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ARTAPANUS:

Historian; lived in Alexandria in the second century B.C. He wrote a history of the Jews, parts of which have been preserved in the writings of the church-fathers Eusebius ("Præparatio Evangelica," ix. 18, 23) and Clement of Alexandria ("Stromata," i. 23, 154), as well as in those of some later authors. Freudenthal shows that both Alexander Polyhistor and Josephus made use of Artapanus' work. The fragments that have survived enable one to form an opinion—not a very flattering one—as to the merits of their author. Artapanus evidently belonged to that narrowminded circle of Hellenizing Jews that were unable to grasp what was truly great in Judaism, and, therefore, in their mistaken apologetic zeal—for even in those early days Judaism had its opponents among the Hellenes—set about glorifying Judaism to the outer world by inventing all manner of fables concerning the Jews. As an illustration of this method, the following account of Moses will serve. According to Artapanus (Eusebius, ibid. ix. 27), Moses is he whom the Greeks called Musæus; he was, however, not (as in the Greek legend) the pupil, but the teacher, of Orpheus. Wherefore Moses is not only the inventor of many useful appliances and arts, such as navigation, architecture, military strategy, and of philosophy, but is also—this is peculiar to Artapanus—the real founder of the Greek-Egyptian worship. By the Egyptians, whose political system he organized, Moses was called Hermes διἁ τῶν τῶν ἱερῶν γραμμάτων ἑρμηνείαν ("because he expounded the writings of the priests").

The departure from Egypt is then recounted, with many haggadic additions and embellishments. The astounding assertion, that Moses and the Patriarchs were the founders of the Egyptian religion, led Freudenthal to the assumption that "Artapanus" must be a pseudonym assumed by some Jewish writer who desired to be taken for an Egyptian priest, in order to give greater weight to his words. This supposition, however, as Schürer points out, is highly improbable, and fails to explain the remarkable phenomenon of a Jew ascribing a Jewish origin to the Egyptian pantheon. It is much more probable that Artapanus belonged to a syncretistic circle of philosophers that saw no such grave objection to a moderate idolatry as to prevent its being accepted as of Jewish origin. Having adopted the Greek fables that derived the Egyptian cult from Grecian heroes, and having identified these heroes with Biblical personages, he had no alternative but to trace the idolatry of Egypt to a Jewish source.

[Or, Artapanus' position may have been somewhat as follows: Thinking it necessary for the honor of the Jewish people that they should be regarded as the source of all religion, he chose to attribute to them the origin of the Egyptian religion in spite of difficulties that he may have felt in connection with its idolatry.—T.)

Bibliography:
  • Dähne, Geschichtl. Darstellung, ii. 200-203;
  • Freudenthal, Alexander Polyhistor, pp. 143-174, 215, 231 et seq.;
  • Susemihl, Gesch. der Griechischen Literatur, ii. 646 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, iii. 606;
  • Willrich, Juden und Griechen, p. 160;
  • Schürer, Gesch. iii. 354-357, who gives further references.
T. L. G.
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