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The Apocryphal Old Testament Collection of the most important non-canonical Old Testament books designed for general use.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs - Introduction

The Testaments, as we know them, are a collection of the ‘last words’ of the twelve sons of Jacob. In the form in which they have been transmitted to us they are clearly the work of a single author or editor, inasmuch as each individual testament is constructed according to the same overall pattern. First, the patriarch gives his immediate family, assembled round his death-bed, details about his own early life and experiences: next he discourses at some length either on a particular virtue they should cultivate or on a particular vice they should avoid, charging them meanwhile to keep ‘the law of the Lord’ and live in obedience to ‘the commands of the Most High’: then he warns them (not infrequently on the basis of what he has read in ‘the writing of Enoch’) of the evils that will come upon them as a result of their moral deterioration, though he can usually assure them that ‘in the last times’ God will bring ‘salvation’, not only to Israel, but also to the Gentiles; and then, finally, he asks to be buried, not in Egypt, but in Canaan, at the family burial-place in Hebron – and it is recorded in each instance that this was done.

The earliest explicit reference to the existence of the Testaments in anything like their present form is in Rufinus's translation of Origen's Homilies on Joshua: 1 Orig. In Iesu hom. xv. 6. here Origen seems to be referring to the passage about ‘the seven spirits of error’ in T. Reub. ii and iii: he calls the work in which the passage occurs (according to Rufinus) ‘a certain little book which is called The Testament (sic) of the Twelve Patriarchs’; and he notes that it is extra-canonical. Similarly, Jerome knew a ‘Book of the Patriarchs’, and adds that it is apocryphal: 2 Hieron. Tract. de Ps. xv. 7 . he says he found in it a statement which is most naturally understood as a free quotation from T. Naph. ii. 8; so there can hardly be any doubt that it is to our Testaments he is referring. Later on, the ‘Patriarchs’ occur among the recognized apocrypha in the List of Sixty Books, the pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis, and the Stichometry of Nicephorus, though not in the Gelasian Decree. Parallels between the Testaments and Christian writers earlier than Origen (especially Hermas, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian) have sometimes been noted and used to argue that these writers knew the Testaments and were influenced by them, but the evidence is in fact insufficient to prove dependence in either direction: what it suggests, rather, is the common use of the same popular contemporary ideas and phrases.

For the text of the Testaments we are dependent to-day upon twenty-six witnesses in all – nineteen continuous Greek manuscripts, three collections of extracts from the Greek text, and four versions (Armenian, Slavonic, Serbian, and ‘New Greek’). A Latin version should also be mentioned, made in the thirteenth century, by Robert Grosseteste from the Greek manuscript now in the University Library at Cambridge (Ff. 1. 24: 10th cent.).

It was this Cambridge manuscript that J. E. Grabe used for his text in the first printed edition of the Testaments in 1698; and to it he appended a selection of variants from the Oxford MS. Bodl. Barocc. Gr. 133 (13th cent.). Grabe's text was reprinted by J. A. Fabricius in 1713 and by A. Gallandi in 1765 (= PG ii. 1025–1160). In 1869 R. Sinker provided the first genuinely critical edition: he printed a much more accurate reproduction of the Cambridge MS as his text and added a full conspectus of variant readings from the Oxford MS in his apparatus: ten years later he published an Appendix with collations of two more MSS.

To R. H. Charles belongs the distinction of having investigated for the first time the details and inter-relationship of all the evidence then available. In his edition of 1908> Charles used nine Greek MSS (designated by the letters a to i 3 In this designation Camb. Ff. 1. 24 = b and Oxf. Bodl. Barocc. 133 = a. ) together with the Armenian and Slavonic versions. He divided the Greek MSS into two groups, α and β. α represented the agreement of chi: all other MSS belonged to the β-group, which in turn Charles divided into two smaller groups. The former of the smaller groups consisted of aef, to which the Slavonic version was related: the latter consisted of bdg, to which the Armenian version was related. Charles thought that in general the α-group was preferable to the β-group, and for the construction of his text he relied chiefly, within the α-group, on c (= Vat. Cod. Gr. 731: 13th cent.).

