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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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Frontlets or Phylacteries. Thrice mentioned in Old Testament: totaphot (Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18). What Moses meant figuratively and in a spiritual sense, "a memorial," "that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth," the Hebrew (excepting the Karaites) take literally (Exodus 13:9). Charms consisting of words written on papyrus folds, tightly sewed up in linen, were found at Thebes (Wilkinson). It is not likely God, by Moses, would sanction the Egyptian superstition of amulets. The key is in Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:20-22; Proverbs 7:3; Song of Solomon 8:6.

The fringes were merely mnemonics; the phylacteries (which the Jews now call tephillin , i.e. prayers, for they were worn at prayer to typify sincerity, but others explain ligaments) were parchment strips, inscribed with Exodus 13:2-17; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 6:13-22 (by no means the most important passages in the Pentateuch, which fact is against the Jewish literalism), in prepared ink, rolled in a case of black PHYLACTERY. calfskin, attached to a stiffer leather, having a thong one finger broad and one cubit and a half long. (See FRINGES.) Placed at the bend of the left arm, and the thong after making a knot was wound about the arm in a spiral line, ending at the top of the middle finger.

Those on the forehead were written on four cowhide parchment strips, and put into four little cells within a square one, on which the Hebrew letter Shin ( ש ) was written. The square had two thongs passing round the head, and after a knot going over the breast. Phylactery is from a Greek root, to keep or guard; being professedly to keep them in continual remembrance of God's law; practically it was used by many as an amulet to keep the wearer from misfortune. (See EARRINGS.) "They make broad their phylacteries" (Matthew 23:5) refers not to the phylactery, which was of a prescribed size, but to its case, which the Pharisees made as ostentatious as possible. They wore them always, the common people only at prayers; and as Jehovah occurs in the tephillin 23 times, but on the high priest's golden plate but once (Exodus 28:36), the tephillin) were thought the more sacred.

The Sadducees wore them on the palm, the Pharisees above the elbow. The Jews probably learned the use of such amulets from the Babylonians during the captivity, for no mention of the phylacteries occurs previously, nor indeed in the Old Testament at all. The carnal heart gladly substitutes an external formalism for an inward spiritual remembrance and observance of God's law, such as God required, with the whole inner and outward man. The Karaites, women, and slaves alone did not wear them. Boys at 13 years and one day become "sons of the commandments" and wear them. The rabbinical treatise Rosh Hashanah contains many of the puerile superstitions regarding them; compare Lightfoot, Hor.

Hebrew: "they must be read standing in the morning, when blue can be distinguished from green, sitting in the evening from sunset; both hands must be used in writing them; the leather must have no hole; the wearer must not approach within four cubits of a cemetery," etc., etc. Rabbis quoted Isaiah 49:16; Isaiah 62:8; Deuteronomy 33:2, to prove that even God wore them! and Isaiah 38:16 to show that the wearer thereby prolonged his days, but he who did not wear them should go to perdition. Jerome remarks the same superstition virtually crept in among weak Christian women "with diminutive Gospels, pieces of wood in the form of a cross (women in our day should take warning), and things of that sort, showing a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Frontlets'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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