Aristotle and Hippocrates in the Book of Jubilees

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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This article explores undetected Greco-Roman backgrounds to three texts in Jubilees: the map of the world (8:10-12, 29-30), the introduction of Jacob and Esau (19:13-15), and Esau’s speech and its aftermath (37:18-38:3). The presence of Greco-Roman physiognomy and ethnography in these texts yields insight into the author’s purpose for including Esau’s otherwise unattested speech, his changes to the base text of the Jacob and Esau narratives, and the function of the map of the world. External to the text proper, the results are significant for uncovering the author’s understanding of the Judeans and Idumeans in his own time and is suggestive for the debate concerning whether Jubilees is polemicizing within a sectarian Jewish context or against external powers. These backgrounds are also significant in the broader discourse concerning how the author of Jubilees, among other late-Second Temple Jewish authors, navigates his relationship with contemporary Hellenistic frameworks.

Journal for the Study of Judaism

In the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period




Boys-Stones, “Physiognomy,” 45.


Richard Foerster, Inest Richardi Foersteri Dissertatio de translatione Latina Physiognomonicorum quae feruntur Aristotelis (Kiel: Libraria Academica, Schmidt & Klaunig, 1884), 284.


Evans, Physiognomics, 5.


Popović, Reading the Human Body, 280.


Werman, “Jubilees,” 140; Philip S. Alexander, “Notes on the ‘Imago Mundi’ of the Book of Jubilees,” jjs 33 (1982): 197-213. That Jubilees is using the Ionian map tradition has not gone undisputed. A partial critique of Alexander’s association of Jubilees with the Ionian map is given by James M. Scott, Paul and the Nations: The Old Testament and Jewish Background of Paul’s Mission to the Nations with Special Reference to the Destination of Galatians, wunt 84 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995), 16-24. A response appears in S. Alexander, “Jerusalem as the Omphalos of the World: On the History of a Geographical Concept,” Judaism 46 (1997): 147-58. For several examples of drawing the map, see Daniel Machiela, The Dead Sea Genesis Apocryphon: A New Text and Translation with Introduction and Special Treatment of Columns 13-17, stdj 79 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 105-6.


Werman, “Jubilees,” 136-41; Alexander, “Notes,” passim; Machiela, Genesis Apocryphon, 107-30.


Translation adapted from Kennedy, Race and Ethnicity, 46. See also Pliny, Nat. 2.80: “It is not in doubt that the Ethiopians are burned by the heat of the sun, which is nearer to them and are born like burned people with their beards and hair frazzled. On the opposite and icy side of the world are peoples with white skin and light-colored hair. The latter races are wild because of the cold, the former lackluster because of the weather’s fickleness . . . But in the middle of the world there is a healthy mixture of hot and cold. The lands are fertile for all things, and the people’s bodies appear moderate in size and color because of this proper mixture. We find gentler customs, clear thoughts, and temperaments open and capable of understanding all of nature” (trans. C. Sydnor Roy, Race and Ethnicity, 48). Pliny rejects outright the science of physiognomy, apologizing vociferously on Aristotle’s behalf. That said, this text presents clearly the use of humors in connection with geography that other writers exploit in their physiognomic deductions.


Livneh, “Can the Boar Change,” 80-81; Brin, “Esau’s Speech,” 20-21.


Brin, “Esau’s Speech,” 24.


Livneh, “Can a Boar Change,” 87-88.


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