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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Wisdom

1. The Chapters of the Fathers (Pirqei ᾽Abot), 2:1–6 : Miscellaneous Moral Maxims

( 2:1 ) Rabbi said: Which is the straight way that a man should choose? Whatever is an honour to him and gets honour from men. Be as careful to fulfil a light precept as a weighty one, for you do not know what recompense is awarded for each precept. Reckon the loss (incurred) through (fulfilling) a precept against its reward, and the reward (gained) from a transgression against its loss. Consider three things and you will not fall into the hands of transgression: know what is above you—a seeing eye and a hearing ear and all your deeds recorded in a book.

(2) Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince says: It is excellent to combine the study of the Torah with a worldly occupation, for toiling at both of them puts sin out of mind. But all study of the Torah without worldly labour comes to nothing in the end and brings sin in its train. Let all those who labour with the congregation labour with them for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of their Fathers sustains them and their righteousness endures for ever. And as for you, (God will say,) I count you worthy of great reward as though you yourselves had done everything.

(3) Be heedful of the government for they only bring a man near them for their own ends: they seem to be friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man when he is in distress.

(4) He used to say: Do his will as if it was your will so that he may do your will as if it was his will. Negate your will before his will so that he may negate the will of others before your will.

(5) Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the congregation, and do not put any trust in yourself till the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow till you have been in his situation. Do not suppose that anything (you say) which cannot be understood (at once) will be understood in the end. Do not say, ‘When I have leisure I will study.’ Perhaps you never will have leisure.

(6) He used to say: A boor does not fear sin, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a shy person cannot learn nor a short-tempered person teach, and whoever engages much in trade cannot become wise. Where there are no men strive to be a man.

Comment: Though clearly within the ancient wisdom tradition of pithy sayings that provide food for thought, the values of ᾽Abot are those dear to the rabbis' hearts: the centrality of the study of Torah to a moral life; engaging with the congregation; doing everything ‘for the sake of heaven’ (i.e. not for financial gain or personal glory); the need to live a balanced life combining study of Torah with a trade or profession, to ‘put sin out of mind’, and, as is stated elsewhere in ᾽Abot, to avoid taking payment for teaching the necessary truths of Torah. See further MAJ GEN B.11, D.2.

2. Babylonian Talmud, Šabbat, 31a: Hillel and the Golden Rule

Our rabbis taught: Once a heathen came before Shammai and asked him: ‘How many Torahs do you have?’ ‘Two,’ he replied, ‘the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.’ The heathen said: ‘I believe you about the Written Torah, but not about the Oral. Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me only the Written Torah.’ Shammai scolded him and angrily ordered him to get out. When he went before Hillel, he made him a proselyte. On the first day he taught him ᾽aleph, beth, gimmel, dalet. The following day he reversed the order of the letters. The heathen protested: ‘But yesterday you did not teach them to me thus.’ ‘Must you not rely upon me in this matter?’ Hillel replied. ‘Then rely on me with respect also to the Oral Torah.’

On another occasion it happened that a heathen came before Shammai and said to him: ‘Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Shammai drove him out with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he made him a proselyte. He said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn!’

On another occasion it happened that a heathen was passing behind a school and heard the voice of a teacher reciting. ‘And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate and an ephod’ (Ex 28:4 ). Said he: ‘For whom are these made?’ ‘For the high priest’, said they. The heathen said to himself: ‘I will go and become a proselyte, so that I may be appointed a high priest.’ So he went before Shammai and said to him: ‘Make me a proselyte on condition that you appoint me high priest.’ Shammai drove him out with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he made him a proselyte. Hillel said to him: ‘No one is appointed king who does not know the arts of government. Go and study the arts of government!’ He went and read. When he came to the words, ‘The stranger that comes nigh shall be put to death’ (Num 1:51 ), he asked Hillel: ‘To whom does this verse apply?’ ‘Even to David, king of Israel,’ was the answer. Thereupon the proselyte reasoned a fortiori: ‘If the words, “The stranger that comes nigh shall be put to death”, are applied in Scripture to Israel, who are called sons of the Omnipresent, and whom in his love he designated, “Israel, my firstborn son” (Ex 4:22 ), how much more do they apply to a mere proselyte, who comes with his staff and his bag!’ He went before Shammai and said to him: ‘Could I ever have been eligible to be High Priest? Is it not written in the Torah, “The stranger that comes nigh shall be put to death”? He went before Hillel and said to him: ‘O gentle Hillel, may blessings rest on your head for bringing me under the wings of the Shekinah [the Divine Presence]!’

