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Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

Second Century B.C.

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Raymond F. Surburg writes: "In each of the testaments to the 12 patriarchs three distinct elements can be noticed. First the patriarch gives the history of his own life, telling of the sins he has committed and also the virtues he has demonstrated. These stories were interesting and came to constitute the early Agada, the folk embellishments of the lives of Bible heroes. Next, the writer draws for his readers a practical lesson from the material related, warning them against the sins of the heroes in the story; on the other hand, they are encouraged to emulate the virtues related. Ethical instruction was a prominent feature of this work. Finally, the patriarch enters the field of the apocalyptic, and informs his sons of future happenings. This feature does not occupy a prominent place in the writing. In the prognostications apostasies of the tribes are often predicted, their exile described, and the destruction of the temple announced. There are also numerous prophecies of the coming of the Messiah." (Introduction to the Intertestamental Period, p. 129)

Martin McNamara writes: "Certain sections of the Testaments seem closely related to the New Testament and some texts, at least, in them are of Christian origin. But there are also resemblances with the literature of Qumran. For over a century it has been a matter of discussion among scholars whether the Testaments is basically a Jewish work with Christian interpolations or a Christian composition which uses Jewish sources. The debate has become more acute after the evidence from Qumran has been brought to bear on the problem. Fragments of only two Testaments have been found there, as already noted—those of Levi and Naphtali, the former in Aramaic, the latter in Hebrew and these cannot be reckoned as originals of the corresponding sections of The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Opinion is still divided on the origins of the present Testaments. Some believe that the work was composed by a Jew or Jewish Christian in the first or second century A.D. Others maintain that they are of pre-Christian or Jewish, possibly Essene origin. The original language of the present work, whether Aramaic or Greek, is also debated." (Intertestamental Literature, p. 105)

Emil Schürer writes: "The Christology is the patripassian Christology that so largely prevailed in many quarters in the Christian Church during the second and third centuries. There is nothing here that can be said to indicate a 'Jewish-Christian' standpoint. Again it is impossible to reconcile with the Christian passages in question that series of utterances characterized above which can only have emanated from a Jewish author. How can it ever be supposed that a Christian, ay, or even a Jewish-Christian, author should think of characterizing the tirbes of Levi and Judah as those to whom God had committed the guidance of Israel. Then what could we conceive such an author to mean by exhorting the rest of the tribes to join themselves to their authority? Why, it was precisely the tribes of Levi and Judah, i.e. the official Judaism of Palestine, that distinguished themselves above all the others in the way of rejecting the gospel. We can hardly imagine therefore that even a Jewish-Christian author would be likely to represent them as occupying the leading position above referred to. Nor does he so represent them as one who is merely taking a theoretical survey of history, and as though he meant to censure the defection from the tribes of Levi and Judah merely as a thing of the past. But he also urges a loyal adherence to these tribes as a present duty. Nor can we here suppose that Levi is intended to represent the Christian clergy. For what in that case would Judah be supposed to represent? Then there is the further circumstance, that many of the Christian passages obviously disturb the connection and thus proclaim themselves to be interpolations at the very outset. What is more, the much canvassed passage regarding Paul in the Testament of Benjamin (xi.) is wanting in the case of two independent testimonies among the manuscripts and versions as at present konwn to us, namely in the Roman manuscript and the Armenian version. From all this it may be regarded as tolerably certain, that all the Christian passages are to be ascribed to some interpolator who, with a Jewish original before him, introduced modifications here and there to adapt it to the purposes and needs of the Christian Church. This assumption will also enable us to explain how it comes to be stated in our Testaments that Christ was a descendant of the tribes of Levi and Judah alike. How it would ever occur to a Christian author himself to emphasize this point so much, even supposing Mary to have belonged to the tribe of Levi, it is difficult to see, for in the primitive Christian tradition it was only upon the descent from Judah that stress was laid. But the matter becomes perfectly intelligible when we assume that the author had a text before him in which Levi and Judah were held up as the chosen and model tribes. For finding this in his text he proceeds to justify it from his Christian standpoint by representing Christ as descended from the tribe of Levi in His capacity as priest, and from that of Judah in His capacity as king, it being left an open question whether he assumes the Levitical descent of Mary or has in view only some spiritual connection on the part of Christ with both those tribes in virtue of His twofold office of priest and king. It is further worthy of note that, deviating from his Jewish original, the Christian interpolator as a rule puts the tribe of Judah first. How long or short those Christian interpolations may have been it is not always possible to determine with any degree of certainty. It is probable however that they were on a larger scale than Schnapp is inclined to suppose." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 118-120)

