Testament of Zebulon

This testament is fragmentary in Armenian and Slavonic versions and several Greek manuscripts are mission 6.4-8.3 (Kugler, 64). Kugler suggest the text was shortened by later scribes to limit the extravagant claims of compassion made by Zebulon.

The Testament of Zebulon begins with an expansion on the story of Joseph from Genesis 37. Like his brother Issachar, Zebulon claims to have done no wrong other than to participate in harming Joseph, although he claims to have done this in ignorance. In fact, he claims to have been “a good gift to my parents” (1:3). He shifts the blame to Simeon and Gad for the plot to kill Joseph. Zebulon had stayed with Joseph while he was weeping and tried to comfort him (chapter 2), refused a share in the price received for Joseph (3:1). He and Judah refused to eat for two days afterwards (4:1-2). He did not take a share in the proceeds of selling Joseph (chapter 3), but Simeon and Gad took shares and bought themselves shoes (cf., Ruth). It was Dan’s idea to give Jacob the bloody coat (chapter 5).

Chapters 6 and 7 claim Zebulon was a fisherman based on Genesis 49:13, Jacob’s prediction that he would live beside the sea. It was the Lord that gave him the wisdom to build a boat and rudder. He fished for five year while the Lord gave him abundant catches, which he shared with everyone. Zebulon also clothed those who were without anything, showing compassion on everyone.

Compassion is at the heart of the ethical teaching of T.Zebulon. In chapter 8 he tells his children to be compassionate (εὐσπλαγχνία) since the Lord will be compassionate to you in the measure. This is not unlike Matthew 7:2, although Jesus’ point concerns judging others (cf. Mark 4:24). Zebulon tells his children to “provide for every person with a kind heart” even if this causes you trouble. In fact, he claims to have stolen from his own family to provide for a needy man:

Testament of Zebulon 7:1 I saw a man suffering from nakedness in the wintertime and I had compassion on him: I stole a garment secretly from my own household and gave it to the man in difficulty.

In 8:5 the writer says “love one another (ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους), and do not calculate the wrong done by each to his brothers.” This is reminiscent of Jesus in John 15:17 (using the same phrase, cf., 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 5, although the phrase appears in the subjunctive rather than the imperative). The second phrase (καὶ μὴ λογίζεσθε ἕκαστος τὴν κακίαν τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ) calls to mind 1 Corinthians 13:5 (οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν). Both texts describe “loving one another” as “not calculating wrongs.”  The reason brothers ought to love one another is because doing otherwise would shatter unity and scatter all kinship. Chapter 9 returns to the theme loyalty and unity. One must either follow the Law of the Lord or the ways of Beliar. “Do not be divided into two heads” Zebulon warns (9:2), which is then developed into a warning against the split kingdom after Solomon, leading to the exile (9:5-6)

There is very little eschatology in this testament. Zebulon says he has read the “writing of the fathers” and learned “in the last days you shall defect from the Lord” (9:5), but after a time of suffering “the Lord himself will arise upon you, the light of righteousness with healing and compassion in his wings” (9:8). Those who follow the way of Beliar will be trampled down, and the Lord “will turn all nations to being zealous for him.”

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