Some time later when the three proselytes met in one place, they said: ‘Shammai's impatience nearly drove us out of the world, but Hillel's gentleness brought us under the wings of the Shekinah!’

Comment: Hillel exemplifies the patience of the great Sage, in contrast to his irascible contemporary Shammai. His summation of the Torah is, curiously, not a statement from Torah itself, but a commonplace of folk ethics. However, there are grounds for thinking that some rabbis saw the Golden Rule as essentially another formulation of the love-commandment of Lev 19:18 , ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Hillel reaches out to the Gentile where he is and quotes him a principle well known in his own society. The ease and speed with which Hillel converts the Gentile, contrary to normal rabbinic procedure, does not seem to have troubled the narrator. It is unlikely that this story is historically accurate since it appears for the first time in the Babylonian Talmud, which was edited around 500 CE, some 500 years after the time of Hillel (see MAJ GEN B.11). However, the debate on what is ‘the great principle’ that sums up the whole Torah goes back to Second Temple times (see MAJ GEN D.3).

3. Testament of Reuben, 5:1–6:4 : The Wiles of Women

( 5:1 ) For women are evil, my children, and since they lack authority or power over a man, they scheme how they might entice him to themselves by means of their physical attractions. (2) And whoever they cannot bewitch by physical appearance they conquer by guile. (3) Indeed, the angel of the Lord told me and taught me that women are more easily overcome by the spirit of promiscuity than are men. They plot in their hearts against men; then by adorning themselves they first lead men's minds astray, then by a glance they implant their venom, and finally by the (sexual) act they take them captive. (4) For a woman is not able to coerce a man openly, but by a harlot's attractions she accomplishes her villainy. (5) Flee, therefore, my children, from sexual promiscuity, and command your wives and your daughters not to adorn their heads and faces to deceive men's minds. For every woman who schemes in this way is destined for eternal punishment.

(6) For it was thus that they allured the Watchers, who were before the Flood. As they gazed continuously at the women, they were filled with desire for them and committed the act in their minds. They changed themselves into the form of human males, and while the women were having intercourse with their husbands they appeared to them. Because the women's minds were filled with lust for these apparitions, they gave birth to giants, for the Watchers appeared to them to reach up to heaven.

( 6:1 ) So guard yourself against sexual promiscuity, and if you want to remain pure in your mind, guard your senses from women. (2) And command the women not to associate with men, so that they too may be (3) pure in mind. For constant meetings, even though the ungodly act itself is not committed, are for these women an incurable disease, and for us they bring Beliar's ruin and eternal disgrace. (4) Because in sexual promiscuity there is neither understanding nor piety, and in the desire for it all forms of jealousy reside.

Comment: The advice is aptly given by Reuben, who succumbed to the charms of Bilhah, his father's concubine, and committed incest with her (Gen 35:22 ). Women are all essentially harlots, who scheme to dominate men sexually. 5:6 seems to imply that male sexuality is constructed by women, without whom men would be asexual (cf. ANTH G.2). Apparently unconcerned by the need to procreate, the author dubs sexual intercourse ‘the ungodly act’ ( 6:3 ). The reference to the fall of the Watchers (see ANTH A.4) is noteworthy. The author rejects as too problematic the idea that the women could have had physical intercourse with heavenly beings. His alternative explanation relies on the idea that the images in the mind during intercourse can affect the nature of the offspring. On the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs see MAJ GEN D.4.

4. Community Rule (1QS), 3:13–4:1, 15–26 : Instruction on the Two Spirits

( 3:13 ) For the Master (Maskil), so that he may instruct and teach all the Sons of Light concerning the nature of all the children of men (14) with respect to the kind of spirit which they possess, concerning the signs which they show in their works, and concerning their generations—the times when they are visited for chastisement and (15) the times when they have peace.

From the God of knowledge comes all that is and shall be. Before ever they existed he determined their whole design, (16) and when, at their appointed times, they come into being, it is in accordance with his glorious design that they accomplish their tasks without change. In his hand are (17) the laws of all things, and he provides them with everything they need.

