Patriarchs, Testaments of the Twelve

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PATRIARCHS, TESTAMENTS OF THE TWELVE

PATRIARCHS, TESTAMENTS OF THE TWELVE , an early Jewish pseudepigraphic work, giving the last words of the 12 sons of Jacob to their descendants who assembled before their deaths. Although there are Christian passages in the book, with clear hints at salvation through Jesus and in some versions even a reference to Paul (Test. Patr., Ben. 11), which led some scholars to believe that the Testaments are a Christian work, the opinion of most scholars today is that the Testaments are Jewish and that the Christian passages are later interpolations.

The book has been preserved in Slavonic, Armenian, and Greek versions, the last being the original and not a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic. The book seems to have been written before Paul, because he apparently quotes (i Thess. 2:16) the present Testament of Levi (6:11). It is likely that all the 12 Testaments, with the probable exception of the Testament of Asher in which hatred of sinners and even their killing is preached (in contrast to the other Testaments where compassion to enemies is recommended), were written by one Jewish author, but even this difference can be explained by the different sources of this Testament. The individual Testaments contain mostly aggadic descriptions of incidents in the lives of the sons of Jacob, especially Joseph, profound ethical teachings, and eschatological prophecies as in apocalyptical literature.

It is unlikely that the Greek work is based on a single Hebrew or Aramaic pseudepigraphon no longer extant, but on the other hand it is certain that the Testaments derive from Jewish Palestinian literature and thought. The Greek book is a product of a final stage of rich literary output of pseudepigraphic testaments of the individual sons of Jacob. One source was the Aramaic Testament of *Levi and another a Hebrew Testament of *Naphtali, one fragment of which has been found among the *Dead Sea Scrolls. Another Testament of Naphtali is preserved in medieval Hebrew translation, most probably from the Greek, and shows literary affinity to the Testament of Naphtali in the actual book and the same ethical approach as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. It is clear, however, that this Testament of Naphtali is not one of its sources, though it is close to them in content and approach. The material about the wars of Jacob and his sons, included in the Book of Jubilees, in the actual Testament of Judah, and in Hebrew medieval narrative (see *Midrash Va-Yissa'u), points to the conclusion that there existed an ancient Hebrew (or Aramaic) Testament of Judah, which contained descriptions of these wars of the sons of Jacob, and it was used both by the author of the Book of Jubilees and the present Greek Testament of Judah. It is unknown if there were also other Hebrew or Aramaic Testaments of the sons of Jacob, which could have served as direct or indirect sources of the Testaments; the Jewish Palestinian material could have reached the author by other channels. There is also a Greek influence, both ethical and literary, in the Testaments of the Patriarchs.

