Pseudo-Philo: Rewriting the Bible

By Frederick J. Murphy | Go to book overview

11
Major Themes

Just as plot, character, point of view, literary style, and so on are intimately tied together in this work, so the themes discussed here are closely bound up with the characters analyzed in the previous chapter and with the plot analyzed throughout this book. Topics broached here are relevant to Pseudo-Philo's characterizations, and significant themes that are not discussed here are the focus of attention in our treatment of characters and in the narrative analysis. This chapter is not the last word on Pseudo-Philo's themes but is meant to give some appreciation of the topics most interesting to Pseudo-Philo, as a general entrée to the work.


Covenant

God's covenant with Israel is one of the central symbols of the Biblical Antiquities.1. The word testamentum occurs fifty-one times in the book. Related to the theme of covenant is that of witness. Testimonium occurs nineteen times, testis sixteen times, testare three times, and testor once. Usually witness is either to God's faithfulness to the covenant or Israel's neglect of it. Almost a century ago, Leopold Cohn focused on covenant.2.

In all the speeches the same idea recurs again and again: God has chosen the people of Israel and has made his covenant with them for ever; if the children of Israel depart from God's ways and forget his covenant, he delivers them for a time into the hands of their enemies; but God is ever mindful of his covenant with the patriarchs; he always delivers the Israelites through leaders of his choice, and he will never entirely abandon them.

"Covenant" denotes God's special relationship with Israel. Because Abraham resisted humanity's idolatry and trusted in God, God established a special relationship with him and his seed. This relationship is predicted in 4:11, and God makes a solemn pronouncement of it in 7:4: "And before all these I will choose my servant Abram, and I will bring him out from their land and will

____________________
1.
See Murphy, "Eternal Covenant," on which this section is based.
2.
"Apocryphal Work,"322. See also SC 230, 43-47.

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