Cross-Cultural Competition

Joe Barber (Oxford)

Walk about the city and see its walls: an echo of the Epic of Gilgameš in Psalm 48?


The opening of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš invites its audience to climb the wall of Uruk, to walk about the city, and to view its great monuments (SBV I, 13-28). This city, built by the antediluvian sages and rebuilt by the Epic’s namesake king, has been interpreted in this passage as representing the great everlasting fame of Gilgameš, the enduring feats of innumerable generations of humanity, or indeed as standing for the monumental Epic itself. This paper examines a case of cultural contact in the form of an apparent echo of these lines in Psalm 48, which praises God in part by inviting its audience to walk around and examine the city of Zion (Ps. 48, 13-14). I approach the question of intertextuality with a set of strict criteria for determining whether the psalmist could be referring, deliberately or otherwise, to the Epic of Gilgameš. On the basis of discussions of Mesopotamian and Biblical allusion by Zevit[1] and Wisnom[2], I focus on cases of shared and cognate phraseology which might suggest direct allusion, as well as questioning how prominent and pervasive the echo is, how well it fits in the recipient text, and how additional meaning is generated by it. From this I conclude that this echo likely represents not only a conscious allusion, but also a case of literary competition, wherein the psalmist shows the superiority of his God over Gilgameš, his city over Uruk, and his Psalm over the Epic.

Alexander Meeus (Mannheim)

Josephus’ Historiographical Theory in Against Apion: Jewish or Greek Method?


By the end of the first century CE the Jewish author Flavius Josephus had risen from being a prisoner of war taken captive during the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 CE) to being an established author in the empire’s capital. In order to defend Judaism against its Greek critics, Josephus wrote an apologetic work commonly known under the title Against Apion. One of the main arguments developed in this treatise concerns the venerable antiquity of the Jewish people. In order to refute those Greeks who consider the Jewish tradition young and unimpressive, Josephus is concerned to show that Greek knowledge of the earliest times is particularly deficient and that no one has a historical tradition superior to that of the Jews. To do so, he offers a discussion of the proper method for knowledge of the remote past. Scholars almost unanimously consider this section to represent typically Jewish ideas of historiography that would have seemed absurd to the Greeks, often drawing a rather schematic opposition between critical Greek historiography and a traditionalist oriental approach. However, by comparing Josephus’ methodological observations with statements of Greek historians that specifically concern the most remote times, it can be shown that no such opposition exists. Rather than presenting a typically Jewish approach, it seems that in this Greek-language work Josephus is claiming that when it comes to early history, he can use the method of the Greeks to beat them at their own game.