APION ° (first century c.e.), Greek rhetorician; anti-Jewish propagandist in Alexandria, against whom *Josephus wrote his Contra Apionem. Evidently of Egyptian origin, Apion was born at the end of the first century b.c.e. or the beginning of the first century c.e. He studied rhetoric and became principal of the Homeric school in Alexandria, lecturing on his interpretation of Homer there and in many places in Greece, which he visited for this purpose. He stayed in Rome during the reign of Tiberius and visited it in the times of Caligula and Claudius.
In scholarly circles Apion was looked upon as a charlatan, spinner of grandiloquent phrases, and gossipmonger. *Pliny the Elder called him famae propriae tympanum ("a self-trumpeter"), and Tiberius nicknamed him the "world's drum." His vanity and passion for popularity led him to introduce into his commentaries peculiar or bizarre innovations and some quite unfounded theories. His glosses to Homer were in this category, the excesses of imagination they display comparing unfavorably with the traditional Alexandrian school of criticism. Apion wrote a five-volume History of Egypt which was of similar stamp and apparently included a section on the Jews. It is most likely this section that is referred to by Christian writers as his work Against the Jews. In it Apion detailed many absurdities about the Jewish people, Judaism, and the Temple in Jerusalem, mainly extracted from the works of earlier antisemitic authors but with his own additions. Josephus' Contra Apionem shows that Apion took over the idea that the Jews were expelled from Egypt because they were lepers, from the Egyptian historian *Manetho. The tenets of Judaism obliged the Jews, according to Apion, to hate the rest of mankind. Once yearly, he asserts, they seized a non-Jew, murdered him and tasted his entrails, swearing during the meal to hate the nation of which the victim was a member. In the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem there was a golden ass' head which the Jews worshiped – a variation on the fabrication (cf. Mnaseas: see *Greek Literature, Ancient) that the Syrian king *Antiochus Epiphanes had found the statue of a man riding an ass there (see *Ass Worship). In making these statements Apion was not prompted by the type of intellectual curiosity which actuated other Hellenistic ethnographers, such as *Hecataeas of Abdera, who noted down indiscriminately everything he could gather. Apion's method was to give publicity to any disparaging stories he could find about the Jews and to add some from his own imagination. These he used for conducting anti-Jewish propaganda in Alexandria. During an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence in the city during the governorship of *Flaccus, when the Jewish community was forced to fight for its rights and even its existence, Apion was evidently one of the leading rabble-rousers and the most popular with the Alexandrian mob. He tried to show that the Jews were foreigners and had no right to consider themselves citizens; that they were a dangerous element and had always acted to the detriment of the Egyptians. When the Alexandrian Jews sent a delegation to the emperor Caligula, headed by *Philo, Apion joined the opposing delegation. Even if it is assumed that he did not play a major role in these negotiations (Philo and the papyrological sources mentioning only Isidoros and Lampon), there can be no doubt that Apion played a leading role in spreading anti-Jewish propaganda and in provoking agitation, since otherwise Josephus would not have dealt with him at such length in his Contra Apionem.
Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 538–44; A.V. Gutschmid, Kleine Schriften, 4 (1893), 366 ff.; Reinach, Textes, 123–34; M. Friedlaender, Geschichte der juedischen Apologetik (1903), 372 ff.; I. Lévy, in: Latomus, 5 (1946), 331–40 (Fr.).