Journal for the Study of the
The online version of this article can be found at:

DOI: 10.1177/0951820711411219
2011 20: 257 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha
Ory Amitay
Procopius of Caesarea and the Girgashite Diaspora

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Journal for the study of the Pseudepigrapha
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DOI: 10.1177/0951820711411219

Procopius of Caesarea
and the Girgashite Diaspora


History Department, 1302 Eshkol Building, University of Haifa, Haifa 31905, Israel


Procopius of Caesarea reports the existence of an inscription in Numidia, allegedly
written by the refugees from Canaan’s conquest by Joshua. While this claim cannot
be taken at face value, it raises interesting questions as to its provenance and purpose.
Regarding provenance, the complicated situation of the sources (especially the
ongoing debate about the real date of Moses of Khorene) unfortunately prevents a
¿rm conclusion. Regarding purpose, the inscription seems to reÀect the political and
religious tensions, which accompanied Belisarius’ campaign to regain North Africa
for the Roman Empire and Justinian’s attempts to Christianize those parts of African
society who abided by their polytheistic ancestral custom.

Keywords: Procopius, Joshua, Girgashites, Moses of Khorene, Moors.

In the fourth book of his Wars, the historian Procopius of Caesarea
tells a tantalizing story about a strange inscription. By way of intro-
duction to his description of the war waged by the Romans against
the Moors (an unhappy affair which followed Belisarius’ successful
North-African campaign), Procopius gives an excursus on Moorish
antiquities. At its heart stands a report of an inscription in Phoenician
letters in which the Moors allegedly identify themselves as the
descendants of those refugees who had Àed Canaan following the
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onslaught of Joshua and the Israelites! Procopius thus presents the
modern historian with a highly complicated dilemma of source criti-
cism. How is one to interpret a sixth-century CE report of a now-lost
inscription, describing events which purportedly took place in the late
second millennium BCE?
My purpose in this article is twofold. First, I propose to investigate
the provenance of the inscription: Did it actually exist? Did some
locals offer an inventive ‘translation’ for an obscure inscription Pro-
copius had seen? Did Procopius read about the Joshua story in some
book? Or did he make the whole thing up? Second, I propose to
examine the inscription within the context in which it is reported, and
to ask why Procopius chose to include it in his work.
This is Procopius’ testimony:

[13] When the Hebrews had withdrawn from Egypt and had come near
the boundaries of Palestine, Moses, a wise man, who was their leader on
the journey, died, and the leadership was passed on to Joshua, the son of
Nun, who led this people into Palestine, and by displaying a valor in war
greater than that natural to a man, gained possession of the land. [14] And
after overthrowing all the nations he easily won the cities, and he seemed
to be altogether invincible.
[15] Now, at that time the whole country along the sea from Sidon as far
as the boundaries of Egypt was called Phoenicia. [16] And one king in
ancient times held sway over it, as is agreed by all who have written the
earliest accounts of the Phoenicians. [17] In that country there dwelt the
Girgashites and the Jebusites and some others with other names by which
they are called in the history of the Hebrews.
[18] Now when these nations saw that the invading general was an
irresistible prodigy, they emigrated from their ancestral homes and made
their way to Egypt, which adjoined their country. [19] And ¿nding there
no place suf¿cient for them to dwell in, since there has been a great
population in Egypt from ancient times, they proceeded to Libya. [20]
And they established numerous cities and took possession of the whole of
Libya as far as the Pillars of Herakles, and there they have lived even up
to my time, using the Phoenician tongue. [21] They also built a fortress in
Numidia, where now is the city called Tigisis. [22] In that place are two
columns made of white stone near by the great spring, having Phoenician
letters cut in them which say in the Phoenician tongue: ‘We are the refu-
gees from the face of Joshua, the robber, son of Nun’.

1. Wars 4.10.13-22 = Bellum Vandalicum 2.10.13-22 (trans. Dewing, LCL,
modi¿ed slightly).
2. ‘|uti¸ toutv oi ¢cyo vxt¸ o ¬o ¬pooc ¬oc ’lµooc xoc ìµ oxoc ci oc Nocµ .
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The claim made by the reported inscription is radical and extreme.
If we are to accept Procopius’ testimony at face value and treat the
inscription as authentic to its claim, it would have far-reaching rami-
¿cations not only for the history of Phoenician settlement in North
Africa, but also for the study of early Israelite history. Indeed, it
could revolutionize biblical studies in general by supplying external
evidence for the biblical framework story presented in the book of
Such indeed was the position taken by Schröder (1869: 3) in the
introduction to his Phoenician Grammar. Schröder used the Joshua
inscription as corroborating evidence for his own reconstruction of
Phoenician history, introducing it as a connective between other
reports of the Phoenicians and the biblical account. His argument,
however, is not very developed, owing perhaps to the fact that his
work is dedicated not to the history of the Phoenicians but rather to
their language.
Schröder’s position has recently been utilized and elaborated in the
context of biblical history by Frendo (2002). Seeking to examine
‘whether there is any explicit extra-biblical evidence in support of the
tradition that what we commonly call “Early Israel” could indeed have
emerged—at least partially—on the basis of military operations’, he
cites Procopius’ Joshua inscription as positive evidence.
If Frendo’s
argument were to be accepted, the inscription could validate the value
of the biblical account as a reliable historical source, an exegetical
move which would send shockwaves throughout the ¿eld of biblical
However, such an interpretation strikes the present writer as highly
untenable. In order to accept the inscription as an authentic Phoenician
memoir of the military conquest of Canaan by Joshua, one ought at
least to try to explain how this memory survived for nearly two millen-
nia. The earliest date which Frendo is ready to assign to the inscrip-
tion is ‘early on during the Phoenician colonization of North Africa,
sometime in the eighth or seventh century BC’ (p. 39). Yet even this
early dating, conforming to the current consensus concerning the date
of initial Phoenician settlement in North Africa,
undermines the
possibility that the inscription actually records such uninterrupted

