparatio Evangelica and Clement of Alexandria’s third century A.D. Stromata. Thus, most of the fragments of Eupolemus come down to us in the same way as the fragments of Demetrius – first the writings of Eupolemus were quoted verbatim or excerpted by the pagan historian Alexander Polyhistor, and then Polyhistor’s work On the Jews was excerpted or quoted verbatim by Eusebius. Clement of Alexandria also supplies a single fragment of Eupolemus, perhaps also derived from Polyhistor. From these sources, we know of the titles of three works of Eupolemus: On the Jews, On the Prophecy of Elijah, and On the Kings of Judaea.
Below are Wacholder’s English translations of the six fragments of Eupolemus’ works (with bold emphasis added), followed by my own comments and observations. (I have occasionally adjusted Wacholder’s translations through collation with Ted Kaizer’s translations.)
“This is what Josephus writes. And with this agrees Alexander Polyhistor, a man of great understanding and great learning and very well known among those Greeks who have not acquired the fruits of education in a superficial manner. For in his treatise On the Jews, he records the history of Abraham as follows, word by word.
“Eupolemus in his On the Jews [of Assyria] says Babylon the city [of Assyria] was first founded by those who had escaped the Flood. They were the giants who built the tower recorded in history. But when the tower was ruined by the act of God, the giants dispersed over the whole earth. In the tenth generation, he [Eupolemus] says, in a Babylonian city of Camarina, which some call Urie, and which is in translation the city of the Chaldaeans, [in the thirteenth generation], Abraham was born, who surpassed all men in nobility and wisdom, who also discovered the Chaldaean art, and who on account of his piety was well-pleasing to God. By the command of God this man went to Phoenicia to dwell there and he pleased the king by teaching the Phoenicians the changes of the sun and moon and all things of that kind. But later the Armenians [sic – Aramaeans] marched against the Phoenicians, and being victorious they took captive his nephew. Abraham together with his servants came to the rescue, overcame the captors, and made their wives and children prisoners. But when the ambassadors came to Abraham to ransom for money the prisoners, he chose not to take advantage of the unfortunates, but after providing food for his servants he restored the booty.
“Being entertained as a guest by the temple of the city of Argarizin, which may be interpreted as the Mount of the Most High, he [Abraham] received gifts from Melchizedek, who was its priest of God and its king.
“But there being a famine [in Phoenicia], Abraham and his whole household departed to Egypt and settled there. The king of the Egyptians married his wife, having been told by Abraham that she was his sister. But Eupolemus related even more extraordinary things, that the king was unable to have intercourse with her and that his people and household were perishing. The diviners having been summoned, they said that the woman was not a widow. Thus the king of the Egyptians learned that she was Abraham’s wife and he restored her to her husband. And Abraham lived with the Egyptian priests in Heliopolis, teaching them many things. And he introduced astrology and other sciences to them, saying that the Babylonians and he himself discovered them, but he traced the discovery to Enoch. And he [Enoch] was the first to discover astrology, not the Egyptians. The Babylonians say that the first [astrologer?] was Belus, who is the son of Kronos, that he begat Belus and Cham; and that he [Cham] begat Chanaan, the father of the Phoenicians; and that from him [Cham] a son Choum [i.e., Chous = Kush] was born, who is called by the Greeks Asbolus, the father of the Ethiopians and brother of Metsraeim, the father of the Egyptians. The Greeks say that Atlas discovered astrology, Atlas being the same as Enoch. And Enoch had a son Mathousalas, who learned all things through the angels of God, and thus we gained our knowledge.”
This first fragment comes to us via Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica, having been excerpted verbatim from Alexander Polyhistor, who in turn quoted from Eupolemus. At it now stands the fragment suffers from a number of copyist errors. For instance, the title of Eupolemus’ work is mistakenly stated to be “On the Jews of Assyria,” but as Wacholder explains, Jacob Freudenthal in his 1875 Hellenistiche Studien showed that the words “of Assyria” modified “Babylon the city,” not “On the Jews.” Thus, the correct title of Eupolemus’ work from which Polyhistor had quoted was simply “On the Jews.” Another copyist error is the superfluous clause “in the thirteenth generation,” which apparently arose from an accidental dittography and miscopying of the earlier, correct clause “in the tenth generation.”
This wide-ranging excerpt begins with the building and ruin of the Tower of Babel after the Flood, followed by an account of the life and career of Abraham, and concluding with a brief discussion of Babylonian and Greek legends in which Eupolemus sought to show how some of the pagan myths derived from biblical history. Significantly, elsewhere in his Praeparatio Evangelica, Eusebius briefly comments on the same topics mentioned in the above Eupolemus fragment, as follows:
“In anonymous works we find that Abraham traced his ancestry to the giants. Their dwellings in Babylonia were destroyed by the gods on account of their impiety, as one of them, Belus, escaping death, settled in Babylon, and having built a tower he ruled over it, which was named Belus after its builder Belus. And that Habramos, trained in the science of astrology, came first to Phoenicia and taught astrology to the Phoenicians and subsequently departed for Egypt.”
Giants figure in both Eupolemus and in these anonymous works, with the latter works apparently handing on a pagan tradition that said the Flood was divine punishment for the impiety of the giants or Titans (also implied in Genesis 6 and stated in the extrabiblical Book of Enoch). Eupolemus’ story that the Tower of Babel was built by giants is also found in later Jewish and Christian tradition, wherein Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-10) is said to have been one of the giants (Nephilim) mentioned in Genesis 6:4 – “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that [i.e., after the Flood], when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” This description of the Antediluvian and Postdiluvian giants was joined with Genesis 10:8’s reference to Nimrod being “a mighty one in the earth,” thus leading to the conclusion that Nimrod was a giant. Even so, the tradition that even Abraham’s ancestors were giants is quite remarkable. Perhaps Eupolemus and others reasoned that the patriarchs before Abraham not only had vastly greater lifespans but were also larger in size than later men.
Eupolemus’ story of Abraham is substantially that found in the Book of Genesis, but with several noteworthy embellishments and differences. One embellishment is found in the account of Pharaoh’s taking Abraham’s wife Sarah into his harem – that Pharaoh was supernaturally prevented from having sexual relations with Sarah. This tradition is also found in the Genesis Apocryphon 20:17. An especially noteworthy difference is the legend that Abraham had “discovered” (or rediscovered, rather) Chaldean astronomy and astrology (cf. Genesis 15:5), later sharing his wisdom and discoveries with the Phoenicians (i.e., Canaanites) and Egyptians, who allegedly did not have such knowledge before. Abraham is said to have attributed the development of astrology to the Babylonians and to himself, but that ultimately astronomical science derived from his Pre-Flood ancestor Enoch. This extra-biblical tradition correlates with apocryphal Jewish legends of Enoch found in the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Genesis Apocryphon. Eupolemus’ immediate source for the identification of Abraham as an expert in Chaldean astronomy and astrology was the Babylonian historian and priest Berossus, from whose work Flavius Josephus and Eusebius quoted this passage: “After the Deluge, in the tenth generation, was a certain man among the Chaldæans renowned for his justice and great exploits, and for his skill in the celestial sciences.” Eupolemus and many later Jewish and Christian writers, such as Josephus, naturally interpreted Berossus’ remark as a reference to Abraham.
Another difference between the Abrahamic traditions related in this fragment and the biblical account is that the Mesopotamian attack on Sodom and Gomorrah related in Genesis 14 is erroneously attributed to “the Armenians.” Most likely Eupolemus referred not to Armenians but to “the Aramaeans,” that is, peoples of the region of “Aram-Naharaim” or “Padan-Aram” – Mesopotamia. “Aramaianoi” apparently was corrupted into “Arminaianoi” during the process by which Polyhistor copied Eupolemus and then Eusebius copied Polyhistor.
However, the most remarkable difference between Eupolemus and the biblical account is that God’s high priest Melchizedek is not said to be the king of Salem, but rather of a place called “Argarizin,” a word said to mean “Mount of the Most High.” In fact, “Argarizin” is the Hebrew toponym Har Gerizim, Mount Gerizim near Shechem, a notable mountain in Israel where the Samaritans eventually were to build their own sectarian temple to rival the Temple of God in Jerusalem. It is chiefly on account of this surprising shifting of the meeting of Melchizedek from Jerusalem to Mount Gerizim that Jacob Freudenthal, followed by Ben Zion Wacholder and many other scholars, concluded that this fragment did not come from the pen of Eupolemus, but rather was the work of an anonymous Samaritan who has been designated as “Pseudo-Eupolemus.” Nevertheless, R. Doran has since demonstrated that there is no basis for Freudenthal’s attribution of this fragment to a Samaritan Pseudo-Eupolemus. It was not Samaritanism that led to the placing of Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek at Mount Gerizim, but rather an exegesis of Genesis 14:18 and Genesis 33:18. The latter verse in the King James Version (following the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate) says, “And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan.” The Septuagint says “Salem, the city of the Shechemites.” Eupolemus mistakenly identified the Salem of Genesis 14:18 with the Salem in Shechem near Mount Gerizim. There is no reason to identify Melchizedek’s city (which the context of Genesis 14 suggests is Jerusalem, as later tradition affirms) with the city of the Shechemites mentioned in Genesis 33:18 – in fact, the world shalem in this latter verse may not be a proper noun at all, but could be interpreted to mean “in peace” or “safely.”
