The Prayer of Joseph

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The Prayer of Joseph

Post by MrMacSon »

The title, Prayer of Joseph, is found in many ancient documents but only two Fragments of this text, totalling a dozen or so lines, are extant: the Stichometry of Nicephorus shows that the Prayer of Joseph had a length of eleven hundred lines.

The main extant part, Fragment A, is preserved in Origen's 'Commentary on the Gospel of John, II.31(25).186-192 along with the title. Fragment B, a single sentence, has been found in the Praeparatio Evangelica, Book VI, of Eusebius; in the Commentary on Genesis of Procopius of Gaza; and in an anthology of the writings of Origen compiled by Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzus usually named Philokalia. Fragment C, also found in Philokalia, paraphrases the other fragments.

Fragment B is only one line, where Jacob says:

.."For I read in the tablets of heaven all things that shall happen to you and to your sons"

Fragment A begins as follows:

Thus Jacob says: "I, Jacob, who speak to you, I am also Israel, I am an angel of God, a ruling spirit (pneuma archikon).

"Abraham and Isaac were created before any/every work (of God); I am Jacob, called Jacob by men, (but) my name is Israel, called Israel by God, a man seeing God, because I am the first-born (πρωτογενός, prōtogonos) of every creature which God caused to live."

The last part aligns with Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my firstborn son” (πρωτότοκός μου Ισραηλ (prōtotokos) in the Septuagint),* where it's widely considered that Israel refers to the people of Israel.

* (cf. 4 Ezra 6:58; Sir 36:17; Pss.Sol 18:4)

There's also an alignment / parallel with Paul's Epistle to the Colossians 1:15-16

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn (prōtotokos) of all creation ... all things have been created through him and for him

"a man seeing God" is not found in any ancient Hebrew text, yet it is found in Philo's writings and in Greek hellenistic texts. Thoigh here it may reflect an independent play on/of words here in this 'prayer' (and, if originally in Aramaic or Hebrew, a play in that original language).

Note also it states that Abraham and Isaac were created before anything else.

Th last half (or so) of Fragment A:

"When I was coming from Mesopotamia of Syria, Uriel, the angel of God, came forth, and said, I have come down to the earth and made my dwelling among men, and I am called Jacob by name. He was angry with me and fought with me and wrestled against me, saying that his name and the name of Him who is before every angel should be before my name. And I told him his name and how great he was among the sons of God; 'Are you not Uriel my eighth, and I am Israel and archangel of the power of the Lord and a chief captain (archichiliarchos) among the sons of God? Am not I Israel, the first minister in the sight of God, and I invoked my God by the inextinguishable name?' "

This channels Genesis 32:24-32 with the unnamed angel of the Genesis passage name Uriel in the Prayer of Joseph. In Genesis 32:28, the man-angel changed Jacob's name, saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

In the Prayer of Joseph they both have higher status than in Genesis 32: they're both archangels. Uriel appears in 1 Enoch 72–82 and guides Enoch in several other heavenly journeys (1 Enoch 19:1; 21:5, 9; 27:2; 33:3-4). 1 Enoch 20:2 identifies him as one of the angels ruling over Tartarus.

Moreover, Peter Schäfer has noted:

The conflict between the angel Jacob/Israel and Uriel brings to mind Enoch entering the celestial hierarchy as the highest angel Metatron, and the opposition to this from established angels in the Third Book of Enoch, but that is not all. The distinctive feature of this short fragment consists above all in the fact that the angel Jacob/Israel is not only a particularly high angel but [as noted above] also that he claims to be the firstborn in creation. His ancestors Abraham and Isaac are also pre-existent, or more precisely they were created before the creation of the world, but Jacob/Israel, the third patriarch in the biblical genealogy, is in reality the firstborn before all creation: “a supreme pre-existing spiritual being . . . , which takes human form in Jacob and becomes the tribal ancestor of the people of Israel” [Martin Hengel, The Son of God, p.48]. This is absolutely singular and lifts him up far above the common angel hierarchy ...

