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PSEUDO-PHOCYLIDES, a Hellenistic Jewish didactic poet, author of 230 hexameters falsely ascribed to the sixth-century B.C.E. Greek lyric poet Phocylides. The few fragments of Phocylides that have survived suggest a reputation for moral wisdom which Pseudo-Phocylides seems to have drawn upon to lend authority to his own moral apothegms. The poem of Pseudo-Phocylides was apparently considered an authentic work of the Greek poet from the time of its earliest citation in Stobaeus (fifth century C.E.). In the later Byzantine Empire this poem became quite popular and it was widely distributed as a school textbook in the period of the Reformation. There are many Byzantine manuscripts; the first printed edition is of 1495; there are many 16th-century translations and reprints. In 1856 Jacob *Bernays wrote a definitive study on the subject demonstrating that the author was Jewish and dependent on the Bible. Since then others have argued for Christian elements in the poem (A. Harnack), pagan elements (A. Ludwich, W. Kroll), and that the work is by a convert to Judaism (M. Roissbroich).

The contents are primarily ethical maxims of such general content that they might easily be taken to be the work of a non-Jew. Their Jewishness can be recognized occasionally as, for example, in the injunction to let the mother bird escape and keep only the young when a nest is taken (84ff.; cf. Deut. 22:6ff.) or the prohibition against eating the flesh of an animal killed by a beast of prey (147ff., cf. Ex. 22:30 and 139, cf. Deut. 14:21). Most of the poem, however, preaches a universal moral code rather than a particular theology or ceremonial law. Even though many parallels can be made between passages in Pseudo-Phocylides and the Pentateuch, the spirit of the poem as well as some of its phraseology is more akin to the wisdom literature in the Bible and the Apocrypha, especially the Apocryphal books of Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon.

Absent from the poem is any specific attack on idolatry, which Bernays ascribes to the cowardice or indifference of the author. There is also little or nothing which can be considered as anti-Christian, thus placing it in the period before the anti-Christian polemics, i.e., before 70 C.E., if it is assumed that the author was a Jew. Some verses (103ff.) speak of physical resurrection and say that "those who rise up again afterward become gods." This is taken to be a Christian reference (Harnack), or a pagan reference (Kroll). Little else can be distinctly identified with any specific religious view. There are similarities between the moral admonitions of Pseudo-Phocylides and a moral manual of the early Church known as the Didaché. Rendel Harris, in his edition of the Didaché (1887, p. 46), suggests the possibility that both Pseudo-Phocylides and the Didaché go back to an earlier Jewish manual of morality. Part of Pseudo-Phocylides (5–79) was excerpted, with few variants and omissions, and incorporated into the *Sibylline Oracles (2:56–148). Since the text is sometimes dependent on the Septuagint, the dating of the work would be in the second or first century B.C.E. (or, if Christian, in the first century C.E.). The metrics and the poetry are not very inspiring and the corruption of the text presents many problems. An exaggerated importance has been attached to the work.


T. Bergk (ed.) Poetae Lyrici Graeci, 2 (18824), 74–109 (critical edition of the Greek text); J. Bernays, Ueber das Phokylideische Gedicht (1856); M. Roissbroich, De Pseudophocylideis (1910); Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 617–22; W. Kroll, in: Pauly-Wissowa, 39 (1941), 506–10; Anglican Theological Review, 14 (1932), 222–8 (translation by B.S. Easton).