3. Quotation from Frendo 2002: 37. Frendo’s thesis is accepted by Bryant 2005.
4. On Phoenician settlement in the western Mediterranean, see Aubet 2001: 194-
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historical memory. To begin, there is a centuries-long gap between
the earliest Phoenician settlement in the west and the conquest of
Canaan by Joshua, which is supposed to have taken place in the
second half of the second millennium BCE. This gap is left unex-
plained by Frendo. Second, the Phoenician colonists of the eighth
century could not possibly have carried with them to the west the
traumatic memory of Joshua’s violent onslaught, as they will have
stayed undisturbed in Canaan for centuries after their purported Àight.
As tempting as it is, the Joshua inscription cannot be used as evidence
for the history of early Israel.

At the other extreme of modern interpretation stands Bacher, the
¿rst scholar to have devoted a discussion to the Joshua inscription. In
his article Bacher deemed the inscription ‘unworthy of belief’, and
concluded that ‘this pseudo-inscription that is to be found in his
[Procopius’] works may at any rate be regarded as another ancient
memorial of anti-Jewish feeling that strove to falsify history’.
It is
easy to understand why the inscription should be understood as repre-
senting anti-Jewish feeling. Yet, looking at the assertion about the
‘pseudo-inscription’, one ought ¿rst to try to de¿ne what this expres-
sion actually means. Is the inscription telling a lie? Is someone lying
about the inscription’s content? Is the very report of its existence a
lie? In other words: Who is the liar here? And what is the lie?
The ¿rst point that calls for our attention in attempting to answer
these questions is the detailed nature of Procopius’ report in Wars
4.10.22. The inscription is located in a stronghold allegedly built by
the immigrant Phoenicians, which in Procopius’ own time was called
There, we read, ‘are two columns made of white stone near
by the great spring’. The mention of the local spring and its size, as
well as the color of the two stelai, creates the impression of on-site
To be sure, Procopius was for a while in a position to visit
Tigisis and to see the inscription for himself, having remained in

5. For a different attempt to refute Frendo, see Schmitz 2007.
6. Bacher 1891: 354, 357 (emphasis added).
7. Ancient Tigisis is probably to be identi¿ed with the modern village of Ain el-
Bordj in north-eastern Algeria. Roughly long. 36°4’; lat. 6°57’, according to Talbert
and Bagnall 2000. See also LipiĔski 1992: 454.
8. So already Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 4.18. The impression
of autopsy was expressed in modern times by Lewy 1933: 99 and by Schmitz 2007:
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Africa under the command of Solomon for some time after the depar-
ture of Belisarius and well into the Moorish rebellion.

This visage of autopsy can be explained through four different
scenarios: (1) Procopius reported the actual contents of the inscription;
(2) Procopius saw an inscription which he himself could not read, and
which was ‘translated’ to him so as to refer to Joshua and the refu-
gees; (3) Procopius saw an unintelligible inscription, and decided on
his own initiative to connect it with Joshua and the immigration story;
and (4) Procopius never saw any such inscription in Tigisis or
elsewhere, and made the whole story up.
In order to appreciate the probability of each of the four scenarios,
we must examine the contents and the context of Procopius’ report, as
well as other testimonies to the Joshua inscription. The ¿rst of these
testimonies belongs to the opposite end of the Byzantine world, com-
ing from the History of the Armenians by the Armenian historian
Moses Khorenats‘i. Moses, who traces the mythical origins of the
Armenian people, relates the following concerning the Joshua

The agreement of the genealogy of our nation with those of the Hebrews
and Chaldaeans down to Sardanapalos, who was called Tawnos Kon-
Hebrews: Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kahatǥ, Amram, Moses, Joshua.
From him on, it is not according to tribe but according to the pre-
eminence of the men, for they all [descend] from Abraham. When he
slaughtered the Canaanites they Àed from him to Agras, sailing for
Tǥarsis. This is clear from the inscription that is found on the stelae in
Africa that survive to our own time. It truly reads as follows: Put to Àight
by the robber Joshua we, the princes of the Canaanites, came to dwell
here. One of these was our most honorable Kǥananidas in Armenia. And
we have discovered for a certain fact that the posterity of the Gntǥuni
family undoubtedly descend from him. The character of the men of that
family demonstrates that they are Canaanites.

