Thursday, December 1, 2011
Twelve Days of Patriarchs - Intro
Imagine, if you will, documents written hundreds of years before Jesus set foot on the earth in fully human form. Imagine documents which emphasized Jesus' most memorable teachings: to love your neighbor as yourself, to avoid hate and lust just as you would murder and adultery, to forgive in order to be forgiven; long before they ever came from His mouth. Imagine documents which appear to have provided Paul with source material for his epistles. Imagine documents containing prophesies regarding Jesus which are so clear and precise that, by contrast, show the Old Testament prophesies of Jesus to be extremely obfuscated.
Imagine the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (T12P); (almost all) deathbed confessions, instructions, and prophesies given by the sons of Jacob/Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.
But there are some problems.
The T12P, in their current form, are Greek sources written around 100-200 AD. Among the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, pieces of what appear to be an Aramaic version of the Testament of Levi and an Hebrew version of the Testament of Naphtali appear to be different from the Greek sources (as best as can be discerned from the highly damaged text).
Furthermore, the T12P contain many references which were common among the Apocryphal texts which were being produced in the centuries surrounding 200 BC, such as references to the Book of Enoch, Watchers (fallen angels), and Beliar (a.k.a. Belial, the ruler of demons). 200 BC is well after the twelve patriarchs died, making the T12P pseudographical; not originating from the claimed source.
The dating and sourcing issues of the T12P are thus complicated, due to distinctly (apocryphal) Jewish and distinctly Christian contents. Thus, scholars are quite divided over exactly what was Christian and what was Jewish, and when the pieces were added or altered to the story. Given the finding of only the Testaments of Levi and Naphtali with the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is also some question if the other ten Testaments are complete fabrications of the second century AD or if they had original Hebrew sources.
This would all be innocent enough if not for the implied teachings and prophesies of Jesus. The Christian teachings and prophesies are what make this important and relevant for study. If they existed before Jesus was born, then obviously they could have been some of the original source material which became cobbled into the legend. If the Christian references in these T12P instead came after the time of Jesus, then they become lies meant to trick the Jews into conversion, which should not be needed if you have the real Truth at your disposal. I suspect that the truth is in the middle, but that it is more the latter case than the former. Otherwise, we would expect the Gospel authors to have quoted these T12P for prophesies regarding Jesus instead of the murky Old Testament verses. Yet whether or not some of Jesus' teachings were gleamed from these T12P is very hard to say with certainty.
My Christmas gift to you will be highlights from each of the twelve T12P, one every other day up to Christmas, starting two days from now. Most of them start off with lessons learned in their Biblical lives, often related to or including the selling their brother Joseph into slavery, which tends to be some pretty fun fan fiction. :-) Then they tend to drift into prophesies of the future manifestation of God.