The final lines of this fragment are a remarkable genealogy in which Babylonian and Greek legends are harmonized with the ancient history recorded in the Book of Genesis. Classical historians generally interpreted the myths of the Babylonian god Bel as legendary tales told of a pair of primeval monarchs – father and son, both named Belus – who ruled both Babylon and Nineveh and were ancestors of the later kings of Babylon and Assyria. Eupolemus, however, evidently identified Belus as Noah, father of Ham (Cham), whose sons Canaan, Cush, and Mizraim were the ancestors of the Phoenicians and Canaanites, the Ethiopians, and the Egyptians. Eupolemus also identified Ham’s son Cush as the legendary Babylonian king Choumasbolus, listed by Berossus as the second ruler of Babylon after the Flood. Evidently noting that the Greek word asbolos means “sooty” or “dark,” Eupolemus divided the name “Choumasbolus” into two parts, “Choum” and “Asbolus,” equating “Choum” with “Chous” (Cush), and taking “Asbolus” as a reference to the dark skin of Cush and his descendants. Going further, Eupolemus also equated the Centaur Asbolus of Greek mythology with the Choumasbolus of Berossus – having identified Choumasbolus as Ham’s son Cush, Eupolemus went the next step and also identified Asbolus the Centaur as a character derived from garbled traditions of Cush.
The fragment ends with an identification of the Titan Atlas as the Antediluvian patriarch Enoch, the identification apparently being based on nothing more than the fact that both Atlas and Enoch were said to have invented astrology. After Enoch’s assumption into heaven, the wisdom that Enoch had acquired was communicated by angels to Enoch’s son Methuselah, who survived until the year of the Flood and thus was able to convey Enoch’s discoveries to Noah, thereby preventing the wisdom of Enoch from perishing in the Flood.
“And concerning Moses the same author [Alexander Polyhistor] again brings forward many things that are worth hearing: Eupolemus says that Moses was the first wise man; and he handed over the letters to the Jews first, the Phoenicians received them from the Jews, the Greeks from the Phoenicians. Also, laws were first written by Moses for the Jews.”
As with the first fragment, this fragment also comes from Eusebius’ fourth century A.D. Praeparatio Evangelica. Over a century earlier, though, Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata quoted from the same passage of Eupolemus:
“Eupolemus, in his Kings of Judaea, says that Moses was the first wise man; and that he first taught writing to the Jews; the Phoenicians received it from the Jews, the Greeks from the Phoenicians.”
Clement omits the statement regarding Moses’ lawgiving, but unlike Eusebius he gives the title of the work from which he quoted. Otherwise this fragment appears in almost identical form in both Clement and Eusebius. Although the title specifies the Kings of Judaea, in this work Eupolemus also related the history of Moses, who as Israel’s leader and legislator essentially held kingly powers, and is even once described as “king in Jeshurun” (Jeshurun being a poetic byname for Israel) in Deuteronomy 33:4-5.
Brief though this fragment is, in it Eupolemus made three important statements about Moses: that he was the first wise man, that he invented the first alphabet for the Israelites that was later used by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and finally the Greeks, and that as Israel’s first legislator he first “wrote” or codified laws. Thus, Eupolemus claimed for Moses three crucial “firsts” of human history: the development of wisdom or philosophy, the invention of writing, and the codification of laws.
To be sure, great as Moses was he certainly did not invent those three things. Considering the wisdom that men had acquired to his time, Moses’ wisdom was certainly preeminent, but chronologically he was certainly not the first wise man in a literal sense – and in any case, in the first fragment Eupolemus related two contradictory traditions that either Abraham or Enoch were the first wise men. (But since these two fragments came from different works of Eupolemus, he may have changed his mind about who was the first wise man.) Again, with the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi it cannot be said that Moses was the first to write down a code of laws – he was Israel’s first lawgiver, but not mankind’s first lawgiver.
As for the claim that Moses invented the Hebrew/Phoenician alphabet (or rather, the script that modern specialists have designated “North Semitic”), that is not impossible even if it cannot be proven. But of course the cuneiform and hieroglyphic systems of writing were invented in Shinar and Egypt long before the invention of Hebrew/Phoenician, so Moses could not be said to be the first to have taught writing (and even in Jewish tradition, the Book of Jubilees says Enoch was the inventor of writing). That being said, North Semitic script as a matter of fact was the very first alphabet (known to be in use in Syria by the 1200s B.C.), and if Moses really did invent the letters of North Semitic, then it could truthfully be said that “he handed over letters to the Jews first.” In his 1974 study on Eupolemus, Wacholder (pages 77-83) reviews the different theories that the ancients proposed for the origin of the Phoenician and Greek alphabets, with most saying Phoenician script was invented either in Egypt or in Phoenicia. But a third theory was proposed by an anonymous writer from Crete (perhaps Laosthenidas of Crete), who said:
“The Syrians were the discoverers of the letters; the Phoenicians having learned them from the Syrians, passed them on to the Greeks.”
This, as Wacholder showed (page 82), is very similar to Eupolemus’ statement that Moses first taught the letters to the Jews, that the Phoenicians received them from the Jews, and that the Greeks received them from the Phoenicians. Eupolemus evidently substituted “the Jews” for “the Syrians,” and Wacholder suggested that Eupolemus may not have been unjustified to do so:
“. . . Greek geographers, from Herodotus onwards, often said Syria when they
meant Palestine or Judaea; and since only the Hebrews of the region developed
a script quite distinct from the North-Phoenician, it is likely that Laosthenidas –
if he was the author – referred to the Hebrews as the alleged discoverers of the
There is not as much to say in favor of the other two Mosaic “firsts.” Wacholder observed that Eupolemus’ purpose in claiming Moses as the first wise man was probably to challenge the Greek tradition of the Seven Wise Men of Greece – Thales of Miletus, Solon of Athens, Chilon of Sparta, Bias of Priene, Pittacus of Mytilene, Cleobulus of Lindos, and Periander of Corinth. All seven of these men lived about seven or eight centuries after after the time of Moses, who unlike the Seven Wise Men left a far greater legacy than mere collections of proverbs and aphorisms. In asserting the priority of Moses as wise man, Eupolemus meant that Jewish wisdom not only antedates but is also far superior to Greek wisdom.
Eupolemus had a similar point in asserting that Moses was mankind’s first legislator, and in point of fact the Jewish “chauvinism” seen in this fragment of Eupolemus was a common opinion among the Jews of his time and afterwards (influencing later Christian writers in turn). In illustration Wacholder (pages 83-84) quotes a passage from Book II of Josephus’ Contra Apionem:
“Now, I maintain that our legislator is the most ancient of all legislators in the records of the whole world. Compared with him, your Lycurguses, and Solons, and Zaleucuses, who gave the Locrians their laws, and all who were held in such high esteem by the Greeks appear to have been born but yesterday. Why, the very word ‘law’ (nomos) was unknown in ancient Greece. Witness Homer, who never employs it in his poems. In fact, there was no such thing in his day . . . . On the other hand, our legislator Moses, who lived in the remotest past (that, I presume, is admitted even by our most unscrupulous detractors), proved himself the people’s best guide and counsellor; and after framing a code (nomos) to embrace the whole conduct of their life, induced them to accept it, and secured on the firmest footing its observance for all time.”
In this light it is clear how far more excellent the Torah is to such pre-Mosaic codes as Hammurabi’s famous law code. But then Hammurabi did not receive his code by a special divine revelation. It is no wonder, then, that Eupolemus would boast of Moses as the very first man in history to frame a ‘nomos’ for his people.
In this next fragment we move swiftly through Israel’s history from Moses to Solomon’s construction of the Temple. Just as the second fragment of Eupolemus is attested by both Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius Pamphilii, we also find the third fragment attested in the writings of Clement and Eusebius. However, the Eupolemus fragment in Clement’s Stromata is nothing more than two sentences in which Clement gives a summary of what Eupolemus wrote:
“Alexander who is surnamed Polyhistor in his work On the Jews, records certain letters of Solomon, some to Uaphres the king of Egypt, others to the king of Tyre in Phoenicia, and their letters to him. According to these letters, Uaphres sent 80,000 Egyptian men to build the Temple; the other king sent an equal number of men together with a Tyrian architect, whose mother was a Jewess of the tribe of David [sic – Dan], whose name as written there, was Hyperon.”
