Ethics in the Testament of Levi

Image result for levi from the bibleLevi is one of the most interesting of the Testaments for the study of the New Testament. While there are ethical elements, the Testament begins by informing the reader Levi was healthy when he gathered his sons and he told them of what would happen “until the day of judgment” (1:1-2). While Levi was tending flocks, a “spirit of understanding” came upon him, the heavens were opened and he came up into a second heaven and was told he would see great mysteries. Like the Enochian literature, Levi is given insight into the heavens (Chapter 3).

The lowest heaven is dark because of injustice. In the second there are armies ready for the great Day of Judgment. The “holy ones” and the archangels are prepared to take vengeance on the spirits of error Beliar. The archangels make sacrifices to propitiate God for the “sins of ignorance” committed by the saints (3:6). He sees “thrones and authorities” (3:7, cf. Col 1:16). The whole of creation trembles before the Lord: the abysses, the earth, and the heavens (3:9-10, cf. Paul’s description of creation in as three-tiered in Phil 2:10-11, “every knee on earth, under earth, and in heaven”). Chapter 4 describes the coming judgment (verse 1) but promises the reader he will be delivered to become an “anointed priest” (verse 2). The nation is to become a son, but a Christian interpolation has added that this son would be “impaled,” a reference to the crucifixion. (Kee calls this the one of the “clearest instances of a Christian interpolation.” OTP 1:789).

Levi is then invited to come up through the open gates of heaven to be a priest until “I should come and dwell in the midst of Israel” (5:2). The idea that God would dwell among his people is found frequently in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Paul uses several Old Testament texts to make this point in 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 in an ethical section. The “New Jerusalem” of Revelation 21:3ff is also an obvious parallel in an apocalyptic setting. This passage in Revelation 21 is based on a number of Old Testament texts, as early as Exodus 25:8 God promised to dwell with his people. This promise is renewed in Ezekiel 37:27 with nearly the same words as Rev. 21:3.

Chapters 6-7 consist of an expansion on Genesis 34. Levi makes his revenge against Shechem, but here the attack is considered to be the justice of God for a number of things Shechem has done against God’s people in Genesis. Shechem is renamed the “city of the senseless” because of what they did to Dinah. After destroying Shechem, Levi has a vision in which he is appointed to the priesthood by seven “men” in a vision (chapter 8) The Abrahamic covenant is recounted with Levi in the important role as the priest to the nation (8:16). Two days later he relates the vision to his father and grandfather and receives their blessing. Jacob pays a tithe to the Lord through Levi while Isaac continually encourages him to keep the Law of God (chapter 9). Levi makes the same plea to his own children (chapter 10). Chapters 11-12 recount Levi’s marriage and children.

Chapter 13 is an ethical section which begins with a plea to fear the Lord with a whole heart (13:1). Children are to be taught to read so they too may read and know the Law of the Lord (13:2).  There are a number of benefits to knowing the Law (13:3-4); doing righteousness is likened to sowing good things in one’s soul (13:6). This is generally parallel to Gal. 6:7, although Paul uses the sinful nature and the spirit rather than following the Law.

One wonders if this sowing/reaping motif was common enough in first century Judaism to be recognized by Paul’s readers. If so, Paul’s change from doing the Law as sowing “good” to “sowing to please the Spirit” would be a significant change in the context of Galatians.  One ought to acquire wisdom in the fear of the Lord rather than silver and gold (13:7). Those who teach good things will be enthroned as kings (13:9).

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