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III. Critical Observations on the Nature and Discovery of the Testaments

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The Testaments of the twelve Patriarchs
1 I. Introduction
2 II. Opinions about the Testaments
3 III. Critical Observations on the Nature and Discovery of the Testaments
4 IV. The Original Forefathers and Jacob's Twelve Sons
5 V. Prophecy in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
6 Notes and References

III. Critical Observations on the Nature and Discovery of the Testaments

Below are the critical observations made by various scholars on the Testaments. It appears that while most scholars agree on the original language and approximate dating of the translated Testaments, there is disagreement about the Messiah in regards His identity and role.

In the introduction to his book, Sinker indicates that the Testaments are "the utterances of the dying patriarchs, the sons of Jacob." He states that "they give some account of their lives, embodying particulars not found in the scriptural account, and build thereupon various moral precepts for the guidance of their descendants." Sinker goes on to say that the book's nature is Apocalyptic for the patriarchs forsee their children doing wickedly due to their being "stained with the sins of every nation," and the patriarchs, therefore, foretell what troubles will come upon their race. Sinker says that they Testaments further tell how God will finally end their troubles by sending forth the Messiah. He believes that the author of the book was Jewish who, once converted to Christianity, "sought to win over his countrymen to the same faith", and used the names of the patriarchs "as a vehicle for conveying instruction to their descendants." [1]

Sinker also tries to settle the limits of time within which the book was probably written. He rules out its placement as being very late in the second century, since it had been quoted by Tertullian and Origen by name. "We can," says Sinker, "approximate much more nearly than this; for the allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem assign to the Testaments a date subsequent to that event." He says that this harmonizes with the inferences that the book makes to the Gentiles that were "now were a majority in the Church,—as well as with the presence of the many formulæ to express the incarnation, and with the apparent collection of the books of the New Testament into a volume." Sinker states that important evidence regarding the ulterior [ultimate] limit of the date of writing can be gotten from the language used with reference to the priesthood. He states that "Christ is both High Priest and King, and His former office is higher than the latter, and to Him the old priesthood must resign its rights." "This language," says Sinker, "would be almost meaningless after Hadrian’s destruction of Jerusalem consequent on the revolt of Bar-Cochba (a.d. 135), and, indeed, on the hypothesis of a later date, we should doubtless find allusions to the revolt and its suppression." The analyst then draws the conclusion that "the writing of the Testaments is to be placed in a period ranging from late in the first century to the revolt of Bar-Cochba" and believes that "for anything closer than this it is perhaps not safe to draw our limits." [Compare Westcott, Introduction to Study of the Gospels, p. 132, ed. Boston, 1862.]. [2]

Sinker goes on to affirm that "The language in which the Testaments were written was no doubt the Hellenistic Greek in which we now possess them; presenting as they do none of the peculiar marks which characterize a version. Whether there were [was] a Hebrew work on which the present was modelled—a supposition by no means improbable in itself—we cannot tell, nor is it a matter of much importance." He says, in regards to the religious standpoint of the writer that this is difficult to state accurately "beyond the obvious fact of his Jewish origin, though some have attempted to show that he was a Nazarene, and others a Jewish Christian of Pauline tendencies." [3]

