Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Fascinating Paper On the Stealing of Egyptian Treasures by the Israelites.

It is only every once and a while you come across something interesting on the internet. I did just that today with my discovery of Pier Franco Beatrice's 2006 paper The treasures of the Egyptians. Studia Patristica XXXIX, 159-183. It's getting late over here but I will post as much of the article as I can tonight and talk about it some more tomorrow:

In the notes to his edition of Philo's Life of Moses, Ludwig Cohn cited two Christian texts, by Procopius of Gaza and Clement of Alexandria, in which it is clear that Philo's remarks have been reproduced almost literally. But perhaps today it is possible to extend our knowledge of Philo's influence on the Patristic exegesis of this particular subject, making it more specific and detailed.

Clement knew Philo's Life of Moses very well. He cites it explicitly in stromateis I.153.2. So it is not surprising that he reproduced Philo's comment quite faithfully, though with a few, very slight changes. Annewies van den Hoek, to whose book I refer the reader for all further explanations of the question, has analysed this literary dependence, aptly pointing out the similarities and the differences to be found in the texts of the two authors. For Clement, as previously for Philo, the Hebrews did not act out of covetousness, as their 'accusers' actually claim in fact, they did nothing more than take their due 'recompense', the just wage for their long work as slaves, and, secondly, they took their revenge on the Egyptians, for in taking away the booty they returned the torment that they themselves had suffered in being deprived of their freedom.

There are, however, two most significant differences between Clement and Philo. In Clement we do not find Philo's statement that there is no possible comparison between material goods and freedom, and that therefore the Jews took much less than had been taken from them with slavery. Moreover, Clement inverts Philo's discussion of the 'salary' in peacetime and the 'booty' in wartime, giving overall the impression that, at least at this point, he is quoting from memory and is rather confused.

A fairly precise echo of the interpretation found in Philo and Clement is also to be read in Eusebius' commentary on Ps. 104:37-38. According to this exegete, God gave the Israelites the order to despoil the Egyptians as is usual with people 'vanquished in war' and to collect from them the 'salary' (misthon) for their long slave labor. Two other late Christian writers have preserved interesting traces of this exegesis, namely, Isidore of Pelusium and Pro- copius of Gaza.

Isidore addresses the topic twice. In a letter to Serenus, Isidore writes that the despoiling of the Egyptians by the Hebrews realizes the principle of fair compensation, according to the evangelical precept (Matt 10:10; Luke 10:7) that a labourer derserves to have needs provided. In any case, the recompense was much less than the painful slavery full of great moaning, would have demanded. In another letter Isidore replies to an objection that had been passed on to him by a certain Panellenius after a dispute. According to Isidore, the source of justice, that is God, has caused the Hebrews to collect the just wage for their work as slaves, against the will of the Egyptians. But the deprivation of material goods cannot be placed on the same level as the deprivation of freedom, that freedom for which, as Isidore states in conclusion, reasonable people are disposed not only to sacrifice their riches but even to give their lives (original Greek text cited by Beatrice) This is obviously a literal quotation from Philo's Life of Moses I.141, which, as far as I know, nobody seems until now to have remarked upon.

Philo's influence is even clearer in Procopius' commentary on the Book of Exodus. The idea that the wage is not equivalent to the harm suffered, since there is no comparison between freedom and material goods comes straight from Philo. Unlike Clement, Procopius also maintains the original order of Philo's text, according to which the recompense of peacetime is mentioned before the booty of wartime.

In any event, for our theme another element deserves closer consideration. Both Philo and Clement reveal that strong accusations were brought against the Hebrews for covetousness and unjust behaviour. But, while Philo only uses a fairly general expression to indicate a possible objection ('as someone might say in accusation'), Clement argues against unidentified people who actually support that accusation ('as the accusers claim'). One wonders who these accusers were. One wonders who these accusers were. As far as Philo is concerned, if he is writing about real people, they can only be Egyptian pagans who did not look favourably on the wealth of the Jews, considering it the perverse result of their covetousness of others' goods. But the accusers rejected by Clement, like the anonymous opponent mentioned by Isidore of Pelusium in his letter to Panellenius, seem rather to belong to a Christian school of thought. Rudolf Riedinger had the indubitable merit of drawing attention to the question, identifying the 'accusers' mentioned by Clement as the followers of Marcion's dualistic heresy. I am inclined to welcome this suggestion, since many texts confirm that the theft of the treasures of the Egyptians was one of the favourite arguments advanced by the Marcionites against the Demiurge, that is, the God of the Old Testament. The history of the Christian interpretation of the spoils of the Egyptians begins with Marcion and his critics.


The oldest evidence is offered by the preaching of an anonymous Asiatic elder, or presbyter, of the mid second century, whom Irenaeus of Lyons claims to have heard personally. I have elsewhere proposed identifying this presbyter as Polycarp of Smyrna, the most probable author of the so-called Epistle to Diognetus. Here too, as in the case of Clement of Alexandria, it is useless to seek an explicit label for the adversaries who criticize and accuse the Hebrews for their unjust behaviour. However, it is impossible to avoid connecting precisely with Marcion (and his followers) those people who are ignorant of the 'judgements' and the 'economies' of God revealed in the Old Testament (ignorantes iustificationes Dei et dispositiones eius, semetipsos arguunt, sicut eti5 presbyter dicebat), but at the same time out of the labours of others, shamelessly carry in their girdles coins of gold, silver, and bronze with the superscription and image of Caesar, saying they are acting justly (iuste facere dicunt). An anti-Marcionite allusion is also clearly contained in the words of the presbyter, non quasi mundus alienus sit a Deo.

For the presbyter, on the contrary, the Exodus of the Israelites was the figure or image (typica profectio) of the true Exodus, in which only those take part who, like the presbyter himself, have come out of the number of the Gentiles through faith, the Exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt was the figure of the Exodus of the Church out of the pagan world. In the context of this typological exegesis of the presbyter, aimed at recovering the authentic prefigura- tive significance of the Old Testament against Marcionite dualism, the material goods that the Hebrews took away from Egypt are in turn interpreted as the figure of the material goods (houses, clothing, vessels, and everything that serves daily life) which the Christians acquired by avarice before their conversion thanks to the 'mammon of iniquity' (Luke 16:9) or which they received from their pagan parents, relatives, or friends, who acquired them by injustice. Even now that they are in the faith - the presbyter remarks with great realism - Christians acquire these material goods by means of the trade and business they conduct in the 'basilica' (in regal i aula), that is, in the administrative and commercial center of the town.[source]

That's all for tonight folks but I think you can see how wonderful this study is already. Nighty, night ...


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