Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Psalms of David

DDSIntroduction to the Text: 

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, there were some additional Psalms, one of which was Psalm 155 (keep in mind that the typical Bible only has 150 Psalms). It was likely written in the 1st century BCE. Although it is impossible to determine authorship, there is a specific element I wish to draw attention to after having read How Repentance Became Biblical by David Lambert. Regarding 11QPsᵃ 155 (11Q=Cave 11 at Qumran, Ps=Psalms), there is a later Syriac translation (5ApocSyrPs 3). This later translation is irrelevant for this study because I hope to demonstrate something about the greater theological landscape through the earlier text.

Here is the text that I am examining:

5  Build me up;
and do not cast me down.

6  And do not abandon (me)
before the wicked ones.

7  The rewards of evil,
may the Judge of Truth remove from me.

8  O Lord, do not condemn me according to my sins;
for no one living is righteous before you.

J. H. Charlesworth with J. A. Sanders. “More Psalms of David: 155 (11QPsᵃ 155)”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

11QPs 155 and the Role of Repentance:

Scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls has been utilized to provide “background” of the “penitential movements” in the early Jesus movement; however, as David Lambert shows, the sectarian Qumran community “assumed “the mantle of the new, eschatological Israel, with its attendant practices and possibilities for transformation” (142, 2015). Essentially, Qumran didn’t see themselves as a community changing their morals due to their sin, a concept formed later in history and assumed in old historical records. In the Qumranite mind, Yahweh was the one who made the change. I believe this greatly exemplified in 11QPsᵃ 155.

Allow me to begin with verse 5. Interestingly enough, the footnotes of Charlesworth’s translation would allow the verse to be translated as follows:

“Build [my soul] up; / and [do not cast it] down”.

This is important to note because it focuses more on Yahweh being the one who determines the state of the soul. Unfortunately, Charlesworth’s translation fails to consider that Yahweh is the agent who changes the state of the human. Take, for example, Florentino Martinez’s more recent translation of the same passage: “build up my heart and do not erode it” (Col. XXIV (Psalm 155)). Martinez’s translation more accurately captures the essence of the Psalm, namely that God is the agent at work in changing the state of the soul.

Verse 7  is accurate to the period in the translations of Martinez and Charlesworth, as each of them capture Yahweh as the agent who removes the “rewards of evil” or “recompenses of evil”.

I find verse 8 to be the most intriguing because it specifically references sin. With such a verse, it would be easy to read it as repentance. How, though, is one to read “sin” within this Psalm in light of the previous verses, which reference Yahweh as the agent who changes ones state and Lambert’s note that the Qumran community was not about moral changes?

Perhaps the best way is to approach it as Lambert did, whereby sin is more a form of rhetoric that permits the reader to attain a renewed state via Yahweh as the agent. Read in this light, confession of sin within the Psalm is not a penitential act; rather, it demonstrates recognition that all people have some sort of sin. Consequently, this “confession” establishes Yahweh as the king and the Psalmist as his subject. Sin is more akin to a state of being in time and space, something attached to the soul (see verse 7) rather than something a person has done.


Florentino Martinez. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans and E. J. Brill, 1996.

J. H. Charlesworth with J. A. Sanders. “More Psalms of David”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2. Peabody, MA: 1983.

David Lambert. How Repentance Became Biblical. New York, NY: Oxford 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.



Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Job

Introduction to the Text:

The Testament of Job (henceforth TJob) is a tale about the life of Job. Unlike the book of Job in the LXX or MT, TJob recasts the story as Job telling his children about his life while he is on his deathbed. This stylistic choice influenced scholars to consider it to be a “testament” on four premises: a deathbed scene; celebration of virtues; moral exhortations; death, burial, and lamentation. TJob, though, modifies this testament genre by treating a character from wisdom literature rather than one from the Torah. According to R. P. Spittler, this indicates that TJob is more haggadic in nature than hortatory. Or, to put in simpler words, TJob is more interested presenting a narrative story than exhorting the audience. In this respect, TJob is more akin to 21st century novels than many other Pseudepigraphal testaments.

Having been written between the 1st century B.C.E. and C.E. in Egypt, it is “a valuable monument to the rich variety of hellenistic Jewish piety” (836). Of course, another large value of TJob is how it reflects cultural standards and societal expectations, and how it uses other biblical literature. Today I will primarily focus on an example of how TJob presents Satan, disguised as a bread seller, using biblical traditions and cultural traditions of mourning.

