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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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called by the Jews תפלין , are little scrolls of parchment, in which are written certain sentences of the law, enclosed in leather cases, and bound with thongs on the forehead and on the left arm. They are called in Greek φυλακτηρια , from φυλαττω , custodio, either because they were supposed to preserve the law in memory, or rather because they were looked upon as a kind of amulets or charms to keep them from danger. The making and wearing these phylacteries, as the Jews still do in their private devotions, is owing to a misinterpretation of those texts, on which they ground the practice, namely, God's commanding them "to bind the law for a sign on their hands, and to let it be as frontlets between their eyes," &c, Deuteronomy 6:8 . The command ought doubtless to be understood metaphorically, as a charge to remember it, to meditate upon it, to have it as it were continually before their eyes, and to conduct their lives by it; as when Solomon says, concerning the commandments of God in general, "Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the table of thy heart," Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21 . However, the Jews understanding the precept literally, wrote out the several passages wherever it occurs, and to which it seems to refer, and bound them upon their foreheads and upon their arms. It seems the Pharisees used to "make broad their phylacteries." This some understand of the knots of the thongs by which they were fastened, which were tied very artificially in the form of Hebrew letters; and that the pride of the Pharisees induced them to have these knots larger than ordinary, as a peculiar ornament. The Pharisees are farther said to "enlarge the borders of their garments," τα κρασπεδα των ιματιων , Matthew 23:5 . These κρασπεδα were the ציצית , the fringes which the Jews are commanded to wear upon the borders of their garments, Numbers 15:38-39 . The Targum of Onkelos calls them כרוספדין , which has so near an affinity with the Greek word κρασπεδον , that there is no doubt but it signifies the same thing; which is, therefore, an evidence that the κρασπεδα were the ציצית . These were worn by our Saviour, as appears from the following passage: "Behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment," κρασπεδον του ιματιου , Matthew 9:20 . Again: the inhabitants of Gennesaret are said to have brought unto him their diseased, and to have "besought him, that they might only touch the hem of his garment," κρασπεδον του ιματιου , Matthew 14:36 . Κρασπεδον του ιματιου is, in both these passages, very improperly translated the "hem of his garment." It should have been rendered "the fringe." The Pharisees are censured by our Saviour for enlarging these fringes of their garments, which we may suppose they did partly from pride, and partly from hypocrisy, as pretending thereby an extraordinary regard for the precepts of the law. It is reported by Jerom, as quoted by Godwin, that they used to have fringes extravagantly long; sticking thorns in them, that, by pricking their legs as they walked, they might put them in mind of the law. See FRONTLETS .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Phylacteries'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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