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The Apocryphal Old Testament Collection of the most important non-canonical Old Testament books designed for general use.

The Testament of Zebulon, about Compassion and Mercy

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Text Commentary

I.

1A copy of the words 1 So eaf chi: dlm ‘of the testament’; b g om. of Zebulon, which he left as a testament to his children, in the hundred and fourteenth year of his life, two 2 So II: b ‘thirty-two’. years after the death of Joseph.

2And he said to them, Listen to me, you sons of Zebulon, pay attention to your father's words. 3I am Zebulon, a good gift to my parents; for when I was born, the numbers of our father's flocks and herds had been much increased by the share he had received as a result of the strategem of the different coloured rods. 3 Lit. ‘… increased when in the different coloured rods he had his share’. Cp. Gen. xxx. 25–43 . 4I am not aware, my children, 4 So b: II om. ‘my children’. that I have ever sinned, save only in thought. 5Nor do I remember that I have done anything contrary to the law, except for the part I played without knowing what I was doing in the conspiracy against Joseph (for I promised my brothers 5 Translation uncertain: b g (l) ‘I covered for my brothers’; dm eaf chi ‘I confirmed to my brothers’. not to tell my father what had happened). 6And I wept much 6 So b: II ‘And I wept many days about Joseph’. when I was on my own, for I was afraid of my brothers, because they had all agreed that if anyone betrayed the secret he should be put to the sword. 7But when they wanted to kill him, I warned them solemnly with tears against this wicked deed.

II.

1For Simeon and Gad were incensed against Joseph and made an attack on him, 1 Lit. ‘For Simeon and Gad came against Joseph with (b om.) anger (b om.)’. intending to kill him; and Joseph fell on his face 2and said to them, Have mercy on me, brothers, pity our father Jacob: do not raise your hands against me to shed innocent blood, for I have not sinned against you. 3And if indeed I have sinned, then punish me; but do not raise your hand against me 2 ‘Against me’ is in fact added by gdm (ἐπ᾽ ἐμέ) and eaf (μοί). for our father Jacob's sake. 4And as he was saying this, I felt pity for him and began to weep, and I was overcome completely. 3 Lit. ‘and my liver was loosened and all the substance of my bowels became weak upon my soul’. 5And Joseph too was weeping, and I wept with him; and my heart was throbbing, and the joints of my body refused to function, 4 Lit. ‘and the joints of my body went out of place’. and I could not stand. 6And when he saw me weeping with him, and the two of them coming on him to kill him, he took refuge behind me and begged them for mercy. 7But Reuben stood up and said, Brothers, let us not kill him, but let us throw him into one of these dry pits that our fathers dug and found no water. 8(For that is why the Lord prevented water from welling up in them, so that Joseph should be preserved. 9And the Lord did so until they sold him to the Ishmaelites.)

III.

1And I refused, my children, to take my share of the money that was paid for Joseph. 2But Simeon and Gad and our six other brothers took what was paid for Joseph and bought sandals for 3themselves and for their wives and children, saying, We will not buy food with it, 1 Lit. ‘We will not eat it’. for it is our brother's blood-money, but let us tread it well under foot, because he said he would be king over us; and so let us see what will become of his dreams. 4(That is why it is written in the writing of the law of Enoch that whoever will not raise a child 2 Lit. ‘raise up seed’. for his brother, his sandal shall be taken off and his face spat upon. 5Joseph's brothers had no wish for their brother to live; and the Lord took off Joseph's sandal 3 So b: II explains ‘the sandal that they wore against their brother Joseph’. from them. 6For when they came into Egypt they had their sandals taken off 4 Lit. ‘they were taken off’. by Joseph's servants as soon as they arrived at the gate, and so they made their obeisance to Joseph, as was the custom at the Pharaoh's court. 5 Lit. ‘according to the form prescribed by the Pharaoh (so b g: II-g ‘by King Pharaoh’). 7And not only did they make obesiance to him, but they were also spat upon immediately they fell down in front of him; and so they were put to shame before the Egyptians. 8For the Egyptians heard afterwards how disgracefully we had treated Joseph.)

IV.

1,2And then they sat down to eat. 1 There are wide variations between the MSS here. The translation is based on b (‘After these things they threw to eat’). But I ate nothing for two days and two nights out of pity for Joseph; and Judah did not eat with them either, but kept watch on the pit, for he was afraid that Simeon and Gad might make off and kill him. 3And when they saw that I too was not eating, they set me to guard him until he was sold. 4And he spent three days and three nights in the pit; and so when he was sold he was very hungry. 5And when Reuben heard that he had been sold while he was away, he tore his clothes off and lamented, saying, How shall I look my father Jacob in the face? 6And he took the money and ran after the merchants, but did not find anyone; for they had left the main road and gone off through the country of the Trogolocolpites by a short cut. 7And Reuben ate nothing that day. 8So Dan came to him and said, Do not weep or mourn, for I have thought of 2 Lit. ‘I have found’. something we can tell our father Jacob. 9Let us kill a he-goat, and dip Joseph's tunic in its blood, and say, Do you recognize it? Is this your son's tunic? And this is what they did. 3 So II: b omits the whole clause. 10For they had stripped Joseph of our father's tunic when they were about to sell him and had put a slave's old coat on him. 11Now Simeon had the tunic and would not give it up, and he wanted to cut it in pieces with his sword, because he was angry Joseph was still alive and he had not killed him. 12But we all stood up against him together and said, If you will not give it up, we will say you did this evil thing in Israel on your own. 13And so he gave it up; and they did as Dan had suggested.

