By April 14, 2008 Read More →

Testaments, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Common in Second Temple literature is a genre usually termed testaments. These are essentially the last words of famous personages, in the form of discourses delivered before death. The classic examples begin with a frame narrative declaring that what follows is the testament of the relevant character. Often, these texts, like the last words of Joseph or Moses in the Torah, include revelations of the future of the Jewish people or calls for repentance. The main collection of such texts consists of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, of which only those of Levi and Naphtali appear at Qumran.


The Testaments of Levi and Naphtali are traditionally placed in the context of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a collection of twelve such texts preserved in Greek. The Greek text is surely not the original version, for throughout there are Christian additions. That at least some of the twelve testaments were originally Jewish, not Christian, has been proven conclusively by the finding at Qumran of an Aramaic version of the Testament of Levi and a Hebrew text of the Testament of Naphtali. Some of the messianic material in these texts, previously believed to be Christian, is now understood to be Jewish, reflecting various messianic doctrines evident in the Qumran texts, sectarian and otherwise. Further, it seems that for the entire collection of testaments, the Christian interpolations are actually secondary additions to a Jewish core. The testaments are most likely dated to the Hasmonaean period, although some books are earlier, perhaps emanating from circles that preceded the Qumran sect. Noteworthy is the presence in the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs of the idea of two messiahs—one descended from Aaron and one from Israel—a notion prominent among the Qumran sectarians.

Qumran fragments of the Aramaic Testament of Levi have been found in caves 1 and 4. These Qumran texts are sufficiently different from the previously known Testament of Levi to have earned them the name Aramaic Levi Document. These texts are in turn related to versions of the text that evidently circulated among some Jews in the Middle Ages and that were also found in several manuscripts in the Cairo genizah.

Among the most outstanding passages, preserved both in the Qumran fragments and in a genizah copy, is this description of a sage-

He who teaches wisdom, all his days shall be lo[ng] and great shall be [his re]putation. In every place or city into which he enters, he has a friend [and he will not be like] a stranger there, nor will he be an unfamiliar person there, nor will he be like a [foreigner]. [F]or all of them will give him honor [s]ince all are desirous of learning from his wisdom. His friends are many, and magnates seek his peace. And they seat him on a seat of honor, in order to hear his words of wisdom. Wisdom is a great treasure of honor for those who know it, and there is treasure in it for all those who acquire it.

Here we see presented the same idea of the respect that is due sages and their wisdom as found in other Second Temple sources. Similar ideas are found in the Book of Ben Sira as well.

Parts of the Hebrew Testament of Naphtali from cave 4 preserve a parallel to the Greek Testament of Naphtali 1-6–12. A medieval Hebrew text of Testament of Naphtali circulated as well in two versions. However, it does not seem to be the same text as that found at Qumran. Yet it shows that the tradition embodied in this text did continue to circulate among Jews. It is no small coincidence that the two testaments found at Qumran are the very same ones that circulated in medieval Jewish versions. At least these two must have emerged from a Semitic milieu and survived independently, in the original languages of composition, beyond the incorporation of their Greek versions into the collection known as Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

The Qumran version of the Testament of Naphtali included a section that evoked ideas typical of the sect and its literature-

For the period of evil is ending and all evil will dis[appea]r. The period of [righ]teousness is coming and the earth is full of knowledge and the praise of God is in it . . . in order that [every person] shall understand the ways of God and His mighty deeds . . . and every person shall bow down to Him. . . . For he [predestined] their actions before He created them and the work of righteousness. . . . For the reign of righteousness (and) goodness is coming. (TESTAMENT OF NAPHTALI 1 IV 3–9)

Except for the notion of predestination, this text expresses messianic ideas typical of Second Temple Jews, indeed of Judaism throughout the ages. Yet with the addition of predestination, it betrays the thinking of Qumran sectarian circles that must have produced this Naphtali document. It is possible that the text mentions the “throne of the [messiah]” in a subsequent passage; not at all surprising in such a text.

