While some of the late books of the Hebrew Bible were composed after the building of the Second Temple in the 5th century BCE, much of what Jews wrote from around 200 BCE to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE has been ignored by Jewish tradition. These centuries, however, were a period of significant Jewish literary creativity, the products of which have been preserved in part thanks to Orthodox Christian monks. Malka Simkovich writes:
Some of the most popular Jewish documents that were highly circulated among Jews in the ancient world were preserved in monasteries that thrive to this day: St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai Desert, and the twenty monasteries on the Greek peninsula of Mount Athos. Both St. Catherine’s and Mount Athos were settled by Orthodox Christians in the early medieval period, and both are geographically isolated: St. Catherine’s is surrounded by desert, and Mount Athos’s rugged mountainous terrain, with its sharp cliffs that give way to the sea, is difficult to access. . . .
The manuscripts preserved in the library of St. Catherine’s include three copies of the ancient Jewish novel Joseph and Aseneth. . . . In the first half [of the novel], the lovely Egyptian maiden Aseneth, a daughter of the priest Pentephres [Potiphera], falls in love with Joseph. This section builds off of the passing reference to the marriage of Joseph and Aseneth in Genesis 41:50–52. . . . When Pentephres [first] mentions to Aseneth that he is considering giving her to Joseph as a wife, Aseneth, who has not yet met Joseph, reacts with disgust that she would have to marry a lowly Israelite. But when Joseph comes to visit Pentephres’ household and Aseneth meets Joseph for the first time, she is immediately smitten and renounces her idols. . . .
Joseph and Aseneth touches on a number of themes that readers in the late Second Temple period would have found pertinent to their own lives. [Along with] Daniel, Joseph was the consummate Diaspora Jew. He lived in Egypt (like hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived there in the late Second Temple period), was widely respected among Gentiles, and never renounced his ancestral faith. Readers of this story would have appreciated Joseph’s effective balancing of his tradition with being a modern man of his times. They also would have appreciated the typically Hellenistic features of the story: an unlikely romantic pairing, threats against the hero’s life by a wicked antagonist, and a story that climaxes in a battle between good and evil forces.
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