Are there helpful OT-era Jewish extra-biblical books?

rakovsky

Member
In the case of the New Testament, we have writings like those of St. Ignatius, St Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr written within 100 years of the NT that helps shed light on how the early Christians understood the writings of the New Testament. They include writings from the era of the "Apostolic Fathers", the era of the Church writers who knew the apostles.

Do we have similar writings outside the Bible from the Old Testament period? For instance, if Ezekiel wrote in the 7th-6th century BC, do we have Jewish writings from 400 BC or earlier that can help us understand Ezekiel?
 

rakovsky

Member
One thing that made me ask the question was because it is neat how repeatedly in the Old Testament there are references to the Afterlife. It would be nice if we had commentaries from that period to give more of their ideas on the topic in more depth.

So for instance, there is a slew of references in the Torah to the Patriarchs going to lie with their fathers, which is distinguished from them being buried, which shows up in Psalm 49 also:
Genesis 15:15:
You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.

Genesis 25:8
And at a ripe old age he breathed his last and died, old and contented, and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 35:29
Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Genesis 47:30
but when I lie down with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me with them." Joseph answered, "I will do as you have requested."

Genesis 49:29
I [Jacob] am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite.

Deuteronomy 31:16
And the LORD said to Moses, "You will soon rest with your fathers, and these people will rise up and prostitute themselves with the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake Me and break the covenant I have made with them.

Numbers 20:24
Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah.

Judges 2:10
All that generation [Joshua's] also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

Psalm 49:19
he [ie. A man who grows rich] will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of day.
Here are some commentaries that I found:

1. Jon Gill noted the view of the 12th Century rabbi Jarchi (AKA Rashi) on the verse:
Jarchi infers from hence, that Terah, Abram's father, was a penitent, and died a good man, and went to heaven, the place and state of the blessed, whither Abram should go at death

2. Robert Jamieson refers to Rashi's commentary:
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace. It has been said by many that 'going to one's fathers,' or 'being gathered to one's people' was a phrase synonymous with 'being buried.' But here the distinction is clearly brought out. Abram was buried in the cave of Machpelah, but none of his ancestors had been interred there. Whereas his 'going to his fathers' is a beautiful and gentle form of expression for death, his soul then departing to the place of spirits, whither his deceased forefathers had preceded him. This is the first passage in which the phraseology occurs; and the Jewish commentator Rashi infers, from the use of the words by God himself, that Terah, Abram's father, must have renounced idolatry and returned in penitence and faith to the worship of the true God, since there could be a reunion between his spirit and Abram's in the future state.

3. The KJV Today website uses word analysis to see that Abraham "expiring", literally breathing out, meant not only that Abraham died, but that it implied that his spirit left his body:
The Hebrew word “גּוע (gava)” means to expire, and in the context of death it could mean the expiration of spirit. The Hebrew mind understood the releasing of one’s last breath as synonymous with the releasing of one’s spirit. The word for breath, “רוּח (ruach),” is translated as either spirit or breath, depending on context. The Greek word for expiration is also translated “giving up the ghost” in keeping with the Hebrew idea that breath and spirit are synonymous, and also with the Greek idea that breath (πνεῦμα) is synonymous with spirit (πνεῦμα).
Here you can also note that the phrase about expiring is separate from the term for dying, so that the act of expiring or "breathing out" is meant something different. This implies also that expiring means the spirit leaving the body.

4. Citing a medieval Jewish scholar and a modern one, David Ackerman writes:
the phrase vayei-asef el amav, and he was gathered to his people, is used in the Torah only for Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses. It can’t refer to burial in an historical “family plot,” because Abraham, Aaron, and Moses are not buried with any of their ancestors. And since Jacob was buried long after his death (when the phrase is used) it can’t refer to burial, generally. So, what exactly does it mean and if Abraham is the first Jew, who are these people he is gathered to?

Nahum Sarna (1923–2005; modern Biblical scholar) addresses the first question, claiming vayei-asef el amav implies a transition to an afterlife, attesting to a Biblical-era belief in an immortal element of a person’s existence. Sforno (~1470–c. 1550; Italian commentator and physician) deals with the second question by connecting Abraham to those righteous people who existed in previous generations. They may not have been as righteous as Abraham, and they may not have been Jewish, but still, they are Abraham’s people. Righteousness transcends faith.
 

rakovsky

Member
6. Don Stewart in his article "What Hope Did the Old Testament Give for Death?" gave the interpretation that when God told Moses "I am the God" of Abraham, then His use of the present tense implied that they are still alive:
When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush He identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  • He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:6).
The Lord said, "I am" not "I was" the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though long dead, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in God's presence.

