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Demas and His Unhappy Mother: Wisdom and Occupation in a Hellenistic Jewish Epitaph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
DateSubmitted - 21 May 2019
DateAccepted/In press (current) - 14 Nov 2019


The Leontopolis epitaph of Demas (117 BCE) speaks of the wisdom of its owner yet remains silent regarding his lifetime occupation. Thus, Demas’s epitaph casts doubt on whether the epithet of wisdom is solely restricted to scribes, sages, and elites in Hellenistic Second Temple Judaism. In fact, the epithet of wisdom in early Judaism was flexible and open regardless of occupation. Comparing epigraphic and literary contexts, this study finds that Demas’s wisdom is similar to contemporary discussions of “who is wise” in Proverbs, Ben Sira, 4QInstruction, and other Jewish sources. The application of wisdom to Demas is important for how we conceptualise early Jewish attainment of wisdom, and for how we imagine ancient audiences demographically. Thinking of Hellenistic Jewish wisdom as a personal attribute “beyond” occupation will help to articulate a more pluriform landscape of education and wisdom in the Second Temple period.



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