The Liturgical Calendar in the Joseph and Aseneth
Note: I limit this short paper to the discussion of the calendar of the main part of the plot only. A more detailed analysis will be provided, God willing, in an article in preparation.
The origin of the Joseph and Aseneth (thereafter JA) is a hotly disputed matter. Those who share the opinion that it is a Jewish text originated from an Essene-like community were always interested in its liturgical calendar. Indeed, the text contains a number of dates, as normally do hagiographical texts related to some liturgical commemorations. It is difficult, if not impossible to explain these dates without attributing to them some liturgical meaning. The whole text of JA is saturated with liturgical contents, in descriptions of both events and the place of the main events, Aseneth’s house (whose space is organised as a temple space, and so, need to be analysed from the liturgical point of view). However, the liturgical meaning of these calendrical dates remains obscure.
As early as in the 1960s, Annie Jaubert proposed in a personal communication to Marc Philonenko that the JA’s calendar, probably, contains “...une trace du calendrier des Jubilées.” This supposition, if true, would substantially corroborate the views of the adherents of an Essene origin of the work.
However, the situation is not as simple as that. According to the calendar of the Jubilees (the 364DY calendar with 1.I falling on Wednesday), 18.IV is Saturday, whereas in JA it is Sunday. Jaubert’s reinterpretation of JA 1:2; 3:1 as Saturday required violence to the text. The calendar of the Jubilees is certainly not the calendar of JA.
Roger T. Beckwith proposed another “suggestion.” JA implies an otherwise unknown calendar similar to that of the Jubilees but distinct in one detail: its first day (1.I) falls on Thursday instead of Wednesday, and so, its 18.IV falls on Sunday. However, this hypothesis is highly problematic. Even though it is likely that we do not know so far all historical modifications of the 364DY calendrical scheme, the beginning of the calendar on Thursday seems to me impossible. Historically we know only two approaches to the beginning of the calendar in Jewish and Christian traditions: it is either Wednesday as the day when the luminaries were created or Sunday as the first day of creation. There is absolutely no reason to begin the calendar on Thursday. Thus, the whole reconstruction by Beckwith seems to me untenable.
Nevertheless, Beckwith seems to me quite right in looking for a fitting modification of the 364DY calendar. Now, thirty years after the Beckwith’s “suggestion,” we know a wide range of different Jewish calendars of the Second Temple period. One of them is fitting with the calendrical plot of JA: the calendar of 2 (Slavonic) Enoch.
- 2 Enoch Calendar in JA
The calendar of 2 Enoch belongs to the Sunday family of the 364DY calendars, that is, the calendars where 1.I falls on Sunday. This type of calendar is the only theoretically possible type where all the Leviticus’ requirements concerning the dates of the festivals of the Unleavened Bread and the Weeks are met in a strictly literal way. All other known calendars (those of the rabbinic Judaism, the Samaritans, the Karaites, the Jubilees, etc.) need to break (or “rethink”) some part of these requirements.
The particular calendar implied in 2 Enoch certainly predates this book. It could be as ancient as the calendar of 1 Enoch or even more (4th-3rd cent. BC). Its most probable Sitz im Leben is the Jewish diaspora in Egypt.
According to this calendar, the first four months have the following lengths: 30—35—30—30 days. Thus, 18.IV is here Sunday, exactly as JA states.
Now, we can continue to trace the calendrical data of JA with the 2 Enoch calendar in mind. This calendar seems to have some influence on later Christian traditions but, so far, there is no known source other than 2 Enoch, where this calendar as a whole would be recognisable. I think, JA will be the first one.
- JA’s Chronological Timeline
Sunday 18.IV is the day when Joseph met Aseneth for the first time. This same day, Sunday, he continued his journey across Egypt without accepting an invitation to overnight but promising to return on the eighth day.
Then, the events are the following:
7 days from 19.IV to 25.IV inclusively: mourning and penitence of Aseneth (in a good Jewish fashion, with ashes, changed clothes, etc.).
