Saturday, December 17, 2011

Testaments of the Twelve Patriachs - Naphtali

Story Summary

In the Testament of Naphtali, who was the eighth son of Jacob/Israel, Naphtali relates prophesies of things to come to the nation of Israel, and the coming Salvation.

Despite being perfectly healthy, Naphtali was on his deathbed, and so he gathered together his sons to impart his life lessons (1:1-5).

Naphtali was born to Rachel's servant Bilhah.  Rachel loved him and prayed for a similar son to be born from her.  Her prayer was answered with Joseph (1:6-8).  Bilhah and Leah's servant Zilpah were actually sisters from Abraham's lineage (1:9-12).  Naphtali was a fast runner, so he served as Jacob/Israel's messenger (1:13).

Like a potter wields the clay, God makes every body perfectly fitted to its spirit.  Because man is made in God's image, God knows exactly how good or evil a man will be.  God makes everyone unique, appointing each individual aspect of each person (1:14-20).

Accordingly, Naphtali advises that you seek to fulfill God's planned design and live according to His Law, unlike the idolatrous Gentiles, or the people of Sodom, or the Watchers (fallen angels, ref. Genesis 6:1-4) who caused God to flood the earth (1:21-27).

Naphtali has read in the writings of Enoch that his progeny will stray from God in the fashion of the Gentiles and Sodom, so God will afflict them until there is just a remnant left and exile them from their land.  When they return to God, He will bring them back to their land (1:28-30).

Then, they will again go astray and be scattered until a Man embodying God's compassion will come who will work mercy and righteousness (1:31-32).

When Naphtali was forty years old, he saw a vision:  Jacob/Israel told is sons to try to capture the sun and the moon.  Levi caught the sun, while Judah grabbed the moon.  A young man gave Levi twelve palm branches, and Judah had twelve rays under his feet.  A two-horned, winged bull tried unsuccessfully to seize the young man, but Joseph did seize the young man and ascended to "on high" where it was revealed that the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, and Syrians would capture the twelve tribes of Israel (2:1-8).

Seven days later Naphtali had another vision:  Jacob/Israel was standing by the sea of Jamnia (this may be a reference to the town of Yavne, also known as Jamnia, in which case this would be the Mediterranean Sea).  There, Jacob/Israel and his sons boarded the Ship of Jacob.  A bad storm came which destroyed the boat and scattered Jacob/Israel and his sons, while Joseph fled in a small boat.  Levi prayed to God, and then the storm stopped and the ship miraculously reassembled and reached the shore in peace (2:9-18).

Naphtali told Jacob/Israel about these two visions, and Jacob/Israel told him that these prophesies would happen to Israel in their appropriate seasons (2:19).  Jacob/Israel wept for the loss of Joseph.  That caused Naphtali to weep too, because he wanted to tell his father that Joseph had been sold, but was afraid of the wrath of his brethren (2:20-22).

Naphtali commands his progeny to cling to the Tribes of Levi and Judah, because through their Tribes God would dwell on earth, bringing Salvation to the Jews and the righteous of the Gentiles.  If his progeny work goodness, then they will glorify God among the Gentiles, will be loved by God, angels, and men, and will repel the devil and wild beasts.  However, if they do evil, then God will be dishonored among the Gentiles, the devil and wild beast shall master them, and God will hate them (2:23-28).

Naphtali advises that God's Law should be obeyed with prudence and in proper order, just like there is a time for a man to embrace is wife and a time to pray.  Then they will avoid sin and be loved by God (2:29-33).

Then Naphtali died (2:34-36).

Christian Parallels

The Testament of Naphtali has distinct sections of ill-context-fitting Christian theology, making it appear as though an original source was modified, which isn't surprising given that an extant and apparently different Hebrew version was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In Naphtali 1:14-18 is an interesting section which figuratively speaks of God as a potter, designing everyone with specific bodies and spirits for their purpose, including whether or not they will choose good or evil.  This bears a striking resemblance to the idea imparted by Paul in Romans 9:6-21.  In Romans 9:21, Paul even raises the question of "[d]oes not the potter have the right" to make people however He wants, where that potter is God.

Naphtali 1:22 states that you can't do works of light while in the darkness, which is also suggested by Ephesians 5:8 and 1 John 2:9.

At the end of the first chapter, Naphtali 1:31-32 makes a reference which appears to refer to the exile after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, and that they would be scattered until God's compassion comes in the form of "a man working righteousness and working mercy" (an oblique reference to Jesus' second coming).