Reflections of Cultural Expectations in the Testament of Job

TJob reflects cultural expectation quite clearly, along with making implicit references to the Hebrew Bible. Take, for example, chapter 23. In chapter 23, Sitis, Job’s wife, sells her hair to Satan in order to buy bread for herself and her husband. Beyond the fact that Sitis is deceived, for she only receives three loaves of bread in exchange for her hair and the ability “to live for three more days” (23.7bβ), the text further mentions her shame. When recounting her experience, Sitis says that “[Satan disguised as a bread seller] arose and cut [her] hair disgracefully in the market, while the crowd stood by and marveled” (24.10, brackets added for context and italics added for emphasis). The cost for bread is shame; yet, this doesn’t take into account the full context of TJob. In 4.4, God tells Job that Satan will rise up with wrath for battle against Job in response to Job’s destruction of an idolatrous shrine. Because the actions of Satan must be read in context of battle, the cutting of Sitis’ hair becomes an implicit reference to Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, part of the stipulations for those who take captive foreign woman in war and desire to marry them must “have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when capture” (Deuteronomy 21:12b-13a). This was considered a sign of mourning. Likewise, in the 1st centuries woman cutting off their hair in mourning is accounted for. [1] In the case of TJob, there is one major difference: Satan cuts the hair of Sitis in battle, not Sitis herself as mourning calls for. This sort of act not only explicitly shames Sitis but seemingly mocks the situation of Sitis.

I am reminded of Richard of York who, in Shakespeare’s  history plays and in a recent production I saw, is crowned with a rag soaked in the blood of his son Edmund. In essence, the Queen and Clifford command Richard of York to mourn; however, just like in TJob, it is not true mourning, but a bastardized symbol of “mourning” appropriated as a tactic and rhetoric for shaming.

Sitis’ account is intriguing because it presents a unique view of “mourning”. It demonstrates how good practices like mourning are utilized by opposition, or the Other, as tools for shaming. This appropriation of mourning for darker purposes, if you will, is not restricted solely to TJob. In fact, it is an approach to battle used through time and space, whether in biblical literature or Shakespeare.


[1] In his analysis on the discourse of First Corinthians, Ralph Bruce Terry writes the following: “It is also worthy of note that Greek women seem to have cut off their hair in times of mourning. Plutarch, in the context of discussing mourning at funerals, says, “So in Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow . . .” (Moralia, The Roman Questions 14). This would be similar to the Jewish custom of shaving the head as a symbol of grief or mourning (cf. Deut. 21:12-13; Is. 7:20; 15:2; 22:12; Jer. 16:6; Mic. 1:16; and Josephus Antiquities iv.8.23 [§257]).” Available online:



R. P. Spittler.”Testament of Job”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Ralph Bruce Terry. “An Analysis of Certain Features of Discourse in the New Testament Book of 1 Corinthians”. Available online:

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Treatise of Shem (Belated Edition)

Generally I post Pseudepigrapha Saturday on Saturdays. Unfortunately, due to the business of #AARSBL15 and thanksgiving time, I have been unable to post it. Well, now I present you with the exclusive “Belated Edition” of Pseudepigrapha Saturday. The only difference is that I am posting on Sunday instead of Saturday.

Introduction to the Text:

The Treatise of Shem follows the zodiac counterclockwise and reverses the order the Aquarius and Pisces. The first zodiac sign, Aries, begins with gloomy imagery, while the final zodiac sign in regular the regular order, Pisces, reflects a far more positive outlook. Written in the late twenties B.C.E. in Egypt, Charlesworth suggests that it demonstrates Jewish astrological concerns during the first century B.C.E. and symbolically reflects Octavian’s defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (31 B.C.E.), a likely candidate for the battle which birthed the Roman Empire (See The Battle of Actium by Joshua J. Mark).


“The synagogue at Zippori (Sepphoris) provided the most recent of the zodiac mosaic discoveries, although unfortunately it is not very well preserved. In the center of the zodiac wheel, Helios once again drives his four-horse chariot, but rather than the figure of a man, the god is depicted as the sun itself.” – Source: Biblical Archaeology Society



The Treatise of Shem and the “Variegated Nature of Intertestamental Judaism”

In his introduction to the Treatise of Shem, Charlesworth notes that “Diasporic Judaism, and even Palestinian Judaism, was not guided by an established orthodoxy. The Treatise of Shem significantly improves our perception of the variegated nature of intertestamental Judaism” (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Dovetailing from this point, the Treatise of Shem also illustrates the breadth of theological convictions throughout history. Take, for example, Genesis 1:14 which notes that the sun and moon as things which give signs and seasons. This Priestly text, of course, assumes a culture with an agricultural locus; thus, to follow the signs of the sky would not seem odd. After all, the seasons, signs, times, and astrology all go hand-in-hand.

Two later texts oppose astrology. Deuteronomy 18:10-14 bans divination, something which encompasses astrology. And the book of Jubilees rejects astrology all together (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Clearly, the various traditions from biblical literature indicate that Jewish literature (however anachronistic those terms may seem) was multifaceted and inherited traditions, ideas, and religious practices from their own contexts.

Shifting to more contemporary significance, perhaps the multifaceted approach to communal religion and personal, lived religion should be embraced by religious communities of the 21st centuries. In a world of globalization, multi-religious dialogue is an absolute must. Note, though, that I am not calling for pluralism. Pluralism demands that multiple sources are all correct. I simply call for multi-religious dialogue, in which multiple sources can engage with each other to seek commonalities for moving forward and also agree to disagree about differences.

