In our survey of the Greco-Roman world we have seen that there are many later sources that would give us some indication of how the testimony of women would have been viewed. We have noted that some of these sources are later than the time of Jesus, so they may not provide sufficient evidence for our historical enquiry into the empty tomb. However, there is another source close to the time of Jesus that does shed light on the credibility of women regarding religious revelation and knowledge — Pseudo-Philo’s “The Book of Biblical Antiquities.”  In today’s post, we will examine this work and see what it adds to our study.

Pseudo-Philo’s “The Book of Biblical Antiquities” is a genre of literature that retells and expands on many of the Old Testament stories from Genesis to 2 Samuel. The book’s author is claimed to be Philo — a Jewish philosopher influenced by Greek thinking who lived during the time of Jesus — but scholars doubt this attribution and believe the book is part of the pseudonymous literature of the time.[1] Pseudo-Philo’s work is valuable because some of its internal references to the Second Temple point to an early first-century date for being written. In fact, one scholar writes that “a date around the time of Jesus seems most likely.”[2] Furthermore, the provenance of the book appears to be Palestine. Thus, in Pseudo-Philo’s work we have reflected “the milieu of the Palestinian synagogues at the turn of the common era.”[3]

Pseudo-Philo’s writing also gives us a portrait of the reception of women who had received religious revelation. One such portrait is the elaborated story of Miriam, sister of Moses, who the Bible calls a prophet (Ex. 15:20). In Pseudo-Philo’s work, Miriam receives a revelatory dream in which a divine being tells Miriam that she is to go and tell her parents they will have a child that will be cast into the water, yet will be saved and become a leader. This prophecy is clearly speaking of Moses and the events that will be reported in the biblical book of Exodus. However, when Miriam goes and tells her righteous parents—Amram and Jochebed—they do not believe her. The text does not say this is because of her sex, but the casual way in which Miriam’s parents dismiss her revelatory dream suggests some standard is working against her.

Pseudo-Philo elaborates another story in which Samson’s parents, Manoah and Eluma, pray to God to enquire why they are childless. Eluma receives an answer from an angel who confirms that she is sterile, but promises she will have a son who will be a Nazirite and deliver Israel from the Philistines. However, when Eluma tells her husband Manoah the message of the angel, the story curtly tells us that “Manoah did not believe his wife.”[4] Like Miriam’s story, the reason for why Manoah does not believe his wife is not given, yet the later recorded prayer of Manoah reveals his confusion because God does not reveal himself to women.

These two narratives taken together have similarities to those given in the Gospel of Luke: women receive a message from a divine envoy telling them to go and report to others and they are disbelieved. Richard Bauckham sums up well the situation when he writes that both stories “point to the importance of the issues of receiving revelation, which is exactly what is at stake in the resurrection narratives… [the resurrection narrative] runs up against the assumption of male priority in God’s dealing with his people.”[5] Thus, in Pseudo-Philo we have first-century Palestinian knowledge of how a woman’s credibility was viewed and received regarding religious revelation.

Footnote:

[1] D. J. Harrington, “Pseudo-Philo: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, vol. 2 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985), 299-300.

[2] D. J. Harrington, 299.

[3] D. J. Harrington, 300.

[4] D. J. Harrington, 356.

[5] Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), 275.