Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Levi

Introduction to the Text:

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs expand upon Jacob’s words in Genesis 49. In each utterance, each son of Jacob recounts their life upon the death bed with confessions, refelctions, exhortation, and eschatological predictions. Aside from late Christian interpolations (additions to the text) in the 2nd century CE, the texts were likely written around the 2nd century BCE. Like many pseudepigrapha, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs “bears witness to the diversity of outlook that developed within Judaism in the period prior to the Maccabean Revolt and flourished throughout the Maccabean period” (778, OTP, Volume I).

What I intend to focus on within the testaments is the Testament of Levi (hereafter TLevi).TLevi provides a view into the 2nd century BCE through understanding how the author represents other texts with the same story.

Levi’s Recasting in TLevi as a Divine Warrior

TLevi 5-6 provides Levi’s account Genesis 34. In Genesis 34, a Shechemite rapes Dinah. After the Schechemite requests Dinah for marriage, Jacob demands that they be circumcised. While they are recovering from the circumcision, Simeon and Levi kill the men of the city. Later in Gensis 49, Simeon and Levi are cursed for doing so. TLevi’s recounting of the story essentially justifies Levi’s action as divine command. What motif(s), though, did the author utilize to legitimize his actions?

In an article exploring the the biblical exegesis in TLevi’s recounting of Genesis 34, James Kugel discusses the roles of the sword and shield given to Levi in TLevi 5:1-3:

“At this moment the angel opened for me the gates of heavena dn I saw the Holy Most High sitting on the throne. And he said to me, ‘Levi, to you I have given the blessing of the priesthood until I shall come and dwell in the midst of Israel.’ Then the angel led me back to the earth, and gave me a shield and a sword, and said to me, ‘Perform vengeance on Shechem for the sake of Dinah, your sister, and I shall be with you, for the LORD sent me'” (TLevi 5:1-3, translation by H. C. Kee).

After exploring the role of the sword in  Judith 9:2, Kugel concludes that this exegetical expansion on Genesis 34 is meant explain that the swords from heaven actually allowed the brothers to take the city victoriously. This is further evidenced by Theodotus’ retelling of the Dinah story (Kugel, 1992). What he does not touch upon, though, is the actual motif being used. As he notes, the sword and shield are not merely physical swords and shields; rather, they are a sword and shield of heavenly origins.

These two heavenly weapons of war suggest that TLevi’s exegetical addition is specifically intended to legitimize the actions of Levi by establishing him as a divinely inspired warrior. Essentially the heavenly realm, headed by Yahweh, declares Levi to be the “divine warrior” by providing him with the weapons. This effectively legitimizes Levi’s passion and hope to destroys the Shechemites and portrays Jacob’s desires not to avenge Dinah, as well as the Shechemites desire for marriage, “as illegitimate, misplaced, unsustainable, or wrongly attained” (Ballentine 190, 1015). With the exegetical addition that Levi receives heavenly weapons in TLevi, he is thereby justified for his actions, actions which Jacob himself curses Levi for in Genesis 49. As Ballentine notes, other authors “employed the conflict motif to promote various secondary divine figure… by characterizing them as future divine warriors endorsed by a primary deity” (Ballentine 2015, 195). In this case, the deity is Yahweh and the divinely sponsored warrior is Levi.

 

 

Bibliography:

Ballentine, Debra. The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.

H. C. Kee. “Testament of Levi”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Kugel, James. 1992. “The Story of Dinah in the “testament of Levi””. The Harvard Theological Review 85 (1). [Cambridge University Press, Harvard Divinity School]: 1–34. http://www.jstor.org.nu.idm.oclc.org/stable/1510036.

 

 

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