We see here that Clement’s fragment is a citation from Alexander Polyhistor’s On the Jews, and that the fragment does not even mention Eupolemus. But Eusebius, on his part, provides a very extensive verbatim quote of this very passage from Alexander Polyhistor, citing Eupolemus’ name and the title of the work that Polyhistor had excerpted. Here is the complete fragment (more like a “large chunk”) from Eusebius, followed by my comments and discussion of what Eupolemus wrote:
“Eupolemus, in On the Prophecy of Elias, says: Moses prophesied for forty years; then Jesus the son of Naue, thirty years. He lived 110 years, having pitched the holy tabernacle in Shilo. Afterwards [Eupolemus says]: Samuel became prophet; then, by God’s wish, Saulus was chosen king by Samuel, who [Saulus] died after a reign of 21 years. Then his son [alt. son-in-law] David succeeded him to the kingdom. He subdued the Syrians who live on the shores of the Euphrates and in the region of Commagene and the Assyrians of Galadene, and the Phoenicians. He also led an army against the Idumaeans and the Ammonites and Moabites and the Ituraeans and the Nabataeans and the Nabdaeans. Again he made an expedition against Suron the king of Tyre and Phoenicia, whom he compelled to pay tribute to the Jews. But with Uaphres the king of Egypt he made an alliance of friendship. But when David wished to build a temple for God, he asked God to show him a worthy place for the altar. Whereupon the angel appeared to him standing on top of the place, where the abomination was erected in Jerusalem, and commanded him not to build the temple himself for he was defiled with human blood and many years of warfare. It [the message] came to him in the name [of the angel] through Nathan. And he commanded him to entrust the building to his son. But that he himself should make ready to prepare the things needed to build – gold, silver, brass, [precious?] stones, cypress and cedar wood. Upon hearing this, David built a fleet in Elana, an Arabian city; and he sent miners to the island of Urphe [Ophir], which lies in the Red Sea and which contains gold mines. And the miners transported the mined gold from there to Judaea. After a rule of forty years he handed over the realm to his son Solomon, then twelve years old, in the presence of Eli, the high priest, and the twelve heads of the tribes. And he also handed over to him the gold and the silver and the brass and the [precious?] stone and cedar wood. Then David died and Solomon took over the realm. He then wrote a letter to Uaphres, the King of Egypt, the letter copied below:
“King Solomon to Uaphres, the king of Egypt, father’s friend, greetings!
“Know that with the help of the Most High God, I have received the kingdom from my father David, who commanded me to build a temple to God, the maker of the heavens and the earth, and at once to write to you to send me some men of your people who will assist me till all things needed will have been completed, as I was commanded.
“King Uaphres to the Great King Solomon, greetings!
“As soon as we read your letter we rejoiced very much. I and my entire administration have set aside a feast day in honor of your succession to the kingdom, after such a kindly man and one recognized by so mighty a God.
“As to the matter you have written to me concerning the peoples who are under me, I have sent you 80,000 men. How many and wherefrom they come I am explaining to you: from the Sebrithitic nome, 10,000 men; from the Mendesians and Sebennytic, 20,000 men each, and from the nomes of Busiris, Leontopolis and Athribitis, 10,000 men from each. Give due consideration for their food supply and for all other things so that they be well disciplined, and that they be brought back to their own country as soon as they are free from their tasks.
“King Solomon to Suron, the king of Tyre and Sidon and Phoenicia, his father’s friend, greetings!
“Know that by help of God the Most High, I have received the kingdom from David my father. He commanded me to build a temple to God, who had made the heavens and the earth; and immediately to write to you that you send me some of your people who will be assisting me till every requirement of God will be completed, as I have been commanded.
“I have also written to Galilee and to Samaria and to Moabitis and to Ammonitis and to Galaditis to supply them with their needs from the produce land: 10,000 cors of wheat monthly (a cor is six artabae) and 10,000 cors of wine (a liquid cor is ten measures), oil and other things shall be supplied from Judaea, slaughtered animals to supply meat from Arabia.
“Suron to the Great King Solomon, greetings!
“Blessed be God, the maker of the heavens and the earth, who chose a kind man and the son of a kind man. Upon reading your letter I rejoiced greatly and I praised God that you have succeeded to the kingdom.
“As to your writing me concerning my people, I am sending you 80,000 Tyrians and Phoenicians; and I am also sending you a Tyrian man whose mother was Jewish of the tribe of David [sic – Dan]. Whatever you shall ask him under the heavens, concerning architecture, he will guide you and will do the work. As to the necessities and the servants that I have sent you, you will do well to command the local governors that they supply the necessary provisions.
“But Solomon, with his father’s friends, passed through the Mount Libanus, and together with the Sidonians and the Tyrians transported the timber, which his father had cut, by sea to Joppa and from there by land to Jerusalem.
“And he began to build the temple of God at the age of thirteen. And the work was done by the above-mentioned nations; and the twelve Jewish tribes supplied the 160,000 with all their needs, one tribe each month.
“He laid the foundations of the temple of God, sixty cubits its length and sixty cubits its height, but the width of the building and of the foundation was ten cubits wide. Thus he was commanded by Nathan, the prophet of God. And he built alternately a course of stone and a later of cypress wood, bonding the two courses together with bronze clamps of a talent weight. Having built it thus he boarded the inside wall with cedar and cypress wood so that the stone walls were not visible. He overlaid the naos with gold on the inside by casting golden bricks row by row, five cubits long, fastening them to the walls with silver nails, weighing a talent, in the shape of a breast, four in number.
“Thus he covered it with gold from the floor to the ceiling; and the ceiling he made with gold; but the roof he made of bronze tiles, having smelted the bronze and cast it into molds.
“He also made two pillars and covered them with pure gold, a finger thick. The pillars were of the same height as the temple, the width of each pillar was ten cubits in circumference; and he set one of the pillars on the right side of the house, the other on the left. He made also ten lampstands of gold, each weighing ten talents, having taken as a model the lampstand made by Moses in the tabernacle of the testimony. He placed some of the lampstands at the right of the shrine, others at the left. He also made seventy lamps of gold, so that each lampstands had seven lamps. He also built the gates of the temple adorning them with gold and silver and he paneled them with cedar and cypress wood. He also made, in the northern portion of the temple, a porch, and he supported it with forty-eight pillars of brass.
“He also built a bronze laver, twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide and five cubits high, extending a brim around the base a cubit long, projecting to the outside, so that the priests may stand upon it when they dip their feet and wash their hands. He also made the twelve legs of the laver of cast oxen, the height of a man, and he attached them to the lower part of the laver, at the right of the altar.
“He also made a bronze platform, two cubits high around the laver, so that the king may stand upon it when praying, that he would be seen by the Jewish people. He also built an altar twenty-five cubits and twelve cubits high.
“He also made two bronze ringlike lattices, and he set them upon contrivances, which rose above the temple twenty cubits, and they cast a shadow over the entire sanctuary. And upon each network he hung four hundred bronze bells of a talent weight. And he made the entire network so that the bells would toll and frighten away the birds, that none would settle upon the temple nor nest in the panels of the gates and porches nor pollute the temple with their dung. He also surrounded the city of Jerusalem with walls, towers and trenches. He also built a palace for himself.
“The shrine was first called the temple of Solomon, but later, because of the temple, was falsely named Jerusalem, but by the Greeks it was called Hierosolyma.
“When he had completed the Temple and walls of the city, he went to Selom and offered a sacrifice to God, a burnt-offering of 1,000 oxen. Then he took the tabernacle and the altar and the vessels, which Moses had made, and he carried them to Jerusalem and he placed them in the house. And the ark and the golden altar and the lampstand and the table and the other vessels he also placed there, as the prophet commanded him. But he offered there a myriad offering to God, 2,000 sheep, 3,500 oxen.
“But the total weight of gold expended on the two pillars and the Temple was 4,600,000 talents; bronze for the columns, the laver, and the porch, 18,050 talents. Then Solomon sent back the Egyptians and the Phoenicians to their respective countries, after having given to each man ten golden shekels, a shekel equals a talent. And to Uaphres, the king of Egypt, he sent 10,000 measures of oil, 1,000 artabae of date-nuts, 100 vessels of honey and spices. But to Suron of Tyre he sent a pillar of gold, which was set up in Tyre in the Temple of Zeus.”
