Jewish National Decline and Biblical Figures as Classical Exempla: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, and Elisha in De Excidio 5.2.1

Bay, Carson (2020). Jewish National Decline and Biblical Figures as Classical Exempla: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, and Elisha in De Excidio 5.2.1. Journal of the bible and its reception, 7(2), pp. 167-204. De Gruyter 10.1515/jbr-2019-0017

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The fourth century of the Common Era was a period significant for witnessing the effective birth of Christian historiography and the (putatively) definitive separation of ‘Jew’ and ‘Christian’ as distinctive identities. A text emerged, known as Pseudo-Hegesippus or De Excidio Hierosolymitano (On the Destruction of Jerusalem). This text illustrates how Christian historiography and Christian anti-Jewish ideology at that time could engage with the traditions of classical antiquity. In particular, this article argues that Pseudo-Hegesippus deploys
figures from the Hebrew Bible in the mode of classical exempla and that it does so within the largely classical conceptual framework of national decline. For Pseudo-Hegesippus, biblical figures presented as classical exempla serve to illustrate the historical decline of the Jews until their effective end in 70 CE (when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple). One passage, De Excidio 5.2.1, and its enlistment of five Hebrew heroes illustrates this point particularly well. The use of exemplarity and the theme of national decline employed there help us appreciate De Excidio as a distinctive contribution to early Christian historiography and anti-Jewish literature in late antiquity; this expands our ability to imagine the ways in which fourth-century Christian authors could conceive of and articulate Jewish history in classical terms.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


01 Faculty of Theology > Institute of Jewish Studies

UniBE Contributor:

Bay, Carson Michael


200 Religion
200 Religion > 220 The Bible
200 Religion > 230 Christianity & Christian theology
200 Religion > 270 History of Christianity
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
400 Language
400 Language > 470 Latin & Italic languages
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 870 Latin & Italic literatures
900 History
900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)




De Gruyter


[4] Swiss National Science Foundation


[UNSPECIFIED] Lege Iosephum! Reading Josephus in the Latin Middle Ages




Carson Michael Bay

Date Deposited:

08 Apr 2021 16:25

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:50

Publisher DOI:





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