Jude and His Sources: Non-Canonical Books

The book of Jude makes use of at least two books that were not considered to be inspired by the Church or the Jews. In v. 9 he alludes to the Testament of Moses and in Jude 14-15 he quotes 1 Enoch.

Michael and SatanBauckham points out that besides the direct citation of 1 Enoch 1, the book of Jude knows1 Enoch 1-36 and perhaps sections later in the book. 1 Enoch was popular at Qumran and there may be allusions to the book in Revelation as well. This section of 1 Enoch is an expansion of the story of the Nephilim and the Giants a found in Genesis 6. Jude does not allude to that plot line at all, but rather to the rather generic statement that God is coming to execute justice on ones who have rebelled against him. In the context of 1 Enoch, this is the angels who have intermixed with humans and created “the Giants” and taught humans all manner of sin.

The reference to the archangel and Satan discussing the bones of Moses does not appear in the Testament of Moses, although it is likely that the words Jude uses are quoted from the lost ending to that book. Richard Bauckham has a considerable section on the sources for Jude 9 which includes a catalog of all of the variations of this story in Jewish and Christian sources as well as a list of references to the Assumption of Moses, a lost book usually confused with the Testament of Moses (Jude, 2 Peter, 48, 67). Bauckham concludes that the Assumption is a re-worked version of the Testament (76). There are a number of Christian sources that seem to have known the story in detail, and a few pre-Christian Jewish sources contain disputes between the devil and an angel over various events (Isaac’s sacrifice, for example).

That Jude would allude to these Jewish texts is a good argument for the circulation of the book within Jewish communities in Judea, perhaps in the “near diaspora” communities. We know that 1 Enoch appears at Qumran. Although the Testament of Moses has not been found among the DSS, it is not unlikely that this is evidence for an early date and Jewish Christian context for the book.

The common way to explain Jude’s use of these texts is to say they are simply “illustrations of truth: similar to a pastor using a commonly known story, film, or T.V. show as a sermon illustration. Jude is not trying to tell his readers that these books are inspired and worthy of inclusion in the Bible, but rather using texts that they are already familiar with in order to make a point. The reference to Enoch is a bit touchy, since it says Enoch in fact prophesied the Lord’s return – although one could argue Jude is saying the popular book of Enoch says this, rather than “historical Enoch.”

It is possible that Jude uses these texts because they are popular with the false teachers. In my post on Jude’s use of the Hebrew Bible I commented that Jude alludes to the wilderness tradition frequently, perhaps his opponents used the wilderness tradition and a book like 1 Enoch in their own teaching. The allusion to the Testament of Moses may be appropriate since the event took place in the wilderness and the end of that period of Israel’s history. The Qumran Community immediately comes to mind, since they are in the wilderness, not far from Nebo and made use of 1 Enoch. But Jude seems to imply the opponents are a perversion of Christian teaching, so perhaps they are an Essene like group which has accepted Jesus as Messiah.

In any case, Jude is turning their own favorite books around on them to show that they are false teachers. Jude’s purpose is to combat a false teaching which has “smuggled” itself into the church.

What are the implications of the book of Jude’s use of these sources?

Testament of Moses

The first few fragmentary verses set the context for the testament.  Moses called Joshua and commanded him to go forth in the strength of the Lord. Moses tells Joshua he was prepared by the Lord to be the mediator of the covenant and now he is about to die.  Moses must pass along to Joshua some knowledge and books which he is to preserve. Moses tells Joshua will lead the people into the land, but some of the tribes will violate the covenant and commit idolatry.

Chapter 3-4 “predicts” the fall Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the exile and the return from exile. Moses predicts they will be captives in the east for seventy-seven years (rather than expected seventy years). A prophet-like character will pray to the Lord on behalf of the nation, as does Daniel in Dan. 9:4-19. God will remember his covenant and return two of the tribes to the land, the other ten will spread out through the nations.

Image result for Testament Of MosesChapter 5-6 is prophetic speech concerning the Maccabean period.  People will worship idols and “play the harlot,” a reference to Hellenism.  Priests who are not truly priests will be active (the non-Zadokite high priests of the Hasmoneans). The prophecy into the reign of Herod the great (thirty four years in power, a wanton and rash man, killing both young and old).