Given the subject of this fragment, which gives a summary account and partial chronology of Israel’s history from Moses to King Solomon and then a very detailed – not to mention greatly embellished – description of the construction of Solomon’s Temple, it is not immediately apparent why Eupolemus gave the work from which this fragment was drawn the title “On the Prophecy of Elias.” Clues to the explanation of the title are probably to be found in the chronological figures provided for Moses, Joshua (“Jesus the son of Naue”), Saul, David, and Solomon, and in the fact that the leadership of Moses, Joshua, and Samuel is described as “prophesying.” It is probable that Eupolemus wrote this particular account of Israel’s history and chronology in order to present an eschatological chronology that predicted when God would send Elijah the Prophet to herald the coming of the Messianic Kingdom (as told in the Prophecy of Elijah in Malachi 3:23-24). Certainly Eupolemus was not the only Jew in his day who nurtured a Messianic hope that yearned for the coming of Elijah the Prophet. As Wacholder notes (page 23), we see allusions to the same hope for Elijah’s coming in I Maccabees 4:46, where it is told that the Maccabees set aside the stones of the defiled altar until “the prophet” decides what should be done with them, and in I Maccabees 14:41, where it is said that Simon was appointed high priest “until the true prophet would arise.” In this light, it may be significant that another fragment of Eupolemus (to be discussed later) shows that he calculated the length of time from Adam to 158 B.C. to be 5,149 years. “Jew and Christian had long believed that the redeemer would appear in the sixth millennium after Adam,” observed Wacholder, who wondered, “Was Eupolemus’ interest in chronology motivated by the belief that the appearance of the Prophet Elijah was soon at hand? If so, the title On the Prophecy of Elijah was quite appropriate.”
Extensive though this fragment is, it is but a part of Eupolemus’ work. Unfortunately nothing of what Eupolemus wrote about Elijah has survived, and almost nothing of what he wrote of the later kings of Israel and Judah has survived. We may be grateful that this particular account was of interest to Alexander Polyhistor, who transcribed it as a part of his On the Jews, and then from there it was summarised by writers such as Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius Pamphilii. Let us now consider at greater length what this fragment says.
The opening sentences of this fragment briefly cover the period from Moses to David, skipping the period of the Judges. These sentences are either excerpts from a chronological summary in Eupolemus’ work, or else they are Polyhistor’s epitome of the chapters of Eupolemus’ work in which Eupolemus gave a detailed account of the centuries from the Exodus to David’s reign. From Holy Scripture we know that Moses led Israel for 40 years from the Exodus until just before Israel crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. Scripture likewise tells us how old Joshua was when he died, but does not state explicitly how long he led Israel after the death of Moses. Eupolemus says Joshua led Israel for 30 years, a figure that was probably ascertained (perhaps by Demetrius the Chronographer?) by comparing Joshua 14:7 with the other data provided by Scripture: Joshua’s friend Caleb said he was 40 years old when Moses sent him and Joshua into Canaan with the other spies, and in Numbers 14:32-33 after the spies’ evil report God says Israel was to wander in the Wilderness for 40 years as punishment for their infidelity and disobedience. Assuming that Caleb and his friend Joshua were the same age, we may calculate 110 – (40 + 40) = 30.
However, Joshua and Caleb probably weren’t the same age, and so we find that other ancient writers assign different totals for Joshua’s rule: Josephus says 25 years, Clement of Alexandria and most later Christian chronographers say 27 years; a medieval note in the margin of a Masoretic Hebrew Bible also says 27 years; the second-century A.D. Seder Olam says 28 years, and Pseudo-Philo (the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum) gives the obviously erroneous and probably corrupt figure of 40 years. The figure of 30 years in fact cannot be supported from Scripture, for not only can we not be sure that Caleb and Joshua were the same age, but neither does Numbers 14:32-33 actually state that the 40 years in the Wilderness would begin at that point: rather, those 40 years include the previous year from the Exodus until the incident of the spies as well as the final year of Moses’ life. The best we can do using the data provided in the Bible is to say that Joshua’s friend Caleb was 40 years old in the second year following the Exodus and was 85 years old at the conclusion of Joshua’s campaigns of conquest. Therefore Caleb was 78 or 79 when Joshua led Israel across the Jordan, which means Joshua’s campaigns had lasted six or seven years. For the length of the remainder of Joshua’s rule we can only speculate – no doubt the ancient writers’ guesses of 25 to 30 years are pretty close, and 27 being supported by the majority of ancient authorities is most likely to be correct.
After Joshua, the fragment then moves ahead to Samuel, last of the Judges, who anointed Saul as Israel’s first king. In Holy Scripture the length of Saul’s reign and his age when he became king were formerly stated in I Samuel 13:1, but unfortunately the original Hebrew text of that verse is defective, such that the correct numbers dropped out of the text at some point prior to the creation of the Greek Septuagint. As it now stands, the Hebrew Masoretic of this verse reads in English, “Saul was … years old when he became king, and he reigned [ X + 2 ?] years over Israel.” Most Septuagint manuscripts omit this verse altogether (either accidentally or because the reading of the verse was defective), but a few later Septuagint copies say “Saul was 30 years old when he became king . . . .” It is thought that the number 30 in these later manuscripts arose because a scribe simply borrowed it from David’s age when he became king. Since Saul’s son Jonathan apparently was already old enough to lead troops in battle even early in his father’s reign (though that is also in doubt), it seems likely that Saul was older than 30 when he became king. As for the total years of Saul’s reign, St. Paul said in Acts 13:21 that Saul reigned 40 years. Some modern translations render I Samuel 13:1 with a conjecture that Saul reigned a total of 42 years, while other translations conjecture 32 years or 22 years. Eupolemus, in comparison, says Saul reigned for 21 years, but it is impossible to say where Eupolemus got that figure. Flavius Josephus agrees with St. Paul that Saul reigned 40 years (18 years with Samuel, 22 years alone), while Pseudo-Philo says Saul reigned 31 years, a decade higher than Eupolemus’s regnal number. In stark contrast to the other ancient traditions and modern conjectures, the Seder Olam intentionally deflates the total period of the judgeship of Samuel and the reign of Saul to an impossible 13 years.
Moving on to what Eupolemus had to say about the reign of Saul’s successor David, it is noteworthy that Eupolemus calls David the “son” of King Saul rather than “son-in-law.” A later manuscript of Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica, shows an alternate reading here of “son-in-law,” but that is most likely a scribal gloss that brought Eupolemus’ text back into explicit accordance with biblical history. It is possible that when Eupolemus called David the son of Saul, he only meant that David was Saul’s successor and had a familial relationship with him (along the lines of Daniel 5:13, where Nebuchadnezzar is said to be the “father” of his descendant and successor Belshazzar son of Nabonidus – cf. Baruch 1:11). Another hypothesis is that it was Polyhistor who mistakenly called David the son of Saul as he quickly scanned Eupolemus to make an epitome of his text. However, Wacholder proposed (pages 130-131) that Eupolemus may have intentionally altered the relationship of David and Saul in order to elide the historical accounts of David’s rivalry with Saul and Saul’s son Ishbosheth. As we shall see, Eupolemus adopted a rather free approach to interpreting and relating Israel’s history.
Thus, we find that Eupolemus presents a generally accurate summary of the wars David fought with the surrounding Gentile nations and of the plans and preparations David made for the construction of the Temple. Nevertheless, in his description of David’s reign Eupolemus departs from the biblical narrative in three ways. To begin with, Eupolemus says nothing of David’s long wars against the Philistines and their giants that are related in II Samuel and I Chronicles. Instead, Eupolemus tells of two campaigns that David undertook against the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon by which David defeated the King of Tyre and forced him to pay annual tribute to Israel. In fact the Scriptures say nothing of any campaign against Phoenicia, and instead present David’s relations with Tyre and its king as that of peaceful and friendly cooperation (I Kings 5:1) – an alliance of equals, not a clash of enemies resulting in the subjection of Tyre to Israel. Secondly, Eupolemus has a most curious Grecianised spelling of the King of Tyre’s name: Suron (Souron) rather than Hiram. The Hebrew Scriptures show three spellings of Hiram’s name – Chiram, Chirom, and Churam. The vowel changes in Churam > Souron are normal, as is the shift from m to n, but the alteration of the initial ch to s is very puzzling – it’s not a natural Hebrew-to-Greek adaptation of a biblical name, but rather is, as we shall see, quite artificial.
