By: Kaufmann Kohler
A Greek grammarian and sophist of Alexandria, noted for his bitter hatred of the Jews; born in the Great Oasis of Egypt between 20 and 30
Apion was a man of great versatility of intellect, superficially familiar with all branches of knowledge (περιεργότατōς γραμματικῶυ, Julius Africanus). He lectured on the Pyramids and on Pythagoras, on the virtues and vices of Sappho and Anacreon, on the birthplace of Homer as well as on Lais, the noted courtezan. He loved to dwell on the miraculous things in natural science, whereof he eagerly accumulated facts to illustrate all sorts of mythological and superstitious views. He was also a magnetic orator who knew how to appeal to the imagination of the people. Of his extreme vanity both Josephus and Pliny the Elder give ample proofs. He held out the promise of glorious immortality to any one to whom he should inscribe a work of his. "Thus," says Pliny, "speaks one who is the trumpet of his own fame rather than that of the world, as Tiberius called him" (Pliny, preface 25). Again, after enumerating the remarkable men the Greeks produced, he proclaims Alexandria happy in possessing a citizen like himself (Josephus, "Contra Ap." ii. 13). More serious is that trait of his character for which he was called a "Cretan," as synonymous with impostor (see Von Gutschmid, "Kleinere Schriften," iv. 357). He pretended (Pliny, "Historia Naturalis," xxx. 6) to have raised up Homer's shade from the dead by the help of some magic plant, and to have received from it information about the poet's place of birth and parentage, which he was not permitted to disclose; to have received from Kteson, an inhabitant of Ithaca, during his stay there, an exact description of Penelope's suitors' game of draughts (Athenæus, i. 16); to have heard from Egyptian sages the true account of Moses and the Exodus, an account which he simply copied from Manetho (Josephus, ib. ii. 2); to have been an eye-witness of the scene at the Circus Maximus when the lion recognized Androclus as his benefactor (Gellius, l.c. vi. 4); and of the scene at Puteoli when the dolphin displayed love for a youth (Gellius, l.c. vii. 8). It is almost inconceivable how Von Gutschmid (l.c. p. 360) can defend Apion against the charges of charlatanism made by Lehrs. Trustworthy contemporaries like Pliny the Elder, Seneca, Gellius, and Athenæus represent him exactly as does Josephus, as a man upon whose statements little reliance can be placed. In the "Clementine Homilies" (iv. 8 et seq., v. 5 et seq.) he is introduced both as a believer in magic—if not a fraudulent practitioner of the art —and a defender of Greek mythology.His Egyptian History.
Apion was a voluminous writer, but few of his writings have been preserved except what is found in the quotations of Josephus, his adversary. He wrote a treatise on the Latin language, and was one of the first to compose a glossary on Homer, probably, as Von Gutschmid says, embodied in the "Lexicon Homericon" of his disciple Apollonius, and hence in the "Etymologicon." He wrote a eulogy on Alexander the Great, as Gutschmid supposes, in recognition of the honor of citizenship conferred upon him by the Alexandrians. Another book of his bore the title "On Homer as a Magician," wherein he treated of the superstitious side of Homeric life, such as the magic plant μῶλυ, Circe and Hades, in a manner in keeping with the taste of his age. Apion was the author of "comments" on Homer and on Aristophanes, and also wrote a discourse on Apicius, the gourmet. But his chief work was on Egyptian history, written in close imitation of Manetho's work of the same title, "Ægyptiaca," and embodying the contents of Manetho's other works, the one on the ancient life and worship of the Egyptians, and the other on their theology.Type of an Anti-Semitic.
