What is the ancient book of Gad the Seer?

Is the book which professes to be the ancient words of Gad the seer the words of the biblical Gad? Does it have value for today?

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It is highly suggested that the article on this website on The Canon of Scripture be read before this article. In that article, it is shown that no other Old Testament era book other than the present 39 was ever regarded by the Jews or early Christians as inspired Scripture.

Introduction

There is a book which has caught the attention of many evangelical Christians of late which professes to be the ancient book of Gad the Seer. The Words of Gad the Seer is a text that is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 29:29, the Scripture saying, “And the deeds of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the words of Samuel the seer, and in the words of Nathan the prophet, and in the words of Gad the seer.”

First, however, what is a Seer? The word “seer” is the older title for a prophet. 1 Samuel 9:9 states, “Beforetime in Israel when a man went to enquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer.” The Hebrew word for “seer” is רֹאֶה, ro’eh, and specifically pertains to the reception of a vision or message from God, while the Hebrew word for “prophet” is נָבִיא, na’viy, and refers to the proclamation of a message from God. As time went on in ancient Israel, the title of a man of God shifted to reflect his duty of proclaiming to the people repentance, not merely receiving a vision. The prophet Jeremiah described this sacred duty of proclamation saying, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Gad was a prophet in Israel at the time of King David and, apart from having written some kind of text according to 1 Chronicles 29:29, he is associated with David in 2 Samuel 24:11, 1 Chronicles 21:9, and 2 Chronicles 29:25. Yet, is the text that was copied at the end of the 1700s in Cochin, India, and later purchased by the University of Cambridge, England (MS 00.1.20), the book of the biblical Gad the seer? Furthermore, whether this text turns out to be the words of the biblical Gad or if it is pseudepigraphal, what is the value of the book today?

The Language of the Book

The biblical Gad the seer lived around the tenth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), but the genre and vocabulary of the book would indicate a much later date for the writing. For example, the respected Jewish scholar from Israel, Meir Bar-Ilan, notes that “the word חהו in v. 57 reveals that the text was written in the language stratum of Mishnaic Hebrew,”1 and certainly not during the tenth century B.C.E. in which the real Gad the seer lived. Furthermore, the text records David praising the Lord, saying (v. 203):

You should fear the Lord, creator of heaven and earth, the sea and the continents, wet and dry, warm and cold, the inorganic, the organic, the living and the speaking, the planets… the physical and the spiritual….

The four elements, “wet, dry, warm, cold” (קור ,חום ,יכש ,לח), along with the four facets, “the inorganic, the organic, the living and the speaking,” are unquestionably derived from Greek philosophy. Therefore, considering this influence of Greek philosophy, the earliest the text would seem to be would be from the time of the writing down of the Talmud in the first or second century C.E. (Common Era), as the Talmudic sages became very acquainted with Greek philosophy. At the latest, though, such an influence would have been derived from medieval times around the ninth century C.E., Greek philosophy also introduced to the Jews by way of their contact with Islam.

The text lends itself to the earlier time period, that is, the first couple of centuries of our era. This is due to the obvious Talmudic teachings incorporated in the book which did not exist during the days of the biblical Gad. For example, in the last chapter of the book, three different books are brought before the Lord and opened up regarding all of God’s people. The group in first book are found to be righteous, the Lord saying, “These will live for ever” (V. 361); the group in second book are found to have committed “inadvertent sins” (V. 363), so that book is set aside for a third of a month; the third book is found to have “malicious deeds of his people” (V. 364) and those in the third book are apportioned to Satan to be destroyed in a wasteland. This idea of three books at the final judgment comes directly from the Talmud about Rosh HaShanah, which says:

Three books are opened by God on the New Year: one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for middling people. The thoroughly righteous immediately are inscribed and sealed for continued life. The thoroughly wicked immediately are inscribed and sealed for death. Middling people are left hanging from New Year until the Day of Atonement.2

It must be noted that in both the book of Gad and the Talmud this is referring only to the people of God. The second and third books both pertain to the people who are believers; it makes no mention of unbelievers. There is no grace in this final chapter of Gad, no salvation by confessing belief in the Messiah and his shed blood. Indeed, if a believer has committed an inadvertent sin, he or she is left hanging, unsure of their fate. Of course, it makes since that such a work was found among a group of Jews; it’s a first or second century Talmudic Jewish work, based upon traditions rather than what God has revealed in Scripture.

The book also promotes the Talmudic teaching of the “seven Noahide laws,” or “seven universal laws of Noah.” Read my past article on that subject here.

Interpolations

Yet, the greatest interest of this book is its incorporation of three chapters from the Hebrew Bible, one of which in Chapter 10 of Gad, or Psalm 145 in the Bible. This chapter in the words of Gad begins with the superscription, “At that time David said this praise, saying…,” which is different from what is found in the Masoretic Text (MT) and Bibles today. Yet, the rest of the chapter continues on until verse 241 in which the writer inserts the phrase:

נפלו כל אויביך יהוה וכל נכורתם בלעו
“All your enemies fell down, O LORD, and all of their might was swallowed up.”