The third way that Eupolemus’ account of David’s reign differs from biblical history is his statement that David entered into an alliance with Uaphres, King of Egypt. The Scriptures neither mention any alliance between David and Egypt nor even mention any of the pharaohs reigning while David was king. That, of course, does not mean this reported alliance between Israel and Egypt never happened. It would have been impossible for David not to have had some sort of diplomatic contact with the pharaohs of Tanite Dynasty XXI, though it is doubtful the contact rose to the level of a formal alliance. Egypt in David’s day had sunk into a period of decline, with Dynasty XXI’s effective authority being limited to Lower Egypt, while the High Priests of Amun in Thebes controlled Middle and Upper Egypt and were only nominally subject to the pharaohs at Tanis. Thus, Egypt’s pharaohs in those days had more than enough internal troubles to deal with, so David did not have to worry about Egyptian meddling in Israel’s affairs. He was probably on relatively cordial terms with Egypt, given the fact that his son Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter not long after ascending David’s throne. Still, even if David did make an alliance with the Egyptian pharaoh as Eupolemus says, it is a simple fact that none of the Pharaohs of Dynasty XXI were named Uaphres – the pharaohs who were contemporary with David and Solomon were Siamun and Psusennes II of Dynasty XXI and Shoshenk I of Dynasty XXII. There was a real Pharaoh Uaphres, however – he is the Pharaoh Hophra named in Jeremiah 44:30 at the conclusion of a prophecy that Jeremiah uttered against the unfaithful Jewish refugees whom Hophra had welcomed after the Fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The Egyptian form of Hophra’s regnal name was Wahibre Haaibre, but the Greek historians Herodotus and Diodorus call him Apries and the Egyptian priest and historian Manetho calls him Uaphris – the only pharaoh of that name.
Eupolemus’ alterations and embellishments to the history of ancient Israel did not stop with the history of King David, but continued throughout the remainder of this extended fragment in which Eupolemus related in great detail the construction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem – not even the Temple’s dimensions were left unaltered. There are, in fact, far too many ways that Eupolemus departed from the facts of history in this fragment for us to conveniently consider them all in this paper. Instead, this analysis will be restricted to the specifics Solomon’s kingship and his actions in setting the Temple’s construction under way.
From the very start of Eupolemus’ account of King Solomon’s reign we find noteworthy details. For instance, Eupolemus says Solomon was 12 years old when he became king “in the presence of Eli, the high priest.” In fact it was in the presence of the high priest Zadok, who personally anointed Solomon king. The other chief priest at the time was Abiathar, a descendant of the high priest Eli who had ministered at the Tabernacle of God at Shiloh. It seems hardly coincidental that Eupolemus replaced the name “Zadok” with the name of Abiathar’s ancestor Eli. Wacholder suggests that Eupolemus may have “rewritten” this aspect of Israel’s history for the same reason that he called David the “son” of Saul – to elide the complicated story of how the line of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was temporarily supplanted in the high priesthood by the family of Eli, descendant of Eleazar’s younger brother Ithamar, and of how the family of Eli came to its end with the expulsion and disgrace of Abiathar at the start of Solomon’s reign. Eupolemus stressed that Solomon’s reign was an era of peace and goodness, and the story of the punishment and removal of those who had conspired to overrule David’s choice of successor can seem incongruent with that depiction of Solomon’s reign. Alternatively, Wacholder suggested that the priestly division to which Eupolemus belonged, the family of Hakkoz, may have been one of the Ithamarite clans, and so Eupolemus may have been biased in favor of Eli’s family. That suggestion, however, is contradicted by I Chronicles 24:6, which indicates that both the division of Jehoiarib (i.e., the Hasmonaeans or Maccabees) and the division of Hakkoz were descendants of Eleazar, just as the high priest Zadok was. A more plausible suggestion of Wacholder is that Eupolemus replaced Zadok in the account of Solomon’s succession because the name of the House of Zadok had been befouled by the Hellenising syncretistic paganism of the last Zadokite high priests just before the Maccabean uprising.
Another noteworthy aspect of Eupolemus’ account of Solomon’s succession is the statement that Solomon was only 12 years old when he became king. Jewish and Christian tradition are unanimous on that point. Most curiously, the Hebrew Masoretic account of Solomon’s life in II Samuel and I Kings lacks the standard Hebrew chronicler’s statement that is given either at the start or conclusion of a king’s reign, telling both the king’s age at succession and the total length of his reign. I Kings 11:41-43 in the Masoretic Text provides the total years of Solomon’s reign in the context of his death, but the Masoretic Text makes no mention of Solomon’s age at succession (although Solomon in I Kings 3:7 says he is “but a little child,” and David in I Chronicles 22:5 and 29:1 says Solomon is of “young and tender age.”). This omission is highly unusual, given that the Bible includes statements of age at succession for Saul and David and the Kings of Judah. No doubt somewhere along the line that information dropped out of the Proto-Masoretic manuscript tradition due to a scribal error. Some Septuagint manuscripts in I Kings 2:12a include the statement, “And Solomon sat upon the throne of his father David, being 12 years of age, . . . .” The second century A.D. Seder Olam, which relies on the Proto-Masoretic Text, also affirms that Solomon was 12 years old – but, according to Wacholder (page 109), since the Seder Olam author’s copy of I Kings did not include 2:12a, he instead examined the sequence of the events of David’s reign as related in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles to build an elaborate exegetical proof of Solomon’s age at his coronation (an exegesis not unlike those of Demetrius the Chronographer). Wacholder alleged that Eupolemus was responsible for inventing the tradition that Solomon became king at the age of 12, and that this tradition was later inserted into the Septuagint and influenced the author of the Seder Olam. However, the Septuagint’s “additional” words do not read at all like a gloss or interpolation. It’s a far simpler and more likely scenario that a scribe simply skipped over the first part of I Kings 2:12 accidentally, and Eupolemus in this instance merely recorded what his copy of the Bible said.
While there is no reason to reject Eupolemus’ given age for Solomon at his coronation, Eupolemus is clearly wrong to claim that Solomon was 13 when he began to build the Temple. Construction on the Temple actually began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (I Kings 6:1). Solomon being 12 when he became king, he was 16 when he began to build the Temple. Wacholder shows (pages 110-111) that in changing the year of the building of the Temple to the second year of Solomon’s reign, Eupolemus thereby synchronised the building of the Temple with Hiram’s construction of Tyre’s temple of Baal. Advancing the commencement of construction of the Temple to Solomon’s second year was one of the ways Eupolemus embellished and exaggerated the greatness of Solomon, which amounted to yet another boast exaggerating and glorifying Israel in comparison to the pagan nations. For Eupolemus, the Bible’s description of the glories of Solomon’s reign were a prompt for him to inflate Solomon’s and Israel’s greatness even more.
That is one of the motives for Eupolemus’ spotlighting Solomon’s relationship with Pharaoh “Uaphres” and King “Suron” of Tyre. We have already seen how Eupolemus altered the relationship of David and Hiram/Suron from one of friendship and alliance to one of Israelite hegemony over Suron. Similarly, Eupolemus claimed David had made an alliance with Pharaoh Uaphres. In making those claims, Eupolemus laid the groundwork for his account of the assistance that Uaphres and Suron rendered to Solomon in the building of the Temple – an account that centered on the correspondence between Solomon and Uaphres, and between Solomon and Suron. To be sure, letters between Solomon and Hiram are quoted in Kings and Chronicles, having been preserved in some of the ancient Israelite royal chronicles and annals that are quoted and cited in the biblical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. All the same, it is obvious that the letters in this fragment are works of fiction on the part of Eupolemus. For one thing, we have already noted that the pharaohs in the days of David and Solomon were Siamun, Psusennes II, and Shoshenk I, not Uaphres. In fact the biblical narrative indicates that the pharaoh who gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon in Solomon’s third year must have been Psusennes II (regnal name Tyetkheperre Hor-Psaebakhaenniut, 967-943 B.C.), next to last pharaoh of Dynasty XXI, who had newly ascended the Egyptian throne probably within a year of the marriage. Besides that, the Bible is entirely silent on Egypt supplying any labor or materials for the construction of the Temple – not 80,000 workers, not even a single man.
As it happens, Eupolemus was not the only Jewish source to claim Solomon received help from the Egyptian pharaoh in the construction of the Temple. In the fifth or sixth century A.D. midrashic work Pesiqta d’Rab Kahana, it is told that Solomon wrote to Pharaoh Necho ordering him to send craftsmen to help build the Temple – the midrash goes on to relate how Necho cleverly tried to evade obedience but was thwarted by Solomon’s astrological expertise. This tale is almost as anachronistic as Eupolemus’ account of Solomon’s correspondence with Uaphres. In fact, Necho II (610-595 B.C.), who is probably best known for defeating and killing the pious King Josiah of Judah in battle, was the grandfather of Uaphres. It is curious that both of these stories anachronistically draw names of pharaohs from Egypt’s Saite Dynasty XXVI to supply names for the pharaoh who was contemporary with Solomon’s early reign. In choosing the name “Necho,” did the midrash intend to humble the pharaoh who had brought low Judah’s last great and virtuous king?
