Apocalyptic in the Testament of Levi

Image result for Old testament priest visionTestament of Levi 14-18 is a mini-apocalypse. Levi explains that in the past the people of God have acted impiously (citing the Book of Enoch). Because of the sin of the people, which is compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sanctuary of the Lord will become desolate and the nation will become a “revolting thing” and the world will rejoice in their destruction (15:1-2, probably the destruction of 586 B.C. is in mind here). This “review of history” is presented as a prophecy in the mouth of Levi.

Levi then predicts the nation will wander for 70 weeks and profane the priesthood and sanctuary:

Testament of Levi 16.1-5 “Now I have come to know that for seventy weeks you shall wander astray and profane the priesthood and defile the sacrificial altars. You shall set aside the Law and nullify the words of the prophets by your wicked perversity. You persecute just men: and you hate the pious; the word of the faithful you regard with revulsion. A man who by the power of the Most High renews the Law you name ‘Deceiver,’ and finally you shall plot to kill him, not discerning his eminence; by your wickedness you take innocent blood on your heads. I tell you, on account of him your holy places shall be razed to the ground. You shall have no place that is clean, but you will be as a curse and a dispersion among the nations until he will again have regard for you, and will take you back in compassion.

This is probably based on Daniel’s prophecy of a period of “seventy weeks of years” before the consummation of God’s plan (Dan 9). At the end of the seventy weeks a man will come from the power of the most high, but the nation will call him a deceiver and plot to kill him (16:3) and the city will be razed as a result. The people will be a curse and dispersed among the nations (16:5). This section may shed light on reactions to the ministry of Jesus. For example, in Matthew 12 the Pharisees claim that Jesus does miracles by the power of Beelzebub and in Matthew 26:63 the Jews call Jesus a “deceiver.”

Christian elements aside, this text seems to be calculating the 70 weeks of Daniel as “complete” in the near future of the writer. This would imply that at least some Jews living near the turn of the eras were looking forward to the end of the prophecy of Daniel and the establishment of some sort of Jewish independence. The difficulty for the Jew living in 100 B.C. is knowing when to start the “count” of Daniel’s 70 “sevens.” Modern history makes it is bit more easy to rough out potential beginnings and endings, in the first century the period of the exile and Persian period are not well documented. There is no real evidence that Jews in the first century knew precisely how long ago Daniel’s prophecy would have been made.

During seventy weeks there will be several Jubilees. During the second, “Anointed One shall be conceived in sorrow of the beloved one, and his priesthood shall be prized and shall be glorified by all” (17.2). After the series of Jubilees, the priesthood will lapse and the Lord will raise up a new priest who will “effect the judgment of truth over the earth for many days” (18.2) during which time the heavens will open and the glory of the Most High will be upon him (18.6-7). During this priest’s rule there is ill be peace and prosperity throughout the whole earth (18.5). The priesthood will once again be pure (18.9). The gates of paradise will be re-opened people will be permitted to eat from the tree of life (18.10). During this time Beliar will be bound and the sons of the new priest will have authority to trample wicked spirits (18.12).

This is much in this description that sounds too close to Christian apocalypses, especially Revelation. When Jesus returns he will bind Satan (Rev 20:1) and there will be a long period of peace and prosperity, described with many images drawn from the Garden of Eden. Revelation 22:14 the “one who is coming soon” grants those who have washed their robes the right to eat from the Tree of Life (c.f., Rev 2:7). For this reason most scholars suspect an earlier Jewish Testament of Levi was edited by the Christians who preserved this literature. Kugler provides a chart comparing the Testament of Levi with the Aramaic Levi found at Qumran (49-50).

Even if these are Christian interpolations, there is some warrant for pre-Christian Messianism in the Testament of Levi. Why would Christians insert this kind of messianic material into the book? If other Testaments were preserved for their ethical content, why are they not heavily edited with apocalyptic material? As Kugler says, “We cannot be certain that an earlier Jewish version of the chapter proposed two messiahs or a single messiah with priestly and royal characteristics” (52), but there seems to have been some messianic content for a later Christian to expand.

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