When I was in seminary we talked about many different denominations. While studying the Armenian
Church, I noticed that they preserved a work called the “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.” I also
noticed it was preserved in the writings of the Ante-Nicene church fathers (AD 32-325), and asked one
of my professors about it. I was told that they were considered Christian fiction. They were supposedly
the writings of the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel). These twelve documents had great lessons about
morality but also contained predictions about the First Coming of the Messiah. The predictions were so
close to what the New Testament teaches that skeptics and Jews believed it had to have been written by
Christians in the Middle Ages. I didn’t bother with them any further and went on with my seminary
studies. Later, I ran across a legend from the Talmud about the writings of the patriarchs. This legend
stated that all of the patriarchs were prophets, and they all wrote testaments! Their list of these
patriarchs stretched from Adam to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They included Jacob’s twelve sons and
Levi’s descendants, Kohath, Amram, and Aaron, who was the first High Priest and Moses brother! The
legend stated these “testaments” contained what each father wanted his descends to remember. They
contained moral lessons, history, and prophecy. The legend stated that even though much of the history
about these works was known, not a single testament survived. That made me think about the
“Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” that the Armenians preserved. In researching them, I found that
the Armenian Church taught that anciently these twelve works were said to have come from caves
surrounding Jerusalem. We all know that the Essenes did preserve many writings from their time in
what we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls. I found several legends about other such works being found in
caves in Israel during the middle ages, and Israel is actively seeking to get back other Dead Sea Scrolls
taken during the middle ages. As always, there are those who fake documents and try to sell them for
profit. The Armenians have no original to show for their testaments; it’s just part of their history. Most
of the Dead Sea Scrolls were just copies of books from the Old Testament. Over the last seventy years
more than fifty caves were excavated but only twelve were found to have writings of parchment. The
twelfth cave was excavated, just last December. I had never thoroughly examined all of the Dead Sea
Scrolls since I didn’t have access to many of them back in Seminary. That was in the 1980s. I was
surprised to find that there were fragments of five of the twelve Armenian testaments in the Dead Sea
Scrolls! Some are very small, but others are multiple paragraphs in length. They preserved fragments of
the testaments of Levi (referenced as 1Q21 as a Dead Sea Scroll), Judah (3Q7, 4Q538-9), Naphtali
(4Q215), and Benjamin (1Q538). So, the Armenians were not lying about the Twelve Testaments and
where they got them. Granted, they could have added or changed something in their versions, but they
could not have done so with these new scrolls. This cannot be considered Christian fiction any longer,
though it may be considered Jewish fiction because these scrolls date from the second century BC.
When we realize that the prophecies they teach mirror the First Coming prophecies of the New
Testament, we have to wonder if they are not, indeed, real! Not only did these four of the twelve
testaments survive, but the Dead Sea Scrolls also contain fragments from the testaments of Adam’s son
Enoch (4Q369), Noah’s father Lamech (1Q20, 4Q535), Noah (1Q19, 1Q20), Abraham (1Q20), Jacob
(4Q537), Levi’s son Kohath (4Q542), Levi’s grandson Amram (4Q543-549), Levi’s great-grandson Aaron
(4Q540, 4Q541). Just let that sink in for a moment. Prophecies about the First Coming of Messiah and
other events from Aaron, Moses’ brother! The Talmudic legend is indeed true. But why did the Pharisees
(who wrote and compiled the Talmud) not want us to know the testaments still existed and why did the
Essenes preserve them for us? I think the answer is obvious: the Pharisees rejected the Messiah and the
Essenes accepted Him. I have created the Ancient Testaments of the Patriarchs, so we can all read what
some twenty patriarchs taught about the Messiah and His two comings. Yes, that is right TWO comings
of the Messiah!
Let’s look at what we discover by reading the testaments. The first thing you will see is all the great
moral lessons they wished to give their children, life lessons learned by the mistakes they made. There
are lessons on how and why is it imperative that we must learn to control our anger, jealousy, lust,
greed, and resentment. Learning that God is in control of everything is a good start at controlling our
Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Benjamin all quote the Book of Enoch (which is also found in the
Dead Sea Scrolls). Naphtali even mentions the Watchers and Nephilim. Zebulun and Kohath mention the
Writings of the Fathers. So, they corroborate the fact that all of the testaments existed, and that the
legend is true.