Now, the alleged correspondence between Solomon and Suron is admittedly more plausible than that between Solomon and Uaphres, not only because the Bible does relate at length the assistance Hiram provided in building the Temple, but also because Eupolemus’ letter resembles the authentic copies of Hiram’s letter to Solomon in I Kings 5:8-9 and II Chronicles 2:11-17. In addition, the letters of Solomon and Suron are written in a Hebrew style, unlike the letters of Solomon and Uaphres that are written in the style of Greek epistles. Even so, none of these letters has any claim to authenticity. One sign of their spurious nature is the fact that they follow the correct style of second century B.C. Near Eastern diplomatic dispatches (as would be expected, since we know from I Maccabees that Eupolemus was an accomplished ambassador). Furthermore, they allege that laborers working directly on the Temple were Egyptian and Phoenician, whereas in fact almost all of the labor was provided by Gentiles already living in Israel along with a force of 30,000 Israelites. The materials for the Temple came from Phoenicia and elsewhere, and King Hiram also sent a half-Danite craftsman named Hiram (whose name is Grecianised as “Hyperon” in Clement of Alexandria’s fragment), but nowhere in Scripture do we find mention of 80,000 Phoenician laborers and 80,000 Egyptian laborers being sent to do the work, with the Israelites doing nothing more than supplying food and drink for the Gentile workmen. I Kings 5:15-16 and II Chronicles 2:2, 18 total the non-Israelite workers at 70,000 burden-bearers, 80,000 rock quarriers, supervised by 3,600 Israelite overseers, but do not specify that the Gentile workforce was about half Egyptian and half Phoenician (though no doubt most of them were in fact Canaanites, of the same stock as the Phoenicians).
In departing so drastically from the historical facts of the Temple’s construction, Eupolemus presented Israel in the role of master and the nations of Egypt and Phoenicia in the role of client kingdoms. This helps to explain why Eupolemus replaced the historical Hiram, King of Tyre, friend and ally of David and Solomon, with Suron, King of Tyre, subject of David and Solomon. Also, according to Wacholder, it explains why Eupolemus gave the name “Uaphres” to Solomon’s father-in-law. Eupolemus no doubt was well aware that Pharaoh Hophra was a contemporary of the last Kings of Judah rather than of Kings David and Solomon, and that the pharaoh contemporary with David and Solomon was left unnamed in Holy Scripture. Likewise he knew that the King of Tyre’s name did not start with “S.” Why, then, did Eupolemus opt for the names of “Uaphres” and “Suron”? Wacholder, laying stress on the fact that Eupolemus claimed David not only waged war on the Syrians but even put the Phoenicians to tribute, proposed the following solution (pages 135, 137):
“There seems to have been an identification [in Eupolemus’ work] of the ancient Phoenicians
and Syrians with the Seleucid empire during the Maccabean revolt.
Tyre had desperately resisted the Macedonian conquest of the Persian Empire,
but she and her sister port of Sidon, as is attested in Phoenician coinage, became
favored cities of Antiochus IV [Epiphanes]. . . .
“As has been suggested above, Eupolemus equated the Syria and Phoenicia of
David’s time with the Seleucid realm of his own day, the enemy of the Jews and
Judaism. Egypt, however, served as a place of refuge from the hated Syrians. King
David made an alliance with Egypt, Eupolemus states, but subdued the Syrians.
Eupolemus, it would seem, abandoned the form ‘Hiram’ because this name was
closely associated in Scripture with the building of the Temple. Suron, however,
evidently resembled the forms of Suryah and Suri, the Aramaic or Hebrew
equivalents of Syria and Syrian, respectively. And during the Maccabean revolt,
the term ‘Syrian’ certainly assumed pejorative connotations. . . .
“Other pieces of the puzzle now begin to fall into place. Eupolemus may have
made Vaphres a contemporary of David because it was this pharaoh who had
offered a haven to many Jews who were fleeing from their Babylonian enemies
on the last years of the First Temple. Conceivably, the Ptolemaic kingdom
secretly abetted the Hasmonean rebels. So Vaphres (Hophra, Jer. 44:30) became
David’s only ally. The biblical tradition has no record of Egypt’s role in the
construction of the temple, but Eupolemus assigned to Vaphres a significant
share in the Solomonic sanctuary, perhaps even exceeding that of the Phoenician
king. Eupolemus’ father, it should be remembered, represented the priestly class
which, in about 200 B.C., had welcomed Antiochus III’s conquest of Coele-
Syria. Now that political winds were changing, Eupolemus doctored biblical
Wacholder’s theory is reasonable and compelling. Truly, why else would Eupolemus have rewritten history in the specific way that he did? Wacholder even goes as far as to speculate that Eupolemus’ invention of King David’s Phoenician campaign was due to his bestowing the name of Uaphres on David’s Egyptian ally – for Herodotus recorded the Phoenician campaign of Pharaoh “Apries” (Uaphris, Hophra). Wacholder also thought Eupolemus derived the names of the Egyptian nomes mentioned in the letter of Uaphres from Herodotus, noting that Herodotus’ geographical description of Egypt occurs close to his account of Apries’ attack on Phoenicia. Thus, Wacholder reasoned, when Eupolemus assigned the name of Uaphres to David’s Egyptian ally, he at the same time was able to claim that David had subdued the Phoenicians (apparently as Uaphres’ ally). All of this is probably pressing the argument much too far, though. Eupolemus never says David accompanied Uaphres on his attack on Phoenicia – he says only that David formed an alliance with Uaphres, and that David subdued Phoenicia, without linking the two things. In all likelihood Eupolemus recycled the name Uaphres simply because Hophra had given Jewish exiles a safe haven, thus making it a suitable name for a pharaoh whom Eupolemus had decided to present as a political symbol of the Ptolemies of his own day. In the same way, Eupolemus probably attributed a Davidic campaign against “Suron” in order to depict the Maccabean victories over Syria which controlled Phoenicia in Eupolemus’ day. There is no reason to think Eupolemus had to consult Herodotus to learn the names of Egypt’s nomes, nor that Eupolemus modeled David’s Phoenician campaign on the Phoenician campaign of Apries.
We see, then, that these alterations and embellishments to the history of David and Solomon had the effect of recasting aspects of their reigns to serve as pro-Maccabean political propaganda. In this way, Eupolemus could indicate to his readers that the cause and policies of the Maccabees had precedent in Israel’s history. Similar to Eupolemus’ rewriting of history is the Book of Judith, in which the story of the victory of Judith is rewritten in a semi-fictional manner so that the story could be more than a simple historical narrative, but also serve as a political and religious allegory of the Maccabean resistance to Antiochus Epiphanes (who is represented in Judith as “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Assyria”). Even the fate of Judas Maccabaeus’ enemy Nicanor is echoed in what Judith does to Nebuchadnezzar’s general Holofernes.
Having examined this fragment of Eupolemus at some length, we will pass briefly over the remainder of this fragment, in which Eupolemus goes into great detail in describing (sometimes erroneously) Solomon’s Temple, and will only comment on three interesting details of Eupolemus’ account. First, whereas the Bible associates the prophet Gad with King David’s acquisition of Mount Moriah, Eupolemus replaces Gad with the prophet Nathan. Again, Eupolemus makes the very curious and puzzling assertion that it was the Temple itself, rather than the city, that was named “Jerusalem” (Grecianised as Hierosolyma). That statement is plainly erroneous and frankly makes no sense. Perhaps that passage of the fragment has been garbled by scribal error.
Coming to the end of the fragment, we find the eyebrow-raising statement that Solomon sent a pillar of gold to “Suron” of Tyre, who set it up in the Temple of Zeus in Tyre. Alexander Polyhistor expanded on this statement by quoting a pagan historian named Theophilus, as follows:
“Theophilus says that Solomon sent the surplus gold to the king of Tyre, who made a life-size likeness of his daughter and he adorned the golden column of the statue with a covering.”