According to his own testimony, Moses lived and wrote in the ¿fth
century CE. Indeed, the events recounted in his work do not progress
beyond the mid-¿fth century. Such early testimony to the existence of
the Joshua inscription and to its content should exonerate Procopius

9. For Procopius’ sojourn with Belisarius, see Wars 3.12.3. During the Moorish
rebellion he was in Carthage with Solomon: Wars 4.14.39.
10. History of the Armenians 1.19 = Moses Khorenats’i 1978: 104; translated by
R.W. Thomson.
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from any suspicion of deceitful fabrication.
Unfortunately, it does
not. Despite the fact that Moses’ work declares him to be a ¿fth-
century ¿gure, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars
have identi¿ed various inÀuences in his text, references which, so the
argument goes, point to a much later period. Various dates have thus
been suggested for Moses, ranging between the seventh and the ninth
centuries CE.
In the last generation, however, the scholarly pendu-
lum has once again swung towards acceptance of the original ¿fth-
century dating.
Thus, until the Armenologists reach some sort of
communis opinio, Moses of Khorene cannot be used as decisive
evidence for the authenticity of Procopius’ report.
Whether earlier or later than Procopius, some of the details which
appear in Moses’ account are certainly different. To begin, there is the
mention of the toponyms Agras and Tarshish, which do not appear in
Procopius. Second, the de¿nition of the refugees as Canaanites, rather
than Girgashites, Jebusites and others. Third, the description of the
political situation among the Phoenicians—many princes in Moses, a
single king in Procopius. Moses’ version thus shows many points of
disagreement with that of Procopius, but is strikingly similar to
another telling of the story, to which we now turn.
In the ¿rst half of the seventh century CE the Byzantine chronicler
John of Antioch gave his own account of the Joshua inscription, in
the following words:

Ci òcvooxoi xc v tâvc v c ¬o ’lµooc xoc Nocµ òic·o utvoi, ·oi uµ ¬poo
òtyât vxt¸ ¬op’ Aiyc¬xi cv, ti ¸ xµv xc v A¢pcv yc pov utxoi·µ oovxt¸
t ¬typo|ov ‘|uti ¸ tout v Xovovoioi, oc¸ tòicçtv ’lµooc¸ o ìµoxµ¸

The rulers of the nations expelled by Joshua son of Nun, since they were
inhospitably received by the Egyptians, removed to the land of the Aphroi
(Africa), and wrote: ‘We are the Canaanites, whom Joshuah the robber

11. This is the basic position of Frendo 2002: 38, following Movers 1850: 429-30.
12. For the history of the discussion and a summary of the arguments against a
¿fth-century date, see Toumanoff 1961. The same position is restated (without elabo-
ration) in the introduction to Thomson’s translation of Moses (1978: viii, 408).
Thomson’s opinion is cited by Schmitz (2007: 102) who, like Frendo, is unfortu-
nately unaware that the debate about Moses’ date is still far from a consensus (see
next note).
13. Neressian 1979: 479-80; Sarkissian 1991: 58-86. T’op’ch’yan 2006, although
less decisive about Moses’ date, nevertheless rejects out of hand the hypercritical
approach used to discredit him.
14. Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (ed. C. Müller), IV 547 frg. 12.
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John’s account shows an agreement with Moses’, but disagrees with
that of Procopius, concerning Phoenician politics. Procopius, who
claims to have read ‘all who have written the earliest accounts of the
Phoenicians’ (§16), declares that at the time of Joshua’s arrival all of
Phoenicia, from Sidon to the borders of Egypt, was ruled by a single
John, like Moses, speaks of a plurality of rulers. Further-
more, while Procopius speaks of Girgashites, Jebusites and other
Phoenicians, John (again, like Moses) has Canaanites.
Whereas Pro-
copius points to Tigisis in Numidia, John merely mentions Africa.
Yet another point of divergence between John’s account and that
of Procopius appears in their respective syntax and diction. In
Procopius’ version of the inscription the Phoenician refugees are
described as oi ¢cyo vxt¸; in John’s narrative they are òic·o utvoi, and
in his version of the inscription they are oc ¸ t òi cçtv ’lµooc ¸. Given
that the inscription was not written in Greek, the difference in trans-
lation is striking.
Another interesting peculiarity of Procopius’ account (missing
from both John and Moses) is the particular mention of two biblical
peoples: the Jebusites and the Girgashites. Procopius states clearly
that these were not alone among the various ethnic groups in ancient
Phoenicia. Why did he choose to mention them speci¿cally?
Half the answer may be found in the so-called Liber generationis,
a Latin adaptation of a Greek chronicle by Hippolytus of Rome,
dating from the thirteenth year of the emperor Alexander Severus
(234 CE):

