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Testament of Levi 1-13: The Sanctity of the Priesthood

Greco-Roman Period
Lawrence H. Schiffman, Texts and Traditions, Ktav, Hoboken 1998, p.352-354.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs were preserved in a Greek text containing testaments for each of the twelve sons of Israel. Each recounts his life and gives ex eventu (after the fact) prophecy to his children. Only Testaments of Levi and Naphtali have parallels in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it seems that these two are the earliest. The Testament of Levi sees the priesthood as the primary leadership role in Israel, reflecting an important sacerdotal trend in Second Temple Judaism.

1-1 A copy of the words of Levi- the things that he decreed to his sons concerning all
they were to do, and the things that would happen to them until the day of judgment. 2 He
was in good health when he summoned them to him, but it had been revealed to him that
he was about to die. When they all were gathered together he said to them-

2-1 “I, Levi, was born in Haran and came with my father to Shechem. 2 I was a youth,
about twenty years old. It was then that, together with Simeon, I performed vengeance
against Hamor because of our sister, Dinah. 3 As I was tending the flocks in Abel-Maoul
a spirit of understanding from the Lord came upon me, and I observed all human beings
making their way in life deceitfully. Sin was erecting walls and injustice was ensconced
in towers. 4 I kept grieving over the race of the sons of men, and I prayed to the Lord that
I might be delivered. 5 Then sleep fell upon me, and I beheld a high mountain, and I was
on it. 6 And behold, the heavens were opened, and an angel of the Lord spoke to me-
‘Levi, Levi, enter!’ 7 And I entered the first heaven, and saw there much water
suspended. 8 And again I saw a second heaven much brighter and more lustrous, for there
was a measureless height in it. 9 And I said to the angel, ‘Why are these things thus?’
And the angel said to me, ‘Do not be amazed concerning this, for you shall see another
heaven more lustrous and beyond compare. 10 And when you have mounted there, you
shall stand near the Lord. You shall be his priest and you shall tell forth his mysteries to
men. You shall announce the one who is about to redeem Israel….

9-1 “And after two days Judah and I went with our father, Jacob, to Isaac, our
grandfather. 2 And my father’s father blessed me in accord with the vision that I had
seen. And he did not want to go with us to Bethel. 3 When we came to Bethel my father,
Jacob, saw a vision concerning me that I should be in the priesthood. 4 He arose early
and paid tithes for all to the Lord, through me. 5 And thus we came to Hebron to settle
there. 6 And Isaac kept calling me continually to bring to my remembrance the Law of
the Lord, just as the angel had shown me. 7 And he taught me the law of the priesthood-
sacrifices, holocausts, voluntaryofferings of the first produce, offerings for safe return. 8
Day by day he was informing me, occupying himself with me. And he said to me, 9 ‘Be
on guard against the spirit of promiscuity, for it is constantly active and through your
descendants it is about to defile the sanctuary. 10 Therefore take for yourself a wife while
you are still young, a wife who is free of blame or profanation, who is not from the race
of alien nations. 11 Before you enter the sanctuary, bathe; while you are sacrificing,
wash; and again when the sacrifice is concluded, wash. 12 Present to the Lord the twelve
trees that have leaves, 42 as Abraham taught me. 13 And from every clean living animal
and bird, bring a sacrifice to the Lord. 14 And of all your first produce and wine bring the
very first as a sacrifice to the Lord God. And salt with salt every sacrificial offering….’’’

13-1 “And now, my children, I command you-

Fear the Lord your God with your whole heart,

and walk according to his Law in integrity.

2 Teach your children letters also,

so that they might have understanding throughout all their lives

as they ceaselessly read the Law of God.

3 For everyone who knows the Law of God shall be honored wherever he goes, he shall not be a stranger.

4 He shall acquire many more friends than his parents, and many men will want to serve him and to hear
the Law from his mouth.

5 Therefore, my sons, do righteousness on earth

in order that you might find it in heaven.

6 Sow good things in your souls

and you will find them in your lives.

If you sow evil,

you will reap every trouble and tribulation.

7 Acquire wisdom in fear of the Lord

because if a captivity occurs,

if cities and territories are laid waste,

if silver and gold and every possession are lost,

nothing can take away the wisdom of the wise man

except the blindness of impiety and the obtuseness of sin.

8 For if anyone preserves himself from these evil deeds, his wisdom shall be glorious, even among his

it will be found to be a homeland in a foreign territory, and a friend in the midst of his enemies.

9 Whoever teaches good things and practices them

shall be enthroned with kings,

as was Joseph my brother.”

41. Trans. H. C. Kee, “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. J.
H. Charlesworth (Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1985), vol. 1, pp 788, 791-93.

42. The text refers to the wood used for the burning of sacrifices which was to be selected only from these
trees which would be unlikely to contain worms.

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