Apocalyptic in the Testament of Judah

Image result for "Iron scepter"Testament of Judah chapters 20-25 are a mini-apocalypse. The reader is first commanded to love Levi because the priesthood is superior to anything on earth (21:2-3). Reflecting the later history of the priesthood and monarchy, Levi was given heavenly matters and Judah was given earthly matters. If the T.Judah has a Maccabean period origin, these words could to be taken as anti-Hasmonean (Kugler, 59).

In the times to come the people will be taken captive (21:6-8) and false prophets will come (21:9); there will be factions among the priests of Israel (22:1-3) until the time of salvation finally comes. Since this book is written well after the events of the biblical histories of Samuel and Kings, the writer predicts apostasy, exile and restoration.

Testament of Judah 22 The Lord will instigate among them factions set against each other and conflicts will persist in Israel. My rule shall be terminated by men of alien race, until the salvation of Israel comes, until the coming of the God of righteousness, so that Jacob may enjoy tranquility and peace, as well as all the nations. He shall preserve the power of my kingdom forever. With an oath the Lord swore to me that the rule would not cease for my posterity.

The people will become increasingly wicked (chapter 23 is a “sin list” which results in judgment of God.) After this time the Star will rise from Jacob and one of Judah’s descendants will be like the sun of righteousness. The “star from Jacob” is found in the Balaam oracles, Numbers 24:17. Note the connection between the Star and the Scepter; in a Testament context, Gen 49:10, we are told the scepter will not depart from Judah. Both the Star and the Scepter are messianic images in the Hebrew Bible.

This future ruler will be gentle, sinless, with a spirit of blessing from his Holy Father. An outpouring of the spirit of God in the eschatological age was expected: Isa 11:1, 621:11, Joel 3:1 (MT). He is the “Shoot of God Most High” and a fountain of life for all humanity. The “shoot” is a messianic title drawn from Isaiah 11:1, Jer 23:5, 33:15, Zech 3:8, 6:12, CD 1:7.

This is by far the most messianic section in the T.Judah. While some might be tempted to find Christian interpolations in the chapter, it is very much part of the fabric of Old Testament messianic prophecy. This persecution – rescue – messianic age pattern is well known in the apocalyptic literature as well, especially 1 Enoch. In short, there is no reason to see this section as anything other than a reflection of typical messianic expectations in the century or so before Christ.

Chapter 25 connects the resurrection of Old Testament “saints” to the coming messianic age. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all twelve of the sons will be raised to life and “wield the scepter” in Israel. During the period after this resurrection there “one people of the Lord” who will speak a single language. The power of Beliar will be no more because he will be thrown into the everlasting fires (25:3, cf. Rev. 2:1-3). Most significantly, “And those who died in sorrow shall be raised in joy; and those who died in poverty for the Lord’s sake shall be made rich; those who died on account of the Lord shall be wakened to life” (25:4). The first two of these lines are similar to Jesus’s beatitudes (Matthew 5:3, the poor will received the kingdom; 5:4, mourners will be comforted). The third tracks with Matthew 5:10 and Revelation 20, the ones who have lost their life for Jesus’s sake will be raised.

It is possible this section has been influenced by Revelation 20 (resurrection of dead saints and suppression of the power of evil), but Judah and the other sons of Jacob rule over this “one people of God.” But there is no explicit statement that the coming Star from Jacob will rule for a period after the resurrection. And unlike Revelation, there is no time-frame given for the new age.

Women and Money in the Testament of Judah

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.