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

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism


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.

  • 4)

    Richard A. Horsley, Revolt of the Scribes: Resistance and Apocalyptic Origins (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2010); Anathea E. Portier-Young, Apocalypse against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011).

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  • 15)

    E.g., Horsley, Revolt of the Scribes, 31, 38, 87, 200; Portier-Young, Apocalypse against Empire, xii, xxii, 36, 51, 83, 352.

  • 17)

    Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (trans. B. Brewster; New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 162.

  • 46)

    Josephus, Ant. 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.

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  • 48)

    Josephus, J.W. 2.49, 75; Ant. 17.261, 295.

  • 49)

    Josephus, Ant. 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.

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  • 50)

    Josephus, J.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.

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  • 51)

    Goodman, Ruling Class, 35.

  • 52)

    Goodman, Ruling Class, 40. 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.

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  • 53)

    Goodman, Ruling Class, 45. 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.

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  • 54)

    Josephus, Ant. 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.

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  • 57)

    Tromp, Assumption of Moses, 204-5.

  • 68)

    See Tromp, Assumption of Moses, 32.

  • 80)

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

  • 89)

    Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, 174. 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).

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  • 92)

    Tromp, Assumption of Moses, 175-76.

  • 93)

    Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, 168. 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.”

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  • 102)

    Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, 180.

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