Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Was the Marcionite Heretic 'Apelles' Really a Title Which Meant 'the Circumcised'?

From Judeophobia: attitudes toward the Jews in the ancient world by Peter Schäfer (p. 96):

There has been a lively debate among scholars over whether we may find this view as early as the third century BCE, namely in the title of Nae- vius' otherwise lost comedy Appella (or Apella), which is supposed to mean sine pelle, that is, sine praeputio ("without foreskin"), hence "The circumcised." The advocates of this hypothesis refer to some other fancy titles of plays written by Naevius, like Testicularia or Triphallus, as well as the mention of Judaeus Apella ("Apella, the Jew") in one of Horace's satires. Conversely it has been argued, mainly by Stern: first, that there is no evidence that in the third century BCE, even if Apella means "circumcised" the Jews should be considered the circumcised par excellence; and second, that the only two preserved lines of the play which curse the use of onions, do not necessarily allude to Jews (because of the alleged Jewish predilection for onions). Stern therefore prefers to take Apella as the Greek name Apelles, and does not infer from Naevius' play any reference to the presence of Jews in Rome before 139 BCE, let alone to circumcision being considered as the most characteristic mark of the Jews as early as the third century B.C.E.

Yet Feldman (Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World p. 155) goes one step further noting:

That circumcision was indeed the most characteristic sign of the Jews, it has been suggested, may be deduced from the title, Appella (or Apella), of one of the comedies of the third-century BCE Roman Naevius, because the word apella would be the Graeco-Latin equivalent of the Latin sine pelle, “without a foreskin." A similar explanation may be the key to understanding the apparently proverbial credat Iudaeus Apella, “let the Jew Apella believe it” in Horace (Satires 1.5.100).

As such I think it might be possible to imagine there was some confusion - deliberate or otherwise - about a figure with a name with a proverbial attachment to Jewish circumcision practices. I have already written about the figure of 'Apollos' fitting in here somewhere too.

I think this is worth considering further ...

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