Jesus used this same interpretation and explanation when he argued for the Afterlife to the Sadduccees, who accepted the Torah but not the Afterlife.

This argument makes sense, but I am not sure if linguistically the verse demands this interpretation. If you say that a certain pen is "Abraham Lincoln's pen", or if you say that the Gettysburg Address "is Lincoln's speech", does this imply that Lincoln is still alive? No, because something can be said to belong to someone after their death, whether it is their financial estate or their creations. The Mona Lisa "is" Da Vinci's famous painting. On the other hand, with God, you are talking about Someone, which is different than a pen, speech, or painting. Can someone still be someone's spouse or friend after their death? No. We wouldn't say that "so and so" "is the friend of the deceased". Yet "the god" or "a god" are also offices or concepts. So if you said that "Quetzalcoatl is the god of Montezuma", you would not be implying that Montezuma hadn't died.

Probably someone with more knowledge of Biblical expressions could clear this up. My guess is that they worked the same in English and that the word "is" doesn't imply whether the person is still alive or not.

It's a moot point though, because based on Gen 15:15, the Biblical authors still thought that Abraham continued in the Afterlife.

Don Stewart saw the stories of Enoch, numerous Psalms, Jove, and the story of Saul calling Samuel as other references to an Afterlife in the OT.

7. The Talmud notes that in Genesis 15:15 God tells Abraham about his death that he will be buried "with peace" (B'Shalom), and that the Bible uses the expression "with peace" to refer to the departed. For instance, David bid farewell to Abshalom "with peace" and then Abshalom was killed. In contrast, one bids farewell to the living "to peace" (L'Shalom). (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1252308/jewish/Tractate-Moed-Katan.htm)

8. While the Torah just lists several people from Abraham to Aaron and Moses who are gathered to their ancestors, the TaNaKh also says that this happened to King Josiah. In 2 Kings 22, Huldah prophecied about him:

9. Yosef Weiner commented on the Bible Hermeneutics website:
Sforno on Genesis 25:8 supports your hypothesis:
  • ויאסף אל עמיו - אל צרור החיים לחיי העולם עם צדיקי הדורות
  • He was gathered to his people - To be bound in life: the eternal life with the righteous of [prior] generations
Radak (David Kimchi) indicates that it refers to his other family members who have died.
Another comment there was:
Also, the qal-niphal minimal pair in 2 Kgs. 22:20 || 2 Chr. 34:28 indicates that God is the actor of the gathering act, not the remaining family members. – user2672
  • Besides 2 Kgs 22, which I cited earlier, 2 Chr. 34:28 runs:
    Now I will indeed gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the calamity that I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants.’ ” So they brought her answer back to the king.
This is essentially the same thing as in 2 Kgs 22. It has God being the one who gathers Josiah at his death to his fathers.
 

Harel13

Member
Do we have similar writings outside the Bible from the Old Testament period? For instance, if Ezekiel wrote in the 7th-6th century BC, do we have Jewish writings from 400 BC or earlier that can help us understand Ezekiel?
None that I'm aware of. We do find out some stuff based on archeological discoveries.

The Talmud sometimes mentions that in ancient times there were "megilot starim", scrolls of secrecy. These are generally understood to have been private notebooks sages (including prophets, who were also sages) kept, where they wrote down various Torah-based ideas and concepts. But it wasn't custom to make official copies of any teachings to make public. Hence the "secrecy" part. That really only became a thing at the time of the mishnah.
 
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rakovsky

Member
None that I'm aware of. We do find out some stuff based on archeological discoveries.

The Talmud sometimes mentions that in ancient times there were "megilot starim", scrolls of secrecy. These are generally understood to have been private notebooks sages (including prophets, who were also sages) kept, where they wrote down various Torah-based ideas and concepts. But it wasn't custom to make official copies of any teachings to make public. Hence the "secrecy" part. That really only became a thing at the time of the mishnah.
Thanks for sharing. I did not find much online about the megilot starim. The Dead Sea Scrolls and LXX can help understand passages. With the Dead Sea Scrolls there is the argument that they could be rejected scrolls. But they still seem to shed new light sometimes because for instance there can be ambiguities in the preserved Masoretic texts, eg. due to variants. Still, with the LXX and DSS we are just talking about getting the text's words right and the meaning of the words. Something like "Why did Zechariah refer to the mourning of Hadad-Rimmon in the plain (LXX calls it the mourning for the Pomegranate tree cut down in the plain)" seems more ambiguous.

