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.




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.



Evidence for the Conflict Myth in Joshua 6-7 (Part II)

This is Part II of a series about the presence of the conflict myth in Joshua 6-7. If you have not read the introductory post, click here to read.

Joshua 6-7 contains a few passages that seem to employ similar tactics to the conflict, albeit in a unique fashion. Unlike many of the texts which Debra Ballentine analyzes, texts which legitimize certain ideologies directly via allusion to conflict myth for primary or secondary application, the book of Joshua utilizes the conflict myth through two methods. First of all, there is an assumption that God is greater than the land, an idea clear throughout Joshua 1:2-9. Verses 1:2-3 and 1:5-9 assume God will give the land to Israel under the conditions that Israel obeys Torah. Such an assumption, though without use of the conflict myth, assumes that God is greater than the other nation’s deities. Hence Israel is presented with far more political prowess and power than nations across the Jordan.

The book of Joshua, rather, past actions to speak the deeds of God. Within the words of the foreigner, namely Rahab, the conflict myth is present. In Joshua 2:10, Rahab is the first to note a specific and unique element of the Exodus account:

For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt (Joshua 2:10, NASB).

Importantly, Rahab did not mention the death of Pharaoh’s army, although it is being alluded to. Her focus, rather, is on the act of God drying the sea. Exodus 14:21 says the strong east wind “turned the sea into dry land”. The interesting thing about Exodus 14:21 is that it does not relate the drying of the sea directly to God’s actions. And the Song of Moses, while referencing God as a divine warrior (15:3), an important part of the conflict myth, does show God acting against the waters. Yet Rahab directly connects the sea to God’s actions. This may be explained by Psalms 106:7-12, an example of the conflict myth within the exodus motif (Ballentine 2015, 94):

    7            Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders;

They did not remember

Your abundant kindnesses,

But rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

8            Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name,

That He might make His power known.

9            Thus He rebuked the Red Sea and it dried up,

And He led them through the deeps, as through the wilderness.

10            So He saved them from the hand of the one who hated them,

And redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

11            The waters covered their adversaries;

Not one of them was left.

12            Then they believed His words;

They sang His praise.

(Psalm 106:7-12, NASB)

As Ballentine notes, “the way in which Yahweh rebukes and dries the sea indicates an adversarial manipulation and command of the sea/deep/waters. Such an adversarial relationship is consistent with instances of the conflict motif” (2015, 94). Because Exodus is not directly illustrating God’s power through the lens of the conflict motif, but Psalm 106:7-12 does so, Rahab’s reference, from a literary aspect, is more akin the exodus tradition as redacted through the Psalms than the book of Exodus. In effect, Rahab’s words conjure images of God as the divine warrior who defeats the sea. Rhetorically this establishes God as superior to the gods of her own people. Such a point is reinforced as well through Psalm 77:16, a Psalm placed in context of the exodus:

The waters saw You, O God;

The waters saw You, they writhed;

The deeps also trembled.

(Psalm 77:16)

Again the exodus motif in Psalm 77:16 is synchronized with the conflict motif to legitimize God’s rule (Ballentine 2015, 93). This is another example of the traditions of which Rahab, as a literary character, speaks. Both Psalm 77:16 and 106:7-12 illustrate the conflict motif. And Rahab’s reference to God drying up the water of the Red Sea indicates that the author is utilizing the conflict tradition to legitimize God’s ability and power to lead Israel to capture Jericho as a greater nation, an example of the secondary application of the conflict myth in Joshua.

The secondary application is the second method utilized by the author of the book of Joshua and will be explored further in Part III.