Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

"Taxo" and the Origin of the Assumption of Moses

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

"Taxo" and the Origin of the Assumption of Moses

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

For my mentors, Professor Joshua Efron and Professor Aryeh Kasher

The identity of Taxo has intrigued the scholarly imagination ever since the appearance of a single fragmentary Latin manuscript of the Assumption (or Testament) of Moses.1 The odd name comes up only once (in ch. 9), yet its identification is key to understanding the real significance of the book, including its time frame, religious affiliation, and overall meaning and tendency.2 Numerous solutions based on diverse methods of reading, calculation, and decoding have been put forth since Antonio Ceriani first published the palimpsest in 1861.3 However, all the attempts so far display the workings of richly inventive minds rather than of soundly grounded historical research.

I. NARRATIVE OUTLINE

The obscure figure is set in a narrative framework that evolves as follows:

When Moses is about to die, he nominates Joshua as his successor and hands over to him certain books of prophecies which Joshua is to hide until the appointed time. On the same occasion Moses reveals to Joshua a prophetic prediction that briefly reviews the history of his people, from their future entry into their land to the advent of the end.

Chapters 1-8 provide a cyclical description of the people's offenses, ensuing calamities, supplications for forgiveness, and partial temporary rescues, which are repeated successively. Three anticipated calamities are expounded.

1. (3:1-3) A king coming from the east will burn the temple and exile the people to his country.

He is widely identified with Nebuchadnezzar.

2. (6:2-9) An insolent king (rex petulans), not of priestly stock, a heinous man, will ruthlessly slay the old and the young, execute judgments on the people (as the Egyptians did), and torture them for thirty-four years. He will be succeeded by his sons, who will rule for shorter periods than he, until the appearance of an enemy coming from the west. He will conquer the people, lead them to captivity, and burn "a part" of their sanctuary.

Scholars are generally in agreement4 that this king is to be identified with Herod.

The depicted events lead to the onset of the eschatological age and end-time (7:1). The chapter goes on to describe the first phase of eschatological events5 that occur under the sway of men who are hypocritical, corrupt and evil (homines pestilentiosi), deceitful (homines dolosi), and gluttonous; who promote lawlessness and licentiousness; and who consequently bring about the last calamity.

3. Chapter 8 describes the final atrocity. It is a narrative of unprecedented vengeance and wrath, unknown "from the beginning of the world" (cf. Matt 24:21; Mark 13:19), that will raise against them the king of the kings of the earth (regem regum terrae), possessing great might, who will crucify the circumcised, force youths to bring forward their foreskin, subject others to brutal tortures, and coerce them to violation of their law.6

As a result of these events, Taxo makes his appearance (ch. 9). His person and actions are introduced as follows:7

1. Tunc illo die erit homo tribu Levvi cujus nomen erit Taxo, qui habens VII filios dicet ad eos rogans:

2. Videte, filii, ecce ultio facta est in plebe altera crudelis, inmunda, et traductio sine misericordia et eminens principatum.

3. Quae enim gens, aut quae region, aut quis populus impiorum in Dominum qui multa scelesta fecerunt, tanta mala passi sunt quanta nobis contegerunt?

4. Nunc ergo, filii, audite me! Videte enim, et scite quia nunquam temptan< te>s Deum nec parentes nec proavi eorum, ut praetereant mandata illius.

5. Scitis enim, quia haec sunt vires nobis. Et hoc faciemus:

6. jejunemus triduo, et quarto die intremus et in spelunca quae in agro est, et moriamur potius quam praetereamus mandata Domini dominorum, Dei parentum nostrorum. …

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