Judaean Apocalypticism and the Unmasking of Ideology: Foreign and National Rulers in the Testament of Moses

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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The current study attempts to move beyond the fashionable scholarly opinion that apocalyptic literature is essentially posed “against empire” by critically analyzing the ideologies evaluated and advanced by the Testament of Moses. The author employs a theoretical framework derived from the work of the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser to argue that the schematization of history in the Testament of Moses exposes and criticizes the domination of national rulers and foreign rulers, but for different reasons. While ideology is depicted as a strategy of domination used by both types of rulers, repressive physical violence is typically only associated with foreign domination. Yet, the text is not simply “against empire.” Rather, the ideology of the Testament of Moses is primarily opposed to the priestly ruling class of Judaea, the group thought to be responsible for the socioeconomic hardships experienced by the Judaean masses in the early first century C.E.

Judaean Apocalypticism and the Unmasking of Ideology: Foreign and National Rulers in the Testament of Moses

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




Richard A. HorsleyRevolt of the Scribes: Resistance and Apocalyptic Origins (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress2010); Anathea E. Portier-Young Apocalypse against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids Mich.: Eerdmans 2011).


E.g. HorsleyRevolt of the Scribes31 38 87 200; Portier-Young Apocalypse against Empire xii xxii 36 51 83 352.


Louis AlthusserLenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (trans. B. Brewster; New York: Monthly Review Press1971) 162.


JosephusAnt. 17.299-320. Martin Goodman (The Ruling Class of Judaea: The Origins of the Jewish Revolt against Rome A.D. 66-70 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987] 39) is probably right that the impetus for the embassy must have been Varus himself not the Judaean people as Josephus suggests. Unfortunately Josephus cannot always be taken at his word since he has his own set of interests.


JosephusJ.W. 2.49 75; Ant. 17.261 295.


JosephusAnt. 17.342-344. Goodman (Ruling Class 39) again is probably right to suspect that this embassy was not motivated by popular interests as Josephus suggests but rather by the political ambitions of Archelaus’s brothers.


JosephusJ.W. 2.117-118; Ant. 18.1-3. See Goodman Ruling Class 29-50; Richard Horsley “High Priests and the Politics of Roman Palestine” JSJ 17 (1986): 23-55. Cf. Horsley Revolt of the Scribes 117-21.


GoodmanRuling Class35.


GoodmanRuling Class40. See also Horsley “High Priests” 24 27-39; Lee I. Levine Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (538 B.C.E.-70 C.E.) (Philadelphia Pa.: Jewish Publication Society 2002) 352-61; James C. VanderKam From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Minneapolis Minn.: Fortress 2004) 413-24.


GoodmanRuling Class45. See e.g. Josephus J.W. 2.318 405; 4.139; Ant. 20.251. Josephus’s writings should even be considered as propaganda for the ideology of the priestly ruling class since he was part of this class. Thus one must reconstruct history from these sources with a critical and skeptical awareness of those elements of Josephus’s historiography that are self-interested. On the biases which have colored Josephus’s historiography see Tessa Rajak Josephus: The Historian and His Society (Philadelphia Pa.: Fortress 1984) esp. 1-10. In this discussion I have attempted to treat as historical only those details in Josephus which either do not support the historian’s interests or better work against them.


JosephusAnt. 18.3. There is much debate about exactly what the census of Quirinius changed in terms of the taxes exacted from the Judaean people. See Shimon Applebaum “Judaea as a Roman Province: The Countryside as a Political and Economic Factor” ANRW 2.8:373-79; Goodman Ruling Class 51-75; David A. Fiensy The Social History of Palestine in the Herodian Period: The Land is Mine (SBEC 20; Lewiston N.Y.: Edwin Mellen 1991) esp. 49-118; Hanson and Oakman Palestine 94-117.


TrompAssumption of Moses204-5.


See TrompAssumption of Moses32.


E.g.J.W. 1.219-222; Ant. 14.271-276. See Horsley and Hanson Bandits 57; Fiensy Social History of Palestine 90-92.


AlthusserLenin and Philosophy174. Althusser insists that individuals are interpellated into (or hailed as subjects by) an ideology in this way. This is not a process of conversion. The hailing of individuals as subjects and the existence of ideology “are one and the same thing” (175).


TrompAssumption of Moses175-76.


AlthusserLenin and Philosophy168. Note that this example of proper prayer is repeated in T. Mos. 11:17: “[Moses] bent his knees on earth every hour of the day and of the night ¬praying.”


AlthusserLenin and Philosophy180.


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