Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs
|tes-tuh-muhnt uhv thuh twelv pey-tree-ahrks
RELATED: Jacob, Kingdom of Israel
TWELVE PATRIARCHS: Asher, Benjamin, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Joseph, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, Zebulun
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(From APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, sec. IV, 1.)
Although, strictly speaking, Jewish law had no place for "testamentary dispositions"
by those about to die--"the portion of goods" that fell to each being prescribed--yet
the dying exhortations of Jacob addressed to his sons, the farewell song of Moses,
David's deathbed counsels to Solomon, were of the nature of spiritual legacies.
Under Greek and Roman law testaments were the regularly understood means of arranging
heritages; with the thing the name was transferred, as in the Mishna, Babha' Bathra'
15 26, dayytike, so also in Syriac. The idea of these pseudepigrapha is clearly
not drawn from the "Last Will and Testament," but the dying exhortations above
1. Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs:
49 in which Jacob addresses his sons gathered round his dying bed furnished
the model for a number of pseudepigraphic writings. Of these the longest known
is Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. In it the writer imagines each of the sons
of Jacob following his father's example and assembling his descendants in order
that he might give his dying charge. While Jacob addressed each of his sons separately,
the sons of none of his sons, save those of Joseph, became at all prominent; so
in the case of the sons of Jacob they each address their descendants as a whole.
These Testaments are occupied with moral advices mainly. The sin most warned against
The first Patriarch whose Testament is given is Reuben. While he bewails the sin
that deprived him of his birthright, he gives an account of the various propensities
that tend to sin, and accommodates each of these with an evil spirit--spirits
of deceit. He gives details of his sin, which, resembling those given in the Book
of Jubilees, differs in an apologetic direction. This apologetic effort is carried
farther in the Targum of the pseudo-Jonathan. In it Reuben is declared to have
disordered the bed of Bilhah because it was put beside his mother's, and he was
accused of impurity with her; but the Spirit revealed to Jacob that he was not
The next Testament is that of Simeon. The crime that seems to have most affected
Jacob, if we may judge by Genesis
was the murder of the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi. That, however, is not touched
upon in the Testament; his envy of Joseph is what he most repents of. A stanza,
however, is inserted, warning against fornication (Genesis
The Testament of Levi follows. It is mainly apocalyptic. The murder of the Shechemites
is regarded as a wholly estimable action, and is commended by God. The treachery
of the circumcision is not mentioned at all. He tells how he was admitted in dream
to the third heaven. In another vision he is clothed with the garments of the
priesthood. After a piece of autobiography followed by general admonitions Levi
tells what he had learned from the writing of Enoch. He tells how his descendants
will fall away and become corrupt. It is to be noted that fornication becomes
very prominent in the picture of the future. The destruction of Jerusalem is foretold,
and the captivity of Judah among all nations. This cannot refer to the setting
up of the "Abomination of Desolation" by Epiphanes. The Temple was not laid waste,
although it was desecrated; and there did not follow on the desecration by Epiphanes
the scattering of the Jews unto all nations. It seems necessary to understand
by this wasting the capture of Jerusalem by Titus. Consequently, the "new priest"
of XII P 18 seems to us the priest "after the order of Melchizedek" according
to the New Testament interpretation.
Judah is the next whose Testament is given. He first declares his own great personal
prowess, slaying a lion, a bear, a boar, a leopard and a wild bull. When the Canaanite
kings assailed Jacob as related in the Book of Jubilee, he showed his courage.
Several warlike exploits, of which we only learn here, he relates. The assault
made by the descendants of Esau upon the sons of Jacob and Jacob's victory is
related in the manner and nearly in the terms of the account in the Book of Jubilees.
He mentions with a number of explanatory and excusatory details his sin in the
matter of Tamar. He denounces covetousness, drunkenness and fornication. Then
he commands his descendants to look to Levi and reverence him. Then follows a
Messianic passage which seems most naturally to bear a Christian interpretation.
The Testament of Issachar is much shorter than either of the two preceding ones.