Because Jacob is also Israel and as such provides his services in heaven, it is to be expected that a concrete relationship to creation and especially Israel was established in the lost portion of the text. When looking back at the early Jewish tradition, we can observe an obvious similarity to Daniel—Israel’s angel Michael as the “one like a human being” corresponds to the angel Israel as the highest heavenly authority next to God—as well as to the Son of Man in the Similitudes of the Ethiopic Enoch. The Son of Man, like the angel Israel, is a heavenly being created before the creation of the world.

And if we look ahead to the further course of tradition history, it is certainly not by chance that Jonathan Z Smith recognized also the Prayer of Joseph to be a Jewish predecessor to New Testament Christology: “.. it would appear that the Christians borrowed already existing Jewish terminology” [Jonathan Z. Smith, “The Prayer of Joseph,” in Religions in Antiquity: Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, ed. Jacob Neusner (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 272].

Two Gods in Heaven, p.60

Interestingly, Justin Martyr channels Genesis 32:25 and perhaps aspects of the Prayer of Joseph in Dialogue c Trypho 125 in which he elaborates on, “the force of the name Israel”, firstly via reference to the Parable of the Sower, “in the hope of finding good ground somewhere,” then says -

... Accordingly the name Israel signifies this, A man who overcomes power; for Isra is a man overcoming, and El is power. And that Christ would act so when He became man was foretold by the mystery of Jacob’s wrestling with Him who appeared to him, in that He ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures. For when He became man, as I previously remarked, the devil came to Him—i.e., that power which is called the serpent and Satan—tempting Him, and striving to effect His downfall by asking Him to worship him. But He destroyed and overthrew the devil, having proved him to be wicked, in that he asked to be worshipped as God, contrary to the Scripture; who is an apostate from the will of God. For He answers him, ‘It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall thou serve.’2438 Then, overcome and convicted, the devil departed at that time. But since our Christ was to be numbed, ie. by pain and experience of suffering, He made a previous intimation of this by touching Jacob’s thigh, and causing it to shrink. But Israel was His name from the beginning, to which He altered the name of the blessed Jacob when He blessed him with His own name, proclaiming thereby that all who through Him have fled for refuge to the Father, constitute the blessed Israel. But you, having understood none of this, and not being prepared to understand, since you are the children of Jacob after the fleshly seed, expect that you shall be assuredly saved. But that you deceive yourselves in such matters, I have proved by many words. ... .cxxv.html

"Israel was His name from the beginning, to which He altered the name of the blessed Jacob when He blessed him with His own name, proclaiming thereby that all who through Him have fled for refuge to the Father, constitute the blessed Israel" seems a bit murky (in English, at least) ...

The titles which 'Jacob' identifies himself as — 'ruling spirit', 'Angel of God', 'a man seeing God', 'the firstborn of every living thing’, 'Chief Captain among the sons of God', 'the First Minister in the sight of God' — are used (i) for Michael by the rabbinic literature, (ii) for the Logos by Philo, (iii) for Metatron by the Jewish mysticism, and even (iv) for Christ by early Christians [Gieschen, Charles A. (1998) Angelomorphic Christology. pp. 138–139].

Moreover, these titles relate the Prayer of Joseph with the early Merkabah tradition [Smith, J.Z. (1985). "Prayer of Joseph, a new Translation with Introduction". In Charlesworth, James (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol. 2.].

Bibliography ... of-joseph/
Last edited by MrMacSon on Thu May 12, 2022 7:50 pm, edited 17 times in total.
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Re: The Prayer of Joseph

Post by MrMacSon »

For posterity
Secret Alias wrote: Wed Apr 13, 2022 9:21 am
Also worth citing:

