Daniel Gruber's book 'Rabbi Akiva's Messiah'


Daniel Gruber in his book: Rabbi Akiva's Messiah; The Origins of Rabbinic Authority makes the following statement (Page 58):


The Pharisees did try to add weight to their tradition by placing its origin as far back in the past as they could. "Josephus brings this out when he says of the Jewish leaders, Their endeavor is to have everything they ordain believed to be very ancient.'" (Italics mine.)

According to footnote 17, which is the citation associated with these words the sources is:

C. Apion, II., xv 152, in A. Lukyn Williams, Talmudic Judaism and Christianity, S.P.C.K, London 1933, P. 46. I have checked and his quote does appear in the Williams text. 


If this claim is correct, we have the following pieces of fact:


1. The Jewish leaders (Pharisees according to Gruber) made knowingly false claims about their traditions.
2. This appears explicitly in Josephus.


What marks this as curious at first reading is why would he need to cite a secondary source for a work of Josephus, which is a common one and easily obtainable? In fact he DOES quote from Josephus in the next two footnotes. Moreover, on page 262 footnote 19 he actually mentions Contra Apion itself!  Let's look into this somewhat strangely cited passage.


Actually, his citation has an error. Section 152 is in Paragraph 16 and not 15. I am not sure if the error is Williams or Gruber, but in any case, why he does not look up a source that he is able to quote is surely interesting. We shall soon see as to why it is a bit more then interesting.


Here is Paragraph 15 which introduces the issues. (I have added the section numbers which do not appear in the online version I have taken this from. http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/apion2.html ):


“xv. (145) But now, since Apollonius Molo, and Lysimachus, and some others, write treatises about our lawgiver Moses, and about our laws, which are neither just nor true, and this partly out of ignorance, but chiefly out of ill-will to us, while they calumniate Moses as an impostor and deceiver, and pretend that our laws teach us wickedness, but nothing that is virtuous, I have a mind to discourse briefly, according to my ability, about our whole constitution of government, and about the particular branches of it. (146) For I suppose it will thence become evident, that the laws we have given us are disposed after the best manner for the advancement of piety, for mutual communion with one another, for a general love of mankind, as also for justice, and for sustaining labors with fortitude, and for a contempt of death. (147) And I beg of those that shall peruse this writing of mine, to read it without partiality; for it is not my purpose to write an encomium upon ourselves, but I shall esteem this as a most just apology for us, and taken from those our laws, according to which we lead our lives, against the many and the lying objections that have been made against us.  (148) Moreover, since this Apollonius does not do like Apion, and lay a continued accusation against us, but does it only by starts, and up and clown his discourse, while he sometimes reproaches us as atheists, and man-haters, and sometimes hits us in the teeth with our want of courage, and yet sometimes, on the contrary, accuses us of too great boldness and madness in our conduct; nay, he says that we are the weakest of all the barbarians, and that this is the reason why we are the only people who have made no improvements in human life; (149) now I think I shall have then sufficiently disproved all these his allegations, when it shall appear that our laws enjoin the very reverse of what he says, and that we very carefully observe those laws ourselves. (150) And if I he compelled to make mention of the laws of other nations, that are contrary to ours, those ought deservedly to thank themselves for it, who have pretended to depreciate our laws in comparison of their own; nor will there, I think, be any room after that for them to pretend either that we have no such laws ourselves, an epitome of which I will present to the reader, or that we do not, above all men, continue in the observation of them.”


This work is a polemical one against those Greeks who were attacking Judaism, its laws and beliefs. The issue continues in the next paragraph, which also contains the text which the author quotes:


“xvi. (151) To begin then a good way backward, I would advance this, in the first place, that those who have been admirers of good order, and of living under common laws, and who began to introduce them, may well have this testimony that they are better than other men, both for moderation and such virtue as is agreeable to nature. (152) Indeed their endeavor was to have every thing they ordained believed to be very ancient, that they might not be thought to imitate others, but might appear to have delivered a regular way of living to others after them. (153) Since then this is the case, the excellency of a legislator is seen in providing for the people's living after the best manner, and in prevailing with those that are to use the laws he ordains for them, to have a good opinion of them, and in obliging the multitude to persevere in them, and to make no changes in them, neither in prosperity nor adversity. (154) Now I venture to say, that our legislator is the most ancient of all the legislators whom we have ally where heard of; for as for the Lycurguses, and Solons, and Zaleucus Locrensis, and all those legislators who are so admired by the Greeks, they seem to be of yesterday, if compared with our legislator, insomuch as the very name of a law was not so much as known in old times among the Grecians. (155) Homer is a witness to the truth of this observation, who never uses that term in all his poems; for indeed there was then no such thing among them, but the multitude was governed by wise maxims, and by the injunctions of their king. It was also a long time that they continued in the use of these unwritten customs, although they were always changing them upon several occasions. (156) But for our legislator, who was of so much greater antiquity than the rest, (as even those that speak against us upon all occasions do always confess,) he exhibited himself to the people as their best governor and counselor, and included in his legislation the entire conduct of their lives, and prevailed with them to receive it, and brought it so to pass, that those that were made acquainted with his laws did most carefully observe them.”


We need to make the following observations:

  1. In NO PLACE are the Pharisees or the leaders of the Jewish people mentioned.
  2. Sections 151-153 are talking about the views of the GREEKS THEMSELVES!
  3. ONLY in 154 does he mention Moses as being more ancient then the lawgivers like Solon, who were revered by the Greeks for their wisdom and ancientness.
  4. All that is being talked of, concerning Judaism, is the ancientness of the giving of the Torah to Moses.


We must now conclude that, Williams has lied about what Josephus. As to Gruber, since he has already quoted from Contra Apion, he seems to be deceptive, using a distortion from a secondary source, when he has the primary available to himself.


© Moshe Shulman 2007 http://www.judaismsanswer.com

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