James C. VanderKam writes: "It is debatable whether the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs should be included in a book about the second temple period because, as it now exists, it is clearly a Christian work. Although almost all of it reads like a Jewish composition, a series of passages have been identified as Christian in origin, some of them more obviously than others (see T. Benj. 9:3 for an unmistakable example). This has led to two major options for understanding the development of the work. One is that a Jewish writer compiled a collection of testaments connected with Jacob's twelve sons and that a Christian editor or copyist (perhaps more than one) added a few sentences in the predictive sections to relate the forecasts more directly to Jesus Christ. The other is that a Christian compiled the testaments, using Jewish sources. Given the small number of demonstrably Christian passages, it seems more likely that the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is a Jewish work with some Christian additions. Moreover, at Qumran texts that may be related to two of the testaments have been found: the Aramaic Levi text has a large amount of the material that appears in the Testament of Levi, and a Testament of Naphtali (4Q215) shares some points with the Greek work of the same name. In light of the uncertainties about the genesis of the Testaments, it is very difficult to date. Suggestions have ranged from the second century BCE to the second century CE." (Introduction to Early Judaism, pp. 100-101)

Leonhard Rost writes: "The date and milieu proper to the Testaments has been a matter of debate ever since the manuscripts were discovered. Most recently M. de Jonge has attempted to demonstrate that they were composed by a Christian author around A.D. 200 on the basis of earlier Jewish traditions. The author, according to de Jonge, had only the Testaments of Levi and Naphtali before him; the rest of his material he drew from the traditions of the Book of Jubilees and the midrashim in order to preach his Christian ethics useing the sons of Jacob as examples. Similar theories are espoused by J. T. Milik and E. F. Sutcliffe." (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, p. 144)

Leonhard Rost continues: "A contrary hypothesis is supported by A. Dupont-Sommer, who sees the Testaments originating around 100 B.C. within the Qumran community, arguing on the grounds that the Damascus Document quotes a series of testaments. It would be more accurate to say that the Damascus Document and the Testaments draw on the same tradition; Dupont-Somer is right in assigning the Testaments to the same stream of tradition as the Damascus Document. Further evidence for this view is provided by the Aramaic fragments of the Testament of Levi from Caves 1 and 4 at Qumran and the Hebrew fragment of the Testament of Naphtali likewise found at Qumran. But the process is more complex, as the existence side by side of Aramaic fragments of the Testament of Levi and a Hebrew fragment of the Testament of Naphtali show. It was pointed out above that these two Testaments belong to a different genre than the others. They are unique in focusing on two dreams that prefigure the future. The Testament of Levi is probably the earlier of the two; it goes back to the early Maccabean period and may be intended to justify Jonathan's assumption of the office of high priest in 153 B.C. Later, when the hegemony of the Maccabees came to extend further to the north, the Hebrew Testament of Naphtali was added, which alluded to the history of the divided kingdom in two dreams and, from the perspective of late Judaism, warned against union with the Samaritans. Furthermore, Tobit was also a member of the Naphtali tribe. Only afterwards did the other Testaments come into existence—perhaps not until the first century C.E.—while a final Christian redaction can be dated around 200." (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, pp. 144-145)

Harm W. Hollander writes: "This brings us to the rather difficult question of whether the T12P are originally Jewish (with some Christian additions or interpolations) or Christian. In spite of the many ingenious attempts to argue for different stages of redaction or extensive interpolations in an originally Jewish document, it seems wiser to regard the text as a literary product and as a coherent unity. That means, to regard the text either as a Christian composition in which a number of Jewish sources and traditions have been incorporated, or as a Jewish document which was thoroughly christianized so that it has become impossible to remove 'Christian' elements without affecting the whole of the T12P. In any case, the text of the T12P as it lies before us now seems to be an attempt of a Christian in the second century to show Jews and Christians that the Jews were wrong in having rejected Jesus Christ as God's Messiah and that their own famous forefathers had foretold their disobedience and had warned them, when they gave their final exhortation to their sons and instructed them to pass their teachings on to their children (and so on). Nevertheless, the Christian author (or redactor) of the T12P also points to the future salvation, not only of the (righteous) Gentiles (the Christians), but also of the people of Israel, as foretold by the Patriarchs." (Outside the Old Testament, pp. 73-74)

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