J. J. Collins
Every tradition-oriented society has attached great importance to the last words of famous men. Farewell discourses abound in the biblical tradition from the earliest stages, e.g. Gen 49 (Jacob), Deut 33 (Moses), Joshua 23-24 (Joshua), 1 Sam 12 (Samuel), 1 Kgs 2:1-9, 1 Chr 28-29 (David). Yet the independent genre testament only emerges in the Hellenistic age, and is poorly attested even then apart from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.
The most fundamental defining characteristic of a testament is that it is a discourse delivered in anticipation of imminent death. Typically the speaker is a father addressing his sons, or a leader addressing his people, or his successor. The testament begins by describing in the third person the situation in which the discourse is delivered, and ends with an account of the speaker’s death. The actual discourse, however, is delivered in the first person.
It is questionable whether the pattern of the content can be built in to the definition of the genre.1 The Test. 12 Patr. display a consistent pattern which involves three basic elements: a) historical retrospective, in the form of a narrative about the patriarch’s life (the Testament of Asher is the only exception); b) ethical exhortation; and c) prediction of the future. These predictions often display the so-called ‘Sin-Exile-Return’ pattern which is typical of the Deuteronomic history.2 The Testament (Assumption) of
1 The most thorough attempt to defend a definition of the genre which includes a set pattern of content, is that of von Nordheim, Das Testament als Literaturgattung. His outline is most fully exemplified in the Test. 12 Patr., but he admits that major elements of this outline may be absent in a given testament. M. de Jonge in his review of this work (JSJ 12, 1981, pp. 112-17), has even questioned whether there is enough evidence to speak of a genre at all. The broader genre of farewell discourse is discussed by Cortès, Los discursos.
2 A detailed outline of the Test. 12 Patr. is given by von Nordheim, Das Testament, 90 and Hultgârd, L’eschatologie 2, 136-164. A simpler outline is given by Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature, 232. The ‘Sin-Exile-Return’ pattern was identified by M. de Jonge, The Testaments, 83-86. The affinity of the Testaments with the Deuteronomic ‘covenant form’has been pursued by Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary. Kolenkow, The Genre Testament and Forecasts of the Future’ distinguishes between ‘ethical’ testaments (Test. 12 Patr.) and ‘blessing-revelation’ testaments and emphasizes future predictions as a key element in the genre.