Philo's ανήρ ορών θεόν renders the - איש רואה אל as ישראל Hebrew folk - etymology of The Philonic etymologies of Israel were adopted by Latin patristic exegesis not only through Jerome's work but also through that of Origen and Eusebius of Caesarea. Origenis in Evangelium Joannis 2.31 (25), ed. A.E. Brooke, I (Cambridge, 1896), 97-30 quotes the etymology, 'locana avno ogõv Jɛóv, in a fragment from a now lost Hellenistic - Jewish OT apocryphon, the IgorEUX ' Iwong.20 This definition of Israel in the 'Prayer of Joseph' is derived from Philo, De confusione linguarum 146, cited above. And the same passage in Origen's commentary is borrowed by Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica VI.11. 64, ed. borrowed by Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica VI.11. 64, ed. Karl Mras, vol. I. 1 (Berlin, 1954), 356.22-24, while the identical passage from Philo is quoted — verbatim — in XI. . 15.2, ed. Mras, vol. I.2 (Berlin 1956) 36.9-10

Hard to argue that איש = ΙΣ was difficult to reproduce in antiquity. You have those who read it in Genesis and then those who interpreted it in the name Israel. This doesn't prove that ΙΣ originated with איש but rather that it was likely that Greek and Latin speakers could and would interpret ΙΣ as איש anywhere they saw ΙΣ especially in a document related to god, the Bible, Hebrew etc. This can't be disputed.

... Did X mean Y? We're never 100% of the outcome. We're merely determining rough probabilities/likelihood and (hopefully) choosing to argue for things that could have some possibility of being true. It's not unlikely that an ancient Greek or Latin speaker read ΙΣ as איש. Justin did so. Origen did so. Eusebius did so. Jerome did so. Whether or not a particular passage was correctly translated/transcribed by a particular non-ancient (modern) translator/scholar.

Where's that quoted passage from, SA ??

Secret Alias wrote: Sun Apr 17, 2022 6:42 am
Every once and a while in the study of anything, you have a moment which takes you full circle to the place you began. In my case, one of the first books that 'got me into' Biblical Studies - James H Charlesworth's The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (a 2 Volume set) - had a fascinating entry for the Prayer of Joseph where he noted (among other things) the play on words that exists at Genesis 32:28 between Jacob's action ('struggling' with God) and his change of name. In Hebrew and Aramaic there is a play on the word 'contend.' In Hebrew the verb translated “you have fought” (שָׂרִיתָ, sarita) sounds like the name “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל, yisraʾel), meaning “God fights." The same thing is found in the Aramaic Targums. There is even an angel 'Sariel' that fits into these discussions.

However the angel who contends with Jacob is most consistently identified as איש. As such no direct word play exists in Hebrew or Aramaic between the name 'Israel' and 'Ish.' We already know of course that Philo and the early Church Fathers pointed to the similarity between the Greek Ισραήλ and ΙΣ. All the early Church Fathers 'bought into' Philo's mysticism about the fact that the 'man seeing God' was Jacob seeing ΙΣ. Philo also takes interest in a number of passages Samaritans and Jews saw the Hebrew word איש (man) and said 'this isn't an ordinary man but the angel that appears throughout the Pentateuch and Joshua which had a special relationship with both God and Israel.

Yet what occurred to me yesterday was something much more profound. The same word play that exists between Jacob 'contending' with the angelic 'man' exists in the Greek and was used by Philo with some special mysticism. It might even have been used by the Church Fathers. The problem was that I started working on it, going through the Greek MSS of Philo at a thread I was developing at this forum, went out to train my son and I got really tired (even though I only get the balls and my son does all the hard work running around outside the box he is much younger than I am). I was so tired I wiped out the whole list when I reached the maximum on another list within the thread. Anyway I had to start from scratch (which is probably better) developing a separate thread for this idea.