V.

1And now, my children, I appeal to you to keep the Lord's commands, and to show mercy to your neighbour and be compassionate towards all men – and not only towards humans, but towards animals too. 2For that was why the Lord blessed me, and when all my brothers were taken ill, I escaped unharmed; for the Lord knows each man's motives. 3So let mercy reign in your hearts, 1 Lit. ‘Have, therefore, mercy in your bowels’. my children, because as a man treats his neighbour, so also will the Lord treat him. 4For my brother's sons were being taken ill as well as their fathers, and were dying, on account of Joseph, because they had shown him no mercy; but my sons were preserved in perfect health, as you well know. 5And when I was in Canaan, on the coast, I used to catch fish for my father Jacob; and although many other people were drowned in the sea, I survived unhurt.

VI.

1I was the first to make a boat to sail on the sea, for the Lord gave me the necessary knowledge and skill. 1 Lit. ‘gave me understanding and wisdom in it’. 2And I fitted a rudder 2 Lit. ‘And I let down a piece of wood’. behind it and stretched a sail on an upright piece of wood in the middle of it. 3And I sailed it along the shores and caught fish for my father's household until we came to Egypt. 4And 3 vi. 4–6, 7b (‘and I shared … household’) and vii. 1–viii. 3 (‘…on him’) are found in bgld (m) only. out of compassion I gave some of my catch to 4 So b: gldm ‘I shared with’. every man that was a foreigner. 5And if there was anyone who was foreign, or ailing, or aged, I boiled and dressed the fish and offered it to all men, as each had need, making them my guests out of a fellow-feeling for them. 6And so the Lord gave me a rich catch of fish; for he who shares what he has with his neighbour is repaid many times over by the Lord. 7I caught fish for five years; and I shared it with whoever I came across 5 Lit. ‘with every man I saw’. and there was still enough for my father's entire household. 8In the summer I caught fish, and in the winter I looked after the sheep with my brothers.

VII.

1Now I will tell you what I did. I saw a man who was in distress because he had nothing warm to put on in winter, 1 Lit. ‘in distress by nakedness of winter’. and I had compassion on him; and I took a garment from my house without anyone noticing and gave it to the man that was in distress. 2So you too, my children, must show compassion and mercy to all men without partiality, and give to every man with a good heart from the things that God has given you. 3And if you have nothing at the time to give a man in need, have a fellow-feeling for him, and show him compassion and mercy. 4I remember 2 Lit. ‘I know’. I had nothing ready to hand on one occasion to give a needy man, so I accompanied him on his journey for seven furlongs in tears, and my heart went out to him in sympathy.

VIII.

1And so, my children, be compassionate and merciful to every man, that the Lord may be compassionate and merciful to you too. 2(Because, indeed, in the last days the Lord sends 1 So b d: kgl (m) ‘will send’. his compassion on the earth, and wherever he finds a merciful heart, 2 Lit. ‘bowels of mercy’. he makes his dwelling there.) 3For just in so far as a man has compassion on his neighbour, so has the Lord 3 So b k: gldm add ‘also’. compassion on him. 4And when we went down to Egypt, Joseph bore no malice against us; and when he saw me he had compassion. 4 and when…compassion: found in bgld only. 5Let him be an example to you and bear no malice either, 5 So b g (d): others om. ‘and bear…either’. my children, and love one another, 6 So b g (d): others add ‘also’. and do not, each of you, keep a record of his brother's wrongdoing. 6For this is a bar to unity and splits up any family, and is a source of confusion in the soul and destroys a man completely. 7 Lit. ‘and destroys existence’: so ld eaf; bg om. through homoioteleuton; chi evidently secondary. For the man that bears malice is devoid of mercy. 8 For…mercy: found in bgld only.

IX.