After telling the story of the mandrakes, he dwells on husbandry. As is noted
by Dr. Charles, this is at variance with the rabbinic representation of the characteristics
of the tribe. He, too, denounces impurity and drunkenness.
Zebulun's Testament is little longer than that of Issachar. This Testament is
greatly occupied with tho history of the sale of Joseph in which Zebulun protests
he took only the smallest share and got none of the price.
The Testament of Dan also is short. He confesses his rage against Joseph, and
so warns against anger. Here also are warnings against whoredom. The Messiah is
to spring from Judah and Levi. Dr. Charles thinks the first of these was not in
the original, because it would naturally have been "tribes," not "tribe," as it
is. This somewhat hasty, as in 1
Kings 12:23 (Septuagint) we have the precisely similar construction pros panta
oikon Iouda kai Beniamin, a sentence which represents the construction of the
Hebrew. In this there is a Messianic passage which describes the Messiah as delivering
the captives of Beliar.
The Testament that follows, that of Naphtali, has apocalyptic elements in it.
It opens with the genealogy of Bilhah, his mother, whose father is said to be
Rotheus. His vision represents Levi seizing the sun and Judah the moon. The young
man with the twelve palm branches seems to be a reference to the Apostles. Joseph
seizes a bull and rides on it. He has a further dream in which he sees a storm
at sea and the brethren being separated. Again there is a reference to the recurrent
theme of sexual relation (XII P 8).
The subject of the Testament of Gad is hatred. Gad is associated with Simeon as
being most filled with wrath against Joseph.
Asher urges whole-hearted obedience to righteousness, as the apostle James does
in his epistle.
One of the most important of these Testaments is that of Joseph. The opening is
occupied with a prolonged description of the temptation of Joseph by Potiphar's
wife. There is in that connection the unhealthy dwelling on sexual matters which
is found in monkish writers. There are not a few resemblances to the language
of the Gospels (compare XII P 1:6 and Matthew
25:36). There is a more important passage (XII P 19:8): "And I saw that from
Judah was born a virgin wearing a linen garment, and from her was born a lamb,
and on his left hand there was, as it were, a lion: and all the beasts rushed
against him, and the lamb overcame them, and destroyed them, and trod them under
foot." This to us is clearly Christian. Dr. Charles, without apocalyptic credence
to support him, would amend it and change the reading.
The Testament of Benjamin is very much an appendix to that of Joseph. It opens
with the account Joseph gave Benjamin of how he was sold to the Ishmaelites. He
exhorts his descendants against deceit, but, as all his brethren, he warns them
against fornication. There is a long Christian passage which certainly seems an
interpolation, as it is not found in some of the texts, though others have all
verses. The text concerning Paul (XII P 11:1,2) appears in varying forms in all
That these "Testaments" have been interpolated is proved by the variations in
the different texts. Dr. Charles has, however, gone much farther, and wherever
there is a Christian clause has declared it an obvious interpolation. For our
part, we would admit as a rule those passages to be genuine that are present in
all the forms of the text. The Greek text was first in, so to say, recent times
edited by Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, in the 13th century. Since then other
manuscripts have been found, and a Slavonic and an Aramaic version. We are thus
able to check the interpolations. In essence the Christian passage in T Josephus
is found in all versions.
Dr. Charles makes a very strong case for Hebrew being the original language. His
numerous arguments are not all of equal value. While some of the alleged Hebraistic
constructions may be actually so, not a few may be explained by imitation of the
language of the Septuagint. As an example of the first, compare T Jud (XII P 7):
ochlos barus = chel kabhedh, "a numerous host." On the other hand T Reub XII P
3:8: "understanding in the Law," is a turn of expression that might quite well
be common among Greek-speaking Jews. Of passages that are only explicable by retranslation,
as in T Josephus 11:7, "God .... increased him in gold and silver and in work,"
this last turn is evidently due to the translator's rendering 'abhuddah, "servant,"
as if it were 'abhodhah, "work." On the whole, we are prepared to amend the decision
elsewhere, and admit that the probability is that this book, like so many more
of the same class, has been translated from Hebrew.