Chapter 7-8 is fragmentary but appears to describe “the time of the end” when people please only themselves and commit criminal deeds. Moses describes a great persecution, including torture and Jews forced to undergo reversal of the circumcision (8.3).

Chapter 9 – This is by far the most difficult text in the book.  A man from the tribe of Levi named Taxo will appear with seven sons. Cf. 1 Maccabees 6, the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar, 2 Maccabees 7:20f, seven sons martyred, parallel to 4 Maccabees 15. Tobias, in his final testament, has seven sons (Tobit 14:3).We cannot be sure what it is this Taxo does because the text is corrupt, but it appears he leads in a resistance against evil which leads to martyrdom.

The poetic section is the high point in the book (ch. 10), drawing together numerous Old Testament apocalyptic themes and texts. It describes a kingdom during which time the devil will be at an end.  The heavenly one will arise from his kingly throne and will cause the earth to tremble and make the valleys low.

The book concludes with Joshua writing out the words of Moses as a testament. He then falls at Moses feet, weeping and mourning. He desires to know where the tomb of Moses will be, but the question is never answered.  He continues to ask how he will lead the people in Moses’ absence. Moses encourages Joshua by telling him God has created everything and has foreseen all things, all things are “under the ring of his hand.”

Unfortunately, the text breaks off at this point.

What is the “Testament of Moses”?

This book is called The Assumption of Moses in Charles, although the Testament and the Assumption may be two separate books. The only extant copy of the Testament of Moses is a Latin palimpsest dating to the sixth century A.D.  This manuscript is missing a section and in other places it is illegible (OTP 1:919-920). Most Christian interest is due to the allusion in Jude to this book.

Image result for Testamentof MosesThe book may have been written in Greek since there are a few words which are simply transliteration of Greek words.  Priest notes, however, that the consensus opinion is that the book was originally written in Hebrew (OTP 1:920). Dates range from the time of the Maccabean revolt to the second century A.D.   There seem to be clear references to the Herodians in chapter 6, although this may be the result of a revision of a Maccabean text.  Some have tried to connect the book to the Qumran community, although there is no exact representative of the sort of Judaism found in the book even at Qumran (OTP 1:921). Knibb argues that the history of Israel ends in 6:8-9 with an allusion to Varus, just after the death of Herod.  He therefore dates the book “fairly precisely to just after 4 B.C.E.”

The Testament of Moses comes from another pietist group of anti-Hasmoneans but is more focused on Herod, “an insolent king” who mistreats the people for thirty-four years (6:2-5). The reign of Herod is a terrible time, but one which was foreseen by God from the beginning of creation to the smallest detail (12:4).  This view of “fate” corresponds to Josephus’ description of the view ascribed to the Essenes and Pharisees.  There is less to work with in the Testament of Moses so we cannot know if the writer also held some sort of view of free will.  Like the Psalms of Solomon, there is an expectation of a final consummation, although the details are confused.

According to this book, a Levite named Taxo will arise and lead his sons to a cave where they will die rather than break the commands of God. A similar attitude is demonstrated by 1 Mac 2:29-38, the martyrs who refused to fight on the Sabbath. While this event took place nearly 200 years before Testament of Moses was written, the Maccabean martyrs were revered as patriots even in the first century. According to John Collins, R. H. Charles identified him as Taxo as Daniel “for no good reason,” Tromp thought he was Ezra, and S. Mowinckel took the name to mean “orderer”, as in “one who is over them” ((The Apocalyptic Imagination, 130 notes 54 and 55).

There may be material missing which explains why Taxo does this, but the point is very much in line with the various stories we have encountered of pietist groups willing to die for the cause (Pharisees and Sicarii for example.)  In the later chapters of the book, God is described as appearing to punish the Gentiles and to exalt Israel “in heaven above the stars.” (N. T. Wright thinks this passage is dependent on Daniel 12:1-3, Resurrection of the Son of God, 157, so also Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 131). This is not an end of the world, but rather a defeat of Israel’s enemies parallel to their exaltation.  There are now details of this exaltation, however (a re-gathering of the nation, a messiah, a new temple, etc.)


Bibliography. M. Knibb, “The Exile in the Intertestamental Period,” Heythrop Journal 17 (1976): 253-72, reprinted in M. Knibb, Essays in the Book of Enoch and Other Early Jewish Texts and Traditions (SVTP 22; Leiden: Brill, 2009), 191-212; 200 n. 33.