15. Recognizing that this was never, as far as we know, an accurate description of
Phoenician politics, Movers 1850: 430 attractively suggests that the accounts read by
Procopius may refer to Phoenician myth, and that the single king may be the like of
El, Kronos, Bel, Agenor or Phoenix.
16. In itself, the use of ‘Canaanites’ for ‘Phoenicians’ is natural enough. The locus
classicus for late Antiquity is Augustine, Epistola ad Romanos Inchoata Expositio 13
(PL Migne xxxv 2096): Unde interrogati rustici nostri quid sint, punice respondentes
Chanani, corrupta scilicet, sicut in talibus solet, una littera, quid aliud respondent
quam Chananaei? The interchangeability of the two names is evident also in the
stories about Gviha Ben-Psisa and Alexander the Great. For loci and discussion, see
Amitay 2006. For identi¿cations of the Levantine Phoenicians as Canaanites from
the el-Amarna archives onwards, see Lewy 1933: 93.
17. Printed with the Chronikon Paschale (ed. Dindorf, Bonn 1832) II 102, 107
and in Frick’s Chronica Minora (1892: 32). Cf. Movers 1850: 429. Schröder 1869: 3
n. 2 accidentally dated the document to 234 BCE. The confusion is repeated in Frendo
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Insulae autem quae pertinent ad Hispaniam Terraconensem tres sunt,
quae appellantur Valliaricae. Habent autem civitates v. has: Ebuso,
Palme, Pollentia, quae dicitur Majorica, Tomaene, Magonae, quae appel-
latur Minorica. ɇɚrum inhabitatores fuerunt Cananei fugientes a facie
Jesu ¿lii Nave : nam et Sidona qui condiderunt et ipsi Cananei. Gadis
autem Jebusaei condiderunt, et ipsi similiter profugi.

Now there are three islands which belong to Hispania Tarraconensis,
which are called the Balearic. And they have ¿ve communities: Ebuso,
Palme, Pollentia, which are called ‘the greater’; Tomaene, Magonae,
which are called ‘the lesser’. Their inhabitants were the Canaanites Àee-
ing from the face of Joshua son of Nun. For it was the Canaanites them-
selves who founded Sidon. But the Jebusites founded Gades, themselves
likewise refugees.

The relevance to Procopius’ account is clear.
The Liber genera-
tionis preserves a tradition, much earlier than Procopius, concerning
Canaanite refugees who had Àed from the face of Joshua and settled
in the western Mediterranean. Even more importantly, it mentions the
Once again, comparison with the biblical account concerning
Jebusites precludes the possibility that this migration story might pre-
serve an actual historical memory from the time of Joshua. After all,
according to the Bible the Jebusites still resided in Jerusalem when
King David took the city, and remained a part of Judean society as
late as the time when the book of Joshua was written (Josh. 15.63).
Furthermore, nowhere in the Bible do we ¿nd a report that the
Jebusites had at any point been expelled from either land or city. It is
thus ironic that they should have a migration story at all.
The puzzling occurrence of a Jebusite migration story in the Liber
generationis may perhaps be explained on etymological grounds. The

18. Schmitz 2007 argues that this passage, originally derived from Julius Afri-
canus, was in fact the source for Procopius’ fabrication of the inscription. His argu-
ment is fraught with dif¿culties, among which is the fact that the passage he ascribes
to Africanus does not actually appear in the surviving works of that author (see
Africanus 2007), and is in fact taken from Synkellos (Adler and Tuf¿n 2002: 65).
The main thrust of Schmitz’s argument relies on the repetitive use of o ¬o ¬pooc ¬oc,
a Greek translation of the Hebrew J?A>. However, as Schmitz himself notes, this
Hebraism appears already in the LXX translation of Joshua (5.1; 10.10), and could
have easily been borrowed directly from there. Despite that (for reasons to be
explained in the second part of this article), I fully accept Schmitz’s general view
concerning the real historical signi¿cance of the Joshua inscription.
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story of the Canaanite forced migration appears apropos the Balearic
Islands. One of these islands, Ebusa (Ibiza), is phonetically close to
‘Jebus’, and may have given rise to this strange identi¿cation. If this
is indeed the case, it may explain how the name of the Jebusites—
who, for all we know, had never left Eretz-Israel—became connected
with stories of Canaanite migration to the western Mediterranean. On
the other hand, the phonetic similarity could also be a coincidence.
In any case, the Liber generationis represents the kind of tradition
available to Procopius, which tells of a western Jebusite migration,
resulting from Joshua’s conquests.
So much for the Jebusites; what about the Girgashites? As Bacher
noted, the connection between the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and
the resulting emigrations of various Canaanite peoples to Africa has
close parallels in rabbinic literature.
While none of these reports
mentions any inscription, they do agree on the main point, namely,
that the conquest of Joshua caused the expulsion of various peoples
from Eretz-Israel to Africa. Some of these works—for example, the
Mekhilta, Tosefta and Scholion on Megillat Taǥanit—are certainly
earlier than Procopius. The heart of the tradition, which displays a
clear apologetic note in face of accusations of robbery leveled against
‘the Jews’, may even be as early as the ¿rst or even late second
century BCE.
Procopius, who was a native of Caesarea in Palestine,
could well have been exposed to these traditions orally, in writing, or
both (so also Bacher 1891: 357).
Of particular importance is the version of the Talmud Yerushalmi
(Sheviǥit 36.3/6.1):

Ė ĢġĚģ īĔ ğēĘġĬ ĜĔī īġē : ēğĬ Ėĥ ğēīĬĜ Ĩīēğ ĥĬĘėĜ ĚğĜĬ ĭĘĜĕĜěĤīħ ĬğĬ
Ĩīēğ ĘĤģĞĜ . ĭĘģħėğ ėĩĘī ēĘėĬ Ĝġ , ėģħĜ . ĠĜğĬėğ , ĜğĬĜ ] Ġ .[ ėġĚğġ ĭĘřĥğ ,
ėřĥĜ . ėģĜħ ĜĬĕīĕ , ĜġēėĘ ] Ģ [ ĔĪėğ Ęğ " ė , ĜĪĜīħēğ Ęğ ĝğėĘ " . ĜĭĚĪğĘ ĜēĘĔ Ėĥ
ĠĞĩīēĞ Ĩīē ğē ĠĞĭē " — ĜĪĜīħē Ęę .

