Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Jewish Historian Demetrios

One in a series on biblical chronology.

There is little information available on this Jewish historian
[i], who during the reign of Ptolemy (IV 291-205) created for the first time a narrative of the Bible in, for his time, an accurate chronological framework. “The establishment of a system of biblical reckoning was the essential achievement of Demetrios.”[ii] Josephus and the Christian writers knew Berosus, the Babylonian[iii] and Demetrios through the excerpts of their works published by the Greek compiler, Alexander surnamed Polyhistor, after 80 BCE. Our knowledge of the writings of Demetrios is based on these excerpts.

Demetrios used the accession of Ptolemy IV in 221 as his beginning point. Demetrios was the first to determine the date of captivity of Jerusalem, which he calculated to be 338 years three months prior to the reign of Ptolemy IV. Demetrios, his contemporaries and successors, struggled with the question of the length of the Exile. The calculations ultimately put forth were based on what was believed to be the first year of the reign of Cyrus. Josephus includes two different Jewish calculations of the end of the Exile.

Bickerman summarizes as follow: “In the absence of eras and fixed years, the complexity of synchronistic equations made errors unavoidable.”

[i] This blog is a summary of an article with the same title by Bickerman appearing in his three-volume collection, Studies in Jewish and Christian History,(Leiden: 1976-86).
[ii] Bickerman, Volume II at 353.
[iii] Berosus (also spelled Berossus) was a 3rd century BCE Chaldean priest who wrote three books in Greek about the creation and the early history of the world as part of his history of Babylon.
[iv] Ant XI, 1.1; Ant. XX, 10.1. Bickerman states the years as 586 and 576 respectively.
[v] Bickerman, Volume II at 358.

copyrighted 2005


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