Wacholder shows (pages 217-219) that these remarks of Eupolemus and Theophilus are related to statements from the Phoenician historian Dius, who said King Hiram adorned the Temple of Zeus Olympus (Baal Shamiyn) with offerings of gold, and the Greek historian Menander of Ephesus, who said Hiram “dedicated the golden pillar to the temple of Zeus.” To their statements Eupolemus added the information that the gold had come from Solomon. As for the reference to the likeness of the daughter of the king of Tyre, that is probably linked to a tradition found in the Phoenician writer Laetus, who said he derived his information from the earlier Phoenician writers Theodotus, Hypsicrates, and Mochus. Laetus not only mentioned Hiram’s supplying wood for the building of Solomon’s Temple, but also said Solomon married one of King Hiram’s daughters (cf. I Kings 11:1). Wacholder also proposed (pages 15-16) that Eupolemus may have invented the story of Solomon’s gift of gold being used for pagan religious purposes in Tyre in order to justify a scandalous incident related in II Maccabees 4:18-20, in which the Hellenising Jewish high priest Jason sent 300 drachmas to Tyre in honor of the demi-god Heracles. Wacholder says Eupolemus may have been personally involved in the scandal, or perhaps it’s simply that it was during the ascendancy of the Hellenisers in Judaea that Eupolemus wrote the history from which this fragment was drawn.
“Eupolemus says that Solomon made also 1,000 shields, each of them weighed 500 shekels of gold. But he lived 52 years, 40 of which he reigned in peace.”
This brief fragment also comes to us by way of Eusebius quoting Alexander Polyhistor, and in fact it is only the abovementioned quote from Theophilus that separates these words from the very lengthy third fragment. The Bible mentions the great number of shields that King Solomon ordered to be made in I Kings 10:16-17 – the golden shields adorned his palace. Regarding this fragment, Wacholder comments (page 224), “It is curious that in the fabulous depiction of Solomon’s splendor, Eupolemus chose to record only the decorative shields. Perhaps, though, the responsibility for this banal selection lies with the excerptor – Alexander Polyhistor. Eupolemus’ account of the Temple remains to a large extent, but of his account of Solomon’s reign little has survived.”
Eupolemus’ description of the shields departs from what biblical history records of them. The Masoretic Text says Solomon made 200 shields each of them weighing 600 gold shekels, along with 300 shields each of which weighed 300 gold shekels. The Septuagint’s obviously corrupted totals are 300 shields weighing 300 shekels each, with a second group of 300 shields also weighing 300 shekels each. Eupolemus, however, apparently looked to the Song of Solomon 4:4, which mentions 1,000 shields decorating the Tower of David in Jerusalem, and so he inflated the number of shields adorning Solomon’s palace, also increasing their weight for good measure. With this exaggeration Eupolemus stressed the greatness and wealth of Israel’s Solomonic Golden Age.
The fragment concludes with a numerical summing up of Solomon’s life and reign – despite the blessings given him, for his indulgence of and participation in idolatry Solomon did not see the usual three score years and ten, ascending the throne at age 12 and reigning 40 years, and thus dying at age 52.
“Besides this Polyhistor makes mention of Jeremiah’s prophecy. It would be most unreasonable for us to pass over this in silence. Let this also be put down:
“Then Jonachim, in whose reign the prophet Jeremiah prophesied. Sent by God, he caught the Jews sacrificing to the golden idol named Baal. He warned them of the forthcoming calamity, but Jonachim attempted to burn him alive. But he said that with this wood they shall cook dishes for the Babylonians and that as captives they shall dig canals in the Tigris and Euphrates.
“But when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians, heard the prophecy of Jeremiah, he summoned Astibares, the king of the Medes, to join him in an expedition. After having taken with him Babylonians and Medes, he gathered 180,000 foot soldiers, 120,000 cavalry and 10,000 chariots. He subdued first Samaritis, Galilee, Scythopolis, and the Jews who lived in Galaaditis. Then he conquered Jerusalem and he took captive the king of the Jews, Jonachim. But the gold, the silver, and the brass of the temple he sent to Babylon as tribute. Except the ark and the tablets; these Jeremiah retained.”
Although Eusebius does not say in this fragment that he was quoting from one of the Eupolemus passages of Polyhistor, Wacholder points out (page 227) that all manuscript copies of Praeparatio Evangelica have a page heading at this point that reads “Eupolemus’ ‘On the Prophecy of Jeremiah,’ Ibid.” That heading, along with the fragment’s style, shows that this is another fragment of Eupolemus. This fragment perhaps comes from a separate work entitled On the Prophecy of Jeremiah, but it might rather come from Eupolemus’ On the Kings of Judaea, or from On the Jews. Most likely, though, this fragment comes from On the Prophecy of Elijah., where one meets references to “prophesying” that are similar to this fragment’s initial clause “in whose reign the prophet Jeremiah prophesied.” The “prophecy of Jeremiah” probably refers to his prophetic ministry, though it could be a specific reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Jews would be exiled from the Holy Land for 70 years (609-539 B.C.)
This fragment provides a condensed and simplified account of Jeremiah’s divine mission, the persecution that Jeremiah suffered at the hands of the unfaithful and idolatrous kings of Judah, and the Fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 B.C. Although the name “Jonachim” is clearly a form of “Jehoiakim,” Eupolemus also attributes to Jonachim the deeds and events of the last three kings of Judah – Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), and Zedekiah. In Jeremiah 26 and 36, King Jehoiakim exhibits great hostility toward Jeremiah, threatening to kill Jeremiah and burning a scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecy. In Eupolemus’ fragment, these acts are conflated so that it is Jeremiah himself whom Jonachim attempts to burn. So cruel and hateful a deed is along the lines of later rabbinic tradition, which holds Jehoiakim to have been a wicked tyrant, a murderer, adulterer, and rapist who also engaged in incest and defiled his body by tattooing his skin.
This fragment’s depiction of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem conflates his initial defeat of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and his final victory in 587 B.C. when he destroyed the city and the Temple of Solomon. Jehoiakim was captured by Nebuchadnezzar during the attack of 597 B.C. and, according to Josephus, was executed. Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin then reigned for only three months, and it was Jehoiachin, not his father, who was both taken captive and sent into exile in Babylon. Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah was then appointed king by Nebuchadnezzar, who returned and destroyed the city and Temple 11 years later when Zedekiah rebelled. Like Jehoiachim, Zedekiah was captured and executed by Nebuchadnezzar.
Eupolemus’ account of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Jerusalem not only says the attack was divine punishment for the Jews’ sins, but claims that Nebuchadnezzar chose to attack Jerusalem because, having heard the prophecy of Jeremiah, he set out to fulfill it. It is also remarkable that Eupolemus says the Babylonians waged war on Jerusalem with the help of their Median allies. Classical writers record that Nebuchadnezzar’s wife was Amytis, daughter of Cyaxares I, King of the Medes, indicating that Chaldea and Media certainly were allied during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. It’s certainly possible that the Babylonians carried out their attacks on Jerusalem with the aid of the Medes, but that any Median king accompanied Nebuchadnezzar on his Jewish campaigns is unrecorded in other ancient writers. Wacholder, however, suggests (page 235-236) that Eupolemus’ inclusion of the Medes in the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews is connected to Hecataeus of Abdera’s claim that when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem it was the Persians (Medo-Persians?) who deported the Jews to Babylon. II Maccabees 1:19 also mentions a Persian captivity. As for the name of the Median king, Astibares or Astibaras (624-584 B.C.) is listed as the eighth of the Median kings of the House of Arbaces (per the writings of Ctesias), reigning alongside Cyaxares of the House of Deioces (per the writings of Herodotus), though some ancient chronographers thought Astibaras was an alternative regnal name of Cyaxares.
Eupolemus says Nebuchadnezzar spared the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of
the Ten Commandments, which were kept by Jeremiah rather than being sent as
part of the tribute to Babylon. Eupolemus’ account is similar to that found in
the Jewish letter written circa 163-160 B.C. and reproduced in II Maccabees
1:10-2:18, which says Jeremiah not only saved the Ark and the tablets of the
Law, but also obtained the Tabernacle and the Altar of Incense, and even
preserved and hid some of the incendiary fuel that had been used by the priests
to ignite sacrificial fires at the altar in the Temple. II Maccabees 2:4-7 has
this to say about the fate of the Ark and the Tabernacle:
“. . . the prophet, being warned by God, commanded that the tabernacle and the ark should accompany him, till he came forth to the mountain where Moses went up and saw the inheritance of God. And when Jeremias came thither he found a hollow cave: and he carried in thither the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. Then some of them that followed him came up to mark the place: but they could not find it. And when Jeremias perceived it, he blamed them, saying: The place shall be unknown till God gather together the congregation of the people and receive them to mercy.”
