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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Book of Life

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—Traditional View:

The book, or muster-roll, of God in which all the worthy are recorded for life. God has such a book, and to be blotted out of it signifies death (Exodus 32:32,33).

It is with reference to the Book of Life that the holy remnant is spoken of as being written unto life (A. V., "among the living") in Jerusalem (Isaiah 4:3; compare also Ezekiel 9:4, where one of the six heavenly envoys "who had the scribe's inkhorn upon his loins" is told to mark the righteous for life, while the remainder of the inhabitants of Jerusalem are doomed). The Psalmist likewise speaks of the Book of Life in which only the names of the righteous are written "and from which the unrighteous are blotted out" (Psalms 69:28; compare Psalms 139:16). Even the tears of men are recorded in this Book of God (Psalms 56:9 [8]). "Every one that shall be found written in the book . . . shall awake to everlasting life" (Daniel 12:1 et seq.). This book is probably identical with the "Book of Remembrance" in which are recorded the deeds of those that fear the Lord (Malachi 3:16).

The Book of Jubilees (30:20-22) speaks of two heavenly tablets or books: a Book of Life for the righteous, and a Book of Death for those that walk in the paths of impurity and are written down on the heavenly tablets as adversaries (of God). Also, according to ib. 36:10, one who contrives evil against his neighbor will be blotted out of the Book of Remembrance of men, and will not be written in the Book of Life, but in the Book of Perdition. In Daniel 7:10 and Enoch 47:3 "the Ancient of days" is described as seated upon His throne of glory with"the Book" or "the Books of Life" ("of the Living") opened before Him. So are, according to Enoch 104:1, the righteous "written before the glory of the Great One," and, according to Enoch 108:3, the transgressors "blotted out of the Book of Life and out of the books of the holy ones." To this Book of Life reference is made also in Hermas (Vision 1:3; Mandate; Similitude ); in Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12-15, where "two Books" are spoken of as being "opened before the throne, the Book of Life, and the Book of Death, in which latter the unrighteous are recorded together with their evil deeds, in order to be cast into the lake of fire." It is the Book of Life in which the apostles' names are "written in heaven" (Luke 10:20), or "the fellow-workers" of Paul (Philippians 4:3), and "the assembly of the first-born" (Hebrews 12:23; compare I Clem. ). To these Books of Records allusion is made also in Enoch 81:4, 89:61-77, xc. 17-20, 98:76, 104:7; Apoc. Baruch, 24:1; Ascensio Isaiah 9:20.

The Eschatological or Annual Roll-Call.

While the prevailing tendency among apocryphal writers of the Hasidean school was to give the Book of Life an eschatological meaning—and to this inclines also Targ. Jon. to Isaiah 4:3 and Ezekiel 13:9 (compare Targ. Yer. to Exodus 32:32)—the Jewish liturgy and the tradition relating to the New-Year's and Atonement days adhered to the ancient view which took the Book of Life in its natural meaning, preferring, from a sound practical point of view, the this-worldliness of Judaism to the heavenliness of the Essenes. Instead of transferring, as is done in the Book of Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, and elsewhere, the great Judgment Day to the hereafter, the Pharisaic school taught that on the first day of each year (Rosh ha-Shanah) God sits in judgment over His creatures and has the Books of Life and Death opened, together with the books containing the records of the righteous and the unrighteous. And out of the middle state of the future judgment (see Testament of Abraham, A, ) there arose the idea of a third class of men who are held in suspense ("Benonim," the middle), and of a corresponding third book for this middle class (R. H. 15b). In Tos. Sanh. 13:3, however, the annual (Rosh ha-Shanah) judgment (Yom ha-Din) is not yet recognized (compare Tos. R. H. 1:13, R. Jose's opinion in opposition to that of R. Akiba and R. Meïr, which has become the universally accepted one).

The origin of the heavenly Book of Life must be sought in Babylonia, whereas the idea of the annual Judgment Day seems to have been adopted by the Jews under Babylonian influence in post-exilic times. The Babylonian legends (see "Creation Tab." 4:121, and the "Zu" legend, 2:7, quoted in Harper's "Babylonische Legenden," in "Beitr. z. Assyriologie" by Delitzsch and Haupt, 1892, 2:2, p. 412) speak of the Tablets of Destiny; also of the tablets of the transgressions, sins, and wrong-doings, of the curses and execrations, of a person which should be "cast into the water"; that is, to be blotted out (compare Micah 7:19 and the art. see TASHLIK). As to the resemblance of the Babylonian Zagmuku or New-Year to the Jewish New-Year see the art. ROSH HA-SHANAH (2).


(Psalms 69:29, "book of the living"; so LXX., Vulg., R.V. [margin]). The living are the righteous (second half of the verse), who alone are admitted to citizenship in the theocracy. The wicked are denied membership therein: they are blotted out of God's book (Exodus 32:32 et seq.). The figure is derived from the citizens' registers (Ezekiel 13:9; Jeremiah 22:30; and Exodus 32:30-34, accordingly assigned by Holzinger to a late. stratum; see his commentary). The life which the righteous participate in is to be understood in a temporal sense. In Daniel 12:1, however, those who are found written in the book and who shall escape the troubles preparatory to the coming of the Messianic kingdom are they who, together with the risen martyrs, are destined to share in the everlasting life referred to in verse 2. The eternal life is certainly meant in Enoch 47:3, 104:1, 108:3, and frequently in the New Testament (especially in Revelation). The Targum (Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9) speaks of the "Book of Eternal Life." Temporal life is apparently prayed for in the liturgical formula: "Inscribe us in the Book of Life" (ATONEMENT, DAY OF). The Mishnah tells us that the deeds of every human being are recorded in a book (Abot, 2:1; see 3:16). The "Sefer Ḥasidim" () pointedly adds that God is in no need of a book of records; "the Torah speaks the language of man"; e., figuratively.

  • Charles, Book of Enoch, pp. 131-133;
  • Dalman, Worte Jesu, p. 171.
M. L. M.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Book of Life'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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