The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
is an important constituent of the apocryphal
scriptures connected with the Old Testament
. It is a pseudopigraphical work
comprising the dying commands of the twelve sons of Jacob
. It is part of the Oskan Armenian Orthodox Bible
of 1666. Fragments of similar writings were found at Qumran
, but opinions are divided if these are the same texts. It is considered Apocalyptic literature
The Testaments were written in Greek, probably by a hellenised Jew. The books were later (first or second century) thoroughly reworked by a Christian author/editor. For several centuries it was wholly lost sight of, and it was not until the 13th century that it was rediscovered through the agency of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, whose Latin translation of the work gained immediately became popular. He believed that it was a genuine work of the twelve sons of Jacob, and that the Christian interpolations were a genuine product of Jewish prophecy; he accused Jews of concealing the Testaments "on account of the prophecies of the Saviour contained in them."
The advent of the Reformation brought in critical methods; Grosseteste's view of the Testaments was rejected and the book was unjustly disparaged as a mere Christian forgery for nearly four centuries. Presently, scholarly opinions are divided as to whether the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are an originally Jewish document that has been interpolated by Christians or are a Christian document written originally in Greek but based on some earlier Semitic material.
A copy of the testaments is published in The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden.
As argued by Robert Henry Charles, who studied and translated the Testaments,
the main, the overwhelming value of the book lies ... in its ethical teaching, which has achieved a real immortality by influencing the thoughts and diction of the writers of the New Testament, and even those of our Lord.
He writes that the Testaments help to "bridge the chasm that divides the ethics of the Old and New Testaments. To a modern reader, the main value of the Testaments, is not in the ranting variations on biblical text, but in their ethical teachings, as amplified by the following citations:
- Love the Lord through all your life, and one another with a true heart
- Love yea one another from the heart; and if a man sin against thee, speak peacefully to him, and in thy soul hold not guile; and if he repent and confess, forgive him. But if he deny it, do not get into a passion with him, lest catching the poison from thee he take to swearing, and so then sin doubly …
- Love the Lord and your neighbor.
- Anger is blindness, and does not suffer to see any man with truth
- Hatred, therefore is evil; etc.
(from The Apocrypha in English. Edited by Rev. R. H. Charles.)
The work is divided into twelve books, each purporting to be the last exhortations of one of the twelve titular patriarchs. In each, the patriarch first narrates his own life, focusing on his strengths, virtues, or his sins, using biographical material from both the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition. Next he exhorts his listeners to emulate the one and to avoid the other. Most of the books conclude with prophetic visions.
The Testament of Reuben
is predominantly concerned with admonishing lust
, and the sinfulness of Reuben
in his having had sex
, a concubine
of his father. It is likely that the author wished to cover the topic of fornication
anyway, and assigned it for Reuben to discuss due to Reuben's relationship with Bilhah being recounted in the canonical bible.
Additional details to the biblical story are added in the Testament, which appear to derive from a combination of the Book of Jubilees and from the biblical account of David and Bathsheba. Reuben is portrayed as having spied Bilhah bathing, and when Bilhah later becomes drunk, Reuben seduces her. The diatribe in the Testament is noticeably misogynist, portraying women as the cause of the downfall of the Watchers, and of man in general. Joseph is on the other hand portrayed as the ideal, for his resistance against Potiphar's wife.
The Testament of Simeon
is primarily a diatribe against envy
. In the Genesis narrative, Simeon
is portrayed as having been bound in chains by Joseph
, and the author of the Testament argues that Simeon had wanted to kill Joseph due to jealousy, allowing the Testament to continue with a discourse about envy. The narrative of the Testament explains that it was Simeon who had sold Joseph into slavery, and goes on to portray Joseph as the ideal of virtue and generosity.
The Testament of Levi
is an Apocalyptic text
that was composed in its final form in the 2nd century BC
. It is possible that it rests upon earlier accounts that are also authentic. It is one of the longest of the Testaments, and is predominantly concerned with arrogance
. Taking the theme of the Levite priesthood
, the Testament explains how Levi
's descendants corrupted the office by their arrogant disregard for the proper regulations.
The narrative describes two visions, the first of which involves Levi being taken to heaven and promised the priesthood forever, while in the second Levi is physically given the insignia of the priesthood (as described in Exodus) by angels. The sins of his descendants are then announced, and the promise that at the end there will be a glorious priest who will restore the righteousness of his office. The description of the priest is in terms that most scholars agree was meant to describe John Hyrcanus.
One way in which this testament is distinguished from the others is by the discovery of fragments of its text among the Dead Sea Scrolls in the original Aramaic. The find consisted of six fragments in two manuscripts from cave 4 (4Q213-214). These fragments can be matched to a Greek version of the manuscript from Mount Athos. A small related fragment was also found in cave 1 (1Q21). According to some sources, these scrolls were dated by the Oriental Institute to between 100-200 BC using Radiocarbon dating.
The Testament of Judah
is primarily concerned with courage
, monetary greed
, and fornication
. It begins by portraying Judah
as idealistically courageous, involving bravery in front of wild beasts, as well as successful military expeditions, sometimes basing the narrative on acts that the canonical bible attributes to Jacob. However, it goes on to present a xenophobic
focus, criticising his marriage to a non-Israelite, as well as his sexual activity with Tamar
, his daughter-in-law who at that time was pretending
to be a prostitute
The narrative argues that Judah had sex with Tamar and his wife due to drunkenness, and that he bribed his wife's father in order to be allowed to marry her. It then goes on to instruct that the role of a king is lesser than that of a priest, and that Levi is more important, clearly pointing to the theocratic attitude of the author.