Next (eighth) day, 26.IV, on the morning: visit of Joseph via his heavenly counterpart (Joseph is a “son of God” [6:2], similar to his father Jacob in the Jewish mystical traditions related to the Ladder of Jacob and Jacob’s heavenly counterpart; cf. also Jn 1:51). The ritual banquet with atonement of Aseneth’s sins and her acceptance into Israel.
The same day: return of the earthly Joseph; a festal banquet but without any specific ritual; arrangement for the marriage of Joseph and Aseneth but not marriage itself.
The next day, 27.IV: marriage of Joseph and Aseneth, the first day of the seven-day marriage feast.
27.IV—3.V: the seven days of the marriage feast.
- Other important calendrical parameters
Daybreak: Day begins on the morning, that is, the night is a part of the preceding nychtemeron, as it is normal for the 364DY calendars. Day precedes night. E.g.: “And lo, for seven days and seven nights I have neither eaten bread nor drunk water,” said Aseneth on the morning to the Joseph’s heavenly counterpart (13:8-9).
Harvest time: That the events occur on the harvest time is underlined much time. But there are, in the 364DY calendars, several different harvests (barley, wheat, vines, and olives). Our text puts forward the harvest of the vines but enumerates too many other items: “And Aseneth rejoiced at the good things, and at the fruit, the grapes and the dates, and at the doves and at the pomegranates and the figs, for they were all delightful” (4:2). This list is difficult, not only because the harvest is somehow a harvest of doves but because the harvest of grapes and the harvest of dates and other species the time is more than one month. Moreover, Joseph arrives first time to the house of Pentephres holding “...an olive branch stretched out, and there was much fruit on it” (5:7).
In the Palestinian calendars, e.g., that of the Temple Scroll, the harvests of the grapes and the olives are marked with different pentecontad festivals: the second Pentecontad after the festival of the Weeks is the feast of New Wine, whereas the third Pentecontad the feast of New Oil. Our text, however, contaminates these different topics into the unique “harvest.”
This is physically possible because, in the early August, the harvest of the grapes in Egypt is finishing (its culmination is in June), but the harvest of the olives starts (its culmination is in November). Such a contamination of the two pentecontad festivals is a known phenomenon, e.g., in the calendar implied in the Apocalypse of Abraham.
However, it is hardly possible that the second half of the fourth month could fall on the early August. Thus, the “agricultural situation” of the account seems to me artificial. It serves to merely liturgical purpose: to create, on the base of the festival of New Wine (quite appropriate for the second half of the fourth month) a wholesaling festival of the harvest.
The prominence of this festival among other pentecontad festivals (Weeks and New Oil) is clear in 3 Baruch—and even, probably, in the Acts of Apostles, as recently Étienne Nodet pointed out (Act 2:13: “They are filled with new wine”) supposing that this Pentecost is the second one after the Easter.
- Liturgical interpretation
Unfortunately, 2 Enoch does not describe its liturgical calendar outside some short periods. It is almost of no help in understanding of the feast of New Wine. However, there are two important facts from 2 Enoch that need to be taken into account: the date of the first Pentecost (the festival of the Weeks), 6.III, and the date of the summer solstice, 17.III. The latter date resulted from cosmological features of 2 Enoch as a distorting of the date 17.IV.
Moreover, the calendar of 3 Baruch, also a Sunday 364DY calendar having much in common with that of 2 Enoch, preserves the theoretical date of the Summer solstice 15.IV, which is the common theoretical date of the Mesopotamian astronomy. This calendar is very helpful in reconstruction of the New Wine cycle. According to my evaluation, this calendar presents another than 1 Enoch and quite independent Hebrew recension of the Mesopotamian astronomy.
This cycle contains the following major blocks:
40 days after the first Pentecost: the direct continuation of the Pentecost itself, according to Exodus 24:18 (“Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights”);
a specific commemoration of the Summer solstice,
some preparatory cycle before the festival of the second Pentecost (New Wine).