This is the sort of diversity which seems to be present in the Treatise of Shem, one of many examples of variegation in Second Temple Period Judaism. Maybe we should learn from our human predecessors and move forward with those convictions: difference within tradition is not detrimental, but good.

Note: I am aware that this post went off the main focus of my blog, but I think it is important. So I said it. I am also aware that I am not necessarily taking into account the historical relationship between the variegated forms of Second Temple Period Judaism. Even so, I believe that multi-faith dialogue is a necessity for constructing a more palatable and lively world.


Joshua J. Mark. “The Battle of Actium”. Ancient History Encyclopedia.  (accessed 11/29/2015).

J. H. Charlesworth. “Treatise of Shem”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 473-486.

Walter Zanger. “Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols”. Bible History Daily. (accessed 11/29/2015).

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Sibylline Oracles

Introduction to the Text:

The Sibylline Oracles are a series of prophetic texts akin to those found in Roman and Grecian literature. Non-biblical literature Sibylline oracles were prophetic texts by a female prophetess that were either used in serious crises or as political propaganda. The Sibylline Oracles in the Pseudepigrapha consist of  eight books and were written between the mid-second century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E. These oracles combined the Mediterranean medium of a prophetic Sibyl and and incorporated them into Jewish literature. J. J. Collins notes that “willingness to incorporate material from pagan oracles shows a significant readiness to build on the common human basis of Jews and gentiles” (OTP, vol. 1, 322). Even with the shared prophetic medium, prophecy still changed and developed, reflecting the time period in which the different books were written.

The Sibylline Oracles and the Land:

Sibylline Oracles 3 contrasted to 5 demonstrates this historical development well. Collins, in fact, provides and excellent primer for what the following will explores. He says that “by contrast with Sibylline Oracles 3 , book 5 shows advanced alienation from all its gentile neighbors.”(OTP, vol. 1, 391). Both Oracles were written in Egypt; however, they were written in very different periods. Sibylline Oracles 3 was written between 163-145 B.C.E., while Sibylline Oracles 5 was written in the beginning of the 2nd century C.E. Both Sibylline Oracles differ in context. I will pick up on the contrasting nature of their uses of land.

The Sibylline Oracles 3 says the following:

“And then God will give great joy to men, / for earth and trees and countless flocks of sheep / will give to men the grue fruit / of wine, sweet honey and white milk / and corn, which is best of all for mortals” (619-623).

This sentiment is echoed later.

“For the all-bearing earth will give he most excellent unlimited fruit / to mortals, of grain, wine, and oil / and a delightful drink of sweet honey from heaven, / trees, fruit of the top branches, and rich flocks / and herds and lambs of sheeps and kids of goats. / And it will break forth sweet fountains of white milks” (SibOr 3.744-749).

Both of these words by the Sibyl demonstrate a theme for her, namely the importance of the promised land. Genesis to Joshua sometimes draw up imagery of the promised land flowing with milk and honey. The author applies the motif to the whole world, though. All people will have the opportunity to participate in the eschatological age in which Yahweh establishes a common Law for all people on the earth. “The Immortal in the starry heaven will put in effect a common law for men throughout the whole earth” (SibOr 3.757-758). While Yahweh will still judge those who do note adhere to the law, the Sibyl words her prophecy in such a way that encourages cohesion with fellow humans beings to a certain extent, so long as it is under the hegemony of Yahweh.

By contrast, Sibylline Oracles 5 “reflects the alienation of the Jewish community from its environment” (OTL, vol. 1, 392). With the political turmoil in Rome and Egypt, Siylline Oracles 5 clearly reflects a shift in thought. Again focusing on the promised land, the land of Israel, the prophets writes that “the holy land of the pious alone will bear all these things: / a honey-sweet stream from rock and spring, / and heavenly milk will flow for all the righteous” (SibOr 5.281-283). This shift in thought echoes the socio-political situation of Jews in Egypt. Whatever exactly happened to them is not the focus, but it is clear that whatever happened resulted in a new, more exclusive view of Yahweh’s covenant. The 2nd century C.E. viewpoint, unlike like the 1st century B.C.E. viewpoint, restricts the blessings of the promised land, land flowing with milk and honey, to the land of the pious alone. The earlier Sibylline Oracles 3 contrasts her view in that it applied the motif to the whole world.

These developments are important because they allow historians to better trace the trajectory and reception of motifs through history. In doing say, texts like the Sibylline Oracles provide insight to the environments in which the prophetic texts were written and also elucidate how certain elements of biblical literature were appropriates for other people’s uses. In this case, the promised land flowing with milk and honey was initially appropriated for the whole world. However, following the Jewish Revolt and other political turmoil, later appropriations of the same motif appropriate it not for inclusive purposes, but for exclusive purposes to clearly mark off who was the Other.


J. J. Collins “Sibylline Oracles”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 317-472.