What on earth is the “Hypomnesticon” of “Josephus Christianus”?

While we were looking at the Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae of ps.Athanasius, there was a reference in Zahn’s article to “the strange book of Josephus Christianus”.  This is yet another obscure text, so I thought that I would gather what I could find here.

This work is divided into 5 books and 167 chapters.  It has the title Ἰωσήππου βιβλίον ὑπομνηστικόν, which generated the idea that the author was a Josephus, called Josephus Christianus to distinguish him from the famous historian Flavius Josephus.  But in reality it merely means the hypomnesticon of the books of Fl. Josephus, i.e. extracts from the latter.  There is no author name attached, although older writers refer to him as “hypomnesticon auctor”.  Some have thought that he was the 4th century Joseph of Tiberias, but this is impossible.[1]  Chapter 136 is an extract from the Byzantine author Hippolytus of Thebes, who flourished in the late 7th/early 8th century.  If this is considered a Byzantine interpolation, the work would naturally date to the 5th century.[2]

Each chapter contains a question – mostly biblical-historical questions – which receives an answer, generally given as a list. The questions concern a wide range of subjects. These include: How many generations were there from Adam to the coming of the Saviour? Hebrews married gentile wives? Which men were admired for their wisdom? What are the miracles wrought by Isaiah the prophet? How many Jakoboi were there among the apostles?

The Greek text with the rare title “Hypomnestikon” has reached us in a single manuscript, the tenth century Codex Ff.1.24 of Cambridge University library (a copy made in the 18th century is in the university library at Utrecht). This manuscript contains the best extant text of The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and was probably brought to England from Athens about 1241 AD by Robert Grosseteste.[3]

The editio princeps was printed with a Latin translation in J. A. Fabricius, Codex pseudepigraphus Veteris Testamenti, Volume 2 (1723), and is online at Google Books here.  It is also in the Patrologia Graeca vol. 106, cols. 15-177, as “Joseppus Christianus”, “Libellus memorialis in Vetus et Novum Testamentum”.

Amazingly a modern edition and translation does exist: Robert M. Grant and G. W. Menzies, Joseph’s Bible Notes (Hypomnestikon). SBL Texts and Translations 41, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996.  This I have not seen, however.  There is a deeply useful review by William Adler. “Review of R M, Grant, and G W Menzies, Joseph’s Bible Notes. (hypomnestikon.)Journal of Theological Studies 48, no. 1 (1997): 258, which includes corrections.

A German translation was made by J. Haug and published as part of the Berleburg annotated bible, volume 8, in 1742.[4]

The only study devoted to the Hypomnesticon in modern times is J. Moreau, “Observations sur l’ὑπομνηστικόν βιβλίον Ἰωσήππου”, in: Byzantion 25-27, 1955-7, 241-276.[5]  There is also the PhD thesis of G. W. Menzies, Interpretative traditions in the Hypomnestikon Biblion Ioseppou, Diss: University of Minnesota 1994.[6]  Update: also see Stephen Goranson, “Joseph of Tiberias Revisited: Orthodox and Heresies in Fourth-Century Galilee” in: Eric M. Meyers (ed), Galilee Through the Centuries: Confluence of Cultures, 1999, p.343; and Simon C. Mimoumi, “L’Hypomnesticon de Joseph de Tiberiade: Une oeuvre  du IVeme siecle?”, Studia Patristica XXXII, 1997, p.346-57.

There are probably gems to be had within the text.  For instance chapter 122 contains a list of the translators of Hebrew scripture, and a little information about them; the seventy, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. Then it goes on:

A fifth version was found however at Jericho, hidden in bronze jars, bearing no translator’s name in the title.  However they say that this translation was by a certain woman, because those jars were found at the house of a woman who was studious of sacred literature.

(A sixth translation is mentioned after this).

Another obscure text, now perhaps a little better known!

Update: I discover an article on it at French wikipedia.
Update: Many thanks to commenter “Diego” for locating the German translation in the Berleburg bible; and to IG for some modern bibliography.

