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Levi, Aramaic

Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls What is This? Explores the history, relevance, and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Levi, Aramaic

An important document of early, postbiblical Judaism, Aramaic Levi reflects attitudes toward the priesthood that differ strongly from those of another more or less contemporary work, the Book of Ben Sira. Aramaic Levi stresses the transmission of the cultic commandments from Noah to Abraham to Levi in a striking fashion. The authority of the Levitical priesthood is anchored in the actions of Noah, who founded postdiluvian humanity, and relates to the very first sacrifice he offered upon exiting the ark. The actual cultic instructions are unparalleled in detail and are one of the very earliest examples of postbiblical Jewish law. They are legitimated by an appeal to ancient tradition, perhaps because the Mosaic revelation had not taken place at the time assumed by the pseudepigraphal framework of the book. Yet the stress laid upon literacy and teaching raises the question of whether more is at stake here than providing legitimacy for priestly teaching before the revelation at Mount Sinai.

Sometimes called Aramaic Testament of Levi, Aramaic Levi was discovered in the early part of the century in two fragments from the Cairo Genizah; one being Cambridge Geniza, published in 1900 by H. L. Pass and J. Arendzen and the other, Bodleian Geniza, published in 1907 by R. H. Charles and A. Cowley. The relationship between Aramaic Levi and the Greek Testament of Levi included in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs immediately was apparent. In addition, an insertion in one of the Greek manuscripts of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Athos Koutloumous 39) was recognized as extracts from a Greek translation of Aramaic Levi. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls seven copies of Aramaic Levi have been identified, one from Cave 1 (Aramaic Levi, 1Q21) and six from Cave 4 (Aramaic Levia–f, 4Q213, 4Q213a, 4Q213b, 4Q214, 4Q214a, 4Q214b).

The fragments from Cave 4, among which J. T. Milik recognized three manuscripts, have been found to stem from six manuscripts (Greenfield and Stone, 1979). It is quite striking that all the Qumran copies date from the same period. The manuscripts are in scripts that resemble those typical of late Hasmonean, or in one or two instances early Herodian, writing. Significantly, two of the manuscripts (Aramaic Levid and Aramaic Levie) present variant shorter texts of the Cairo Genizah Aramaic Levi document.

Aramaic Levi seems to have been written originally in Aramaic, though some scholars, such as Grelot (1956), have maintained that the original was written in Hebrew and that it was translated into Aramaic in antiquity. This view has not met with general acceptance.

There is good reason to date Aramaic Levi to the third century or to the very early second century BCE. Aramaic Levi (or something very much like it) seems to have served as a source for Jubilees, which is usually dated to the first half of the second century BCE, as well as for the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and it is cited by the Damascus Document (CD), which is somewhat later than Jubilees. This date makes Aramaic Levi one of the most ancient of the pseudepigrapha.

Aramaic Levi relates nothing directly about its provenance, nor would such statements be expected in a pseudepigraphon. It employs a solar calendar resembling the one promoted by 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Qumran sectarian writings. In contrast to 1 Enoch and Jubilees, the surviving fragments contain no polemics regarding the use of the solar calendar. In addition to its adoption of the solar calendar, Aramaic Levi expresses distinctive ideas about two spirits, apotropaic prayer, and demonology, as well as oppositional views about the priesthood, including the unusual idea of an exclusively Levitical messianism. Aramaic Levi does not bear the distinctive marks of Qumran sectarian language, however, and should be attributed to a third-century wing of Judaism from which the Qumran sectarians are but one group of descendants.

It is possible to reconstruct the original order of the Oxford (Bodleian) and Cambridge fragments of Aramaic Levi from the Cairo Genizah. They are apparently parts of the two middle leaves of a quire (a collection of four sheets, folded in half). The Cambridge sheet preserves part of the recto of a right-hand column of a right-hand folio and part of the verso of the same folio, which is from the following left-hand column. The single Bodleian leaf was the right-hand leaf of the innermost sheet of the quire. The left-hand leaf is lost, but its contents are preserved in the Greek fragment (Athos Koutloumous 39, see above). Then the recto and verso of another left-hand leaf (Cambridge) follow. Thus the structure of these fragments is: *lr-*lv (Cambridge); *2r-*2v (Oxford); [*3r-*3v Greek]; *4r-*4v (Cambridge).