Rabbi Shmuel bar-NaÜman said: before they entered the land Joshua sent
three ¬pooxo yuoxo (commands, proclamations): those who want to evict,
shall evict; those who want to make peace, shall make peace; those who

19. For various versions see: Mekhilta deRabi Ishmael, PasÜa 18; t. Shab. 7.25
(ed. Lieberman); Scholion on Megillat Ta‘anit Sivan 25th (Noam 2003: 70-77, 198-
205); y. Sheb. 36.3/6.1; b. Sanh. 91a; Gen. R. 61.7; Deut. R. 5 ad ¿n.; Lev. R. 17.6.
See also Lewy 1933: 88-92; Amitay 2006.
20. Lewy 1933: 94-96; Amitay 2006.
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want to make war, shall make war. The Girgashite evicted, and believed
in the Blessed One Be He, and went off to Africa. Until I come and take
you away to a land like your own land
—that is Africa.

Obviously, the special value of this version to our discussion is in its
speci¿c mention of the Girgashites. Unlike the Gibeonites, who
according to the Yerushalmi took up Joshua’s purported offer to make
peace, or the 31 Canaanite kings who decided to make war, the
Girgashites recognized God’s role in the earthly proceedings, and
decided to leave the land on their own accord. Remarkably, the super-
natural quality of Joshua’s campaign is stressed also in Procopius’
It is thus well within the realm of possibility that the con-
nection of the Girgashites with the story of western migration derives
from the same tradition which the Yerushalmi ascribes to R. Shmuel
Unlike the Jebusites, the Girgashites make much better sense in the
context of a westward migration. According to Gen. 10.16 the Gir-
gashite was indeed one of the sons of Canaan, a younger brother of
Sidon. According to Deut. 7.1-6 the Girgashite was one of the
peoples destined by divine dictum for complete annihilation by the
advancing Israelites.
Yet despite the fact that Josh. 3.10 and 24.11-
13 mention the Girgashites, they appear in both places as part of a
general list, akin to the one in Deuteronomy. In the main narrative of
the book of Joshua, describing the wars of the Israelites during the
conquest of Canaan, the Girgashites are ostensibly missing. And
although it is highly unreasonable that either the Yerushalmi or Pro-
copius preserve actual historical memory from the second millennium
BCE, their accounts at least ¿t well within the general framework of
the biblical story.

21. 2 Kgs 18.32 = Isa. 36.17. Originally, this promise to remove the people from
its own land to another, just as good, was given by the Assyrian general Rabshakeh
to the besieged population of Jerusalem. It is here taken completely out of context
and applied to the pious and intelligent Girgashites.
22. § 13: ·pti xxc µ ·oxo o vâpc ¬oc ¢coiv; more on that below.
23. Even more disturbing than the order to commit genocide is its justi¿cation on
ideological grounds—lest mixing with the peoples of the land might lead to a weak-
ening of faith in Yhwh. Such extreme severity stands in stark contrast to the much
more lenient approach of the rabbinical story.
24. According to Josephus (Ant. 1.139), by his own time the memory of the
Girgashites, like that of other ancient Canaanites, had been reduced to a mysterious
name in the holy books.
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The last bit of evidence concerning Procopius’ account of Moorish
antiquities in general, and the Joshua inscription in particular, comes
from the Ecclesiastical History (4.18) of Evagrius Scholasticus, at the
turn of the seventh century. Evagrius reproduces a short version of
Procopius’ account (Girgashites and Jebusites included), cites the
inscription, and asserts that Procopius was the ¿rst to notice it. This
brings us back to the question of provenance.
The answer to this question depends heavily on the true date of
Moses of Khorene. If he was indeed a ¿fth-century ¿gure, as the
current trend in Armenology suggests,
we may at least be sure that
the Joshua inscription is not a complete Procopian fabrication. In this
case, it seems reasonable that Moses and John of Antioch had read
about it in some earlier work, now unknown to us. These two writers
would thus represent an alternative tradition about the inscription,
quite independent from Procopius.
In this case, we would have to
assume also that Evagrius overlooked both Moses and his anony-
mous, unknown source. Procopius, for his part, may either have
found out about the inscription from his literary predecessors, or he
may have come across it unknowingly in situ. Either way, the like-
lihood is that he actually saw an inscription in Tigisis which related to
Joshua and the refugees, whether in fact or through a translator’s
Procopius, relying on material from the Liber generationis,
from rabbinical tradition and from Phoenician histories (the latter he
mentions himself), will have created his own telling of Moorish
If, on the other hand, the Armenian history of Moses eventually
proves to be a later work, the assertion of Evagrius ought to gain in
importance, and compel us to accept Procopius as the original reporter
of the inscription. In that case, there is more room for suspicion about
the very existence of the inscription, let alone its original text and
context. This option also demands an explanation for the divergent

25. See n. 13 above.
26. Such was the opinion of Lewy 1933: 97 n. 1, albeit without reference to
Moses. Theoretically, one could speculate that Moses got a ¿rst-hand report of the
inscription and that John had read him, or even that Moses had visited Numidia and
seen it with his own eyes. While not strictly impossible, this option seems highly
27. See also Lewy (1933: 97 n. 3), who gives an array of examples for the crea-
tive readings of ancient inscriptions.
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version of John and Moses. Regarding Phoenician politics, one can
see how a factual error should be eliminated through continuous edit-
ing. It is less easy to see why John should want to change the wording
of the inscription. As the original report, Procopius’ text will have
demanded respect.