The next development was M. de Jonge's editio minor of 1964 . This was in no sense a rival edition to Charles's. It was, rather, an abridgement and simplification, the purpose of which was ‘to assist scholars in using Dr. Charles's material to greater profit’. Its importance lies in its editor's radical dissent from Charles's preference for the α-group among the Greek MSS. Instead of reprinting Charles's α-type text based on c, de Jonge reverted to the practice of Charles's predecessors and printed as his own text a transcript of b (= Camb. Ff. 1. 24), which he regarded as the best representative of the preferable β-group. To his apparatus he admitted only corrections of obvious mistakes and corruptions in b, and also a small selection of other variants (taken from Charles) that he thought might have some claim to originality or were interesting on their own account. The only exception here was the inclusion of variants found in the extracts from the Testaments in Cod. Venet. Marc. Gr. 494 (13th cent.), published by M. R. James in 1927 , and which he designated k.

Fourteen years later, in 1978 , followed the promised editio maior – the joint work of de Jonge and three colleagues. A number of discoveries had been made since Charles's day, but their total effect on the new edition was not nearly as great as might have been expected. Of the ten additional continuous Greek MSS discovered eight turned out to be copies of MSS already known, and therefore of no independent value: of the three collections of Greek extracts only one (k) proved to be of any serious significance; and of the four versions, only the Armenian was thought worth citing regularly in the apparatus. So far as the text itself is concerned, Charles's division of the Greek MSS into the α and β groups was abandoned. Since all witnesses except b (k) exhibit common errors against b (k), and since b (k) exhibit common errors against all other witnesses, the true division was recognized to be between b (k) and the rest – between what were now called Fam. I and Fam. II. At the top of the stemma, as reconstructed, stands the archetype of the whole tradition, which in course of time was developed and debased: b (k) represent the earliest surviving direct derivatives from the archetype: other groupings spring from later developments and debasements. The text printed is therefore an ‘eclectic’ text, in which the readings of Fam. I (b(k)) are usually, though not invariably, preferred to variants from Fam. II.

Our translation follows very closely the text of de Jonge's editio maior, and the symbols in the notes are the symbols from its apparatus.

Attempts to determine the origin of the Testaments have occasioned no little controversy.

Grabe, recognizing that in their present form they embody both Jewish and Christian elements, suggested that they were written by a Jew and interpolated afterwards by a Christian. But his theory was not accepted before 1884 , when F. Schnapp, using Sinker's new critical edition, revived and developed it. In the intervening period the Testaments were universally thought to be a Christian work, and argument centred on the question whether the author was a Jewish Christian or a Gentile Christian. Schnapp's analysis, however, was adopted by Schürer in the second edition of his Geschichte (1886) and thus became widely disseminated. Bousset accepted it in a modified form. And so did Charles.

When purged of their interpolations, Charles maintained, the Testaments are patently Jewish. Their original language was Hebrew; and they were written in the later years of John Hyrcanus (in all probability between 109 and 106 BC). The author was a Pharisee, who combined loyalty to the best traditions of his party with unbounded admiration for Hyrcanus, in whom the Pharisaic party had come to recognize the actual Messiah. Having dated the Testaments thus exactly, Charles went on to stress that their permanent value lies, not so much in the light they shed on movements within Judaism in the late second century BC, as in the influence they exercised on the authors of the New Testament. ‘The main, the overwhelming value of the book’, he wrote, ‘lies … in its ethical teaching, which has achieved a real immortality by influencing the thought and diction of the writers of the New Testament, and even those of our Lord’. 4 R. H. Charles, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, translated from the Editor's Greek Text, p. xvii.

