The Alexandrian Jews made Balaam an object of popular legend as a great sorcerer. Philo ("De Vita Moysis," i. 48) speaks of him as "a man renowned above all men for his skill as a diviner and a prophet, who foretold to the various nations important events, abundance and rain, or droughts and famine, inundations or pestilence." Josephus ("Ant." iv. 6, § 2) calls him "the greatest of the prophets at that time." The story of Moses' war with the Ethiopians, as related by Josephus ("Ant." ii. 10) after Hellenistic sources, was in olden times brought into connection with Balaam.
The Strategy of Balaam
Balaam resorted to the strategem of seduction. After having, by divine inspiration, predicted the destiny of the people of Israel, and having spoken even of the Messianic future (Josephus, "Ant." iv. 6, §§ 4, 5; Philo, l.c. 52), he advised Balak to select the handsomest daughters of the Midianites, who should lead the Israelites to idolatry (Josephus, l.c., §§ 6-9; Philo, l.c. 54-56).
This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.