He created man to govern (18) the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of his visitation—the spirits of (19) truth and of falsehood. From the source of light truth is born, but from the fountain of darkness falsehood originates. (20) The Prince of Light rules over all the children of righteousness, and they walk in the ways of light, but the Angel of (21) Darkness rules over all children of falsehood, and they walk in the ways of darkness. The Angel of Darkness leads astray (22) all the children of righteousness, and, until his end, all their sins, iniquities, wickedness, and wrongdoings are caused by his dominion, (23) in accordance with the mysteries of God. And all their afflictions and their times of suffering are (the result) of his hostile rule; (24) for all his allotted spirits seek to overthrow the Sons of Light.

But the God of Israel and his Angel of Truth assist all (25) the Sons of Light. For it he who created the spirits of light and of darkness, and founded every action upon them (26) and every deed [upon] their [ways]. And God loves the one, ( 4:1 ) world without end, and takes delight in its works foreover; but the assembly of the other he loathes and hates its ways eternally …

(15) In these (two spirits) the natures of all the children of men (partake), and in their divisions their hosts have a share, throughout all their generations, and walk in their ways. And all the deeds that they do, (16) for everlasting ages, shall be according to whether each man's portion in their divisions is great or small. For God has established the spirits in equal measure until the final (17) age, and has set eternal enmity between their divisions. Truth loathes the works of falsehood, and falsehood loathes all the ways of truth. And there is fierce (18) dispute about all their judgements, for they do not walk together.

But in the mysteries of his understanding, and in his glorious wisdom, God has ordained an end for falsehood, and at the time of (19) the (final) visitation he will destroy it forever. Then truth shall prevail in the world, for it will have wallowed in the ways of wickedness during the dominion of falsehood till (20) the time appointed for judgement. Then God will purify all the deeds of men through his truth; he will refine for himself the children of men by rooting out all the spirit of falsehood from their physical (21) frame, and by purifying them from all their wicked deeds through a spirit of holiness. He shall shed upon them, like purifying water, the spirit of truth (to cleanse them) from all lying abominations. And they shall be plunged (22) into a purifying spirit, so that the upright in knowledge may be instructed in the knowledge of the Most High and those who are perfect in the way may be enlightened in the wisdom of the sons of heaven. For God has chosen them for an everlasting covenant, (23) and all the glory of Adam shall be theirs, without falsehood, and all the works of deceit shall be put to shame.

Until now the spirits of truth and falsehood struggle in the hearts of men (24) and they walk in both wisdom and folly. According to a man's portion in truth so he hates falsehood, and according to his inheritance in the lot of falsehood so he acts wickedly and (25) hates truth. For God has established the two spirits in equal measure until the foreordained end and until all things are made new, and he knows the deeds that they do for (26) ever[more]. He has apportioned them to the children of men so that they may know good [and evil, and] so that the (final) destinies of all the living may be assigned in accordance with the spirit that is within [them at the time] of the visitation.

Comment: Though prepositional and overtly theological to a degree scarcely paralleled in early Jewish literature, the Instruction on the Two Spirits begs many questions. At first reading it seems to be advocating a rigid, almost Calvinistic, determinism: every man's destiny is foreordained by the portions of good and evil that God has assigned to him. Some at Qumran may actually have understood the text in this way (see ANTH D.7). But it can be read differently. All that has been foreordained is that there should be two principles—good and evil—and that everyone should have a share in both. It is possible to change one's portions in good and evil through submission to ‘the truth’. It is clearly envisaged that the residual evil in the righteous will be eradicated at the end of history through the truth. And the statement that one's destiny is determined by the proportions that prevail in one's spirit ‘at the time of the visitation’, implies that the proportions can be altered, otherwise there is little point in mentioning a census date. The objectification of good and evil into cosmic principles, and their close identification with personal agents (the Prince of Light and the Angel of Darkness) may reflect the influence of Persian thought. See further MAJ GEN D.5, F.2.

5. 1 Enoch, 72:2–37 : The Motion of the Sun in the Heavens

( 72:2 ) This is the first law of the luminaries: the light (called) the sun rises in the gates of heaven that are in the east and it sets in the gates of heaven that are in the west.

(3) And I saw six gates from which the sun rises and six gates in which the sun sets. The moon (also) rises and sets in the same gates, as well as the leaders of the stars (the planets and major stars), together with those whom they lead. (There are) six (gates) in the east and six in the west, all arranged in sequence, one beside the other. And there are many windows to the right (= north) and the left (= south) of these gates.