Here is the pertinent passage of Gen 32:28 LXX:

εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ οὐ κληθήσεται ἔτι τὸ ὄνομά σου Ιακωβ ἀλλὰ Ισραηλ ἔσται τὸ ὄνομά σου ὅτι ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ θεοῦ καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατός

The (proposed) word play is between 'ἐνίσχυσας' (the equivalent of שָׂרִיתָ) and Ισραηλ (and ultimately ΙΣ). The significance of this passage is most explicitly confirmed in the surviving Armenian text of Questions and Answers on Exodus where Philo discusses the garb of the high priest:

108. (Ex. xxviii. 7) " Why are the two shoulder-pieces,* which are joined together, attached in two parts ? '^

The shoulder-pieces "* designate serious labours,* for they are a part of the sacred garment, and sacred things are serious.^ And there are two " forms of labour : one is the desire of pleasing ^ God, and of piety * ; the other is being beneficent to men, which is called kindness and love of man.^ He therefore exhorts (us) to devote ourselves to every labour and to put our shoulders to it.'' The theologian ' wishes (these) two things to be known in order that what has been said in another place '" may be confirmed by deeds, (namely) " With God thou wast strong and with men thou shalt have power (ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ θεοῦ καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατός)." « But of the two shoulder-pieces one must be on the right, and the other on the left. Now the one on the right was given its place for the sake of pleasing God — a labour worthy of zeal, while that on the left (was given its place) for the sake of helpfulness to men and for kindness of thought concerning them.''

The high priest of course is for Philo the living image of the Logos, the perfect man (just like 'Israel/Jacob' after he wrestles with ΙΣ). Clearly the ΙΣ = the Logos just like in the opening words of the gospel of John.

The fact that Eusebius cites the entire passage from Gen 32:28 LXX as it pertains to the figure known as 'Jesus' but appears in the manuscripts as ΙΣ (with overbar) is particularly relevant. I will try and prove that he was following a tradition passed on by Philo but which likely went back to the earliest users of the 'Greek Targum' (LXX) shares by their fellow Hebrews who employed the Hebrew and Aramaic that ἐνίσχυσας is related to ΙΣ:

Moses most clearly proclaims him second Lord after the Father, when he says, The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrha brimstone and fire from the Lord. Genesis 19:24 The divine Scripture also calls him God, when he appeared again to Jacob in the form of a man, and said to Jacob, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name, because you have prevailed with God. Genesis 32:28 Wherefore also Jacob called that place Vision of God — saying, For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. Genesis 32:30

What is of special significance for the example is that clearly - in order for the etymology to work - ΙΣ COULDN'T HAVE been read as 'Jesus' originally. It had to have been read as two letters which 'mystically' stood at core of the Greek verb ἰσχύω 'to have strength/power.' This would essentially mean that the early Church Fathers accepted that ΙΣ meant not only 'man' but wasn't (originally?) a first letter, last letter 'abbreviation' of Joshua.

This is something I was always trying to find. Everyone knows the stupidity regarding Israel = a man seeing god. I think that if we go back to Justin's variant to the 'man seeing God' etymology:

καὶ τὸ οὖν Ἰσραὴλ ὄνομα τοῦτο σημαίνει· ἄνθρωπος νικῶν δύναμιν· τὸ γὰρ ἴσρα ἄνθρωπος νικῶν ἐστι, τὸ δὲ ἢλ δύναμις.

Accordingly the name Israel signifies this, A man who overcomes power; for Isra is a man overcoming, and El is power.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the structure of the sentence:

goes back to Gen 32:28 LXX:

τὸ ὄνομά σου Ιακωβ ἀλλὰ Ισραηλ ἔσται τὸ ὄνομά σου ὅτι ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ θεοῦ καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατός

where 'δυνατός' (δύναμαι “to be able” +‎ -τος verbal adjective suffix) in the original LXX is now replaced by δύναμιν (accusative singular of δύναμις)

τὸ οὖν Ἰσραὴλ ὄνομα τοῦτο σημαίνει· ἄνθρωπος νικῶν δύναμιν

Clearly, in the same way, νικῶν bears a similar relationship with the original "ἐνίσχυσας μετὰ" God.

I think once I work out this argument I will start work on publishing a paper on this idea. I think I can prove that there was a second 'folk etymology' used by Philo and the Church Fathers which ultimately proved that the nomen sacrum was (a) read in 'ordinary way' (not as an abbreviation for Iesous/Joshua originally), and (b) that ultimately it meant 'man.'

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Re: The Prayer of Joseph

Post by Stuart »

Fascinating. Thanks for this.
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