This letter in II Maccabees and the fragment of Eupolemus are roughly contemporary. Wacholder suggested that Eupolemus “was ultimately responsible” for the writing of the letter, but the letter and Eupolemus’s known writings are far too different for them to come from the same author. All that can be said is that the tradition that Jeremiah saved and hid the Ark and other ancient religious artifacts was current in the days of Judas Maccabaeus. A similar tradition is also found in later Jewish writings such as The Lives of the Prophets, Josippon, and the Chronicle of Jerahmeel. On the other hand, talmudic lore relates that Rabbi Eleazar said Nebuchadnezzar sent the Ark and the tablets to Babylon. Wacholder also cites (page 242) various passages of the Mishnah and Talmud that say the Ark of the Covenant was indeed hidden during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem – but this talmudic tradition says the Ark was hidden in a chamber or cavern beneath the Temple Mount, specifically the chamber where the wood for the altar fire was stored.
“Yet in a similar work [i.e. similar to Demetrius and Philo] Eupolemus says that the total number of years from Adam until the fifth year of King Demetrius, of Ptolemy the twelfth [year], the king of Egypt, is 5,149 years; from the time that Moses brought the Jews out of Egypt, on the beforehand appointed day, a total of [two] thousand five hundred and eighty. But from that time to the time of Gnaius Dometian and Asinius, the consuls in Rome, make 120 years.”
In this fragment, preserved in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata, is chronological data showing that the work from which this fragment was drawn was written by Eupolemus in 158 B.C., for the fifth year of King Demetrius I Soter was 158/7 B.C., while the twelfth year of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Physcon was 159/8 B.C. The date of 158 B.C. is further confirmed by Clement’s added remark concerning the Roman consuls “Gnaius Dometian and Asinius” – that is, the Consuls Gaius Dometius and [Gnaius?] Assinius, who held the consulship in 40 B.C., which is 120 years after 160 B.C. – close enough to the twelfth year of Ptolemy VIII that the differences in calculation are rather minor.
The figure that Eupolemus calculated from Adam’s creation down to 158 B.C. yields a date of 5307 B.C. That, according to Wacholder (cf. Jack Finnegan’s 1998 Handbook of Biblical Chronology, page 145), exactly aligns with Demetrius’ date for Adam’s creation. Thus, both Demetrius in Alexandria and Eupolemus in Jerusalem had copies of the Book of Genesis that contained the long “Septuagint” numbers in Genesis 5 and 11. This also indicates that the long chronology was then present in the original Hebrew, for it is clear from the extant fragments of Eupolemus that he was not dependent on the Greek Septuagint, which left untranslated various difficult Hebrew terms that Eupolemus instead translated into Greek. Eupolemus thus relied on both Hebrew and Greek biblical texts – and under no possible calculus can the Masoretic numbers yield a total of 5,149 years from Adam to the year 158 B.C.
However, Eupolemus differs from Demetrius in his date of the Exodus: Demetrius dates the Exodus to Anno Mundi 3839 (that is, 1468 B.C. counting from 5307 B.C.), but using the figure as given in Clement’s fragment of Eupolemus (assuming the figure is not corrupt) we obtain an impossibly early date for the Exodus of Anno Mundi 2569 (thus, 2738 B.C. counting from 158 B.C.). That places the Exodus 1,270 years before Demetrius’ date. Various scholars have very reasonably emended Clement’s text from 2,580 to 1,580 – this gives an Exodus date of Anno Mundi 3569 (1738 B.C.), thus decreasing the difference between Demetrius and Eupolemus to 270 years, a discrepancy that probably is accounted for by scribal errors in the figures of the Pre-Abrahamic Patriarchs of Genesis 11. In comparison, the Masoretic numbers yield a date of Anno Mundi 2728 for the Exodus. Thus Eupolemus’ emended Exodus date is somewhat earlier than Demetrius’ date but much earlier than the Masoretic Anno Mundi chronology.
In contrast, Wacholder believed that the Masoretic numbers were the original readings in the Book of Genesis, and he argued that Demetrius had followed the Septuagint’s numbers (or even personally invented the Septuagint’s numbers) while Eupolemus followed the Proto-Masoretic’s numbers. In support of this, he compared what he said was the Masoretic total from Adam to the Exodus with the equivalent total in Clement’s fragment of Eupolemus. Wacholder’s Masoretic total is 2,668 years, which is only 101 years more than the unemended Eupolemus total – this, Wacholder correctly noted, is a difference that could have arisen from a scribal error in one of the figures in Genesis 11. Nevertheless, Wacholder’s Masoretic total is incorrect. First, it should be noted that the correct Masoretic total from Adam to the Exodus is not 2,668 years, but 2,728 years, a discrepancy of 159 years – not 101 years – from the unemended Eupolemus total. Second, anyone who would propose that Eupolemus used the Masoretic numbers must explain why and how Eupolemus and Demetrius both arrived at the same date for the creation of Adam. Since we know Demetrius relied on Septuagintal figures to tally up the years back to Adam, it stands to reason that Eupolemus used the same figures, although Eupolemus evidently made use of an original Hebrew text of Genesis while Demetrius used the Greek Septuagint. Wacholder proposed (page 112), however, that Eupolemus adopted Demetrius’ date of Adam’s creation but otherwise used Masoretic numbers, doing so in order to push Moses back to 2738 B.C. and so “confirm the thesis advanced by Eupolemus that Moses was the father of civilization” (see Fragment two). But how can anyone know that Eupolemus used Masoretic numbers for the period from Adam to the Exodus when this theory of Wacholder’s necessarily entails that Eupolemus intentionally disregarded the Masoretic numbers for the period from the Exodus to the Fall of Jerusalem? The theory that the fragment’s aberrant figure of 2,580 is corrupt is simpler and far more plausible than Wacholder’s theory that Eupolemus used a hybrid Septuagint-Masoretic chronology (which is really a kind of special pleading on Wacholder’s part).
What to make of Eupolemus?
Having concluded our review of the six extant fragments of Eupolemus’ writings, it is evident that he was a markedly different sort of historian than his predecessor Demetrius the Chronographer. Demetrius’ focus was chiefly upon biblical chronology and elucidating the biblical narrative through an examination of difficult or unexplained passages of Scripture. Though there is broad agreement between Demetrius and Eupolemus in matters of chronology, nevertheless Eupolemus was much freer with the record of biblical history than was Demetrius, who rarely departed from the biblical record. Unlike Demetrius, Eupolemus consulted Gentile writers and incorporated information from them into his own writings, though often not in a straightforward manner. Though Eupolemus sometimes handed on authentic extrabiblical history, far more often his departures from the biblical record were unabashed embellishments, exaggerations, fictionalisations, and outright concoctions. In short, as interesting and as informative as he often may be, Eupolemus was frankly a poor historian – undependable and prone to invention.
While Demetrius sought to expound and clarify the Bible’s history, the truth of which Demetrius unselfconsciously affirmed, Eupolemus’ purpose in writing his works of Jewish history was quite different. That purpose was succinctly presented in Joseph Rosenbloom’s book review of Wacholder’s study, published in The American Historical Review, Vol. 81, Issue 4, Oct. 1976, page 918. The review sums up Wacholder’s analysis of Eupolemus historical writings in this way:
“Eupolemus’ goal apparently was to promote Judaism for those Jews who were
profoundly influenced by Greek culture by indicating that Jewish culture was the
oldest in the world and that it was Jews who really taught others, rather than vice
versa. Somewhat later, Philo of Alexandria attempted to do the same by noting
that Plato learned from the Bible and the teachings of Moses. What we have then,
Wacholder concludes, is an essentially new history of the Jews, fusing biblical
with Hellenistic historiography, in response to the needs of a generation torn
between the attractions of Hellenism and their loyalty to Judaism.”
Eupolemus’ written works, then, were created in the service of the Maccabean effort to defend the divinely-established Jewish nation and the Jews’ divinely-revealed religion from the threat of Hellenism (whether the threat was a matter of allurement or of a systematic program to destroy the Jews and the Torah). Keeping that in mind, one may see the value in Eupolemus’ works, despite his failings as a historian.
The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, translated by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, London, 1851, 2001.
Complete Works, translated by William Whiston, Kregel
Publications, 1960, 1985.
Eupolemus: A Study of Judaeo-Greek Literature, by Ben Zion Wacholder, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, M. Dworkin and Co., New York/Jerusalem, 1974.
Associates for Biblical Research, 27 July 2018, “The Case for the Septuagint's Chronology in Genesis 5 and 11,” Henry B. Smith Jr. --
The American Historical Review, Vol. 81, Issue 4, Oct. 1976, pages 918-919, Review of Eupolemus: A Study of Judaeo-Greek Literature, by Joseph R. Rosenbloom. --
“Pseudo-Eupolemos (724),” by Ted Kaizer, Brill's new Jacoby, 2010. --
The Origin of the Samaritans, by Magnar Kartveit, Brill, Leiden-Boston, 2009, pages 243-257.