Both the Levi and Naphtali documents, as well as other testaments, refer to a Book of Enoch, but these passages cannot be identified with our extant books of Enoch. There is also some connection with Jubilees. The Zadokite Fragments (4-14–18) may also include a quotation from the Testament of Levi.


An Aramaic text found in cave 4 can probably be identified as a Testament of Kohath, son of Levi and father of Amram. The manuscript is part of a group that was subjected to carbon-14 dating. While virtually all the other materials tested corroborated the paleographic dating (based on the history of the script), the Testament of Kohath turned out to be earlier than had been predicted. Although scholars had previously dated its copying to some time in the late second century B.C.E., tests showed that the skin that served as the writing material dated back to the fourth or third century B.C.E. If this finding is correct, the text is the product of the early Hellenistic period. The text appears to be dependent on the Testament of Levi, although its scientific dating may lead to reevaluation of that conclusion.

Kohath appears here as a narrator, presenting his testament. He first tells his children to maintain the tradition they have inherited from their forefathers-

And now my sons, be careful with the inheritance which has been given to you, which your forefathers have given you. And do not give over your inheritance to foreigners, nor your heritage to destructive men, lest you be regarded as lowly and disgraced in their eyes. (TESTAMENT OF KOHATH 1 I 4–6)

If they act this way, Kohath tells his children, they will cause Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to rejoice (presumably in the next world), and they will prevent their patrimony—the office of the priesthood—from falling into the hands of strangers. The book then tells of the impending judgment of the wicked and their utter destruction, a motif common in much of this literature.

At the end of this well-preserved fragment, Kohath entrusts Amram, his son, with all the books he received from Levi, who in turn had received them from his forefathers. A similar notion—Levi’s inheriting the books of Jacob—appears in Jubilees 45-16. If, as has been suggested, this Qumran Testament of Kohath was the source of the Jubilees notion, then the Testament of Kohath would predate Jubilees. However, that argument is insufficient to prove such a dating, for it is equally possible that this idea was part of the aggadic lore of the day. Nonetheless, because Aramaic compositions found at Qumran generally date back to the third century B.C.E., this theory may very well be correct.

The Testament of Kohath, like parts of the Testament of Levi, seeks to establish the legitimacy and authority of the Levitical priesthood. The text shares the dualism of light and darkness with the Testament of Levi, the Visions of Amram (a text describing Amram’s advice to his sons on his deathbed), and the Qumran sectarian works. Whatever the date of this work, it was intended to advance the claims of the Levitical priesthood against others whom those in the priesthood considered usurpers.

Fragments of a number of other testaments also have been identified in the Qumran corpus, although these identifications are extremely tentative. It has been proposed that there are both Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of a Testament of Judah and Aramaic fragments of a Testament of Joseph. These texts show only partial parallels with the Greek Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. The dating and history of this Greek work will certainly undergo radical reevaluation after full publication and analysis of all of the Qumran documents.

This chapter has limited itself to materials that form part of the literature already in existence before the advent of the Qumran sect, collected by the sectarians and placed in their library. These texts were also read throughout Palestine, and they influenced other Jewish movements as well, some texts even surviving into the Middle Ages whether in the original or in translation. Eventually these texts influenced the aggadic tradition of the Rabbis. Many ideas and motifs contained in them were later enshrined in the various midrashic compositions. The Qumran corpus has provided us with original texts for much of this literature as well as new compositions in the genre. Thanks to Qumran research, we have more accurate views of the religious literature read by Jews in the Second Temple period and of how these texts influenced the subsequent history of Judaism.

At the same time as the apocryphal texts were elaborating upon biblical traditions, another genre of literature represented in the Qumran library was continuing and expanding upon the wisdom heritage of the Hebrew Bible. We turn now to the study of the wisdom literature found in the Qumran collection, itself another bridge between the Bible and the Dead Sea sect.

Pages 192-195

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