Get the CD Now!


First Century B.C. - First Century A.D.

Discuss this text or ask a question on the official Early Writings forum. Anyone can post.

Online Text for Pseudo-Phocylides

Online Resources for Pseudo-Phocylides

Offline Resources for Pseudo-Phocylides

Information on Pseudo-Phocylides

Emil Schürer writes: "Phocylides of Miletus, the old composer of apothegms, lived (according to the statements in Suidas, Lex. s.v. Φωκυλιδης and Euseb. Chron. ad Olymp. 60, ed. Schoene, ii. 98) in the sixth century before Christ. Few of his genuine sayings have been preserved. He must however have been held as an authority in the department of moral poetry. For in the Hellenistic period a didactic poem (ποιημα νουθετικον) was interpolated in his work by a Jew (or Christian?) giving in 230 hexameters moral instruction of the most diversified kind. Having frequently been used as a school-book in the Byzantine period, it has been preserved in many manuscripts and often printed since the sixteenth century. The contents of these veres are almost exclusively ethical. It is but occasionally that we find the one true God and the future retribution also referred to. The moral doctrines, which the author inculcates, extend to the most various departments of practical life, somewhat in the manner of Jesus the son of Sirach. In their details however they coincide most closely with the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch, echoes of which are heard throughout in the precepts on civil relations (property, marriage, pauperism, etc.). Even such special precepts are found here as that which enjoins, that when a bird's nest is taken, only the young ones must be kept, but the mother let fly (Deut. xxii. 6, 7 = Phocylides, vers. 84-85), or that the flesh of animals killed by beasts of prey may not be eaten (Deut. xiv. 21; Ex. xxii. 30 = Phocylides, vers. 139, 147-148). There can thus be no doubt, that the author was either a Jew or a Christian. The former is the prevailing opinion since the fundamental investigation of Bernays; Harnack has recently advocated the latter. Both views have their difficulties. For there is nothing in the work either specifically Jewish or specifically Christian. The author designedly ignores the Jewish ceremonial law, and even the Sabbatic command, which is more striking here than in the Sibyllines, because the author in other respects enters into the details of the Mosaic law. On the other side there is no kind of reference to Christ, nor above all to any religious interposition for salvation. It is just bare morality which is here preached. Hence a certain decision as to the Jewish or Christian origin of the poem seems to me especially turned by the fact, that the author's moral teaching coincides only with the Old Testament and not with the moral legislation of Christ, as we have it in the synoptists. Of the latter there is in this poem, as far as I can see, no certain traces. And this is scarcely conceivable in a Christian author, who meant to preach morality. If at the same time there are still single expressions or propositions in the poem, which betray a Christian hand (like θεοι, ver. 104), they must be set to the account of the Christian tradition, and how freely this dealt with the text is shown by the portion, which by some chance or other got into the collection of the Sibyllines (Sibyll. ii. 56-148 = Phocylides, 5-79). The text as there presented diverges pretty much from that elsewhere handed and plainly shows the hand of a Christian reviser." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 313-314)

James Charlesworth writes: "Pseudo-Phocylides appears to be an example of Jewish missionary literature (cf. P. Dalbert, Missionsliteratur, pp. 9-12; M. Guttmann, Das Judentum und seine Umwelt. Berlin: Philo, 1927; p. 112; J. E. Crouch, no. 1213a). Although A. Harnack claimed Pseudo-Phocylides was Christian (Dogmengeschichte, vol. 1, p. 172) or Jewish with a Christian interpolation (Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 2d ed. with a foreword by K. Aland. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1958. Teil 1, Bd. 2, pp. 863f.; Teil 2, Bd. 1, p. 589), scholars today conclude that the work is not Christian (Easton, p. 222; Denis, no. 24, p. 218). We must be cautious in denying this possibility (so also E. Lohse, no. 1216a), since we konw very little about earliest Christianity. E. Schürer's argument (History, 2d. Div., vol. 3, p. 314), for example, that Pseudo-Phocylides cannot be Christian because its moral claims are based only on the Old Testament and not upon Christ, 'as we have it in the synoptists,' overlooks both the early limited areas of influence and acceptance of the first three canonical gospels, and the fact that the author of the Letter of James uses as a paradigm the suffering and patience of the prophets and not that of Jesus of Nazareth (5:10; cf. 5:11, 17). In summary, it is only possible that a Christian, but probable that a Jew, wrote Pseudo-Phocylides to win 'heathens' not so much to his own religion as to the high ethical norms and values it professed. Note, for example, the opening: 'These are the counsels of God, designed for both sinners and righteous...' (ET by Easton). If this hypothesis is sound, the work belongs in the Pseudepigrapha." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 173-174)

P. W. van der Horst writes: "Ps-Phoc. uses about 30 words (or word-forms) which are not attested in Greek literature before the third century B.C. and about 15 of these do not occur in texts before the first century B.C. This might suggest 100 B.C. as a terminus post quem. The same date is suggested by the fact that Ps-Phoc. knew the LXX, not only the Pentateuch (which is evident in more than half of the verses), but unmistakably also the Prophets and the Wisdom literature. The influence of Stoicism on the author is also undeniable. In itself this Stoic influence only indicates that the poem was written after 300 B.C., but the mental affinity, in several parts of the poem, especially with first century A.D. Stoics like Musonius Rufus, Seneca and Hierocles strongly points to the Imperial period. This period is also suggested by the many agreements with Philo and by similarities with the 'diatribe' of the popular philosphical-ethical preachers, who were most active in the early Roman period." (The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, pp. 81-82)

P. W. van der Horst continues: "The cumulative evidence seems to favour a date between 50 B.C. and 100 A.D. Moreover, if one takes into account the fact that the poem was probably written in Alexandria (see below), then it may be suggested that the most probable date for its origin is within the period during which the relations between Jews and Greeks in Alexandria were not too tense. In the particular period under consideration that means the reigns of the two emperors Augustus (30 B.C.-14 A.D.) and Tiberius (14-37 A.D.). It can hardly be imagined that after the anti-Jewish pogroms in Alexandria during the reign of Caligula (37-41 A.D.) an Alexandrian Jew could have maintained such a great openness towards pagan culture. Therefore, the most probable date would seem to be somwehere between, say, 30 B.C. and 40 A.D. Needless to say, this does not mean that another dating is impossible. But on this assumption the characteristics of the poem can best be explained." (The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, p. 82)

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Jewish Writings is copyright © 2001-2013 Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. Early Jewish Writings. <>.