This account of the Testaments met with a ready welcome and soon found its way into the text-books, with the result that the Testaments became firmly established as an essential part of the ‘background reading’ required of all students of New Testament theology and ethics. In 1953 , however, in his The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Study of their Text, Composition, and Origin, de Jonge challenged the whole basis of Charles's position. So far from being an interpolated Jewish work, de Jonge argued, the Testaments were in origin a Christian work that incorporated and adapted traditional Jewish material. They were to be dated, in all probability, about AD 200. To use them as ‘background’ evidence for the understanding of the New Testament, except in the most general way, is therefore illegitimate. What they illustrate is not ‘the preparation of Christianity’ but ‘the social and religious life of the early Christian Church’. 5 M. de Jonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs …, p. 128.

De Jonge's challenge inevitably forced on all those interested in the Testaments a fundamental reconsideration of the question of their origin. From the ensuing debate it has become clear that neither hypothesis is tenable in its extreme form, and that many of the details in both require considerable modification if either is to be seriously maintained. 6 It is perhaps worth remarking that in the progress of the debate de Jonge himself played a not inconspicuous part, both by weighing carefully and answering the criticisms levelled at him, and by modifying details where he thought it expedient. And a number of mediating hypotheses have been put forward – H. C. Kee, for example, after investigating the ethical background of the Testaments, suggested that they were produced in a Jewish environment that thought and spoke in Greek, possibly Egypt, about 100 BC. It has become apparent, too, that certain lines of demarcation can no longer be drawn as firmly and finely as was once assumed. For instance, the distinction between the terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘Christian’, so far as they are applicable to the contents of the Testaments, has become blurred: a very great deal of the material in them is neither specifically Jewish nor specifically Christian – to counsel love for the brethren is not necessarily Christian, nor is it necessarily Jewish to utter warnings about the dangers of fornication. Or again, although in theory the distinction between a hypothesis which postulates a Jewish original interpolated by Christians and an alternative which postulates a Christian original based on traditional Jewish material is plain enough, if the Christian interpolations are held to be numerous in the one case and the basic Jewish material to be extensive in the other, the difference between the two in practice is nothing like so great as might be supposed.

On the Jewish side, attention has been concentrated on the detailed examination of the contacts of the Testaments with post-Biblical Judaism. Especially striking are the parallels between some of the ‘extra-canonical’ items in the Testaments and the Book of Jubilees: thus, Judah's exploits in battle, recounted in T. Jud. iii–vii, fit naturally into the context of the wars of Jacob and his sons against the Canaanites described in Jub. xxxiv. 1–9, while T. Naph. i. 9–12 and Jub. xxviii. 9 agree in representing Zilpah and Bilhah as sisters. Such parallels might easily be explained, of course, by supposing that a Christian author of the Testaments had read Jubilees in Greek (for we know that there was a Greek version of Jubilees circulating in the Church). But this kind of explanation is by no means universally applicable. At T. Zeb. iii. 2, for instance, is found the rather odd piece of information that, after selling Joseph, his brothers took the money and bought sandals with it for themselves and their families. The statement is paralleled in the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxxvii. 28 and again in the Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer xxxviii. In such instances there can hardly be any doubt that the author of the Testaments was directly dependent on popular Jewish traditions, either oral or written.

Of special interest in this connection are the so-called ‘Aramaic Levi’ and ‘Hebrew Naphtali’. Among the manuscripts discovered in the Genizah of the synagogue at Cairo, and published in the early years of this century, were some sizeable fragments of two hitherto unknown works. One was a text in Aramaic, which was most naturally interpreted as part of a Testament of Levi and exhibited a series of verbal parallels with our T. Levi viii–ix and xi–xiii: the other was a ‘Testament of Naphtali’ in Hebrew, complete, and which, although essentially very different from our T. Naph., nevertheless had a number of points of contact – particularly in its far longer version of the two visions recorded in T. Naph. v and vi. The manuscripts containing both works are to be dated in the early mediaeval period. Subsequently (in the 1950s) further fragments containing texts similar to the Cairo texts, though by no means identical with them, came to light at Qumran. We can thus be certain that in pre-Christian times there were in existence a Testament of Levi in Aramaic and a Testament of Naphtali in Hebrew, though what, if any, connection there was between them we do not know. The fact that one was in Aramaic and the other in Hebrew does not suggest any immediate connection. It may be, of course, that both derive ultimately from a collection of twelve Testaments, written either in Hebrew or in Aramaic, and the the preservation of the particular texts we have is due to accident and no more. Yet, if so, it still remains true that texts of Levi and Naphtali alone have been preserved for us, 7 The fragments of Aramaic Levi at Qumran appear to come from no less than four separate MSS, which makes the absence of texts of any other Testaments (apart from Hebrew Naphtali) all the more significant. that two texts of both have been discovered quite independently in two different places and in manuscripts of widely disparate dates, and that both texts of Levi are in Aramaic and both texts of Naphtali are in Hebrew. In any event, the ancient texts recovered differ so markedly from the Levi and Naphtali we know as to preclude the possibility that they were in either case the Semitic original of which our Greek text is a translation.

