Eldad and Modad

This biblical expansion is only preserved in a single line of only four words at that in the Vision of Hermes 2.3.4, The line reads “’The Lord is near to those who turn to him’” as it is written (in the book of) Eldad and Modad who prophesied in the desert. James Charlesworth thinks that Targum Pseudo-Jonathan also quotes from this source (ABD 2:43)1. There are a number of other un-attributed statements in the writings of the earliest church which have been attributed to Eldad and Modad, but none of these can be proven to be from an actual book. The Stichometry of Nicephorus (ninth century) lists Eldad and Modad as having 400 lines.

In Numbers 11 Moses orders the seventy elders to the tent of meeting after the people complain about food in the desert. Eldad and Modad (Medad in the MT, NRSV and most literature on this apocryphal text) are two of the elders of Israel who did not go to the tent of Meeting (Numbers 11:26-27). When the spirit of God comes upon them and they begin to prophesy, Joshua tells Moses to stop them since they had been to the tent. Moses refuses since the Lord who put his spirit in these men and he would not stop it. Like Enoch, who generated significant apocryphal literature, there is nothing in Numbers to indicate what they prophesied. For Martin, the two were “were insignificant tribal prophets” E. G. Martin, “Eldad and Modad,” OTP 2:465).

The text from Targum Pseudo-Jonathan indicates the two prophets predicted Gog and Magog would attack on Jerusalem at “the end of days.” A “royal Messiah” would defeat these evil forces (Martin, OTP 2:464). The pair are mentioned a few times in the Talmud. For example, Eldad and Medad said, ‘We are not worthy of that high position’” (b. Sanh. 1:1, XXX.3.A; cf. b. Ros. Has. 2:8b, III.1.D where they are simply mentioned as elders). But there is nothing on the content of their prophecy.

James Davila addressed the problem of “quotation fragments” in a lecture entitled “A Worst-Case Scenario (Eldad and Modad)” (29 April, 1997, University of St. Andrews). The purpose of the paper was to “propose some common-sense guidelines for dealing with quotation fragments.” The first of these proposals is to “know your author,” something of a problem of Eldad and Modad. Although the Shepherd of Hermas is a well-known text, “Visions 1-4 is a redactional unit that was probably written half a century or so earlier” and the text itself is not particularly well preserved.

The fragment represents a tantalizing glimpse into a short biblical expansion lost to modern scholarship.