It was divided into five books, the first three corresponding with the three of Manetho's books, the other two books with two other works of Manetho, and presented in popular style whatever seemed to be marvelous and interesting to a credulous age. While collecting his stories thus from the most dubious sources in Egyptian history, he assumes to speak with the authority of one who has made personal researches regarding the things which he relates, and on the very spot where they occurred. It appears that he made it his especial object to explain animal-worship and other religious practises of the Egyptians by observations of the marvels of nature, and so he wrote a special work on the study of nature and its forms, wherein he also follows Manetho's example and adopts his pantheistic view. As has been clearly shown by Schürer ("Gesch. d. Jüdischen Volkes," iii. 408), it was in the third book of his "Ægyptiaca" (and not in a special book against the Jews, as was erroneously assumed by the Church fathers, and asserted ever since) that those slanders were made by Apion against the Jews which found their way to Tacitus ("History," v. 1-5) and many other writers in Rome, and against which Josephus wrote the second part of his splendid apologetic work, known by the title "Contra Apionem." In the polemical portion of his book, Apion repeated whatever Manetho, Apollonius Molo, Posidonius, Chæremon, and Lysimachus had ever written against the Jews. He first attacks them from the point of view of an Egyptian. He reiterates with considerable embellishment the slanderous tale told by Manetho, of the Jewish people having been led out of Egypt, a horde of lepers, blind and lame. He pretends to have heard from the ancient men of Egypt that Moses was of the city of Heliopolis, the city of the sun, and that is why he taught his people to offer prayers toward the rising sun. To account for the origin of the Sabbath, he tells a story current among the people of the time (if not invented by him) as follows: When the 110,000 lepers (this is the number also given by Lysimachus), expelled from Egypt, had traveled for six days, they developed buboes in their groins, and so they rested on the seventh day for their recuperation. The name for this malady being Sabbo in the Egyptian language, they called the day of rest Sabbath (Josephus, "Contra Ap." ii. 2-3).
Apion next assails the Jews from the point of view of an Alexandrian. He asks how these Jews, coming from Syria, could claim the name and title of Alexandrian citizens, and he upbraids them for not worshiping the same gods as the Egyptians, and specifically for not erecting images to the emperors as all the rest were content to do.Tales About Jewish Worship.
Finally, he derides the religion of the Jews by reiterating all sorts of ridiculous slanders concerning the Temple of Jerusalem. Thus he writes that when Antiochus Epiphanes entered the holy place, he found there an ass's head, made of gold and worth agreat deal of money. To make the fable still more interesting, he relates that when the Jews were at war with the Idumeans, a man by the name of Zabidus, a worshiper of Apollo, the god of the city of Dora, had come forth promising that he would deliver up the god into the hands of the Jews if they would come with him to the Temple and bring the whole multitude of the Jews with them. He then made a wooden instrument and put it around him, placing three rows of lamps therein, so that he appeared to the men in the distance like a walking star on earth; and while the people, affrighted by the sight, remained quiet and afar off, he went into the Temple, removed the golden head of an ass, and went in great haste back to the city of Dora ("Contra Ap." ii. 10). But as the worst of all calumnies, he lays the charge of human sacrifice upon the Jewish faith—a charge which despite all better knowledge of the fact has so often been repeated. He narrates the following story: "Antiochus found in the Temple a bed and a man lying upon it, with a small table before him laden with dainties, from the fish of the sea and the fowl of the land; the man, on being asked by the king the reason for his being there, told him amid sobs and tears that he was a Greek, who had been traveling through the land to earn his livelihood, when he was suddenly seized and brought to the Temple, and there locked up and fattened on those dainties before him. Wondering at these things, he learned upon inquiry that, according to a law of the Jews, they contrive each year at a certain time to capture a Greek foreigner, fatten him up, and then bring him to a certain forest, where they slay him with religious rites; then, tasting of his entrails, they take an oath upon the sacrifice to be at everlasting enmity with the Greeks, and afterward cast the carcass into a pit. And then the man implored Antiochus, out of reverence to the Greek gods, to rescue him from this peril, inasmuch as he was to be slain within a few days."Hatred Against All Nations.
Finally, as denoting their hatred of all non-Jews, he makes the statement that "the Jews swear by God, the Maker of heaven, earth, and sea, to bear no good-will to any foreigner, and particularly to none of the Greeks" ("Contra Ap." ii. 11). He ridicules the Jewish sacrifices, their abstention from swine's flesh, and the rite of circumcision (ib. ii. 14). As special proof that the Jews have neither good laws nor the right worship of God, Apion singles out the fact that they are never rulers of other nations, but always subjects; wherefore their own city (Jerusalem) had often suffered siege and misfortune. But while Rome was always destined to rule them, the Jews would not even submit to her dominion, notwithstanding her great magnanimity (ib. ii. 12). Nor, says Apion, have they ever produced among them any pronounced genius nor inventor of any kind, nor any one at all eminent for wisdom (ib. ii. 13).