The Testament of Issachar
predominantly concerns asceticism
, which the text portrays as virtuous
. The narrative however begins by retelling the biblical tale of Leah
's purchase of Jacob
's nocturnal services
by the giving of mandrakes
. Rachel is portrayed as virtuous for being more celibate than the randy Leah. In the remainder of the narrative Issachar
himself is portrayed as leading a godly and simple agricultural life, indicating that the author based his text on the Septuagint
rather than masoretic text
, since in the masoretic Issachar is condemned to forced labour on the fields, and it is only the Septuagint that portrays him as labouring voluntarily.
Zebulun, the sixth son of Leah and Jacob. The inventor and philanthropist. What he learned as a result of the plot against Joseph.
The copy of the words of Zebulun, which he enjoyed on his sons before he died in the hundred and fourteenth year of his life, two years after the death of Joseph.
2 And he said to them:
Hearken to me, ye sons of Zebulun, attend to the words of your father.
3 I, Zebulun, was born a good gift to my parents.
4 For when I was born my father was increased wery exceedingly, both in the flocks and herds, when with the straked rods he had his portion.
5 I am not conscious that I have sinned all my days, save in thought.
6 Nor yet do I remember that I have done any iniquity, except the sin of ignorance which I committed against Joseph; for I covenanted with my brethren, because they had all agreed that if any one should declare the secret, the secret, he should be slain.
Testament of Dan
Dan, the black sheep among the tribes of Israel, tells his children (ch. i.) that, under the influence of Belial, he had been filled with anger against Joseph and that, "eager to devour him as a leopard devours a kid," he had planned to kill him that he might supplant him in the heart of his father. Dan accordingly warns his children (ch. ii.-v.a) against anger, since it heeds neither parent, nor brother, nor prophet, nor righteous man, nor friend. Ch. iii. and other interpolated passages add a warning against lying which is scarcely a genuine part of the Testament. Anger may be roused by words only, yet it leads to action. Therefore his children are exhorted to refrain from anger either at spoken words or at misfortunes, lest they should be overcome by Belial and the Lord should depart from them, the lesson of the Testament being that they should flee from wrath and love God and man in order that the Lord might dwell among them and Belial be driven from them. The last sentence of the Testament is obviously a Jewish interpolation.
Prudence and order in doing the works of God
Hatred and spirit of love
The Testament of Asher
is the shortest of the twelve and unlike the others does not begin with a deathbed scene.
It is regarding the subject of the two ways to live. The main appeal in Asher is to follow truth with singleness of face.
The Testament of Joseph
primarily concerns Chastity
, and seems heavily to be based on Joseph
's resistance against Potiphar's wife
that the canonical bible portrays. The narrative contains a large expansion on the attempts of Potiphar's wife to seduce Joseph, portraying her as first threatening Joseph, then employing torture, then flattering Joseph, then plotting to kill her husband so that Joseph would be able to marry her without bigamy
, then using love potions, and finally threatening suicide.
Benjamin, who is represented both by the Testament which bears his name and by rabbinic literature as the one who clings lovingly to his brother Joseph (see Gen. R. xciv. 7), typifies affectionate regard for the righteous. The hero himself, whose name is explained in ch. i. as "the child of old age," dwells on the nobility of Joseph, but since he would not impute an evil act to his brothers, he construed the story of the coat in their favor (ch. ii.), and besought his father to pray to God that He should not impute to them the evil they had devised against him (ch. iii.). Benjamin accordingly admonishes his children ever to direct their mind toward the good and pure, for the good man has no "evil eye," but sympathy for all, and mercy to the poor (ch. iv.), thus having a good influence even on the evil (ch. v.). The spirit of Belial will have no power over him, nor will he look with lust upon woman. Cain, the evil brother, had to suffer for seven hundred years, but Joseph could be defiled by sin no more than is the sun by shining over dung and mire. The whole monition (ch. ii-viii.), however, is in great disorder. The apocalyptic portion (ch. ix.-xi.), based partly upon Gen. xlix. 27 and partly upon Deut. xxxiii. 12, is so interpolated by Christian writers that any analysis of it is extremely difficult.
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs contain a substantial amount of prophecy
concerning the coming of the Messiah
. From a Christian
perspective, a number of statements can be associated with events in the life of Jesus
. Many consider this significant since several of the books are thought to predate Jesus
. This opinion, first propagated by Bacon in his Opus Majus
, is hardly defended in modern scholarship, where all passages that clearly refer to Jesus, are either considered Christian interpolations (by those who consider the author to be Jewish) or Christian writings (by those who consider the author to be Christian).
For example, compare the following passages from the Testament of Levi:
The heavens shall be opened, and from the temple of glory shall come upon him sanctification, with the Father's voice as from Abraham to Isaac. And the glory of the Most High shall be uttered over him, and the spirit of understanding and sanctification shall rest upon him in the water.(Levi 5:21-22)
with this passage from the Gospel of Matthew
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."()
Use of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in the New Testament
Charles (l.c.) called attention to the frequent use of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs by Paul and other writers of the New Testament. I Thess. ii. 16 is a quotation of Test. Patr., Levi, 6:10; Rom. 12:19 of Gad, 6:10; Rom. 12:21 of Benjamin, 6:3; II Cor. 12:10 of Gad, 5:7; and Ephes. 5:6 of Naphtali, 3:1.
Later scholarship has highly debated this issue. Current consensus is that, while there is similarity of thought, the New Testament authors do not utilise the Testaments in any way.