Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Testament of Moses

Introduction to the Text:

Although the Testament of Moses is cut off half-way through the manuscript, it is nonetheless helpful in reconstructing ideologies and worldviews from the Levant in the 1st century C.E., and even earlier if we assume the text had previous written and oral traditions preceding it’s composition. The testament claims to be “the prophecy which was made by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy”; however, while it takes up a similar tone, the testament incorporates material relevant to the Maccabean Period, indicative of the late date of the text.

Based on the previous information, it is evident that we should read the Testament of Moses as its own piece of literary work, self-sustaining and independent. What we will consider today is Moses’ role as a divinator in the Testament of Moses.

Divination, Prophecy, and Moses

Contrary to popular opinion, there is not really any distinction between magic and prophecy in the ancient world. Both are considered divination and imply access to divine knowledge (Hamori, 2015). The following will briefly examine some moments in which divination is relevant. Following the data, I will attempt to draw some sort of conclusion as to the nature of divination in the Testament of Moses.

1:5 notes that the book, that is the Testament of Moses, was actually the one made in the book of Deuteronomy. As noted previously, the account is obviously late. Additionally, the text specifically notes the prophecy occurring “after the Exodus”. By placing the prophecy within a historical period, albeit a mythologized historical period, we see divination as something which needs to be rooted in a particular period. In other words, one does not merely have access to divine knowledge; rather, the access must be within a specific period. In this situation, the period is following the exodus in Amman.

In 1:15, Moses claims he was created “to be the mediator of his covenant”. Although mediator does not necessarily imply divination, it is one possible interpretation. As a mediator and one who interpreted the words of God to Israel, Moses must have some sort of access to divine knowledge, a high sphere of wisdom.

3:12 suggests the Israelites will recognize Moses as their mediator for God’s commandments. They also recognize that he made prophecies known to them. Thus, in this occurrence, it apparent the community recognizes their lack of access to divine knowledge. Moses alone made information known through his prophecies.

11:8 may contain a reference to Moses’ divination. When we consider the ancient Near Eastern influence on the Palestinian region, it adds another dimension to Joshua’s statement that Moses’ sepulcher, or life, “is from the rising to the setting of the sun”. I wonder if there may be here an appropriation of the idea that the sun deity, whether, Ra or Šamaš, travels across the sky and then descends into the underworld. In Moses’ case though, by using this motif, two things become evident. First, Moses is associated with deities, and access to divine knowledge therein. Second, by describing Moses’ life as a sun setting, he is placed far about the rest of humanity, likely due to his access to divine knowledge of God’s will and commandments as the mediator.

In 11:16, Joshua refers to Moses as “the divine prophet for the whole earth”, a bold claim for any human. Yet, because Moses is characterized through a motif associated with the divine, it is not so surprising. Importantly, Joshua is not calling Moses a god, for to be “divine” can be read as a range (angels, demons, etc.) rather than an on/off switch. In this verse, though, we see how the text justifies the results of Moses’ divination, namely that he is “divine” and thereby has access to divine knowledge.

Drawing these observations, we realize an important fact about the characterization of Moses in the 1st century C.E.. In many respects, Moses is elevated to a position of a lower-deity, though not of divine essence. The author of the Testament of Moses successfully writes in a such a manner that permits and justifies Moses’ direct access to the divine by associating him with the divine; yet, the author is also careful to avoid turning Moses into a deity.

One point that would be interesting to explore in the future is how the representation of Moses’ divination in the Testament of Moses compares to the representation of Moses’ divination throughout the Pentateuch.


Duling, D. C.. “Testament of Solomon”. James Charlesworth ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983.

Hamori, Esther J. Women’s Divination in Biblical Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

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.