  1. [1]Although I see that the excellent Steven Goranson has attempted to revive it: Stephen Goranson, “Joseph of Tiberias Revisited: Orthodox and Heresies in Fourth-Century Galilee” in Galilee Through the Centuries: Confluence of Cultures edited by Eric M. Meyers, p.343.
  2. [2]Most of this from Smith’s elderly Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, Vol. 2, 1846, p.609.
  3. [3]All this via https://muse.jhu.edu/article/9952: “The author’s name, Joseph, is derived from the brief poem which is found at the end of the book—if this poem is the work of the author and not a scribal colophon. Apart from a few brief abstracts found in commentaries and catenae, the Greek text, with the rare title Hypomnestikon, is found only in one manuscript, the tenth century Codex Ff.1.24 of Cambridge University library. This somewhat notorious codex, containing the best extant text of The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, was probably brought to England from Athens about 1241 C.E. by Robert Grosseteste. The heart of this rather miscellaneous manuscript consists in moral lessons from the patriarchal and post-patriarchal times. The first modern edition was produced in 1723 by J. A. Fabricius the famous polymath and a later version, found in Migne PG 10ff, was edited by Giovanni Batista Gallicciolli. Although previously translated into Latin and German, this is the first English translation. It is not a theological treatise but rather a medieval Book of Lists or Trivia Pursuit, a pastiche of biblical-historical questions drawn from different writers, especially the Jewish historian Josephus, and occasionally developed with the help of the New Testament. It answers such questions as “Which of the saints became blind and died?” “Who survived and did not die?” “Who died and lived again?” (127) “What are the stations of the people on the way from Egypt?” It described five ‘heresies’ (sects) among the Jews (307): 1) Pharisees (‘separated’), concerned with phylacteries, cleansings of the body and washing of cups and plates. 2) Sadducees (‘just’) deny the resurrection, angels, Holy Spirit, spirits of the dead, judgement. 3) Essenes are ‘precise’ about the laws and abstain from marriage and procreation and from dealings and meetings due to blind chance. 4) Another order of Essenes ‘who similarly observe the laws yet do not reject marriage and procreation but despise the others because they cut off the succession of the race.’ 5) A fifth sect of Judas the Galilean ‘allowing them to call no man Lord or Master and prohibiting them to accept the census that took place under Quirinius.’ Among the Samaritans, who were originally colonists of the Persians, are four sects, Gorothenes, Sebouaeans, Essenes and Dositheans (307).”
  4. [4]Online here.
  5. [5]Henk Jan de Jonge, “Additional notes on the history of Mss. Venice Bibl. Marc. Gr. 494 (k) and Cambridge Univ. Libr. Ff. 1.24 (b)”, in: Marinus De Jonge, Studies on the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: Text and Interpretation, p.107 f; p.114.
  6. [6]Hathi entry: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/102172074

8 thoughts on “What on earth is the “Hypomnesticon” of “Josephus Christianus”?

  1. That was quick!
    Grant and Menzies p. 28:
    “A German translation, based on Fabricius’s edition, was published under the direction of J.H. Haug in 1742.”

  2. “A fifth version was found however at Jericho, hidden in bronze jars, bearing no translator’s name in the title. However they say that this translation was by a certain woman, because those jars were found at the house of a woman who was studious of sacred literature.”

    There were several pre modern reports of finding sacred texts in the desert in the vicinity of Jericho, including that by Patriarch Timotheus I , c 800 CE.
    The Library at Quram, H. Stegman, Wm. B; Eerdmans, 1998, p. 69 and following.
    Also
    “… he (Origen) has added a note that it (an alternative translation of the Holy Writ) was found at Jericho in a jar during the reign of Antonius, the son of Severus.”
    Eusebius, EH, Book 6.16.

    The statement above and the ones below suggest the author of “Hypomnesticon” may have been paraphrasing Eusebius discussion of Origen’s Hexapla, the Sixfold Edition.
    “Moreover, he (Origen) hunted out the published translations of the Holy Writ other than the Septuagint, and in addition to the versions in common use- those of Aquilla, Symmachus and Theodotion, he discovered several alternative translations. These had been lost for many years,..”
    Eusebius, EH 6.16.
    “These together with several other commentaries on scripture by Symmanchus, Origen states that he received from a woman called Juliana, on whom he says, Symmanchus had himself bestowed them.”
    Eusebius, EH 6.17

  3. Roger
    Just another random thought;
    Translated from French Wikipedia https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_(auteur_chr%C3%A9tien_ancien)
    “Christians; § 140 is a list of 62 heresies briefly presented.”
    It would be worthwhile to compare these 62 heresies to the 80 or so sects discussed in Ephiphanius’ Panarion, to see if Panarion was used as a source.
    After the 5th c. most writers seem limited to a few standard secondary references which they mine and paraphrase. Sometime after Jerome, there seems to have been a contraction of the number of original text sources available to the early Christian commentators.

  4. ““A fifth version was found however at Jericho, hidden in bronze jars, … ”
    Early Karaites wrote that some of their founding texts had been left to them by “cave dwellers”, suggesting that the Karaites had found another cache of hidden scrolls from the Jewish Revolt.
    Leon Nemoy, Karaite Anthology: Excerpts from the Early Literature, 1952.

Leave a Reply