Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (LAB)

Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum is retelling of biblical stories originally written in Hebrew in the late first century A.D. This date is based on a possible reference to the fall of Jerusalem in 19:7, but the evidence is thin and could be interpreted as referring to the Babylonians (586 B.C.) or Romans (67 B.C.), or even the period of Antiochus IV Epiphanies’ persecutions. There are potential parallels with 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra which would imply a date in the late first century.

The book claims to be written by Philo of Alexandria, but this is unlikely since Philo wrote in Greek. At several points in the text Pseudo-Philo contradicts Philo (the number of years from Adam to the flood, the description of Moses’ burial, etc.) The book is important for New Testament studies since it sheds light on how Jews in the first century may have understood their own history. However, this is limited since the texts “expanded” by Pseudo-Philo are not discussed by the New Testament authors in any detail.

The major interest in the book is the Covenant of God. The whole book of Genesis is summarized in chapters 1-8, yet there are four chapters detailing the covenant rededication at the time of Joshua (21-24). The leadership of the nation is an important theme, so much so that the author invents careers for Kenaz and Zebul to fill in the gap between Joshua and the first of the judges. Several “minor” judges are given detailed stories where the Hebrew Bible has nothing. This succession of leadership is more important than the origins of the nation, Genesis is rapidly summarized while the careers of Joshua, Kenaz, Zebul and the other Judges are quite detailed.

There are a few expansions of the biblical text in this book which are interesting. Chapter 6 relates the apocryphal tale of Abram’s refusal to make bricks for the Tower of Babel. Both Nahor and Lot are included among the twelve individuals who refused. The story was rewritten through the lens of the three youths in Daniel 3, including the climactic statement of faith in God in 6:11.

“Behold, today I flee to the mountains. And if I escape the fire, wild beasts will come out of the mountains and devour us; or we will lack food and die of famine; and we will be found fleeing from the people of this land but falling in our sins. And now as he in whom I trust lives, I will not be moved from my place where they have put me. If there be any sin of mine so flagrant that I should be burned up, let the will of God be done.”

The Babylonians throw Abram and his supporters into a fiery furnace, but God “caused a great earthquake, and the fire gushing out of the furnace leaped forth in flames and sparks of flame. And it burned all those standing around in sight of the furnace. And all those who were burned in that day were 83,500. But there was not the least injury to Abram from the burning of the fire” 6:17). God responds to Abram’s faith by promising to bring Abram to the “the land upon which my eye has looked from of old” and promises him “I will have my servant Abram dwell and will establish my covenant with him and will bless his seed and be lord for him as God forever” (7:4). Abram settles in Canaan after the confusion of tongues, although the author skips over Abram’s attempt to have a son through Hagar (ch. 8).

Overlooking the faithlessness and sin in the live of Abraham is typical of biblical expansions in the Second Temple period. As the great heroes of the faith become even more heroic, there is a tendency to omit their shortcomings. Even within the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles overlooks David’s sin with Bathsheba. In the case of LAB, the author offers an explanation of why God chose Abram. Abram is a faithful monotheist before God gives him the promise of Genesis 12.

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