(4) And the greater light called the sun comes out first. Its roundness is like the roundness of heaven, and it is totally filled with fire which gives off light and heat.

(5) The winds blow along the chariot on which it rises. And the sun goes down from heaven and turns northwards in order to reach the east; and it is guided in such a way that it arrives at the (correct) gate and shines (again) in heaven.

(6) In this way the sun rises in the first month from the great gate, the fourth of those gates that are in the east. (7) And in this fourth gate from which the sun rises in the first month there are twelve window-openings from which flames issue when they are opened at their appointed times.

(8) When the sun rises in heaven it emerges from this fourth gate for thirty days, and it sets exactly in the fourth gate in the west of heaven. (9) During this period day increases and night decreases until the thirtieth day. (10) And on the thirtieth day the day is two parts longer than the night, the day being exactly ten parts and the night eight parts. (11) And the sun rises from the fourth gate and sets in the fourth (gate).

The sun returns to the fifth gate in the east for thirty mornings, and rises from it and sets in the fifth gate (in the west). (12) Then the day increases by two parts, till the day amounts to eleven parts, and the night decreases till it amounts to seven parts.

(13) The sun returns to the east and enters the sixth gate, and rises and sets in the sixth gate for thirty-one days, to act as a sign. (14) During this period the day increases over the night (until) the day is double the night, the day amounting to twelve parts and night decreasing to six parts. (15) Then the sun sets out to shorten the day and lengthen the night.

The sun returns to the east and enters the sixth gate and it rises from it and sets in it for thirty days. (16) And when the thirty days are completed the day has decreased by exactly one part; the day amounts to eleven parts and the night to seven parts.

(17) Then the sun departs by the sixth gate in the west and travels to the east to rise in the fifth gate for thirty days; and it sets in the west again in the fifth gate. (18) And on the thirtieth day the day has decreased by two parts, the day amounting to ten parts and the night to eight parts. (19) And the sun rises from the fifth gate (in the east) and sets in the fifth gate in the west.

Then the sun rises from the fourth gate in the east for thirty-one days, to act as a sign, and it sets (in the fourth gate) in the west. (20) On the thirty-first day the day equals the night and they are the same, the night amounting to nine parts and the day to nine parts. (21) And the sun rises from this (fourth) gate (in the east) and sets (in the fourth gate) in the west.

Then the sun returns to the east and rises from the third gate for thirty days, and it sets in the west in the third gate. (22) During this period the night increases over the day: the nights grow longer and the days grow shorter until the thirtieth day when the night amounts exactly to ten parts and the day to eight parts. (23) And the sun rises from this third gate (in the east) and sets in the third gate in the west.

Then the sun returns to the east and rises for thirty days in the second gate in the east, and likewise it sets in the second gate in the west of heaven. (24) And on the thirtieth day the night amounts to eleven parts and the day to seven parts. (25) And the sun rises from the second gate (in the east), and sets in the second gate in the west.

Then the sun returns to the east and rises from the first gate for thirty-one days and sets in the west in the first gate. (26) On the thirty-first day the night has increased to become twice as long as the day, the night amounting to exactly twelve parts and the day to six parts.

(27) The sun has (thus) completed (all) the stages of its journey, and it now retraces its path along the stages of its journey.

The sun rises from the (first) gate (in the east) for thirty days, and sets in the west opposite it. (28) And on the thirtieth day the night has decreased in length by one part, the night amounting to eleven parts and the day to seven parts.

(29) And the sun returns and enters the second gate in the east for thirty days, rising and setting (in the second gate). (30) And on the thirtieth day the night has decreased in length, the night amounting to ten parts and the day to eight parts. (31) And during this period the sun rises from the second gate (in the east) and sets (in the second gate) in the west.

Then the sun returns to the east and rises in the third gate for thirty-one days and it sets (in the third gate) in the west of heaven. (32) And on the thirty-first day the night has decreased and amounts to nine parts and the day to nine parts, night and day being equal. And the year amounts to exactly 364 days.

(33) And the length of the day and the night, and the shortness of the day and the night, are determined by the path of the sun, (34) because its path becomes longer day after day, and shorter night after night. (35) And this is the law for the path of the sun, and it returns and rises as often as sixty times (in each gate). This greater luminary is called the sun for all eternity. (36) And that which thus rises is the greater luminary, and it is so named in accordance with its appearance, as the Lord commanded. (37) And thus it rises and sets, and it does not decrease (in brightness), nor does it rest, but travels day and night in its chariot. And its light is seven times as bright as the (light of the full) moon, but in size the two are equal.

