Twelve Patriarchs

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

The “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” is one of the seventy-two apocryphal books of the Old Testament which were at one time in circulation, and, according to Epiphanius, it formed one of the twenty-two canonical books sent by the Jews to Ptolemy, king of Egypt.433

It was a work of Jewish origin, which has been tampered with and interpolated by Christian copyists. S. Augustine numbers it with the Apocrypha; he says, “There are the apocryphal books of the Old Testament: the works falsely attributed to Enoch, the Patriarchs, the Discourse of Joseph, the Assumption of Moses, the pseudographia of Abraham, Eldad and Medad, Elias the prophet, the prophet Zephaniah, Zechariah, Baruch, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, and Daniel.”

Curiously enough, the Testament of the Patriarchs contains a large number of alleged quotations from the book of Enoch, which are not, however, to be found in that book as we now have it.

This Testament was read by the Jews at the time of Christ's coming, and S. Paul seems to have been acquainted with it, for he quotes it, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead ;”434  and again he quotes the Testament of Levi, “The wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”435  S. Jerome remarks on this, “The Apostle Paul quoted from the hidden prophets and from those books which are called Apocrypha,” and he adds, “That he did so in several other places is very evident.”436  And Origen says, “It is evident that many examples were quoted and inserted in the New Testament by the Apostles and the Evangelists from those Scriptures which we do not read as canonical, but these passages are found in the apocryphal books, and it is evident that these passages were extracted from them;” and he gives the reason why that was lawful to the Apostles which is not lawful to us.

He says, “It may have been, that the Apostles and Evangelists, filled with the Holy Ghost, may have known what was to be taken from these writings and what was to be rejected; but for us to presume to do such a thing would be full of danger, not having the Spirit in the same measure to guide us.”437

Robert Grostête, Bishop of Lincoln, translated the Testament of the twelve Patriarchs into Latin, in 1242, according to Matthew Paris. “Also in this time, Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, a man most skilled in Latin and Greek, translated accurately the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs from the Greek into Latin; which for many years had been unknown and concealed, through the jealousy of the Jews, because of the prophecies concerning our Saviour therein contained. But the Greeks, the most indefatigable investigators of all writings, being the first who learnt about this, translated it from Hebrew into Greek, and kept it to themselves until our own time. For in the time of S. Jerome, or of any other holy interpreter, it could not in any way whatever come to the knowledge of the Christians, on account of the scheming malice of the Jews. Therefore the above-named Bishop, assisted by Master Nicholas, a Greek, and clerk to the Abbey of S. Albans, translated clearly, evidently, and word for word, into Latin, that glorious treatise, to the strengthening of the Christian faith, and to the greater confusion of the Jews.”438

The Testaments were published by Grabe, at Oxford, in 1698, and were republished by Fabricius in his “Codex Pseudepigraphus Vet. Testamenti,” at Hamburg, in 1722.439

433  Lib. de Mensuris et Ponderibus, § 10.

434  Ephes. v. 14.

435  Thess. ii. 16.

436  Commen. in Eph. loc. cit.

437  Prolog. infin. Duarum Hom. in Cant. Canticorum.

438  Matt. Paris, Chronicle, ed. Bohn, vol. i. pp. 437, 438.

439  T. i., pp. 496-759.