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  • Jewish Exegesis and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria by Maren R. Niehoff
  • Gregory E. Sterling
Maren R. Niehoff Jewish Exegesis and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011 $85.00.

This is the first full-length study of the relationship between the interpretations of Homer in the scholia and the tradition of Jewish exegesis of Moses in Alexandria. It not only demonstrates the parallels in techniques between the two traditions, but reconstructs the Jewish tradition by measuring Jewish adoption or rejection of Alexandrian scholarship.

Following an introduction that contextualizes the analysis (chapter one), the work falls into three parts. Part One explores Jewish exegetes in the Ptolemaic period, devoting a chapter to each. Pseudo-Aristeas rejected the appropriation of text critical methods and defended the accuracy of the text (Letter 30, 310). Demetrius, on the other hand, adopted Aristarchus' text critical methods in his zetematic treatments and drew from Aristotelian thought to find answers to the contradictions and breaks in verisimilitude. Niehoff situates Demetrius in the late second century b.c.e. rather than the late third century b.c.e. by arguing that the fragment attributed to Demetrius by Clement of Alexandria is to a different Demetrius than the five fragments attributed to Demetrius by Eusebius (54-55). While her analysis is possible, I do not regard it as probable. Clement cited the Demetrius fragment in a context of arguing for the antiquity of Jewish traditions, the very point that the Demetrius fragments cited by Eusebius make. For this reason, I am inclined to believe that Clement and Eusebius were referring to the same author. With this dating, Demetrius cannot have been dependent on Aristarchus (ca. 217-145 b.c.e.). Aristobulus may have found inspiration in the work of Apollodorus, a student of Aristarchus, who combined text criticism with philosophical training in the Peripatetic tradition. Niehoff's placement of Aristobulus' philosophical thought within Peripatetic circles is an independent contribution to the conclusion of Christoph Riedweg and Roberto Radice who pointed out that Aristobulus' distinction between the "being" and "power" of God is the same as in the Pseudo-Aristotelian work De mundo.

Part Two turns to Philo's anonymous predecessors—and perhaps colleagues— who pushed the adoption of critical scholarship further. While Jewish exegetes continued to practice Aristarchian philology, they moved beyond it, under the influence of Aristotelian thought, to comparative mythology. Niehoff opens her treatment of the predecessors by arguing that Philo had access to a Jewish treatise on the tower of Babel that compared the story to Homer's tale of the Aleiodae (Od. 11.315-18 [chapter five]). She based this upon two factors. The first was the full citation of Gen 11.1-9 at the outset of the treatise rather than citations of individual verses as Philo worked through the text. It is, however, not clear that the citation of a longer section of biblical text points to an earlier composition since at this point in the Allegorical Commentary Philo began to cite longer texts at the outset of his treatises, e.g., Gen 12.1-3 in Migr. 1 and Gen 16.6-9, 11-12 in Fug. 1. Niehoff's second basis was Philo's direct response to "those who are disgusted with our ancestral politeia" (Conf. 2). It is true that a Samaritan like [End Page 139] Pseudo-Eupolemus associated the story of the giants with the tower, thus playing with the text mythologically (frgs. 1 and 2). However, the presence of a strong and, at times, savage pagan critique of Judaism in Alexandria opens the door to the possibility that these were pagan critics. In fact, we have evidence from two latter pagan critics that made the same point that Philo makes here (Celsus in Origen, Cels. 4.2 [Niehoff suggests that Celsus knew the Jewish treatise (93)] and Julian 134D-146B). The same issues arise in the identification of the critics of the binding of Isaac in Abr. 178-83, 191 (chapter six), who may have been pagan (see Theophrastus in Porphyry, Abs 2.26; Alexander Polyhistor in Eusebius, Prep. Ev. 9.19; Alexander of Lycopolis, Contra Manichaei opiniones disputatio 24). Niehoff moves to...


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