And then you can ask: Why didn't the sages provide written texts publicly?
Why keep it a secret?
One idea could be that the public wouldn't know how to handle the truth.
So for instance if the Torah author was referencing Babylonian mythology about the Great Flood, it could be scandalous if that was revealed in the notes, due to aversion to paganism.
 

Harel13

Member
And then you can ask: Why didn't the sages provide written texts publicly?
I didn't ask that. I just stated that it was so.
Why keep it a secret?
One idea could be that the public wouldn't know how to handle the truth.
No, that's not it. We know the reason. It was because the Oral Tradition was not to be written down and made public in written form, in order to differentiate between the Written Tradition and Oral Tradition. For this, the notebooks were kept personal and most likely buried when they were no longer needed, which explains why we have yet to find them (or we may have found some but couldn't identify them as such). The notebooks were most likely used to help memorize the teachings.

As for whether the public could handle the truth, I can bring you a variety of teachings about how Torah should be taught to as many people as possible. Furthermore, a recent archeological study showed that there's evidence of widespread literacy in the Nation of Israel during Biblical times, as per Jewish tradition. Moreover, a large number of prophecies, if not the vast majority of them, were given publicly. So I'm not sure who exactly thought that the public couldn't handle the truth.
 

rakovsky

Member
It is nice writing to you about this.
"And then you can ask: Why didn't the sages provide written texts publicly?"
I didn't ask that. I just stated that it was so.
When I wrote that, I meant it rhetorically, or like the Socratic method. Maybe the Talmud also has this method, where people pose questions in order to focus on answers. I didn't mean that you, Harel, actually asked that particular question.
 

Harel13

Member
When I wrote that, I meant it rhetorically, or like the Socratic method. Maybe the Talmud also has this method, where people pose questions in order to focus on answers. I didn't mean that you, Harel, actually asked that particular question.
Nah, I figured it was rhetorical. My answering style just sometimes knocks against rhetoric, so to speak. Sorry. 😅 I'm also a little on edge today. I'll tone things down.

Anyway, I mentioned a couple of times about the archeological discoveries that teach us about the Bible - right now, they may not provide enough understanding for some of the deeper verses, but a lot can still be gleaned from them. For example, just the other day I heard a lecture about Khirbet Qaayafah, which some say is the Biblical Sha'arayim. Why? Because Sha'arayim means "two gates" and they discovered that the city wall had two gates, a real rarity in the ancient world, because one gate was hard enough to protect. Several more really amazing things were discovered there.
 

rakovsky

Member
I want to add a 10th Commentary to the 9 that I had in my first few messages in this thread about the Tanakh passages on the Patriarchs being gathered to their people.

Rabbi Abramowitz in his article "Protecting Our Legacies" notes that Rabbi Nachman takes the view that in a way, Jacob the Patriarch never died according to the TaNakh. Rabbi Nachman takes the view that the TaNaKh never explicitly says that Jacob "died", but only uses the phrase that Jacob expired/"breathed out". In contrast, the TaNaKh says that Patriarchs like Abraham "expired and died", meaning that not only did their breath/spirit go out from their bodies, but also that they died. R. Nachman takes the view that this means that Jacob lived on in his descendants, even though he had a physical burial.

Rabbi Abramowitz writes:
In tractate Taanis (5b), Rabbi Nachman makes a bold statement: Our forefather Yaakov never died.

This actually makes a lot of sense. After all, Genesis 25:8 tells us explicitly that Avraham died. Genesis 35:29 says overtly that Yitzchak died. For that matter, Genesis 5:5 says that Adam died, 9:29 tells us that Noach died and 50:26 informs us that Joseph died. When it comes to Yaakov, however, Genesis 49:33 does a little dance around it.

If you’re reading in English, you might see that Yaakov “expired” (meaning died) but that’s not exactly what the Hebrew word vayigva means. It’s more like “he diminished.” (Regarding Avraham and Yitzchak, the Torah says “vayigva vayamas” – the intention of which certainly isn’t “he died and he died!”)
...
Rabbi Nachman replies that he is actually expounding on a verse from the Book of Jeremiah that equates Yaakov with his descendants: just as they are alive, so is he. The takeaway most people get from this is that our children are our legacies. This makes a certain amount of sense but, personally, I’ve always had trouble internalizing this particular interpretation.