Later in his introduction, Sinker observes that nothing definite is written about the testaments after its citation by Origen, for many centuries, although there are allusions to it in Jerome, Procopius and Gazæus. He mentions that there is also a mention of πατριάρχαι in the Synopsis Sacræ Scripturæ found among the writings of Athanasius, as well as in the Stichometria of Nicephorus of Constantinople, on which it is probably based, and again in the Canons of the Council of Rome (494 a.d.) under Gelasius, and of the Council of Bracara (563 a.d.). There are also allusions to it in the Apostolic Constitutions,2626 vi. 16. [See vol. vii. p. 457, this series.]. He states that, "After this a blank ensues until the middle of the thirteenth century, when it was brought to the knowledge of Western Europe by Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln. Sinker cites Matthew Paris' account, as follows: "'At this same time, Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, a man most deeply versed in Latin and Greek, accurately translated the Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs from Greek into Latin. These had been for a long time unknown and hidden through the jealousy of the Jews, on account of the prophecies of the Saviour contained in them. The Greeks, however, the most unwearied investigators of all writings, were the first to come to a knowledge of this document, and translated it from Hebrew into Greek, and have kept it to themselves till our times. And neither in the time of the blessed Jerome nor of any other holy interpreter could the Christians gain an acquaintance with it, through the malice of the ancient Jews. This glorious treatise, then, the aforesaid bishop translated fully and clearly, and word for word, from Greek into Latin, to the strengthening of the Christian faith, and to the greater confusion of the Jews.'" Sinker continues with Paris' account where he makes note of Paris' stating "'Again, after speaking of the death of 'Master John de Basingstokes, Archdeacon of Leicester,' this Master John had mentioned to Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, that when he was studying at Athens he had seen and heard from learned Greek doctors certain things unknown to the Latins. Among these he found the Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs, that is to say, of the sons of Jacob, etc., etc.'" Sinker then writes, "it would seem as though the same fate still pursued our document, for the entire Greek text was not printed until the eve of the eighteenth century, when it was published for the first time by Grabe, whose edition has been several times reprinted." [4]

Writers for the Jewish Encyclopedia, state, "Apart from Christian interpolations, these Testaments are Jewish documents, originally written in Aramaic or Hebrew; and in the genizah of old Cairo, fragments of the original Semitic text have been discovered by M. Gaster, H. L. Pass, and A. Cowley. Dr. Gaster's Hebrew fragment ("Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch." vol. xii.) answers to a part of Naphtali; but it is probably a late Jewish paraphrase of an older Aramaic text. The other fragments are Aramaic, and closer to the Greek text. They belong together and answer to parts of Levi. Pass, assisted by J. Arendzen, published his fragment in "J. Q. R." (iii. 651-661). Cowley's awaits publication. An old Syriac fragment (noticed by Sinker) in Brit. Mus. Codex Add. 17,193 (of the year 1874) is nearly identical verbally with the Aramaic fragment. The writers also say that "The original language of the Testaments of the Patriarchs was Hebrew, as is shown by the etymologies of the names (Test. Patr., Simeon, 2; Levi, 11; Judah, 1; et passim), by the Hebrew parallelism of poetry, and especially by many mistranslations of Hebrew words, such as "King Zur" and "King Tapuah" for "King of Hazor" and "King of Tappuah." [5]

The Jewish scholars agree with Sinker that "The Testaments were not heard of again until Matthew Paris relates, in in his chronicle (ed. London, 1571, p. 801), under the year 1242, that Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, translated them into Latin, a certain John of Basingstoke having brought them from Athens." They also say, however, that "this translation was rendered into most modern languages, as a weapon serviceable against the Jews, and was often printed before Grabe, in 1698, edited the Greek text in in his work, Spicilegium."[6]

In the section called "Editions", The Jewish Encyclopedia writers maintain that "The only critical edition [of the Testaments] is that of R. Sinker (Cambridge, 1869), who takes a tenth-century Cambridge manuscript as the basis of his text, adding a collation of four more." [7] and say that The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs was regarded as a Christian work "due to its Christian interpolations, and in part, to the similarity of its teachings and utterances of the New Testament, until Grabe arrived at the conclusion that the basis of the work is Jewish, though there are the Christological interpolations." In a separate section, they say that the writer Schnapp, in his Die Testamente der Zwölf Patriarchen Untersucht (Halle, 1884), revived Grabe's view and elaborated it, proving the spurious character of the Christian passages and also distinguishing two different Jewish sources in the main work, stating, "it was shown that the king and priest with prophetic powers described in the Testament of Levi is none other than John Hyrcanus, and that the campaigns of the sons of Jacob recounted in the Testament of Judah correspond exactly with the Maccabean wars." [8] Jdgray 13:53, 5 November 2008 (UTC)


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