Collectively their teachings about the Messiah are that He is called the Son of God, He will be from the
Tribe of Judah, born of a virgin, is Yahweh incarnate, and is worshipped. The Messiah will create a new
priesthood, like the old Gentile Melchizedekian priesthood, which will replace the temporary Levitical
priesthood. The Messiah dies for us, correcting our sin nature problem with the Father. They also predict
that the descendants of Levi (the priests) would turn on the Messiah, reject Him, and have Him killed.
It is important to note that even the scrolls that exist only in the Dead Sea Collection, like Aaron, Kohath,
and Amram, mention the Levites putting the Messiah to death, and the Messiah creating a new
priesthood, and that the Messiah’s priesthood would be eternal. The copies of these scrolls date to
approximately the second century BC.
One of the most fascinating prophecies is given in the Testament of Levi 17. He predicts how the
priesthood would corrupt itself by describing a civil war in Israel during the fifth week of the seventh
Jubilee of their age. This converts to our calendar as 96-89 BC. He then predicts that during the seventh
week of that Jubilee three corrupt priests would change the way Torah is interpreted. Jewish history
records such events did indeed occur.
After Judah Maccabee led the successful revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC, his successors
started the Hasmonean Dynasty. When both the Seleucid and Roman Empires recognized Israel as an
independent nation in 110 BC, John Hyrcanus started a campaign of conquest of neighboring nations. He
ruled as king and high priest which was forbidden. The Jews who supported the high priest king and the
idea of priestly rule became known as Sadducees. Their name was taken from Zadok the priest.
Dissenters arose who believed the king did not have the right to force non-Jews to convert to Judaism
and be circumcised. They were known as separatists, or Pharisees in Hebrew.
In 103 BC, Alexander Jannaeus became the next Hasmonean ruler. He not only continued the idea of
priestly rule and forcing all Jews and Gentiles to be circumcised, but added all Jews and Gentiles must
follow the priestly code. This command led to the Pharisees’ rebellion. The Pharisees believed that the
law of priests was only meant for priests and not common Jews or Gentiles. They said the king had no
right to force conversion or require non-priests to follow the priestly code. This plunged Israel into an
eight-year civil war, from 96-88 BC.
During the intense persecution of the Pharisees, Simeon ben Shetach, a Pharisee and Nasi (president of
the Sanhedrin), fled to safety in Alexandria, Egypt, where he met two men, Shmya and Abtalion, who
were natives of Alexandria, but direct descendants of the king of Assyria. They were converted to
Judaism. The persecution ended, and Simeon returned to Jerusalem. When his sister, Queen Salome of
Alexandria, became the next Hasmonean Ruler, Simeon and the Pharisees became very powerful.
Simeon ben Shetach started mandatory Torah schools replacing the long-standing rule that the fathers
teach their sons the Torah. All children were required to attend these schools for proper indoctrination.
He then brought his two Assyrian converts to Jerusalem and they succeeded him as rulers in the
Sanhedrin. They changed the standard way of interpreting Torah and replaced it with what would
become known as Midrashic interpretation. They were the first “Darshan,”or preachers. Their new
method of Torah interpretation was called “Derush,” or oral tradition. From this point forward, legal
rulings of the Sanhedrin were binding on all people, and were to be enforced for all future generations.
A new denomination emerged from this called the Essenes. They agreed with the Pharisees that forced
conversion and forced observance of the priestly code by non-priests were wrong. However, they
disagreed with the new doctrine that the tradition of “Oral Torah” was equal to the written Torah. They
believed no one had the power to go against the written Torah and the written histories of the
One of the other Dead Sea Scrolls, called the 11QMelchizedek that states the Messiah would come to
free us from our iniquities, or sin nature as the apostle Paul calls it. The scroll states that this event
would take place at the end of the first Shemittah year and after the ninth jubilee of their age.
Amazingly this translates to our calendar as AD 32! The exact year Jesus Christ paid for our sins by dying
on the cross. The apostle Paul stated in Romans 11 that eventually all Israel would be saved. I believe
that the recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the beginning of the fulfilment of this.
Christians accept Jesus Christ as the prophesied Messiah. Jews that adhere to the Talmud (Pharisees)
reject Jesus Christ as being the promised Messiah. As we have seen here and can see over and over
again from other Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes accepted the Messiah as God incarnate, and appearing
on earth in AD 32 to free us from our sin nature. No matter how you look at it, the Christians got their
theology from the Jewish Essenes. I would like to ask my Jewish brothers to reconsider the possibility
that the Essenes were correct, and the Pharisees were wrong. Consider the possibility that Yeshua really
is the promised Messiah.
Do the testaments contain any predictions surrounding the Second Coming? Yes, they do, but we will
leave that for another time.