The few excerpts preserved by Josephus exhibit systematic defamation of the Jew, and are all the more remarkable as they have been repeated almost in the same form, mutatis mutandis, throughout the anti-Semitic writings of the centuries, from Tacitus, who reechoed these charges in his "History," v. 2-5, down to these days. They comprise, first, aspersions cast upon the Jewish race; secondly, derogatory statements concerning their patriotism and loyalty as citizens; and, thirdly, malicious misrepresentations of their faith, their religious beliefs and rites—accusations originating in old pagan legends and made by a prejudiced multitude ever anew against the Jews, and for some time also against Christians (see Mueller, "Contra Apionem," pp. 258-260, 263-264; and articles on Ass Worship and Blood Accusations).Refuted by Josephus.
Apion, however, found a powerful antagonist in Josephus, who, with great skill and fine sarcasm, refuted every one of his statements. His work has become for both Jewish and Christian writers the model of a systematic defense of the faith. Josephus writes: "I had my doubts whether I should refute this demagogue, but as there are so many people who are more easily caught by superficial talk than by accurate knowledge and delight in denunciation more than in commendations. I thought it to be necessary not to let that man off without examination into his accusations; for, after all, people might wish to see a traducer like this once for all exposed to public contempt."Clement and Apion.
Quite characteristic is the portrait of Apion given in the "Clementine Homilies," v. 2-26 (written about the end of the third century), where Clement relates that he knew Apion to be a great hater of the Jews —one who had written many books against them, and indeed had made friendship with Simon Magus, the Jew-hater, in order to learn from him more against the Jews—and that when, therefore, Apion once called to see him while he was confined to his bed, he pretended that he was sick from love of a woman he could not have. Thereupon Apion, as one proficient with the art of healing, promised to put him in possession of his desired object within six days by the help of magic, and wrote a loveletter or philter, in which he dwelt on all the loves of Zeus and other gods, and showed that to the initiated, as well as to the gods, all illicit loves are permitted. Clement, pretending that he had actually sent the letter to his lady-love, wrote a fictitious reply, purporting to come from the woman, in which she ridiculed and severely censured the gods for their immoral conduct, and closed with the remark that she had learned from a certain Jew to understand and to do things pleasing to God, and not allow herself to be entrapped into adultery by any lying fables; she prayed that Clement too might be helped by God in the effort to be chaste. Apion was enraged upon hearing the letter read, and said: "Have I not reason to hate the Jews? Behold, some Jew has converted her and persuaded her to chastity, and she is no longer accessible to my persuasions. For these fellows, setting God before them as the universal inspector of men's actions, are extremely persistent in chastity, holding that the opposite can not be concealed from Him." Clement then told him that he was not in love with any woman at all, but that after a thorough examination of all other doctrines, he had adopted the doctrine of the unity of God taught him by a certain Jewish linen-merchant, whom he had been fortunate enough to meet in Rome. "Apion then with his unreasonable hatred of the Jews, neither knowing nor wishing to know what their faith was, and being senselessly angry, forthwith quitted Rome in silence."
- Schürer, Gesch. iii. 406-411;
- Gutschmid, Kleinere Schriften, 1893, iv. 356-371;
- Hausrath, Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte, ii. 187-195;
- Reinach, Textes d'Auteurs Grecs et Romains Relatifs au Judaisme, 1895, pp. 125-134;
- Lehrs, Quid Apio Homero Prœstiterit, etc., 1837, pp. 1-34;
- J. G. Mueller, Des Flavius Josephus Schrift gegenden Apion, 1877;
- Lightfoot, art. Apion, in Smith and Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography;
- Cohn, in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, art. Apion;
- Willrich, Juden und Griechen vor der Makkabäischen Erhebung, 1895, pp. 172-176;
- Frankel, in Monatsschrift, 1852, pp. 17, 41, 81, 121;
- Joël, Angriffe d. Heidenthums gegen Juden und Christen;
- Zipser, Des Flavius Josephus Werk: über das Hohe Alter, etc., ed. by Ad. Jellinek, 1871;
- I. Levi, in Rev. Ét. Juives, xli. pp. 188-195.