On the other hand, as might be expected, our Greek Testaments show the unmistakable influence of the Septuagint. A trivial instance of this occurs at T. Jos. viii. 2 , where Potiphar's wife clutches at Joseph's ‘garments’ (in the plural, as in the Septuagint of Gen. xxxix. 12 ), and not at his ‘cloak’ (in the singular, as in the Hebrew). A more substantial instance in the same Testament is the mention of ‘the hippodrome’ by Rachel's tomb. 8 T. Jos. xx. 3, from the Septuagint of Gen. xlviii. 7 . Many of these instances are explicable as changes made casually by copyists, or as deliberate modifications introduced into the text by revisers. 9 Thus, in the first instance just quoted ‘cloak’ is read by a number of the MSS in preference to the ‘garments’ of our preferred text. But not all. In his initial work on the Testaments de Jonge drew attention to the statement in T. Iss. iii. 1 that Issachar grew up to be a farmer, which reflects the Septuagint of Gen. xlix. 15 as against the Hebrew (‘a slave in forced labour’) 10 M de Jonge, The Testaments…, pp. 77–78. . Since there are allusions to farming all through the Testament, and Issachar's sons are also described as farmers, it follows that this is no freak rendering, ascribable to some translator of a Hebrew or Aramaic original, who, when he came to T. Iss. iii. 1 just substituted the Septuagint rendering from Genesis for what he found in the text in front of him. The Testament of Issachar as a whole must have been composed in Greek. And, if Issachar, then in all probability the other Testaments as well.

It was observed at the beginning of this Introduction that in their present form all twelve Testaments are constructed according to the same overall pattern, and therefore we must suppose they are the work of a single author or editor. Who it was that first conceived the idea of producing this collection of twelve Testaments from the material at his disposal we do not know. (The likelihood is that he was a Christian of the second century.) What does seem fairly certain is that the material at his disposal was considerable, that others before him had produced Testaments of individual patriarchs, and that others after him (to judge from the complexities of the textual problems raised by both the surviving manuscripts and the versions) had no scruples about continuing the tradition he had inherited by altering his text and introducing further modifications and additions of their own.

Notes:

1 Orig. In Iesu hom. xv. 6.

2 Hieron. Tract. de Ps. xv. 7 .

3 In this designation Camb. Ff. 1. 24 = b and Oxf. Bodl. Barocc. 133 = a.

4 R. H. Charles, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, translated from the Editor's Greek Text, p. xvii.

5 M. de Jonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs …, p. 128.

6 It is perhaps worth remarking that in the progress of the debate de Jonge himself played a not inconspicuous part, both by weighing carefully and answering the criticisms levelled at him, and by modifying details where he thought it expedient.

7 The fragments of Aramaic Levi at Qumran appear to come from no less than four separate MSS, which makes the absence of texts of any other Testaments (apart from Hebrew Naphtali) all the more significant.

8 T. Jos. xx. 3, from the Septuagint of Gen. xlviii. 7 .

9 Thus, in the first instance just quoted ‘cloak’ is read by a number of the MSS in preference to the ‘garments’ of our preferred text.

10 M de Jonge, The Testaments…, pp. 77–78.

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