The first twelve chapters of the Testament of Judah recount the military adventures of Judah. This section is laced with legendary elements pitting Judah against the “two armor-clad kings of the Canaanites” In 4:7 Jacob killed a giant twelve cubits tall named Belisath. This is obviously influenced by David and Goliath in 1 Sam 21, probably because David was from the tribe of Judah. Later, Judah admits to a sexual relationship with Anan, one manuscript reads Bathshua (cf. Gen. 38:12) but the name sounds enough like Bathsheba to suggest a connection. In 17:1 Judah says he was led astray by Bathshua the Canaanite, likely alluding to his famous ancestor’s sin with Bathsheba.

Jacob never feared for Judah’s life because he had a vision of an angel who watched over Judah in battle (3:10). There are other legendary expansions on the biblical story of Jacob in these opening chapters, such as Judah attacking the sons of Esau and forces them to pay tribute (ch. 9) and an expansion on Judah’s sin with Tamar (ch. 9-10, cf. Gen. 38). Judah claims he spent seventy years in Egpyt (12:11), an allusion to the seventy years of Judah’s exile in Babylon.

The second half of the book deals with ethical commands (chapters 12-20). Lust (12), drunkenness (13, 16), promiscuity (14), and the love of money (17, 19 although lust is the main topic even here) are specifically mentioned. These issues are often tied to the biblical story of Judah and Tamar. Occasionally the author cites the Book of Enoch, although it possible he did not actually know the book (18:1). Chapter 20 puts the issue of ethical living in terms of black-and-white, as did the T.Levi. One either follows the spirit of truth or the spirit of error.

Most of the ethical material is similar to other Jewish wisdom literature and there are parallels in the New Testament. For example love of money leads to idolatry, as in Eph. 5:5 and Col. 3:5. In T.Judah 14:1 the author tells his children to not get drunk since it clouds the mind. Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18 used the same words (μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ), and in T.Judah 16:1 wine is associated with debauchery, using ἀσωτία, the same work Paul used in the Ephesians passage.

T.Judah 14:1 Do not be drunk with wine, because wine perverts the mind from the truth, arouses the impulses of desire, and leads the eyes into the path of error.

T.Judah 16:1 Take care to be temperate with wine, my children; for there are in it four evil spirits: desire, heated passion, debauchery, and sordid greed.

Since Judah was well-known for his sin with Tamar, he tells his children to live prudently and avoid drunkenness because it leads to sexual immorality. In fact, Judah says “I command you not to love money or to gaze on the beauty of women” (17:1). The “love of money” (φιλαργυρίας) is found in the New Testament only in 1 Tim 6:10, a text with affinities to the Testament of Judah.

In T.Judah 20 the author develops a “two ways” ethic reminiscent of Paul or 1 John. There are “two spirits await an opportunity with humanity: the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Paul uses the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, and 1 John uses the exact same words as T.Judah 20:1, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. It is certainly possible John knew the Testament of Judah, but it is more likely this simply reflects the common ethical “two ways” theology based on the Law and Psalm 1. It is not insignificant that the choice between life and death in Deuteronomy 30:11 is set in the context of Moses’s final words to Israel. Joshua made a similar speech in Joshua 23-24, calling all Israel to choose to follow the covenant God made with Moses.

These high ethical demands are likely the reason Christians copied and read books like the Testament of Judah.