Testament of Benjamin

The historical expansion section of Benjamin concerns an apocryphal story about Joseph in his trip down to Egypt (chapters 1-2). Joseph is a model of a pious man who loved the Lord his God, feared him and loved his neighbor (chapter 3). There is a Christian interpolation at 3:8 which connects Joseph to the Lamb of God who comes to take way the sins of the world (cf. T.Jos 19:8).

Image result for Benjamin Joseph bibleThe ethical section of this testament describe the “goal of a good man” (chapters 4-6). A good man is to be an imitator of good (4:1). Imitation is a common component of ethical training in the Hellenistic world and is found frequent in Paul’s letters (1 Thess 1:6, 2:14; Col 4:16; 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1; Phil 3:17, 4:9).

Another similarity to the Pauline ethic is Benjamin’s advice to the good man to “set his mind on what is good” (5:1, cf. Phil 4:9; Col 3:1-4; 2 Cor 4:18). Chapters 7-8 develop the familiar theme of fleeing evil, Beliar, etc. (7:1, 8:1, “run from corruption, cling to what is good”). This especially includes sexual sin, the writer cites 1 Enoch and the Sodomites as examples. Beliar offers his children seven “swords” of moral sins. The result of these sins is direct punishment by God. Benjamin uses the example of Cain, who was “handed over by God for seven punishments, for in every hundredth year the Lord brought upon him one plague” (7:3).

Chapters 9-11 are a mini-apocalypse, although it is the most muted of all the Testaments. The future temple will exceed the glory of the first and the twelve tribes will be gathered together. At that time, “Most High shall send forth his salvation through the ministration of the unique prophet” (9:2, cf., Deut 18:15). Chapter 9 also includes one of the most obvious Christian interpolations in the Testaments of the Twelve.

T.Benjamin 9:3 He shall enter the first temple, and there the Lord will be abused and will be raised up on wood. And the temple curtain shall be torn, and the spirit of God will move on to all the nations as a fire is poured out. And he shall ascend from Hades and shall pass on from earth to heaven. I understand how humble he will be on the earth, and how splendid in heaven.”

In chapter 10 Benjamin is given a vision of Joseph after praying earnestly to see him. In chapter 11 there is a reference to resurrection, since if one keeps the commandments of God they will see Enoch, Seth, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “being raised at the right hand of joy” (10:5-6). All will be raised and changed, and all will be destined for either glory or dishonor (10:7). This is remarkably similar to Paul in 1 Cor. 15:51 in another clear resurrection context. A “beloved of the Lord” will raise up from Judah and Levi who will do God’s will and enlighten the nations (11:2).

Testament of Joseph

Joseph has a lengthy historical expansion which covers the entire book. Joseph describes his initial imprisonment (chapter 1) and spends chapters 2-9 describing the traps set by the “Egyptian woman” trying to coax him in a sexual affair. She uses promises (3:2-3), flattery (4:1), threats (5:1), and food “mixed with enchantments (6:1). Joseph deals with these temptations through prayer and fasting (3:6, 4:7-8, 6:7-8). When Joseph is arrested he is put in chains and is whipped, yet he glorifies God and praises him (cf. Acts 16, Paul and Silas praise God from the Philippian prison).

This would have been of interest for the early church, since Joseph goes joyfully to his persecution and possible martyrdom. Joseph is a model of how to be a good Christian martyr. Even in prison the woman still harasses him, promising to get him out of prison if he sleeps with her (chapter 9). Chapter 10 is a moral exhortation based on this long sequence to practice patience, prayer and fasting. God loves self-control (10:2); everyone that honors the Law of the Lord is honored by him (11:1).

Chapters 12-16 tell an apocryphal story concerning how Joseph was sold into slavery in the first place. He is beaten harshly by the Ishmaelites who do not know if he is a slave or a freeman. Joseph endures this treatment, it appears, so as not to get his brothers into trouble for selling him into slavery. He is bought by a trader who treats him harshly, but the man’s wife talks her husband into treating Joseph with respect. The story is used in chapters 17-19 to show that if one endures suffering, especially so as to protect others, then the Lord is “delighted” and will protect him and prosper him (18:1-4). Even when Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge on his brothers, he did not take it (17:4-8). Joseph is presented as an archetypical righteous man in this Old Testament expansion. His extraordinary godliness will be the subject of Joseph and Asenath, another Old Testament expansion.

Chapter 19 is a mini-apocalypse which has been heavily edited by a Christian hand (Verse 3-7 are preserved only in Armenian, and the Armenian 8-12 is very different than the Greek, OTP 1:824, note b). In 19:1-2 Joseph has a vision of twelve stags grazing. Nine of these were “scattered” over the whole earth, as were the other three. This is obviously a reference to the twelve tribe of Israel in dispersion; the three tribes which separate are likely Judah, Benjamin and Levi.