The sequence of the fragments is important because it fixes the order of events in part of the original document. It is, however, incomplete in two respects. We do not know what material came between the fragmentary quarter columns of the first recto and verso in the Cambridge fragment and between them and the first column of the Bodleian fragment. Moreover, the Cairo Genizah fragments preserve neither the beginning nor the end of the work.

There is some further evidence that Aramaic Levi was longer, perhaps substantially longer, than the Cairo Genizah and Athos material. First, the Prayer of Levi that was preserved as an insertion in the Greek Testament of Levi (3.2) also occurs in a fragment of Aramaic Levib. This confirms the position of the Prayer of Levi as part of Aramaic Levi. Second, some of the other Qumran fragments overlap with the material known from the Cairo Genizah, but numerous fragments of the Qumran Aramaic text have no parallels at all in the Cairo Genizah-Athos material. These must have come from parts of Aramaic Levi that did not survive in the Cairo or Athos finds. Third, a citation attributed to Levi is given by Ammonas, a successor of Saint Anthony. If this is from Aramaic Levi, it is from some other part of the manuscript than those preserved in the surviving Greek and Aramaic fragments. Finally, Puech (1992) has claimed that the two copies of Aaronic Text A (4Q540–541), which show certain parallels to the Greek Testament of Levi 18, also derive from Aramaic Levi. This is not certain, but if it were true it would hint at the inclusion of this eschatological material in the book. We regard only those manuscripts with some textual overlap with the Cairo Genizah-Athos material as being a definite part of Aramaic Levi. Puech also refers to Milik's suggestion that the narrative 4Q458 contains the closing passage of Aramaic Levi.

R. Kugler (1996) has proposed an overall history and structure of Aramaic Levi that is of considerable interest, though debatable at some points. The surviving substantial fragments of Aramaic Levi deal with the following topics.

Levi's prayer and vision (Prayer of Levi) is a separate piece that may have originally preceded the Cairo Genizah-Athos material, though not directly (Aramaic Levib 1–2). It has been suggested that 1QAramaic Levi fragment 1 might have occurred in the material preceding section 4 of the Genizah text. Levi's investiture and the recognition of his priesthood by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is found in Cairo Genizah, 1QAramaic Levi (3, 4), and Aramaic Levic:

  • 4–10 = Genizah
  • 4–6 = Aramaic Levi frg. 3
  • 7–9 = Aramaic Levic
  • 9 = Aramaic Levi frg. 4

Isaac's exhortation and cultic instructions to Levi (4Q214 1; 4Q214b 2–6; 4Q214a; 4Q214 2; 1Q21 45):

  • 14–61 = Genizah
  • 20–23 = Aramaic Levid frg. 1
  • 22–27 = Aramaic Levif frgs. 2–6
  • 24–25 = Aramaic Levie frg. 1
  • 25–30 = Aramaic Levid frg. 2
  • 26–27 = Aramaic Levi frg. 45

The birth of Levi's children and the major events of his life (4Q214a 2–3.i):

  • 62–81 = Genizah
  • 69–72 resembles Aramaic Levie frgs. 2–3 col. i

Levi's address to his children before his death, which is a wisdom poem (4Q213 1 and 2; 4Q214a 2–; 4Q214b 8):

  • 82–95 = Genizah
  • Aramaic Levia frgs. 1 and 2 overlap with this and have further text
  • Aramaic Levie frgs. 2–3 = 95 and text from 4QLevia
  • 4QLevif frg. 8 overlaps with the preceding.

This was not the end of the work, as is clear from parts of Aramaic Levia (1.ii and 2), which overlap with the end of the poem and which are followed by an eschatological exhortation.

