The Bible Rewritten and Expanded
George W. E. Nickelsburg
In the previous chapter we discussed Jewish narrative literature set in biblical and early post-biblical times. Characteristic of the narratives about biblical times was their very loose connection with biblical traditions about Israel’s past. The authors of these works used settings in biblical history and built stories around biblical characters, but, for the most part, their plots and the events recounted in them had no real counterparts in the biblical accounts. In the present chapter we shall treat literature that is very closely related to the biblical texts, expanding and paraphrasing them and implicitly commenting on them. This tendency to follow the ancient texts more closely may be seen as a reflection of their developing canonical status.
The order of our treatment reflects developing ways of retelling the events of biblical history. To judge from present evidence, this process of narration began with stories that recounted individual events or groups of episodes from relatively brief sections of the Bible. Our earliest text is the story of the fall of the watchers, preserved in 1 Enoch 6-11. From it developed accounts of other episodes involving Enoch and Noah. Some of the earlier Enochic and Noachic traditions, as well as early narrative materials about other patriarchs, were subsequently alluded to, or reshaped and incorporated into such works as Jubilees and the Genesis Apocryphon, which are running paraphrases of extensive portions of the Pentateuch. The Book of Biblical Antiquities is a later paraphrase of much broader scope (Genesis to Samuel). Here the narrative elaborations are less traditional and more often the author’s ad hoc creations. The Adamic literature is of uncertain date; like the Enochic and Noachic stories, it focuses on a brief portion of Scripture. The works of Philo the Elder, Theodotus, and Ezekiel the Tragedian are a special category and indicate relatively early attempts to recast the biblical narratives into forms that would appeal to the Hellenistic tastes of their audiences.
It is clear that these writings employ a variety of genres: running paraphrases of longer and shorter parts of the Bible, often with lengthy expansions (Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon, Biblical Antiquities); narrative blocks in a non-narrative genre (stories about the flood in the apocalypse or