Other commentaries on these passages (Gen. 15:15 and 25:8):
The Hebrew Doctrine of Future Life

Similarities of Redaction of the Gospel According to Matthew

Bibliotheca Sacra

Does the Soul Survive?

The Inevitability of Death

Parashat Chaye Sarah
 

rakovsky

Member
It's just ease of research. There is a ton of information online. Sometimes I quote commentaries directly like when I quoted the Talmud directly about Naki on another thread in this subforum.
 

Harel13

Member
It's just ease of research. There is a ton of information online. Sometimes I quote commentaries directly like when I quoted the Talmud directly about Naki on another thread in this subforum.
But when you research, do you open up the original sources or do you simply stick to the paraphrases of others?
 

rakovsky

Member
But when you research, do you open up the original sources or do you simply stick to the paraphrases of others?
As a whole, I do both.
Depending on the situation, I just might do one or the other.

Here, because I was looking for an overview to understand the passage on Genesis 25:8, I read like 25 web articles. They were either giving their own ideas or citing or quoting commentaries.
But sometimes I do want to look for commentaries directly. So for instance when it came to the topic of the death of the Messiah in Rambam's writings, I wanted to read the passage directly in Rambam's writings, so I found the work in English.
More recently, I wanted to memorize Psalm 3 in Hebrew, because that was the original language. But I don't speak Hebrew. So it was harder to memorize.
 

Shoonra

New member
I think that the Apocrypha, which apparently date before the NT era (but probably after the era covered by the OT) is the closest to what you seek. The KJV version of the Apocrypha is inferior in quality to the rest of the KJV, so I would suggest a 20th century translation of the Apocrypha, such as the RSV or Goodspeed. There are even scholarly editions with extensive commentaries.
 

rakovsky

Member
Thanks for replying, Shoonra. Right, the Apocrypha probably dates from after the OT period, which would end about the 4th century BC, like with the end of the Minor Prophets' period.

Scholars seem divided on the dating for Daniel. Some think it's from the 2nd century BC after the Greek conquest, not from the Babylonian conquest. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's not an impressive prophetic book of course.

A value of having a commentary from the OT period would be the important light that it would shed on those books' ideas. Plus, the ideas are inspiring, so it's neat to hear more about them like from their contemporaries.

One neat thing that came to mind as I was trying to figure out the identity of the servant in Isaiah 53 was if we had commentaries by Isaiah about their meaning. We do have the Talmud and Targums and they both see the Messiah in particular as indicated in Isaiah 53, although the Targum on that chapter also sees it as about righteous Israelites and not only about the Messiah. ie. the Targum includes both views.
 

rakovsky

Member
I find the prophecies about the resurrection of the dead inspiring.
The ones that come to mind are:
  1. References in the Torah and other early books to the Patriarchs like Abraham, Moses, and Jacob being gathered to their fathers. There is also Jesus' explanation that when God says that He is their God, it implies that they are still alive.
  2. Job 19 saying that he knows that he will see his redeemer in the End Time. This shows the principle of the future resurrection/afterlife.
  3. Psalm 22 when it talks about those who can't keep themselves up worshiping. The wording is not real clear there. The Psalms also have alot about David or the Messiah having an Afterlife, and Psalm 24 is considered an indirect portrayal of resurrection.
  4. Hosea 6 has a resurrection prophecy. The people say that God will raise them after Hosea 5 describes God killing them. Hosea 6 has God asking what He will do to Israel. It seems to leave the resurrection issue open ended with the overall implication that He will raise them, especially if you consider the overall theme of the book. Hosea 13 has the theme of resurrection, but it's also not immediately clear that it's a prediction that God will in fact do this.
  5. Isaiah 26 has the prophecy of the resurrection of the Israelites.
  6. Ezekiel 34 has a resurrection prophecy, and it seems to narrate resurrection twice. One could be a metaphorical narration of the "resurrection" of the nation, and the other can be a literal resurrection.
  7. Daniel 12 also has a resurrection prophecy.
 

rakovsky

Member
Another one is
  1. The story of King Saul calling up the ghost of Samuel.
  2. Jeremiah 31:15 where Rachael supoosedly after her death weeps for her children who are no more. That is in the book "Does the Soul Survive?" By Elie Kaplan Spitz, mentioned above in message #9, which interprets this as Rachel weeping for her children.
 
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