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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Aristobulus of Paneas

Alexandrian Peripatetic philosopher; lived in the third or second century B.C. The period of his life is doubtful, Anatolius (270) placing him in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (third century B.C.), Gercke in the time of Philometor II. Lathyrus (latter part of second century B.C.; see Pauly-Wissowa's "Realencyklopädie der Klassischen Alterthumswissenschaft," 3:919); while more reliable testimony indicates that he was a contemporary of Ptolemy Philometor (middle of second century B.C.; see Schürer, "Gesch." 3:384). He is the author of a book the exact title of which is not certain, although there is sufficient evidence to prove that it was an exposition of the Law. Eusebius ("Præp. Ev." 8:10, 13:12) has preserved two fair-sized fragments of it, in which are found all the quotations from Aristobulus made by Clement. In addition, there is extant a small passage concerning the time of the Passover festival, quoted by Anatolius (Eusebius, "Historia Ecclesiastica," 7:32,17).

The Extant Fragments of Aristobulus' Work.

Following are the contents of the fragments of Aristobulus extant. In the first fragment he discourses, at the "king's" suggestion, on the anthropomorphic expressions in the Bible, and shows that they do not conflict with his previous definitions of the nature of God (Eusebius, "Præp. Ev." 8:10). Interpreting these expressions in their true sense (φυσικως), and not mythically, one can but admire Moses' wisdom, from whom indeed philosophers and poets have learned much. "God's hand" means God's might. "God's resting" denotes the maintenance of the order of the universe. God's "coming down" to give the Law (Exodus 19:18) was not a descent in a physical sense, but expresses God's condescension in sending down His law; the fire on the mountain, which burned but consumed nothing; the trumpet-sounds without human instruments (ib.), are outward manifestations of the Divine Power (δύναμις).

The second fragment ("Præp. Ev." 13:12) deduces from certain previous discussions (no longer extant) that both Plato and Pythagoras drew upon a translation of the Mosaic Law before the time of Demetrius of Phalerus (and this before the Septuagint; Aristeas, § 314, also refers to an older translation). God's creative "words" are stated to denote simply His activities. Similarly, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, when they claim to hear "the voice of God," mean this creative power. Then follows, in testimony of the θεία δύναμις, the spurious Orphic quotation, in which the Stoic idea of God's permeating the world (5:11, Abel) is especially remarkable (fragm. 6, Abel). The "quotation" is taken from the spurious poems of the forger Hecatæus (Schürer, ib. 3:453 et seq.), as many resemblances indicate, but is considerably elaborated. Thus in fragm. 10, Abel, Aristobulus eliminates the original's pantheistic idea; in 5:11,12, he substitutes for the inscrutability of God the Platonic concept of the knowledge of God through the νους, reason, and interpolates this idea also in 5:40. In 5:13 et seq. he reverses the deduction of "evil" from "God." V. 14 should read αὐτοις δἐ κ' ἔρις, as in the Theosophy of Aristokritos. Against Schürer's putting Hecatæus in the third century B.C. is to be remarked, as Elter has pointed out, that 5:8 of the Æschylus quotation καὶ φασα φηγὴ καὶ ὕδατος συστήματα is identical with Ezekiel, in Eusebius, "Præp. Ev." 9:29,12, φηγαί τε φασαι καἱ ύδάτων συστήματα. Since Ezekiel connects this verse with Exodus 8:19, it must be said to have originated with him; and, therefore, Ezekiel's drama would also have to be placed in the third century before Christianity, along with pseudo-Hecatæus! This agrees with Aratus' pantheism (in the discussion of which Aristobulus admits that he has substituted God for Zeus), which he adopts in order to show that God's power penetrates and permeates all things. Reverent conceptions of God are demanded by all philosophers and especially by ἡ καθ' ἡμας αἳρεσις, "our school," by which he no doubt means Judaism, not Peripatetic philosophy; for he immediately points out the earnest inculcation of virtue by the Jewish law.

In the next excerpt in Eusebius, the meaning of the Sabbath (ἑβδόμη) is discussed, designated also as the first day. The Sabbath is, as it were, the birthday of light and also of wisdom, for out of wisdom comes all light. Quite similarly to this, Peripatetic philosophers call wisdom a light (or lamp), and Solomon (Proverbs 8:22) teaches the existence of wisdom before creation. God's resting on the seventh day does not denote idleness, but the stable order of the universe; so the results of the creative acts do not signify the mere temporal results, but the lasting value of the creations. The ἑβδόμη (Sabbath) has also its deeper significance, because the human "Logos," called the ἕβδομος, is its symbol. The number "seven," moreover, exerts great influence upon the development of living beings and plants. Verses (genuine as well as spurious; see Schürer, ib. p. 461) from Homer, Hesiod, Linos, attest its holiness. When Homer says, ἑβδομάτῃ δ' ἠοι λίφομεν ῥόον ἐξ 'Αχέροντος, he means that through the λόγος as ἕβδομοσ man frees himself from forgetfulness and from the wickedness of the soul, and attains to a perception of truth.

It is to be supposed that Aristobulus was familiar with the abstract Platonic and Aristotelian idea of God. This conception necessarily implies a special Divine Power, acting on the world and in the world. In addition to this he makes use of the Pythagorean doctrine of numbers. The statement that he belonged to the Peripatetic school may be ascribed to the fact that, in 13:12,10, he cites from a Peripatetic source (Schürer, p. 387). Taking into consideration again his reference to Orpheus and other poets, it is seen that he was an eclectic, the first partial approach to which is to be met with in Posidonius (Περὶ κόσμου), in the first century B.C., but which can not be traced to an earlier date (see ALEXANDRIAN PHILOSOPHY).

The desultory style of the work of Aristobulus, and the intentionally obscure and mystical mode of expression, offer considerable difficulty to the reader. This is not to be attributed to those who quote from it, but to the author himself, and has frequently led to grave misconceptions.

Quotations Probably Spurious.

A further examination of the works attributed to Aristobulus confirms the suspicion as to their genuineness aroused by their eclectic character. The exchange of thought between the king—who suggests the problems—and the Jewish scholar on the Torah is quite impossible. But if it is as fictitious as the reputed colloquy between the king and the "Seventy," narrated by Aristeas, a contemporary of Philometor can not have been its author, as also the pseudo-Orphic poetry in Aristobulus shows. A somewhat shorter and more original form of the same has been preserved among a large number of forgeries, all traceable to one source, the pseudoHecatæus, named by Clemens on first quoting him. This Orphic fragment ("De Gnomologiorum Græcorum Historia atque Origine," parts -; Program of Bonn University, 1894-95) betrays a strong resemblance to the Sibylline Books (Abel, 23. 24; John, 1:18). That Aristobulus made use of Philo—a reference to whose works is the only means of rendering intelligible many of the passages—has been pointed out by Elter ("Sp." 229-234). Grounds for doubting Schürer's belief that the literary forger Hecatæus flourished in the third century B.C. are given in the "Byzantinische Zeitschrift," 7:449, and the belief is expressed that Hecatæus and Aristobulus belong to the second century of the common era. The name of Aristobulus may have been taken from II Macc. 1:10. Schlatter's suggestion that the commentator of Ecclesiasticus derives his philosophy from Aristobulus ("Das Neugefundene Hebräische Stück des Sirach," pp. 103 et seq., Gütersloh, 1897) is not convincing, for the agreement between them exists only in opinions which can not with certainty be ascribed to Aristobulus. Most historians, however, adhere to Schürer's view.

  • For the list of writers upon this topic, see Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., 3:391,392.
P. W.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Aristobulus of Paneas'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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