Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 3

This is the third post in my series concerning how Jews understood and articulated the concept of ‘preexistence.’ I have already surveyed texts in both Genesis Rabba and in the Targum on Zechariah.

moses&joshuaToday’s post will look at a noteworthy passage within the Testament of Moses. This document is located in modern editions of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a collection which, among other fascinating works, contains a group of Jewish documents called  ‘testaments.’ Testaments are writings which place the final farewells and instructions into the mouth of a famous figure from Israelite history. Today scholars have identified and categorized testaments written about such figures as Abraham, Job, and each of the twelve sons of Jacob. The Testament of Moses was likely composed in the first century CE, making it very relevant for NT studies. It details Moses’ final instructions to his successor Joshua before he enters into the promised land. Since the figure of Moses was highly regarded within Jewish circles, surely his final will and testament would contain valuable words and exhortations (which readers of the Testament of Moses were to surely cherish).

The first chapter of T. Moses is fragmentary, likely beginning with the year of Moses’ life in which he gives this testament. Moses summons Joshua unto him and begins speaking about God and the purposes of creation. In the midst of this speech, Moses says something striking about himself:

“But He did design and devise me, and He prepared me from the beginning of the world to be mediator of His covenant.” (T. Moses 1:14)

In this statement Moses recounts how God “designed” him and “devised” him. Additionally, Moses was “prepared by God.” When did these designs and preparations take place, one might ask? Moses says that it occurred “from the beginning of the world.” However, these plans of God were for an intended purpose, namely that Moses would be the mediator of the covenant.

It seems that noteworthy figures such as Moses could be described as ‘preexisting’ by second temple Jews. However, this sort of preexistence was within God’s designs, devises, and preparations. This, I contend, is notional preexistence, a preexistence which is in God’s mind and plans. This is not saying that Moses literally existed with God in heaven before the world. Rather, he is such a prominent person in God’s purposes for Israel (mediator of the holy covenant) that he was divinely planned long ago.

I again wish to speculate how this sort of preexistence, being in God’s plans for a particular purpose, would influence readings of, say, John 8:58.

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2 thoughts on “Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 3

  1. Hi Dustin,

    This passage from the Testament Of Moses is a good example of how the Jews thought of someone’s role (e.g. mediator of the covenant) being devised by God ahead of time. It’s evident that the Jews were expecting the Christ to arrive (Luke 3:15; John 4:25) because of thing that had been written about him beforehand (Mark 12:35; Luke 24:46; John 7:42).

    I’m not sure that this is what fits the language or context of John 8:58, but it will be interested to hear how you try to relate “notional preexistence” to that particular text.

    Rivers 🙂

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