Herod or Alexander Janneus? A New Approach to the Testament of Moses

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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In recent years a consensus has emerged that the Testament of Moses is to be dated in the early first century c.e., at least in its final form, and the primary basis for that consensus is the apparently perfect match between the reference to a ruler ruling for 34 years and the years of the reign of Herod the Great. While acknowledging that much can be explained on that presupposition, I have sought to show that a fit equally as strong as with Herod may be found when chapter 6 is read as alluding to the reign of Alexander Janneus and Alexandra Salome. The figure 34 matches with as much accuracy as one could expect. But much else also matches, including the fact that his sons did reign for shorter periods than their father, unlike Herod’s sons, and that many of the details, including depictions of depravity and assumptions of religious conflict, better match what we know of the reign of Alexander, Alexandra, and their sons.

Herod or Alexander Janneus? A New Approach to the Testament of Moses

in Journal for the Study of Judaism



  • 5

    George W. E. Nickelsburg“An Antiochan Date for the Testament of Moses,” in Studies on the Testament of Moses (ed. George W. E. Nickelsburg; sblscs 4; Cambridge Mass.: sbl 1973) 33-37; and more recently Nickelsburg Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Literary and Historical Introduction(2nd ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress2005) 74-77247-48.

  • 6

    John J. CollinsThe Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans1998) 243-47 whose initial rejection and then acceptance of the proposal is documented in Collins “The Date and Provenance of the Testament of Moses” in Nickelsburg Studies on the Testament of Moses 15-32 and Collins “Some Remaining Traditio-Historical Problems in the Testament of Moses” ibid. 38-43 in response to George W. E. Nickelsburg “An Antiochan Date for the Testament of Moses” ibid. 33-37. See also Emil Schürer The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ: A New English Version (rev. and ed. Geza Vermes Fergus Millar and Martin Goodman; 3 vols.; Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1986) 3:278-88 esp. 282-83; Gerbern S. Oegema “Himmelfahrt Mose” in Apokalypsen (jshrz VI.1.5; Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2001) 33-48 esp. 34-36. Adela Yarbro Collins “Composition and Redaction of the Testament of Moses 10” htr 69 (1976): 179-86 finds additional support for the theory in the claim that reference in 10:8 to “the wings of the eagle” is a redactional addition alluding to the pulling down of the golden eagle over the temple gate shortly before the campaign of Varus (Josephus Ant. 17.155).

  • 11


  • 12

    On this see Benedikt Eckhardt“ ‘An Idumean, That Is, a Half-Jew’: Hasmoneans and Herodians between Ancestry and Merit,” in Jewish Identity and Politics between the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba. Groups Normativity and Rituals (ed. Benedikt Eckhardt; JSJSup 155; Leiden: Brill2012) 91-115.

  • 18

    Tromp ibid. 203; Atkinson“Herod the Great” 138; G. Anthony Keddie “Judaean Apocalypticism and the Unmasking of Ideology: Foreign and National Rulers in the Testament of Mosesjsj 44 (2013): 301-38. It frequently serves as the basis for setting the year 30 c.e. as the ad quem for dating of the writing; e.g. Nickelsburg Jewish Literature 247; Egon Brandenburger “Himmelfahrt Mose” in Apokalypsen ( jshrz 5.2; Gütersloh: Mohn 1976) 57-84 esp. 60.

  • 21

    TrompAssumption of Moses205.

  • 26

    See ibid.189-90. Tromp notes the similar accusations in Jer 11:10 (which includes in the Vulgate: post deos alienos) and Deut 31:29; cf. also 31:16 (Vulgate: fornicabitur post deos alienos).

  • 31

    TrompAssumption of Moses12-13.

  • 32

    Kenneth R. AtkinsonI Cried to the Lord: A Study of the Psalms of Solomon’s Historical Background and Social Setting (JSJSup 84; Leiden: Brill2004) 67. On Pompey’s invasion as God’s punishment see Pss. Sol. 2:7 (“He did [this] to them according to their sins”); similarly 2:22; 8:14-15; 17:9. On suffering as judgement in the Testament of Moses see 5:1 “times of judgement”; 8:1 “revenge and wrath.” George W. E. Nickelsburg Resurrection Immortality and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism (hts 26; Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1972) 43-45 sees chapter 6 falling outside the pattern in Deuteronomy of sin (28:15) punishment (28:16-68) turning-point (30:2) salvation (30:3-10) matching T. Mos. 5 8 9 10 (repeated in Nickelsburg Jewish Literature 74) but it can also be seen as under the umbrella of 5:1. See also Collins “Date and Provenance” 17-18.

  • 34

    On this see Norbert Johannes HofmannDie Assumptio Mosis: Studien zur Rezeption massgültiger Überlieferung (JSJSup 67; Leiden: Brill2000) 108-9.

  • 39

    James McLaren“Corruption among the High Priesthood: A Matter of Perspective,” in A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Seán Frayne (ed. Zuleika Rodgers, Margaret Daly-Denton, and Anne Fitzpatrick McKinley; JSJSup 132; Leiden: Brill2009) 141-57esp. 145 cautions against linking chapter 7 too closely with chapter 6 and especially against interpreting it as referring to high priests since the evil-doers are never labelled priests; he argues that it “should be read in relation to T. Mos. 5 and/or 8.”

  • 40

    John J. CollinsBeyond the Qumran Community: The Sectarian Movement of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans2010) 98-99.

  • 41

    See CollinsBeyond the Qumran Community105-13; he goes on to argue the case for seeing Hyrcanus 2 as the Wicked priest.

  • 42

    So TrompAssumption of Moses215; Atkinson “Herod the Great” 143; Brandenburger “Himmelfahrt Mose” 62; Keddie “Judaean Apocalypticism” 312 and 319-20 who writes of an “Antiochus-like figure” and suggests that the author connects the three figures Nebuchadnezzar Antiochus and Varus.

  • 44

    So Brandenburger“Himmelfahrt Mose” 62.

  • 45

    Atkinson“Herod the Great” 144; Atkinson “Taxo’s Martyrdom” 466; already noted by Collins “Date and Provenance” 19.

  • 46

    TrompAssumption of Moses217.

  • 51

    Atkinson“Taxo’s Martyrdom” 147; cf. also 1 Macc 2:29-38 the account of the Hasidim who withdraw to a cave which may also have influenced the typology.

  • 52

    CollinsApocalyptic Imagination132-33. Similarly Schreiber “Hoffnung” 269-71 who notes (262-63) that Taxo represents a strong focus on Torah observance reflected in his being of the tribe of Levi and matching the author’s emphasis on the authority of Moses. Schreiber (266-67) also writes “es handelt sich dabei um die kompromislose Orientierung am mosaischen Gesetz” which he sees as also symbolised in the name which in Greek suggests order. Atkinson “Taxo’s Martyrdom” 475 rejects the quietist model and instead speculates that the work indicates that “some Jews... believed that God required the shedding of innocent blood by an intermediary figure to save humanity.”


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