Some Egyptian Elements in the Genesis Apocryphon: Evidence of a Ptolemaic Social Location?

in Aramaic Studies
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Though the social and geographic milieu of the Genesis Apocryphon has regularly been considered to be Greco-Roman period Palestine, there are several indications that the author(s) of this text had a special knowledge of, and interest in, Egypt. This essay explores three possible connections with Egypt: use of the name Hyrcanus for the Pharaoh’s official, employment of the name Karmon for the river separating Canaan and Egypt, and the practice of sibling marriage for Shem’s children only after the flood. Taken cumulatively, these factors speak to a general familiarity of the author(s) with Egypt, plausibly during the Ptolemaic period, though an Egyptian compositional setting is far less certain.

Some Egyptian Elements in the Genesis Apocryphon: Evidence of a Ptolemaic Social Location?

in Aramaic Studies




Dimant‘The Qumran Aramaic Texts’ pp. 204–205.


Pierre Grelot‘Un nom égyptien dans l’Apocryphe de la Genèse’RevQ 7 (1969–1971) pp. 557–566. See also Daniel A. Machiela ‘A Brief History of the Second Temple Period Name “Hyrcanus”’ JJS 61.1 (2010) 117–138. Grelot’s proposed elements for the name are ḥr (= Horus) qni (= fort/strong) and (= puissant/exalted/honoured). All three elements are well-attested in Egyptian names from the Ptolemaic period and earlier.


Machiela‘A Brief History’ pp. 14–18.


Here I follow Joseph A. FitzmyerThe Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran Cave 1 (1Q20): A Commentary (BibOr, 18/B; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 3rd revised edn2004) pp. 99 182 and others in transcribing the name of the river without a final ‘a’ sound though it should be noted that every other occurrence of the word ‮נהרא‬ preceded by a proper name in the Apocryphon (16.9 15–16; 17.7 16; 21.15 17 19 28) does not append the definite article as seems to be assumed by Fitzmyer here. This suggests that the final aleph may in fact be intended to represent not the article but the final syllable of the name of the river; i.e. ‘Karmona’. A final aleph used in this manner would not be unusual given the orthographic conventions of the scroll.


Klaus BeyerDie aramäischen Texte vom Toten Meer samt den Inschriften aus Palästina dem Testament Levis aus der Kairo Genisa der Fastenrolle und den alten talmudischen Zitaten (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1984) p. 172 transcribed the river instead as the ‮נרמונא‬ but this is incorrect and has not been accepted by subsequent scholars working on the scroll.


See discussion in FitzmyerThe Genesis Apocryphon p. 182.


FitzmyerThe Genesis Apocryphon p. 182.


HerodotusHistories 2.158 (trans. A.D. Godley; LCL; Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press 1926).


HolladayCities of the Delta pp. 50–54.


Cf. Holladay‘Maskhuta Tell-el’ p. 591 who wrote ‘[t]he site’s later fortunes (ca. 610bc–2d/3d [?] cent. ad) seem closely to parallel the fortunes of the sea-level Red-Sea canal and it would appear that the site was a major defense and control point emporium and entrepôt for this canal’.


HolladayCities of the Delta pp. 30–32 xxvi–xxvii.


NavilleStore-City of Pithom pp. 19–21. For the Edfu inscription see Émile Gaston Chassinat Temple d’Edfou 1 (Paris: Leroux 1897–1934) p. 330.


GauthierDictionnaire des Noms Géographiques p. 152.


NavilleStore-City of Pithom p. 6; de Rougé Géographie Ancienne de la Basse-Égypte p. 49.


SegalA Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew p. 120.


James C. VanderKam‘The Granddaughters and Grandsons of Noah’Revue de Qumran 16/63 (1994) pp. 457–461.


James L. KugelTraditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible as it Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press1999) p. 224. Kugel’s opinion on the relationship between Jubilees and the Genesis Apocryphon was elaborated in a paper presented at a conference in Jerusalem The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture: Celebrating 60 Years of Discovery (6–8 July 2008) titled ‘Which is Older Jubilees or the Genesis Apocryphon? Some Exegetical Observations’. It is hoped that this will soon be published in a volume dedicated to the conference proceedings.


On Jub. 12.9 see William R.G. LoaderEnoch Levi and Jubilees on Sexuality: Attitudes Towards Sexuality in the Early Enoch Literature the Aramaic Levi Document and the Book of Jubilees (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans2007) pp. 249–250; and Halpern-Amaru ‘Empowerment’ pp. 34–36.


Sarah PomeroyWomen in Hellenistic Egypt from Alexander to Cleopatra (New York: Shocken1984) p. 16. So too Grace Macurdy Hellenistic Queens: A Study of Woman-power in Macedonia Seleucid Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 1932 [repr. Chicago: Ares 1985]) p. 116 who wrote ‘this marriage of sister to brother [Arsinoe II and Ptolemy Philadelphus] was an age-long custom in Egypt but had never been known in Macedonia or Greece where it was considered an outrage to civil morality’. Also see Hopkins ‘Brother-Sister Marriage’ pp. 303–304 311.


Richard HunterTheocritus: Encomium of Ptolemy Philadelphus (Berkely: University of California Press2003) p. 192; following P.M. Fraser Ptolemaic Alexandria (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1972) 1 p. 217; 2 p. 367.


HunterTheocritus: Encomium of Ptolemy Philadelphus pp. 1–8.


HunterTheocritus: Encomium of Ptolemy Philadelphus pp. 88–89 (In the broader corpus of Theocritus the encomium is known as Idyll 17 with the line mentioned here being 130. Note however the confusion over line numbering in the editions). 1QapGen 2.9 (repeated inversely in 2.13).


MacurdyHellenistic Queens pp. 150–152.


PomeroyWomen in Hellenistic Egypt p. 23.


MacurdyHellenistic Queens p. 91. Weigh this however against the same author’s assessment on p. 124.


PomeroyWomen in Hellenistic Egypt p. 16. During the first–third centuries ce philadelphic marriage appears to have become popularized and began being practiced by people on several strata of society especially in the geographic region where the Ptolemies were most adored (the Fayum or Arsinoite nome of the Delta [Lower Egypt]); see Rowlandson Women and Society pp. 88–89 92 125 130 230 319 333–334. Also Hopkins ‘Brother-Sister Marriage’.


On this point see Ben Zion Wacholder‘How Long did Abram Stay in Egypt?’HUCA 35 (1964) pp. 43–56.


Avigad and YadinA Genesis Apocryphon p. 28.


VanderKamFrom Joshua to Caiaphas pp. 192 196 214–220. It should be noted that Josephus’s information (the only we have on this particular series of events) is not entirely consistent regarding Onias IV’s flight to Egypt and temple construction in Leontopolis in the nome of Heliopolis. The main passages in Josephus are: War 1.1 1 [§§31–33] and 7.10 2–4 [§§420–436] and Ant. 12.9 7 [§§387–388] 13.3 1–3 [§§62–73] and 20.10 3 [§§235–236]. VanderKam deals with the issues at play here but at a basic level it does seem certain that there is an historical event of some sort behind Josephus’s several descriptions. Interestingly in Ant. 13.3 1–3 we read that Onias was residing in Alexandria for some time before moving to Leontopolis presumably under the protection of the Ptolemies.


For a summary of these see MachielaDead Sea Genesis Apocryphon pp. 134–142.

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