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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A daughter of Hebrews and Hellenes. Epiphany in Aseneth and contemporary ancient Greek literature Glass, Rivkah Gillian


Joseph and Aseneth is a Greek-language, Jewish narrative from the first century BCE or first century CE, which expands on the Joseph story in Genesis (e.g., 41:45, 50). The novel explains how Aseneth, a pagan woman smitten by the beautiful Hebrew, Joseph, came to be his wife. One of the narrative’s most distinctive features is the inclusion of numerous epiphanies. This dissertation demonstrates that these epiphanic moments constitute a leitmotif and build coherence within the narrative. Beyond this individual source, the epiphanic motif is a rhetorically and culturally significant motif connecting this Jewish romance novel to other Hellenistic Jewish, early Christian, and Hellenic literature written in Greek. This dissertation takes a combined structural and phenomenological approach to epiphany studies. Methodologically, this requires attentiveness to both the story-elements of epiphany—how epiphany is narratively constructed—and why epiphany appears where it does in the story. Analysis of Aseneth according to this approach illuminates the use of epiphany as boundary marker between two categories: insiders and outsiders, and mortals and divine beings. Furthermore, epiphany signposts the heroine’s transition from mortal outsider to divine insider. This analysis of Aseneth also identifies the use of epiphany in conjunction with three types of scenes: prophetic call narratives, armed conflicts, and love at first sight. The association of epiphany with these other themes connects Aseneth to Hellenistic and Imperial Greek literature in ancient fiction and its related genres. Expanding on these overlapping scenes, this dissertation compares epiphanic encounters in Aseneth to those narrated in the Testament of Job, 2 Maccabees, the five extant Hellenic romance novels, and the Acts of Thekla. Attention to epiphany reveals shared strategies of identity formation across Jewish, Christian, and Hellenic communities, employing such literary techniques as transformation, reception of authoritative narratives, and privileged relationship with the divine. This project contributes to modern scholarship’s understanding of shared or common beliefs, and intercultural exchange in antiquity.

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