With these two possibilities so evenly balanced, it is hard to decide
either way. While I tend on the whole towards the ¿rst explanation,
which assumes two independent traditions deriving from an actual
inscription, I admit that the latter option is just as possible, and nearly
as likely. The resulting situation is certainly frustrating, but not
altogether hopeless. First, there is the possibility that an advancement
of research in Armenian studies may yield at some point a ¿xed and
agreed date for Moses of Khorene. When it does, we shall be able to
express a ¿rmer opinion on the provenance of the Joshua inscription.
Second, because whatever we may think about the inscription’s prove-
nance, we are still faced with the question of motive, to which we
now turn.

Whether Procopius the forger, an anonymous ancestor Moor, or
anyone in between—what reason would one have to come up with
the Joshua inscription? Looking at the inscription from the inscriber’s
point of view, it clearly sets ‘us’ in opposition to Joshua. Barring the
possibility that we are dealing here with actual historical memory of
events in the second millennium BCE, this striking act of self-de¿ni-
tion through opposition to the memory of the biblical Joshua presup-
poses two conditions: (1) a strong presence of Israelite mythological
tradition in local contemporary religion and culture; and (2) a highly
hostile attitude of the inscriber to the said tradition. When did such
conditions exist?
As we have seen, Bacher (1891: 357) interpreted the inscription as
a sign of anti-Jewish feeling. Although, according to Procopius (Aed.
6.2.22), the Libyan Jewish community of Boreion dated its own tem-
ple to King Solomon himself, and while some ancient Hebrews may
certainly have arrived in Africa together with the early Phoenicians

28. Interestingly, tòi cçtv is kept also by the Suda (ed. Adler VI 785) s.v. Xovoo v.
The editor, who had both Procopius and John in front of him, gave the entire story of
the Israelite exodus (in Procopius, but not in John or Moses). He also prefers John’s
version also in calling the refugees Xovovoioi, ‘Canaanites’.
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settlers, it is safe to say that a signi¿cant Jewish settlement in North
Africa did not begin until the Hellenistic period.
It continued and
prospered down to the second decade of the second century CE, when
it went down in a blaze of nearly-forgotten glory during the Diaspora
Revolt under Trajan.
Now, while it is tempting to connect the hostility implied in the
inscription with this catastrophe, such an attempt would be like look-
ing for the proverbial coin under the lamp-post. It may occasionally
be found there, but it is more often not. For the better part of its four
centuries in existence, the history of the North-African Hellenistic
Jewry remains mainly in the dark. In particular, we lack speci¿c
information about the Jews’ relations with the Moors. Thus, while the
inscription may be a result of the violent tensions during the Diaspora
Revolt, it could also have been born out of very different circum-
stances, of which we are completely ignorant.
Furthermore, the hostile attitude demonstrated in the inscription
need not even be related to Jews or to Judaism. For centuries before
Procopius the Heroes of biblical mythology had been adopted by the
dynamic, fast-expanding new member of the monotheistic move-
ment—Christianity. Early in the fourth century Christianity took over
the Roman Empire, gaining the backing of imperial government and
the protection of the strongest army in Western civilization. Even the
invading Vandals were Christians.
It is thus possible that the Joshua
inscription represents not an anti-Jewish, but rather an anti-Christian
sentiment on behalf of the Moors.
In this context it is remarkable that the inscription refers speci-
¿cally to Joshua. To be sure, his presence is called for by connection
with the wide tradition of westward emigration discussed above. Yet
Joshua in particular is a ¿tting symbol for Christianity. To begin,
Joshua is called Jesus in the Septuagint. The similarity in name was
quickly picked on by one of the earliest witnesses to Christian
theology—Justin Martyr. In his Dialogue with Trypho he declares
that ‘in the book of Exodus we have also perceived that the name of
God Himself which, He says, was not revealed to Abraham or to

29. For hints of earlier settlement, and for the mass migration in the Hellenistic
period, see Appelbaum 1979: 130-32.
30. Gelimer, the last Vandal king, took his Arian faith seriously enough to give
up a career in Justinian’s court, and at one time publicly taunted the emperor with
verses from Ecclesiastes (Vand. 2.9.10-14).
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Jacob, was Jesus, and was declared mysteriously through Moses’.

Thus, for Justin, Joshua is a pre-incarnation of Jesus.
A couple of generations later the same line of exegesis was taken
up in Latin by Tertullian:

When Auses [= Hoshea] the son of Nave [= Nun] was marked out as
successor to Moses, you admit he is changed from his original name, and
begins to be called Jesus [Yehoshua]? Just so, you answer. We observe
¿rst that this was a ¿gure of him who was to be. Because Jesus the Christ
was going to bring the second people, which are we, born in the wilder-
ness of <this> world, into the land of promise, Àowing with milk and
honey, which means the inheritance of eternal life, than which nothing is
sweeter: and because this was going to be effected not by Moses, not, that
is, by the discipline of the law, but by Jesus, through the grace of the
gospel, after we had been circumcised with the knife of Àint, that is, the
precepts of Christ—for the rock was Christ—therefore that man who was
being set aside for the similitudes of this mystery was also ¿rst established
in the likeness of our Lord’s name, being surnamed Jesus [Yehoshua].

