The Memory of Moses in Biographical and Autobiographical Narratives in Ancient Judaism and 4th-Century Christianity
1.1. A culture of imitation This study explores the way the Biblical figure of Moses was commemo- rated in Antiquity in some biographical and autobiographical Jewish and Christian writings for the purpose of constructing, revising or maintaining the collective identity of communities. As part of this, the study also focuses on the way the ancient texts use the Moses narratives and the relationship between Moses and the people to address the special relationship between the leader of a given community and the community itself. Ancient culture was a culture of imitation. Great men of the past were repeatedly presented as representative types of virtues or vices, and ancient authors often made use of comparison (σύγκρισις) as an important means of moral characterization. This practice features heavily in encomia (a genre meant to praise the subject) such as Isocrates’ Evagoras (37–39) and Xenophon’s Agesilaus (9.1–5), where the subjects are compared to their advantage with a past or contemporary Persian king; and both Aristotle, Quintilian and later Menander Rhetor recommended that σύγκρισις be used in encomia.1 Σύγκρισις was also normally included in the προγυμνάσματα, the Greek textbooks of rhetorical exercises.2 Biographical interest was, however, not restricted to encomia. It was found in many other types of writings: most noticeably in the βίοι of philosophers, kings, politicians and generals, but also in other genres such as funeral orations, historiography, martyrology and hagiography. In general, as Simon Swain has argued, Greek and Latin literature of the Roman Empire displayed “a marked biographical trend”:3 a great many...
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