It is important to note that the known sources of the Testaments have a connection with the Dead Sea Scrolls; not only have fragments of the Aramaic Testament of Levi (which is quoted in the Damascus Document) and a fragment of the Hebrew Testament of Levi and fragments of the Book of Jubilees been found in Qumran, but also the doctrines propagated in the Testaments are close to the doctrines of the Dead Sea sect and the author often refers to prophecies of *Enoch, ideas in the Book of Enoch being close to those of the Dead Sea sect. Like the literature of the Dead Sea sect, the Testaments of the Patriarchs show a strong dualistic tendency, both moral and spiritual, and the ethics both of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Testaments are based on it (see Manual of Discipline 3, 25 and Test. Patr., Reu. 2:3). In the Scrolls and in the Testaments the demonic leader of the evil spirits is named Belial. The main difference is that while in the Dead Sea sect the dualism is sharper – humanity being divided between the Sons of Light and Sons of Darkness and their lots preordained –in the Testaments of the Patriarchs the doctrine of predestination is absent and the struggle between good and evil has to be fought by man himself. This is also the opinion of the Testament of Asher, although it is nearer to the Dead Sea sect than the other Testaments because it too preaches hatred against sinners, while the other Testaments differ from the sect in their humanistic approach. These affinities and differences between the Testaments and the Dead Sea sect can be explained by the suggestion that the author of the Testaments was a member of a movement in Judaism of which the Dead Sea sect was a part. It is very probable that his spiritual, and possible also literary, tradition originated in a fusion between that of the Dead Sea sect and similar groups and the Pharisaic outlook. Thus, for instance, the Testaments mention the belief in the resurrection of the dead, while the sectarian documents speak only about an afterlife of the soul. The extremely humanistic approach of the Testaments (with the exception of that of Asher) is a development from the precept of nonviolence toward the wicked world outside and temporary obedience to it, an idea known from the Scrolls; in the Testaments, nonviolence and the humility of spirit in the face of the wicked is unconditional and linked with compassion, and all hatred is eliminated. The love of God and fellow men, central doctrines of the Testaments, are found in rabbinic literature. The two precepts are combined and united in the Testaments of the Patriarchs, in the teachings of Jesus, and in the Jewish source of the early Christian Didache (the Jewish "Two Ways"). A similar fusion of elements from the Dead Sea sect and doctrines found in rabbinic sources and a similar ethical approach as in the Testaments (and the Jewish source of the Didache) is typical of Jesus' message. There is even an important parallel to Jesus' beatitudes and woes (Math. 5, 3–12, Luke 6, 20–26) in the Testament of Judah (ch. 25). Thus, the Testaments of the Patriarchs, though originally written in Greek, are one of the most important sources for the understanding of Jesus' message. In the context of the history of Jewish thought, they are one of the most sublime documents of Jewish ethics in antiquity.

The eschatology of the Testaments is often obscured by Christian interpolations which destroy the original context and meaning. Even so, it is clear that the messianic belief of the author was similar to that of the Dead Sea sect and of the Book of Jubilees and similar ideas must have already appeared in the sources of the Testaments: Levi and Judah are exalted and preference is given to Levi above Judah, the priesthood being more important than the monarchy; in the Testament of Naphtali, Levi is compared to the sun and Judah to the moon. Like the Dead Sea sect, the author of the Testaments looked forward to two eschatological figures: a levitic high priest and a king from Judah; these are the Messiahs from Aaron and from Israel of the Dead Sea sect.

The Testaments of the Patriarchs were translated from a Greek manuscript by Robert Grosseteste bishop of Lincoln, into Latin (c. 1175–1253; this version was translated into English by A. Gilby in 1581). The argument of the supremacy of the priesthood of Levi, the sun, over Judah, the moon, was used and developed in favor of the papacy against the power of the emperor and Dante, an adherent of monarchy, denounced this ideology in De Monarchia 3:4–5.

bibliography:

editors and translations: R.H. Charles (ed.), The Greek Versions of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (1908, repr. 1960); M. de Jonge (ed.), Testamenta xii Patriarcharum (1964); R.H. Charles, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs Translated from the Editor's Greek Text (1908); M.E. Stone, The Testament of Levi, A First Study of the Armenian Mss. (1969). BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. de Jonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (1953); R. Eppel, Le Piétisme juif dans les Testaments des douze Patriarches (1930); A.S. van des Woude, Die messianischen Vorstellungen der Gemeinde von Qumrân (1957), esp. ch. 2; J. Becker, Untersuchungen zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Testamente der zwoelf Patriarchen (1970); M. Braun, History and Romance in GraecoOriental Literature (1938), 44ff.; C. Burchard, J. Jervell, and J. Thomas, Studien zu Testamenten der zwoelf Patriarchen (1969); M. Philonenko, Les Interpolations Chrétiennes des Testaments des douze Patriarches et les Manuscrits de Qoumran (1960); A. Dupont-Sommer, in: Semitica, 4 (1951–52), 33–53; J. Liver, in: htr, 52 (1959), 149–85; F.M. Braun, in: rb, 67 (1960), 516–69; D. Flusser, Jesus (Eng., 1969), 76–82; idem, in: htr, 61 (1968), 107–27; idem, in: A.J. Toynbee (ed.), The Crucible of Christianity (1969), 227.

[David Flusser]