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Prayer of Joseph

First Century A.D.

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Emil Schürer writes: "For the information we possess about this production we are indebted above all to repeated quotations from it found in Origen. This Father speaks of it as 'a writing not to be despised' (ουκ ευκαταφρονητον γραφην), and expressly states that it was in use among the Jews (παρ Εβραιοις). In the passages quoted it is Jacob who figures all through, describing himself as the first-born of all living beings, nay as the head of all the angels themselves. He informs us that when he was coming from Mesopotamia he met Uriel who wrestled with him, and claimed to be the foremost of the angels. But he says that he corrected him, and told him that he, Uriel, was only the eighth in rank after himself. In another passage Jacob states that he had an opportunity of inspecting the heavenly records, and that there he read the future destinies of men." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 127-128)

James Charlesworth writes: "It is difficult to date the original composition because of the paucity of the preserved fragments, a mere sixteen lines out of an original 1100, according to Nicephorus; and because of the ambiguous character of the extant data. Attempts to explain the thought have produced an amazing number of mutually exclusive hypotheses; for example, some scholars conclude that it is Jewish-Christian (viz., A. Resch, Agrapha [1906]; pp. 295-97; J. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, trans. J. A. Baker. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1964; p. 16; contrast Daniélou's comments in The First Six Hundred Years, trans. V. Cronin [The Christian Centuries 1] London: Darton, Longman & Todd; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964; p. 76); others claim it is Jewish (viz., E. Schürer, History, 2d. Div., vol. 3, pp. 127f.; Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity, 2d. ed., pp. 18f.; E. Schweizer, 'Die Kirche als Leib Christi,' TLZ 86 [1961] col. 167; J. Z. Smith, no. 1012, pp. 259, 271, 291). One scholar even claimed to detect an anti-Jewish character (V. Burch, 'The Literary Unity of the Ascensio Isaiae,' JTS 20 [1919] 17-23, esp. pp. 20f.), but this hypothesis is highly improbable because, among other reasons, Origen called it one 'of the apocrypha popular among the Hebrews' (ton par Hebraiois pheromenon apokruphon). Numerous scholars have expressed the opinion that the pseudepigraphon is an anti-Christian Jewish writing (viz., J. T. Marshall, 'Joseph, Prayer of,' Dictionary of the Bible, ed. J. R. Hastings. New York: Scribner, 1899, Vol. 2, col. 778b; R. H. Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah. London: Black, 1900; p. 39; James, LAOT, pp. 30f.; D. S. Russel, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964; p. 67), but this hypothesis is unlikely if we take literally Origen's comment that it is a respectable writing (ouk eukataphroneton graphen). Smith (no. 1012) may be correct in suggesting that the Prayer of Joseph is a first or second century A.D. product of mystical hellenistic Judaism." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 141-142)

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