D. Date and Authorship;
Dr. Charles declares the author to have been a Pharisee who wrote in the early
part of the reign of John Hyrcanus I. The initial difficulty with this, as with
the other pseudepigrapha in attributing a Pharisaic authorship, is the preservation
of the book among the Christian communities, and the ignorance or the ignoring
of it among the Jews. The only sect of the Jews that survived the destruction
of Jerusalem was that of the Pharisees. The Sadducees, who were more a political
than a religious party, disappeared with the cessation of the Jewish state. When
Judaism became merely a religion--a church--not a nation, their function was gone.
The third sect, the Essenes, disappeared, but did so into the Christian church.
If the writer had been an Essene, as we suppose he was, the preservation of this
writing by the Christians is easily explicable. If it were the work of a Pharisee,
its disappearance from the literature of the synagogue is as inexplicable as its
preservation by the Christians. The constant harping on the sin of fornication--in
T Naph XII P 8:8 even marital intercourse is looked at askance--indicates a state
of mind suitable to the tenets of the Essenes. The date preferred by Dr. Charles,
if the author is a Pharisee, appears to us impossible. The Pharisees had, long
before the final break, been out of sympathy with the Maccabeans. The Chasidim
deserted Judas Maccabeus at Elasa, not improbably in consequence of the alliance
he had made with the heathen Romans, and perhaps also his assumption of the high-
priesthood. Further, the temple is laid waste and the people driven into captivity
unto all nations (T Levi 15:1). This does not suit the desecration of the temple
During that time the temple was not laid waste. The orgies of the worship of Bacchus
and of Jupiter Olympius dishonored it, but that is a different thing from its
being laid waste. The scattering unto all nations did not take place then. Some
were taken captive and enslaved, but this was not general. The description would
only apply to destruction of the temple by Titus and the enslaving and captivity
of the mass of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The "New Priest" cannot
refer to the Maccabeans, for they were Aaronites as much as Alcimus or Onias,
though not of the high-priestly family. This change of the priesthood only has
point if it refers to the priesthood of Christ as in Hebrews
7:12. If Dr. Charles is right in maintaining that 2 Macc in its account of
Menelaus is to be preferred to Josephus, the change of the priesthood was not
unprecedented, for Menelaus was a Benjamite, not a Levite. Yet 1 Macc takes no
notice of this enormity.
Further, there are the numerous passages that are directly and indirectly Christian.
Dr. Charles certainly marks them all as interpolations, but he gives no reason
in most of the cases for doing so. That the omission of such passages does not
dislocate the narrative arises from the simpler construction of Semitic narrative,
and is therefore not to be regarded as conclusive evidence of interpolation. The
reference to Paul in T Ben XII P 11, occurring in all the sources, although with
variations, also points to a post-Christian origin. For these reasons, we would
venture to differ from Dr. Charles and regard the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs
as post-Christian, and to be dated in the first quarter of the 2nd century AD.
E. Relation to Other Books
From the decision we have reached in regard to the date of these Testaments, it
follows that all the many resemblances which have been noted between them and
the books of the New Testament are due to imitation on the part of the Testaments,
not the reverse. A case in point is T Josephus XII P 1:6 where the resemblance
25:31 - 36
is close; only, whereas in the Gospel the judge approves of the righteous on account
of their visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and condemns the wicked because
they did not do so, in T Josephus God ministers to His servants. The Testament
is really an imitation of the passage in the Gospel. The direct visiting of the
afflicted, whatever the form of the affliction, was a thing of everyday occurrence.
To think of the Almighty doing so is the result of a bold metaphor. One familiar
with the Gospel narrative might not unnaturally think of God's dealings with the
saints in terms drawn from our Lord's description of the Last Judgment. In T Naph
XII P 2:2 the figure of the potter and the clay is, as in Romans
9:21, applied to God's power over His creatures. The passage in the T Naph
is expanded, and has not the close intimate connection with the argument that
the Pauline passage has. While none of the other resemblances give one any ground
to decide, these instances really carry the others with them. We may thus regard
the resemblances to the New Testament in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs
as due to the latter's copying of the former.
J. E. H. Thomson
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