The vision in Naphtali 2:9-18 of the boat which was destroyed by a storm, but made whole by God, is different, yet has some similarities to Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25.

Naphtali 2:24-25 states that God's salvation will arise from the Tribes of Levi and Judah.  Consider that Matthew 1:1-17 has Jesus' lineage of Joseph traced through the tribe of Judah, and many Biblical scholars suggest that Luke 3:23-38 has Jesus' lineage traced through Mary, and hold that Mary had bloodline ties to Levi (although they are under some dispute where exactly the Levitical bloodline enters).  Naphtali 2:25 speaks of God "dwelling among men on earth" in order to save the Jews and righteous Gentiles.

Naphtali 2:26-28 stands out for its use of "the devil" as opposed to Beliar or Satan; the first time "the devil" shows up in the Testaments.  These verses claim, among other things, that if Naphtali's progeny obey God, the devil will flee from them, which is very similar to James 4:7, but if they do not obey God, then God's name will be dishonored among the Gentiles, as we see referenced in Romans 2:24.

Then, oddly, Naphtali 2:29-33 is a call to understand the order prudence of God's Law.

Finally, in Naphtali 1:18 is the only direct reference to Beliar, being cast as opposite to God similar to the way in which Christianity claims Satan is opposite to God.

Memorable Quotes

"And as the potter knoweth the use of each vessel, what it is meet for, so also doth the Lord know the body, how far it will persist in goodness, and when it beginneth in evil." - Naphtali 1:16 (I was born designed this way...)

"For there is no inclination or thought which the Lord knoweth not, for He created every man after His own image." - Naphtali 1: 17 (God knows our evil thoughts, because He has them too.)

"For as a man's strength, so also in his work; as his eye, so also in his sleep; as his soul, so also in his word either in the law of the Lord or in the law of Beliar." - Naphtali 1:18 (God makes people for good or for evil, and note the reference to God's Law centuries before it would have been Biblically given.)

"For God made all things good in their order, the five senses in the head, and He joined on the neck to the head, adding to it the hair also for comeliness and glory, then the heart for understanding, the belly for excrement, and the stomach for grinding, the windpipe for taking in the breath, the liver for wrath, the gall for bitterness, the spleen for laughter, the reins for prudence, the muscles of the loins for power, the lungs for drawing in, the loins for strength, and so forth." - Naphtali 1:20 (written in a time when organs were thought to control emotions)

"Sun and moon and stars, change not their order; so do ye also change not the law of God in the disorderliness of your doings." - Naphtali 1:24 (...even though God would change things through Jesus...)

"The Gentiles went astray, and forsook the Lord, and charged their order, and obeyed stocks and stones, spirits of deceit." - Naphtali 1:25

"In like manner the Watchers also changed the order of their nature, whom the Lord cursed at the flood, on whose account He made the earth without inhabitants and fruitless." - Naphtali 1:27 (Watchers were fallen angels who slept with women, creating giants; ref. Genesis 6:1-4)

"These things I say unto you, my children, for I have read in the writing of Enoch that ye yourselves also shall depart from the Lord, walking according to all the lawlessness of the Gentiles, and ye shall do according to all the wickedness of Sodom." - Naphtali 1:28 (Enoch gets a source reference.)

"And the Lord shall scatter them upon the face of all the earth, until the compassion of the Lord shall come, a man working righteousness and working mercy unto all them that are afar off, and to them that are near." - Naphtali 1:31

"And we all of us ran together, and Levi laid hold of the sun, and Judah outstripped the others and seized the moon, and they were both of them lifted up with them." - Naphtali 2:3

"For through [the tribes of Levi and Judah] shall God appear dwelling among men on earth, to save the race of Israel, and to gather together the righteous from amongst the Gentiles." - Naphtali 2:25 (Consider that Matthew 1:1-17 has Jesus' lineage of Joseph traced through the tribe of Judah, and many Biblical scholars suggest that Luke 3:23-38 has Jesus' lineage traced through Mary, and hold that Mary had bloodline ties to Levi.)

"If ye work that which is good, my children, both men and angels shall bless you; and God shall be glorified among the Gentiles through you, and the devil shall flee from you, and the wild beasts shall fear you, and the Lord shall love you, and the angels shall cleave to you." - Naphtali 2:26

"For there is a season for a man to embrace his wife, and a season to abstain therefrom for his prayer." - Naphtali 2:30

"Be ye therefore wise in God, my children, and prudent, understanding the order of His commandments, and the laws of every word, that the Lord may love you," - Naphtali 2:33

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