Through Hellenistic Eyes: Joseph as Scientist in post-Biblical Literature
The Hellenistic period witnesses the expansion of ancient science encompassing many diverse schools of thought. Similarly, multiple interpretations of biblical texts thrived, promoting the simultaneous continuation of diverse interpretive traditions. This work aims to show that the popularity of the image of a Hellenistic scientist nourished a flourishing contemporaneous Hellenistic literature on Joseph, wherein an image of Joseph was constructed by associating his divinatory practices and dream interpretations with the professional activities of Hellenistic scientists. After an introductory chapter that establishes perimeters for this study, analyses are presented of relevant elements in the works of Josephus and Philo, The Ethiopic Story of Joseph, Rabbinic midrashim, Jubilees, The Testaments of 12 Patriarchs, and Joseph and Aseneth. They show that Joseph’s specialty was the science of vision or ancient optics. Joseph’s dream interpretations and divinations through a cup are said to belong to the same scientific phenomena. Given that the literary genre has social and cultural dimension, this study proposes a new category of cultural adaptation at a distinct period in Jewish history, with oneiromancy and lecanomancy belonging to the genre we might call “revelation by visual effects.” In the process, the still accepted scholarly division of dreams between symbolic and message dreams is shown to be artificial. My research indicates that those texts that supported Joseph’s holistic scientific approach generally selected him as the chosen brother through whom the divine secrets and mysteries of the world were transmitted to future Hebrew and Jewish generations. The popularity of Joseph and the boom in the literature about him were due to the existence of a sufficient number of Hellenistic Jews who held that their creative integration into Hellenistic culture could be successful and indeed sharpen their own identity as Jews.