Skipping to verse 8-12, a virgin is born from Judah, from whom comes a spotless lamb. The lamb conquers and destroys his enemies (verses 8-9). Verses 10-12 are very much as we have read in the rest of the testaments, honor Judah and Levi since from them will arise, not just “salvation for Israel,” but the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29). The kingdom this lamb establishes will never end. The Armenian adds verses 3-7, an apocalyptic vision with various animals which represent political or historical elements. It is possible this is the original form of the text and these animals are intended to represent Maccabean rulers (OTP 1:824, note c).

The death notice in chapter 20 includes a prediction that the Egyptians will oppress the Jews and a request to buy Asenath near Rachel at the hippodrome. This is an indication the author was familiar with the LXX, since in Genesis 48:7 MT Rachel is buried on the way to Ephrath, but in the LXX it is “hippodromes.”

Testament of Asher

Asher is missing the historical expansion found in previous testaments. He begins with a moral exhortation concerning the “two ways.” This ethic is found throughout this literature, but is clearly the main theme here. OTP 1:816, note a comments this “two way” theme is based on Deut 30:15 and Josh 24:15 (cf., Jer 21:8-14, Sirach 15:11-1, 2 Enoch 30:15 and in the Christian writings Barnabas 17, Didache 1, Clementine Homilies 5.7, Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 5.5).

Image result for asher son of jacobThere are two ways are called mind-sets, lines of action, models, and goals (1:3). The ways are “good” or “evil.” If one is taken over by Beliar and “disposed” toward evil, then even good which is attempted will be for the bad (1:9). Chapter 2 describes this pervasiveness of evil. Even if a man is trying to do good but there is evil in the act, the whole act is evil. Therefore Asher urges his children not be two-faced (chapter 3). The two-faced man is not of God but is enslaved by evil. The good person is single minded (4:1) and therefore righteous before God. This principle can be applied to any activity (i.e., vice / virtue, see chapter 5).

There is a muted apocalyptic section in Asher. In 6:4-5 we are told the ultimate end of the two-faced man is harassment by the evil spirits of Beliar. Chapter 7 begins with a warning not to be like Sodom who did not recognize judgment was upon them. The people will sin and be delivered into the hands of enemies, but God will re-gather them from the four corners of the earth (7:2-3). In dispersion, the people will be worthless until the Most High visits the earth (There is a Christian interpolation at this point making the visitation the ministry of Jesus.)

This whole testament is not unlike Romans 6:15-23, perhaps the closest Paul gets to the “two ways” theology of the Testaments. In Romans 6 Paul says the natural man is a slave to wickedness but the believer is a slave to righteousness and ought to yield himself as a slave of God so as to gain the harvest of eternal life. Paul deals with a hypothetical objection is that one might argue that since the Law has no meaning to the believer, he is free to sin. If all of the moral code of the law is not to be applied to the believer in Christ, he has no law and can do whatever pleases him. His answer to this objection is to use an analogy drawn from the slave market.

For Paul, all people are slaves and are divided into two groups: Those that are slaves to wickedness (the unsaved) and those that are slaves to righteousness (the saved). Just as a person yielded himself totally to his master when he served sin, the believer ought to yield himself totally to his new master, righteousness. The benefits of this are seen in the “wages” that each master pays his servant.

The slave to wickedness will be given death while the servant of righteousness will be given eternal life. The book of Galatians makes a similar point – one either walks by the flesh or by the Spirit. It is unlikely Paul is using Asher (or the whole of the Twelve Patriarchs for that matter), but the idea of “two ways” is clearly in Paul’s mind in Romans and Galatians. It seems to be an idea which was common in Judaism in the first century which Paul takes up and “christianizes.” Instead of “Law versus Beliar,” Paul has “Spirit versus Flesh.”

Testament of Gad

Like most of this collection, the Testament of Gad begins with an expansion of the Joseph story. Although there is virtually nothing about Gad known from the Hebrew Bible other than a notice he was Bilhah’s son (Gen 30:11). Although his name means “good fortune,” he describes himself as a brave warrior who was able to pursue and crush any wild animal (1:3), perhaps an allusion to David as a shepherd who killed a lion and a bear. The content of the Testament does not focus on bravery, but rather hatred.

Image result for david kills a lionThe young Joseph tells his father the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah are eating the best animals from the flock against the advice of Judah and Reuben. Gad claims the animal he ate had been rescued from a bear, and as going to die anyway.  He held a grudge against Joseph for this and wanted to kill him (chapter 2).  God punished Gad for his hatred and he developed a disease of his liver because of his hatred and might have died if Jacob had not prayed for him (5:9-11).

