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The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament/The Twelve Patriarchs

The Twelve Patriarchs. Levi

The Twelve Patriarchs have their well-known Testaments, of which Dr. Charles has given us an indispensable edition. It seems as if behind the present Testaments there lay, in some cases, earlier documents of which we have glimpses. For instance, the story of the wars of Jacob is found in Jubilees and in Jashar, as Dr. Charles sets forth. Then, again, we have a double narrative in the Testament of Joseph. In that of Levi a different phenomenon occurs. A tenth-century MS. at Mount Athos (e. of Dr. Charles) makes two long insertions in the text: (a third, in the Testament of Asher, is said to be wholly Christian, and is not printed by Dr. Charles). These two passages, the first of which is not as yet translated, merit notice here.

(1) Test. Levi II.—"And as I kept sheep in Abelmaoul, a spirit of understanding from the Lord came upon me, and I beheld how all men had corrupted their ways and how sin was builded upon a wall (so far the ordinary text: now the Athos MS. continues):

"Then did I wash my garments and cleansed them in pure water, and I washed myself wholly in living water. And I made all my ways straight. Then lifted I up mine eyes and my face to heaven and opened my mouth and spake, and spread out the fingers of my hands and my hands unto truth before the holy (plural). And I prayed and said: Lord, thou knowest all hearts, and all the thoughts of men's minds thou alone perceivest [and now my children with me],[1] and give me all ways of truth. Put far from me, O Lord, the unjust spirit and the spirit of evil thoughts, and fornication and pride turn thou away from me. Let there be shown me, O Master, the holy spirit, and give me counsel and wisdom and knowledge and strength to do such things as please thee and to find grace in thy sight and to praise thy words. Be with me, O Lord, and let not any Satan prevail against me to make me err from thy way. And have mercy on me and bring me to thee to be thy servant and worship thee rightly: let a wall of thy peace be round about me, and a shelter of thy might cover me from all evil ... (a corrupt word παραδωσ): wherefore also blot out lawlessness from under heaven, put an end to lawlessness from off the face of the earth. Purify my heart, O Master, from all (un)cleanness and I will lift up (my hands) to thee; and turn not away thy face from the son of thy servant Jacob. Thou, Lord, didst bless Abraham my father and Sarah my mother, and saidst that thou wouldest give them a righteous seed, blessed for ever. Hearken also to the voice of thy servant Levi, that I may be near thee, and make me a partaker in thy words, to do true judgment for ever, even me and my sons, unto everlasting generations, and remove not the son of thy servant from before thee (from thy face) all the days of eternity. And I kept silence, though I yet prayed."

This is a corrupt and incoherent text, a cento of rather ordinary supplications without a leading thought. The vocabulary of it agrees well enough with that of the Testaments, so that it need not, and I think should not, be regarded as a late compilation; indeed, such a supposition is pretty well put out of court by the fact that the second long insertion is undoubtedly antique. The idea readily occurs to one that there may have been Testaments of Levi, and perhaps of one or two other leading patriarchs, a good deal longer than the present ones, composed before the rest of the Testaments, and that the notion of completing the set of twelve entailed, among other things, the compression of existing texts.

The second insertion, part of which is also found in Aramaic, is translated in Appendix II of Dr. Charles's Testaments (1908, p. 228). The greater portion is put in—quite incoherently—after Levi xviii. 2. The Aramaic pieces begin at an earlier point than the Greek and carry the story on some way beyond it. A large part of the text has to do with ritual observances, and has much in common with Jubilees xxi. It has injunctions given by Isaac on the authority of Abraham and the Book of Noah (probably a mythical one) to Jacob and Levi, on the ordination of the latter to be priest. After that we have details of the birth of Levi's children, and the text (Aramaic) ends in a parænetic poem addressed by Levi to his sons. Throughout he speaks in the first person. Dr. Charles regards this fragment as an original source both of the Testaments and of Jubilees, in which case it would have to be as old as the third century B.C.

  1. Intrusive, or corrupt: query "And now, O Lord, bless me and my children with me," etc.