Alexander Polyhistor°

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

ALEXANDER POLYHISTOR°

ALEXANDER POLYHISTOR ° (first century b.c.e.), Greek scholar. Alexander was born in Miletus in Asia Minor. He was taken prisoner by the Romans, but was later freed, and continued to live in Italy as a Roman citizen until his death (c. 35 b.c.e.). He was called Polyhistor (very learned) because of the wide variety of subjects on which he wrote. His works included three volumes on Egypt, one on Rome, and a work entitled "Concerning the Jews." This last work reflects the growing Roman interest in the Jewish people at the time of Pompey's conquest of Judea. Lengthy fragments from this work have been preserved by *Eusebius (Praeparatio evangelica, 9), and by Clement of Alexandria. From these it seems apparent that he combined relevant excerpts from Jewish, Samaritan, and gentile writers and reproduced them in indirect speech. Thus, valuable fragments of the writings of Hellenistic-Jewish authors have been preserved of which nothing would otherwise be known. Alexander cites the historians *Aristeas, *Demetrius, *Eupolemus, and *Artapanus, the tragic poet *Ezekiel, the epic poets *Theodotus and *Philo the Elder, as well as non-Jewish writers such as the historian Timochares, author of "The History of Antiochus," and *Apollonius Molon.

It seems that Alexander made little original contribution to the subject. In his works he made indiscriminate use of traditions both favorable and hostile to the Jews. He also dealt with the Jews in other works. In his book on Rome he states that a Jewish woman named Moso wrote the Law of the Hebrews, i.e., the Torah (see Suidas, s.v. ʾΑλέξανδρος ὸΜιλήσιος). Although Alexander was fully aware of the Jewish tradition concerning Moses, he appears to have seen nothing wrong in quoting a conflicting tradition from a non-Jewish source. His explanation that Judea was named after one of Semirasis' sons must have been taken from a similar source (quoted in Stephanus Byzantinus' exposition on Judea).

bibliography:

J. Freudenthal, Hellenistische Studien: Alexander Polyhistor (1874); A.V. Gutschmid, Kleine Schriften, 2 (1890), 180 ff.; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 469 ff.; F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, 3A (Texts; 1940), 96–126; 3a (Commentary; 1943), 248–313; Reinach, Textes, 65–66.

[Menahem Stern]