In Tertullian we thus have a signi¿cant exegetical elaboration of the
role of Joshua–Jesus. The inheritance of the land achieved through
Joshua is paralleled by the promise of eternal life made by Jesus, now
on offer by Christianity. On the other hand, Moses as the representa-
tive of the Law (i.e. Judaism) is anticipatory in nature and secondary
in importance.
To sum up in the words of a much more recent
scholar: ‘the early Christians believed that Jesus Christ was pre¿g-
ured by Joshua ben-Nun’ (Stroumsa 1992: 202).
Now, what of the religion of the Moors? Despite the limited
amount of information concerning the Moors in general,
we never-
theless possess some information about their religious inclinations.
To begin, there seem to be no Moors on record to have carried Chris-
tian or Hebrew names (Cameron 1982: 40). This fact may indicate
that neither the Old Testament nor the New ¿gured largely in Moor-
ish education and folklore. To be sure, there was enough public

31. Dialogue with Trypho 75/58-59. This is a reference to the famous scene in
Num. 13.16, when Moses gave Joshua this appellation (his birth-name was Hoshea).
One presumes that Justin’s reference to Ex. relates to 23.20-21.
32. Adversus Marcionem 3.16.3-5 (trans. Evans).
33. The same idea is present also in Origen, at the beginning of his Homilies on
Joshua. It may even be that this theological viewpoint accounts also for Procopius’
decision to include Moses in his own narrative.
34. For a comprehensive survey of what we do have, see Cameron 1982: 29-62;
Modéran 2003.
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awareness of Israelite myth-history to mention Joshua in the
inscription, but no respectable Moor we know of would deign to give
his son or daughter a name from Scripture.

Our most important source for Moorish religion is Corippus, a
contemporary North-African Latin hexameter poet. As subject matter
for his epic opus he had Johannes Troglitas, the able general who
inherited military command in Africa from the deceased Solomon
(546–549 CE), and waged a vigorous campaign to quell the Moorish
rebellion (on which more presently). As inspiration for the piece
Corippus had Virgil and Aeneas.
In his work Corippus relates that the Moors worshipped the ubiqui-
tous Egyptian deity Ammon. Through his identi¿cation with a long
series of other deities, from ancient Egyptian antiquity to the Greek
Zeus, and hence to his famous son Alexander, this sun-deity retained
his hold in Northern Africa to the very end of Antiquity.
Ammon’s Moorish son was not Alexander but an otherwise unknown
¿gure bearing the uncouth name Gurzil.
This rampant polytheia com-
plemented other bad qualities of the Moorish nation, such as per¿dy,
lack of organization, and of course opposition to the Roman Empire.
The Moors proved a hard enemy to beat. Sticking by their freedom
and their beleaguered religion they kept on a long ¿ght against the
Roman army. In the Secret History (18.1-7) Procopius describes the
horrors of the Roman reconquista in Africa. According to his account
the campaign resulted in veritable genocide of Vandals, Libyans and,
most of all, Moors. At the height of this catastrophe one could march
for an entire day along any road in Libya—formerly a densely popu-
lated land—without as much as meeting a single fellow traveler.
As usual, one ought to take any piece of evidence gleaned from the
Secret History with a sizeable pinch of salt. Still, the story, however

35. Compare the lively onomastics of Solomon’s family. Heir to Belisarius’ com-
mand in Africa, this Byzantine of¿cial, named after the famous king of Jerusalem,
had a brother by the name of Bacchus, and by him two nephews called Cyrus and
Sergius (Vand. 2.24.1). Thus, the names in one family represent biblical tradition,
Greek religion, Persian Royalty and the Roman patriciate.
36. Ammon and Alexander were worshipped in the North-African town of Augila
down to Procopius’ time, when the emperor Justinian ¿nally put and end to poly-
theia, and instituted a proper Church to the Mother of God (Aed. 6.2.14-20).
37. Corippus 2.109, 405; 4.669-83 (juxtaposing the barbarian Gurzil with Christ),
1139; 6.116; 8.304, 619. The names of the Moors in general were so barbaric that
Corippus had a hard time ¿tting them in his verses (2.25-27).
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272 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 20.4 (2011)