Note: v. 13 , ‘to act as a sign’—Four of the months have thirty-one and not thirty days. The extra day is a sign of the two solstices and the two equinoxes.

Comment: The calendar proposed is neatly regular. In effect it divides the year into twelve thirty-day months plus the two solstices and the two equinoxes, the four additional days being added to the months preceding them, giving those months thirty-one days each. The year begins, as in the old Jewish calendar, at the spring equinox. The regularity of the pattern doubtless commended it, and suggested conformity to the divine order of nature. Behind the schema lies genuine scientific observation. From his standpoint in the northern hemisphere the writer notes that the sun rises on the eastern horizon at different points in the year, and that the point of its rising correlates with the length of day and night (which he measures on an eighteen-point scale). The point furthest south is the winter solstice, that furthest north the summer solstice. He divides the distance between these into six gates. Note also his attempt to establish the relative brightness of the sun and the full moon, and the implication that the moon reflects the light of the sun. See further MAJ GEN A.7, D.6.

6. Book of Mysteries, 2. 62–72: Incantation for Depriving an Enemy of Sleep

If you wish to deprive your enemy of sleep, take the head of a black dog that has been blind from birth and take a strip of lead from a water-pipe and write upon it (the names of) these angels (listed earlier), and say thus:

I hand over to you, angels of anxiety who stand upon the fourth step, the life, soul and spirit of N son of N, so that you may imprison him with chains of iron and bind him with bars of bronze. Do not grant sleep to his eyelids, nor slumber, nor drowsiness. Let him weep and cry like a woman in travail and do not permit anyone to release him [from this spell].

Write thus and put [the lead strip] in the mouth of the dog's head. Put wax on its mouth and seal it with a ring which has a lion (engraved) upon it. Then go and conceal it behind his house, or in the place where he goes out and in.

If you wish to release him, bring up (the dog's head) from the place where it is concealed, remove its seal, withdraw the text and throw it into a fire. At once he will fall asleep. Do this with humility and you will be successful.

Comment: This is a piece of voodoo of a type widely practised throughout the ancient world. Apart from the reference to the angels, it is devoid of religious content and is totally immoral. This kind of black magic was universally condemned in antiquity by religious and civil authorities. On the Book of Mysteries see MAJ GEN D.11.

7. 4Q186: Fragments of an Astrological Physiognomy

Frag. 1: ( 2:5 ) … and his thighs are long and slender, and his toes are (6) slender and long. He is of the second column. (7) His spirit has six (parts) in the House of Light and three in the House of (8) Darkness. And this is the sign in which he was born: (9) the foot of the Bull. He will be poor. And his animal is the bull.

(3) … (2) and his head … [his eyes] are (3) frightening. His teeth are irregular (?). His fingers (4) are fat, and thighs are fat and covered with [h]air … (5) His toes are fat and short. His spirit has [e]ight (parts) in the House of [Darkness] and one in the House of Light …

Frag. 2: (1) … regular. His ey[es] are between black and grey (?) (in colour). His beard (2) is sp[arse] and curly. The sound of his voice is gentle. His teeth (3) are sharp and regular. He is neither (too) tall (4) nor (too) short, but is as he should be (?). His fingers are slender (5) and long. His thighs are smooth, and the soles of his feet are (6)[… and his toes] are regular. His spirit has eight parts [in the House of Light {of the second Column} and o[ne] in [the House of Darkness. And this is] the sign in which he was born: (9) … his animal is …

Note: The words in braces {} should probably be omitted.

Comment: Fragmentary though it is, it is still possible to see that this text was attempting to deduce from a man's physical characteristics the nature of his spirit, and, presumably, on this basis to decide whether or not he could join the community. Everyone is measured on a nine-point scale, so no one can be evenly balanced between good and evil. The person's spirit was determined by the configuration of the heavens at the time of his birth—the classic claim of astrology. The links between this text and the Instruction on the Two Spirits (ANTH D.4) are clear. 4Q186 seems to represent a deterministic reading of that text. Everyone's character is foreordained. What is needed is some scientific way of distinguishing the Sons of Light from the Sons of Darkness. On the Astrological Physiognomy see MAJ GEN D.12.

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