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Aristobulus of Paneas

ARISTOBULUS OF PANEAS

ARISTOBULUS OF PANEAS (first half of second century b.c.e.), Jewish Hellenistic philosopher; one of the earliest allegorical interpreters of the Bible. The author of ii Maccabees (1:10) describes Aristobulus as "the teacher of King Ptolemy," presumably Philometer vi (181–145 b.c.e.). Clement of Alexandria (middle of second century c.e.) in his Stromata (1:15; 5:14) and Eusebius (c. 260–c. 340) in his Praeparatio evangelica (8:9; 13:12) mention Aristobulus among the members of the Aristotelian school, but this cannot be taken too literally, since he undoubtedly was also influenced by Platonic and Stoic teachings. Clement of Alexandria also mentions that Aristobulus was the author of several works, but it appears that he had in mind one rather extensive work known to the Church Fathers and described by them as an exposition of the Mosaic law. Portions of this work, which was written in the form of a dialogue between King Ptolemy and Aristobulus, in which Aristobulus answers the king's questions concerning Scripture, have been preserved in books by Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 1:22; 6:3) and Eusebius (Historia ecclesiastica, 7:32; Praeparatio evangelica, 7:14; 8:10; 13:12). These surviving fragments contain expositions of sections of Genesis and Exodus. A statement in the margin of the Florentine manuscript of Clement of Alexandria's Stromata dating from the 16th century (cf. Azariah dei Rossi, Me'or Einayim (1864–86), 146) to the effect that Aristobulus' writings were extant in their entirety at the time, is open to doubt.

Allegorical Interpretation

Aristobulus' fundamental premise in expounding the Pentateuch is that descriptions of the Deity must be interpreted in a manner appropriate to the nature of God; when Scripture applies to God expressions such as "hands," "feet," "arm," "face," and "walking," these are not to be understood literally. He appeals to the king not to fall into the error of comprehending divine matters anthropomorphically in the manner of mythology, but to endeavor to understand them in a manner commensurate with their exalted nature. The request of Aristobulus to the king may reflect the influence of Antisthenes the Cynic (born c. 444 b.c.e.) who taught that an understanding of the nature of cosmic being must be predicated upon the principle of the unity of the Deity. This supposition finds corroboration in the fact that Antisthenes' method of expounding Homer allegorically influenced Jewish allegorical methods in many ways. Aristobulus draws additional support for his argument by pointing to such linguistic usages as the Greek phrase μεγάλη χεὶρ ("the great hand"), which connotes "military power," stating that biblical terms such as "the hand of the Lord" were to be understood in a similar sense.

Of particular interest is the interpretation given by Aristobulus to the expressions "standing" and "descending" as applied to God in the Bible. "Standing," in his view, is a term connoting constancy or established order in natural phenomena, such as the regular succession of day and night, or of the seasons of the year. "Descending" signifies the revelation at Mt. Sinai, i.e., the manifestation of God's sublimity to human beings on earth.

In one of the fragments Aristobulus discusses the Hebrew calendar and establishes the rule that Passover always falls immediately after the vernal equinox.

In another discussion Aristobulus posits that portions of the Pentateuch had been rendered into Greek before it was translated in its entirety in the days of Ptolemy Philadelphus (see *Septuagint), and that these portions reached Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato and formed the basis of their philosophical teachings. In developing their philosophical systems these Greek philosophers were influenced by the biblical account of creation. This makes it possible to understand why they say that they hear the voice of God when they delve deeply into the works of creation: they mean to say that they hear the echo of the cosmic harmony established by the Divine Will – just as the "voice of God" in the biblical account of creation, according to Aristobulus, denotes the manifestation of the Divine Power in the establishment of order and harmony in the world. The account of the six days of creation, Aristobulus explains, is not to be understood literally. The enumeration of six days is only for the purpose of fixing the sequence of the different phases of creation. Similarly, God's resting on the seventh day must not be understood as rest following laborious toil, but as the bestowal of a permanence upon the universe.

In Aristobulus' exposition of the account of creation the number seven is of great importance. Not only did God rest on the seventh day but also instituted the seventh day as a day of rest for man, in order that man would be free one day to contemplate the order and harmony of creation. This contemplation is accomplished by means of the intellect, man's seventh and most exalted faculty (the others being the five senses and the power of speech). Still further, the seven faculties of man correspond to the seven planets – evidence of the harmony between man and the universe as a whole. Aristobulus holds that the numerical symbolism which he finds in the biblical account of creation was the source of the Pythagorean theory of numbers.

In order to support his contention that the source of Greek philosophy lies in the Bible, Aristobulus, in his work, cites many passages from ancient Greek literature which to his mind reflect biblical ideas. There are indications that these citations were taken by Aristobulus from a collection of quotations that he had before him, which was used as a means for propagating the Jewish religion in the Hellenistic world.

bibliography:

Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 512 ff.; D. Neumark, Geschichte der juedischen Philosophie des Mittelalters, 2 (1910), 386–90; W. Von Christ, et al., Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, 2 (19206), 604–6; J. Gutmann, Ha-Sifrut ha-Yehudit ha-Hellenistit, 1 (1958), 186–220; Heinemann, in: Mnemosyne, 5 (1952), 130–8; N. Walter, Thoraausleger Aristobulos (1964).

[Joshua Gutmann]

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