overdone, rings true with another piece of evidence, this time from
the much more reliable Buildings (Aed. 6.3.9-11). Apparently, some
Moors did decide to give up their freedom and to abandon their old-
time religion, opting instead for Roman order and for Christianity. As
record and reminiscence of their good-will they were styled Pacati—
the paci¿ed. What happened to those who would not be paci¿ed we
are left to imagine.
And what was in all this for Procopius? Why did he decide to
include the report of the inscription in his work? (Or, even more
poignantly, why did he choose to make it up?) It is hard to argue
anything based on any preconception concerning Procopius’ religious
beliefs. At certain times, to certain scholars, he seemed to have been a
‘half-pagan’ with secret attachment to philosophy; a possible Jew; a
Samaritan; a quasi-Manichean; a deist-skeptic; a dualist believing in
both God and an irrational Tyche; an independent and skeptical
Christian; an Arian; a Monophysite sympathizer; a Judeo-Christian
free thinker; and a ‘conventional Christian’ with a classical vocabu-
lary’ (Kaldellis 2004: 166, 263).
Given this impressive array of opinion, we may pass to the imme-
diate literary context of Procopius’ account, as part of the Bellum
Vandalicum. As mentioned above, the Moorish antiquities appear
after roughly two-thirds of the Vandal War. The campaign of Belisa-
rius against the Vandals had been a great victory, but his gains were
not consolidated in time. Belisarius himself was recalled to celebrate
a triumph in Byzantium, and then sent on to a new expedition in
Sicily and Italy. In Africa the commander Solomon, though brave and
able, was left with insuf¿cient forces and a number of scheming of¿-
cers intent on creating trouble. It is at this point that the Moors rise in
arms and disturb the peace, and Procopius stops to give his Moorish
Aside from the rebellion, Procopius ¿nds much reason to complain
about the Moors. Like Corippus, he repeatedly attacks their unreliable
nature. He is disturbed by their practice of polygamy (Vand. 2.11.13),
and is appalled by their use of female oracles (2.8.13). For him, they
are utter Barbarians, a term he uses about them in great abundance.

38. Vand. 2.8.21; 2.10.2, 6, 8, 10 (just before commencing on the Moorish anti-
quities); 2.12.1, 26; 2.17.7; 2.21.4-28 (ten times); 2.24.5. The appellation ‘barbarian’
is applied to the Moors most often in the context of a direct clash with Roman arms.
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The Hebrews, on the other hand, fare much better in Procopius’
narrative. Their ¿rst leader, Moses, is described simply as a wise
Joshua receives more extensive treatment. A ¿gure of Heroic
proportions, he displays aretê in war ostensibly greater than imagin-
able by human standards.
In fact, Joshua even comes off as
Anikêtos—Invincible (§14). This makes him virtually the equal of
Herakles and Alexander. Herakles is indeed mentioned in the narra-
tive immediately following the report of the inscription. All in all,
Procopius gives a positive account of Joshua and the Hebrews,
standing in sharp contrast with his treatment of the descendents of the
Palestinian refugees, the downtrodden Moors.

So, what was the Joshua inscription? According to Procopius, the
inscription was engraved on two stelai. Unless a shameless forgery, it
must have originally held much more information than that conveyed
by the one-line texts in Moses, Procopius and John. We can only
guess what else it would say.
If a forgery by Procopius, a motive would not be hard to construct
given the data above. As a Roman, Procopius had reason enough to
hate those barbarians who would rise in arms against the Pax
Romana. In the Vandal Wars and in the African parts of Buildlings
(Aed. 6.2.15) Procopius also represents Christianity against ancestral
polytheia. If indeed a pure Procopian literary construct, the Joshua
inscription is a rare achievement as both allegorical exegesis and
poetry, juxtaposing the Old Testament Joshua and the latter day
Jesus—two namesakes on a mission from God.
A third possibility, less romantic but perhaps more realistic, is to
assume an intervention by a third party, the creative ‘translator’. In
such a scenario, Procopius comes across an unintelligible inscription
in the ¿eld and asks a local to read it for him. The local, loath to dis-
appoint and eager to advance his own agenda, comes up with the
story of the refugees from the face of Joshua. A devout Christian or a

39. oo¢o¸ o vµ p (2.10.13). This is strangely reminiscent of ’lµooc¸ oo¢o ¸ o vµ p of
Josephus’ Ant. 18.63—the famous Testimonium Flavianum (and another appearance
of the name in question).
40. ’lµooc ¸[…] o ptxµv tv xc ¬oìt uc ·pti xxc µ ·oxo o vâpc ¬oc ¢coiv t ¬iòti-
ço utvo¸ (Vand. 2.10.13). Compare this to the pious perception of the Girgashites in
the Yerushalmi story that something divine is afoot.
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274 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 20.4 (2011)

de¿ant and learned Moor may ¿t the bill with equal probability.
Anything but the notion of the inscription would thus be research by

To conclude:
A riddle wrapped in an enigma, the Joshua inscription is extremely
dif¿cult to pin down. With a practicable terminus post quem at the
beginning of the Hellenistic period, it may well have been formulated
when Joshua was still mostly Jewish. If so, Jewish presence in the
area ought to have been considerable.
More likely, the inscription represents a myth born during the era
of Christian dominance in North Africa. If historical, it is a fasci-
nating testimony to the last remnants of polytheistic opposition there,
just before the advent of Islam. Despite their description as utter
barbarians, the Moors were advanced enough to put up an impressive
inscription, and they showed an acute understanding of their enemy’s
mythology and mentality. It is much to be regretted that the rest of the
inscription is forever lost.
For Procopius, the Joshua inscription served an equal, but opposite,
function. Using a biblical allusion in order to demarcate the poly-
theistic Moors and present them as a paragon of barbarism, Procopius
simultaneously defames the Moors and marginalizes them, and
de¿nes the ‘monotheistic’ collective of which he was a part.


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