1See what happens to water; for when it flows all of it together as a single river it sweeps along with it stones, wood, earth, 1 bl wrongly ‘the’ (sand) – reading τήν for γη̂ν. sand. 2But if it is divided into a number of separate streams, it disappears into the ground and becomes of no account at all. 3So will you be too, if you are divided. 4Do not let yourselves, therefore, be split in two, so that you have two heads, 2 Lit. ‘split into two heads’. for everything the Lord has made has but one head only: he has provided two shoulders, hands, and feet; but all the limbs obey the one head. 5I understand from the writing of my fathers that in the last days you will forsake the Lord, and 3 in the last…Lord, and: found in bgld only. you will be divided in Israel and follow two kings, and you will commit every kind of abomination and worship every kind of idol. 6And your enemies will take you away as captives, and you will be oppressed by 4 So gl eaf hi: bdc ‘you will be forced to live among’. the Gentiles and suffer every kind of indignity 5 Lit. ‘weakness’. and distress and mental anguish. 6 and mental anguish: found in bgld only. 7And afterwards you will remember the Lord and repent; and he will bring you back again, for he is merciful and compassionate and has no evil designs on men, because he knows that they are flesh and that the spirits of error deceive them in everything they do. 8And then shall the Lord himself, the light of righteousness, arise for you, and healing and compassion shall be in his wings: 7 and healing … wings: found in bkgldm only. he shall ransom mankind from their slavery to Beliar; and every spirit of error shall be trampled underfoot. And he shall convert all the Gentiles, so that they are filled with zeal for him. 8 So bkgl (d): others ‘And you shall return to your own land’. And you shall see God 9 So bkl: gdm eaf ‘the Lord’ (with subsequent omission through homoioteleuton in eaf). in human form in the house 10 Some such addition is needed: cp. T. Levi x. 5, xv. 1 . which the Lord will choose (Jerusalem is its name). 9And then by the wickedness of your doings 11 bk ‘words’: II ‘works’. you will provoke him again, and you will be thrown out until the end of time.

X.

1And now, my children, do not be sad because I am dying, nor cast down at my departure. 2For I shall rise again in the midst of you, as a ruler in the midst of his sons; and I shall rejoice in the midst of my tribe with as many as have kept the law of the Lord and the commands of their father Zebulon. 3But upon the ungodly will the Lord bring eternal fire, and he will destroy them for all time. 4,5Meanwhile, 1 So II-g:bk (g) om. I am going to my rest, as did my fathers. Do you fear the Lord your God with all your strength all the days of your life. 6And when he had finished speaking, he slept the perfect 2 Lit. ‘good’. sleep; and his sons put him in a coffin. 7And afterwards they carried him up to Hebron and buried him with his fathers.

Notes:

1 So eaf chi: dlm ‘of the testament’; b g om.

2 So II: b ‘thirty-two’.

3 Lit. ‘… increased when in the different coloured rods he had his share’. Cp. Gen. xxx. 25–43 .

4 So b: II om. ‘my children’.

5 Translation uncertain: b g (l) ‘I covered for my brothers’; dm eaf chi ‘I confirmed to my brothers’.

6 So b: II ‘And I wept many days about Joseph’.

1 Lit. ‘For Simeon and Gad came against Joseph with (b om.) anger (b om.)’.

2 ‘Against me’ is in fact added by gdm (ἐπ᾽ ἐμέ) and eaf (μοί).

3 Lit. ‘and my liver was loosened and all the substance of my bowels became weak upon my soul’.

4 Lit. ‘and the joints of my body went out of place’.

1 Lit. ‘We will not eat it’.

2 Lit. ‘raise up seed’.

3 So b: II explains ‘the sandal that they wore against their brother Joseph’.

4 Lit. ‘they were taken off’.

5 Lit. ‘according to the form prescribed by the Pharaoh (so b g: II-g ‘by King Pharaoh’).

1 There are wide variations between the MSS here. The translation is based on b (‘After these things they threw to eat’).

2 Lit. ‘I have found’.

3 So II: b omits the whole clause.

1 Lit. ‘Have, therefore, mercy in your bowels’.

1 Lit. ‘gave me understanding and wisdom in it’.

2 Lit. ‘And I let down a piece of wood’.

3 vi. 4–6, 7b (‘and I shared … household’) and vii. 1–viii. 3 (‘…on him’) are found in bgld (m) only.

4 So b: gldm ‘I shared with’.

5 Lit. ‘with every man I saw’.

1 Lit. ‘in distress by nakedness of winter’.

2 Lit. ‘I know’.

1 So b d: kgl (m) ‘will send’.

2 Lit. ‘bowels of mercy’.

3 So b k: gldm add ‘also’.

4 and when…compassion: found in bgld only.

5 So b g (d): others om. ‘and bear…either’.

6 So b g (d): others add ‘also’.

7 Lit. ‘and destroys existence’: so ld eaf; bg om. through homoioteleuton; chi evidently secondary.

8 For…mercy: found in bgld only.

1 bl wrongly ‘the’ (sand) – reading τήν for γη̂ν.

2 Lit. ‘split into two heads’.

3 in the last…Lord, and: found in bgld only.

4 So gl eaf hi: bdc ‘you will be forced to live among’.

5 Lit. ‘weakness’.

6 and mental anguish: found in bgld only.

7 and healing … wings: found in bkgldm only.

8 So bkgl (d): others ‘And you shall return to your own land’.

9 So bkl: gdm eaf ‘the Lord’ (with subsequent omission through homoioteleuton in eaf).

10 Some such addition is needed: cp. T. Levi x. 5, xv. 1 .

11 bk ‘words’: II ‘works’.

1 So II-g:bk (g) om.

2 Lit. ‘good’.

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