Other substantial fragments that cannot be placed by reference to the continuous text of Aramaic Levi mentioned above include a piece of hortatory text (4Q213 4) and a reference to the Dinah incident, which also contains some eschatological words (4Q213a 3–4). Numerous other fragments of the Qumran Aramaic Levi manuscripts do not parallel any of the Qumran material noted above, and there seems to be no sure way of fixing their sequence in Aramaic Levi. It seems likely that Aramaic Levi formed the inspiration for two other works found at Qumran, the Testament of Qahat (4Q542) and Visions of Amrama–f (4Q543–548). Thus a series of three compositions were attributed to the fathers of the priestly line.

[See also Amram; Ben Sira, Book of; Levi; Qahat; Testaments; and Twelve Patriarchs, Testaments of the.]


  • de Jonge, M. “Notes on Testament of Levi II–VII.” In Travels in the World of the Old Testament, edited by M. S. H. G. Heerma van Voss, Ph. H. J. Houwink ten Cate, and N. A. van Uchelen, pp. 132–145. Assen, 1974.
  • Also available in Studies on the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, edited by M. de Jonge. Leiden, 1975.
  • de Jonge, M. “The Testament of Levi and ‘Aramaic Levi’.” Revue de Qumrân 13 (1988), 376–385.
    Examines the relationship of the Greek and Aramaic documents
  • Greenfield, Jonas C. “The Words of Levi Son of Jacob in Damascus Document 4.15–19.” Revue de Qumrân 13 (1988), 319–322.
    Shows that Aramaic Levi is cited in the Damascus Document
  • Greenfield, Jonas C., and Michael E. Stone. “Remarks on the Aramaic Testament of Levi from the Geniza.” Revue biblique 85 (1979), 214–230.
    A study of the Genizah Aramaic text
  • Grelot, Pierre. “Notes sur le Testament araméen de Lévi.” Revue biblique 63 (1956), 391–406.
    A study of the Genizah Aramaic text
  • Kugler, Robert A. From Patriarch to Priest: The Levi-Priestly Tradition from Aramaic Levi to Testament of Levi. Society of Biblical Literature, Early Judaism and Its Literature, 9. Atlanta, 1996.
    Important study also containing full edition and translation of the texts
  • Puech, É. “Fragments d'un apocryphe de Lévi et le personnage eschatologique, 4QTestLévic–d (?) et 4 QAJa.” In The Madrid Qumran Congress: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Madrid, 18–21 March 1991, edited by J. Trebolle Barrera and L. Vegas Montaner, pp. 449–501. Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, 11. Madrid, 1992.
    Proposes that 540 and 541 come from Aramaic Levi
  • Milik, Józef T. “Le testament de Lévi in araméen: Fragment de la grotte 4 de Qumrân.” Revue biblique 62 (1955), 398–406.
  • Milik, Józef T. The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumrân Cave 4. Oxford, 1976.
    Publishes a fragment of Aramaic Levi
  • Stone, Michael E. “Enoch, Aramaic Levi and Sectarian Origins.” Journal for the Study of Judaism 19 (1988), 159–170.
    Role of Aramaic Levi in early postbiblical Judaism
  • Stone, Michael E., and Jonas C. Greenfield. “4 Q Levi ar.” In Qumran Cave 4: Parabiblical Texts, Part 3, edited by George Brooke et al., pp. 1–72. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 22. Oxford, 1997.
  • Stone, Michael E., and Jonas C. Greenfield. “The Aramaic Levi Document.” In The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Commentary, edited by H. W. Hollander and M. de Jonge, pp. 457–469. Leiden, 1985.
    English translation
  • Stone, Michael E., and Jonas C. Greenfield. “The First Manuscript of Aramaic Levi Document from Qumran (4 Q Levia aram).” Le Muséon 107 (1994), 257–281.
  • Stone, Michael E., and Jonas C. Greenfield. “The Second Manuscript of Aramaic Levi from Cave 4 at Qumran (4QArLevib).” Le Muséon 109 (1996), 1–15.

Michael E. Stone

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