For instance, in 3 Baruch, Baruch is taken into the first heaven on the festival of the Weeks, the he spent 40 days in travel from one heaven to another, the highest one, where he “waits” one day which is the Sabbath; the next day is the Summer solstice, where Baruch observes the whole mechanism of the heavenly realm; then, he has a 8-day journey before the festival of New Wine. The whole cycle takes 50 days after the festival of the Weeks (not 49!).
Let us turn to JA, taking into account that the date of the festival of the Week is assumed to be the same as in 2 Enoch, 6.III, and that the third month contains 30 days (unlike the calendar of the Jubilees, where it has 31 days).
Then, 40 days after 6.III would cover the period from 7.III to 16.IV inclusively.
The Sabbath falling on 17.IV seems to be the day of the Summer solstice (the date of the calendar of the 2 Enoch, but without specific to 2 Enoch cosmology; thus, not 17.III but 17.IV).
The Sunday 18.IV together with the following eight days lead to the date of the festival on New Wine, 26.IV—the major liturgical day of the whole story.
The following seven days of the marriage feast (27.IV—3.V) are a continuation of the feast of New Wine.
Indeed, the ritual performed by Aseneth under guidance of the heavenly counterpart of Joseph is that of the New Wine, together with the expiation and penitence motives and symbolical understanding of wine as blood (cf. below, the scene of “signing” the honeycomb). However, the festival absorbs the motives of judgment, too, which are traditionally those of the festival of New Oil (cf. 3 Baruch).
- Summer Solstice
Jan van Goudoever has already noticed the liturgical importance of the Summer solstice in JA with referring to 2 Enoch (but he thought that its date is 18.IV itself).
The day of 17.IV is Sabbath, and so, unsuitable for travelling. Thus, the events begin on the next day. Josephus in his golden chariot comes as the sun (rather than “as if” the sun): “And now, behold the sun is come [ms B: like the sun is he come] to us from heaven in his chariot and has come into our house to-day (6:5)” into his own “City of the sun,” Heliopolis.
Such a predominant role of the Summer solstice is known from 3 Baruch and the Apocalypse of Abraham, although, on this day, 3 Baruch is preoccupied with the cosmological questions, whereas Abraham contemplates the destiny of the generations and the whole world. Unlike both of them, JA does not imply any activity on the day of the Summer solstice because this days here is falling on the Sabbath.
- The Ritual of Honeycomb and Wine
Nina Braginskaya proposed a very helpful explanation of the ritual role of the honeycomb: it is an avatar of manna, other than the Christian representation of the manna as the bread.
The role of the wine is not explained in the text but is, nevertheless, transparent, especially because the following part of the rite:
“And the man stretched his hand out and put his finger on the edge of the comb that faced eastwards; and the path of his finger became like blood. 11. And he stretched out his hand a second time and put his finger on the edge of the comb that faced northwards, and the path of his finger became like blood” (16:10-11).
In the Egyptian texts of the sixth and seventh century (Panegyric to Pisentius of Keft; Synaxary of Benjamin of Alexandria) is mentioned the following ritual during the consecration of the Holy Gifts: the priest immerses his finger into the consecrated cup and, with this finger, write a cross on the bread (already not consecrated? This is not quite clear). When some holy men were performing this ritual, the wine in the chalice was transformed into the fire. Now, we are interested in the customary practice only, which is basically the same as described in JA.
The calendar of JA is partially recoverable on the basis of 2 Enoch and 3 Baruch calendars. The claim that the calendar implied in JA is the same that that of 2 Enoch would be an exaggeration, but basically the calendar is the same.
The calendar per se provides no firm ground for defining the Sitz im Leben of JA. The same type of calendar had an important impact on the early Christian calendars of Egypt and the whole Christian world (e.g., such a fundamental liturgical constant as the feast of Theophany on 6 January is related to this calendar).