Gad uses this to teach his children to show justice and mercy to all and never to hate (chapters 2-3). Hatred is the real evil since it makes man a slave (4:4).  Hatred collaborates with envy, causing a man to desire to kill (4:5-6).

Testament of Gad 5:1-2 Hatred is evil, since it continually consorts with lying, speaking against the truth; it makes small things big, turns light into darkness, says that the sweet is bitter, teaches slander, conflict, violence, and all manner of greed; it fills the heart with diabolical venom. I tell you this, my children, from experience, so that you might escape hatred and cling to love of the Lord.

Hatred, Gad says, teaches all manner of sin (5:1). The antidote for hatred is love (chapter 6).   One must love in “deed, word, and inward thought” (6:1).  This idea of sincerity of love is similar to Romans 12:9.  This parallel is made even more clear with a condemnation of vengeance (6:6-7, 7:1-7, cf. Rom. 12:17-21). One is to pray for the one that prospers more (7:1), even if that prosperity comes via an evil scheme (7:4). Gad alludes to Esau as an example of this, although it is not clear from Genesis that Esau became wealthy by “being evil.” Since Jacob did scheme and manipulate in order to become wealthy, this is an example of a scriptural expansion which glorifies the patriarch of Israel (Jacob) while vilifying the outsider (Esau).

There is no mini-apocalypse in this testament, only a brief line in 8:1 which commands the children to honor Judah and Levi since through God will “raise up a savior” (cf. T.Naph 8:2).

Testament of Naphtali

Like most of these testaments, the author has expanded on very minimal information about Naphtali to create the final words of this son of Jacob. Other Second Temple texts expanded Naphtali’s story as well. For example in Joseph and Asenath 25.5-7, Dan and Gad want to assist the son of the Pharaoh as he attacks Aseneth, Naphtali and Asher refuse to participate in this plot. Kugler suggests the “curious structure” of this testament is “no doubt results from the authors’ typical use of every available source” (71). There is a fragmentary document from Qumran which may be an early version of this testament (4QTNaph 1.2–5, 4Q215).

Image result for NaphtaliNaphtali says he was “light on his feet” so Jacob made him the messenger for the family (chapter 2). Targum Pseudo-Jonathan claims it was Naphtali who delivered the good news to Jacob that Joseph was still alive in Egypt (49.21). The first five verses of the chapter describe the wonders of the human body and notes that God has made man according to his own image. He then makes the distinction between light and dark, the law of the Lord and the ways of Beliar (the “two ways.”) People exist for a good purpose, therefore nothing ought to be done in a disorderly manner (2:9-10).

T.Naphtali 2:8 God made all things good in their order: the five senses in the head; to the head he attached the neck, in addition to the hair for the enhancement of appearance; then the heart for prudence; the belly for excretion from the stomach; the windpipe for health; the liver for anger; the gallbladder for bitterness; the spleen for laughter; the kidneys for craftiness; the loins for power; the lungs for the chest; the hips for strength and so on.

The essence of sin then is a departure from nature’s order. Even the Watchers departed from their natural order and the Lord pronounced a curse on them (3:5). This is a clear allusion to the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36)

The mini-apocalypse in this Testament begins in chapter 5. When Naphtali was forty, he was on the Mount of Olives and saw the sun and moon stand still. Whoever seized the sun and moon would own them – Levi got the sun and Judah got the moon. He then saw a great bull on the earth with the names of nations written on it. These are the nations which will have a share in the captivity of Israel (5:8). Naphtali had a second dream seven months later in which an unpiloted ship came near the shore at Jamnia with the name “Ship of Jacob” (chapter 6). Jacob tells the family to embark and they go out to sea only to be met by a violent windstorm. The family was dispersed to “the outer limits” on ten planks, a reference to the Diaspora.

Judah and Levi were on the same plank and Joseph escaped in a light boat. Naphtali reports these visions to his father who interprets the dream as meaning Joseph is still alive (chapter 7). Naphtali commands his children be unified to Judah and Levi since it is through Judah that salvation for Israel will come. God will appear through kingly power to save Israel (8:3) he will gather them from the nations and a time of peace will begin – the devil will flee, animals will be afraid of the nation, angels will stand by them, etc. (8:4).

There are two commandments which will leave one open to the greatest sin if they are not performed in the correct order (8:9-10). The writer does not tell us, however, what these commands are! It is possible these are the “two greatest commandments” found in the New Testament (love God and love Man.)