This phrase appears nowhere in Psalm 145 of the Hebrew Bible and is not in the MT, supplied in Gad between the Bible’s verses 13 and 14. While there is some evidence that there may be a verse missing from the Hebrew Bible – the nun verse of the acrostic – such a verse as Gad includes does not fit the content or grammatical style of the rest of the psalm. As such, it is clearly an interpolation, the writer of Gad apparently eager to supply the missing nun verse of the acrostic.

The entirety of Psalm 145 is a praise of the attributes of a loving and caring God who performs majestically great deeds, the only mention of destruction in Psalm 145:20. It is far more likely, if there is a verse missing, that the verse supplied by the Septuagint (LXX) is the correct verse, which fits both the content and style of the psalm:

πιστὸς κύριος ἐν τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ καὶ ὅσιος ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ.
:נאמן יהוה ככל דכריו וחסיד ככל מעשיו
“The LORD is faithful in his words and holy in all his works.”

The Hebrew of this verse from the LXX begins with the missing nun, the word Ne’eman, which is translated “faithful.” This fits the content much better than the verse supplied by Gad. Yet, it also fits the grammatical style of the psalm as well. Stylistically, all the verses in Psalm 145 are in either the present or future tense while the verse supplied by Gad is in the past tense, sticking out like a sore thumb. Verse 241 of Gad, therefore, is not an authentic rendering of scripture.

The Pseudepigrapha

Since the biblical Gad knew David from what we read in Scripture and would not have made such a mistake in quoting one of David’s psalms, the text is clearly pseudepigraphal. Indeed, many of the expressions and settings in the text are well-known literary conventions in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha.

The first vision of Gad at the beginning of the book takes place near the stream of Kidron in the same way as the vision of 2 Baruch (5:5; 21:1); the Kidron stream is also the setting for the beginning of the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, often referred to simply as 3 Baruch. Furthermore, Satan is referred by the name of Samael in the texts of Gad and Baruch, a name which is foreign to the Scriptural record but common among the pseudepigrapha.

The Apocalyptic Genre

The Words of Gad consist of several different literary genres, but its three apocalyptic visions seem to be the most original part of the book. Bar-Ilan notes of the visions, “one that reflects a combination of some biblical motifs and two others that might ensure our author a prize for outstanding visionary narrative creativity.”3 Apocalypticism is a genre that was popular from about 350 B.C.E. into the first few centuries after Christ, no evidence of any apocalyptic works during the time that the biblical Gad lived. The earliest texts in the Old Testament Period with aspects of an apocalyptic would be the books of Ezekiel and Daniel in the sixth century B.C.E. Yet, neither of these texts are true apocalypses and instead are more historical and prophetical works in which we can see the beginnings of the apocalyptic genre.

As evident from my earlier article on The Canon of Scripture, God worked through progressive revelation in giving His word (read here). Thus, it makes since that apocalyptic works would not have appeared while God was still sending prophets to Israel. When God ceased to send prophets, however, in approximately 435 B.C.E. (about a century after Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied), the people of God began to hunger greatly for any kind of word from the Lord as the centuries passed (see 1 Maccabees 4:45; 9:27; 2 Baruch 85:3), longing for the coming of the promised Messiah. Therefore, many patriotic, pseudepigraphal works that elevated the great prophets of the past, professing the redemption to be nigh and the end of history became very popular.

The apocalyptic visions seem to be the key to the approximate date of the book, too high and lofty to have been written in the Middle Ages as scholars such as S.Z. Schechter, I. Abrahams, or Abraham Lieberman all suggest. There is perhaps no book closer to the words of Gad the seer than the book of Revelation, both of which were written by Jews, one of whom was a believer in the Lord Jesus while the other was not. The writer of Gad writes about the chosen people, the true firstborn of God, and other issues, and while he never specifically states who his opponents are, it is likely that they were the Christians. The writer directs the book against those who thought like Paul or who had mystical experiences like John. Due to the book’s parallel genre style like that of the book of Revelation, it seems to have been written in the early to mid-second century C.E., perhaps thirty to seventy years after John wrote the Revelation.

Conclusion

So, as we have seen, the Words of Gad the Seer is not a book that was extant in the tenth century B.C.E. and apparently lost. Rather, it was composed in one of the early centuries of this era and brought to the forefront in the late 1700s during the era of British exploration and empire. Yet, what does this mean for the book’s value? Does a pseudepigraphal work have any value? The answer is that this text is quite valuable.

First, we must note the text’s contribution to our knowledge of the Hebrew language in the first few centuries of this era. Secondly, however, and perhaps most importantly, is the text’s hermeneutical contributions, serving to enhance our understanding of the apocalyptic genre during the same general time-frame that the book of Revelation was written. What were the common idioms used in apocalyptics when John wrote? What were the meanings of some of the popular symbols that the genre used at that time? The grammatical benefit in helping us rightly understand God’s Word in the book of Revelation is immense. Yet, the Words of Gad should not be treated as the final authority for anything, whether history, theology, ethics, etc. It is not an inspired text and does contain errors and interpolations; the sacred scriptures must be our final authority.


  1. Meir Bar-Ilan, “The Date of The Words of Gad the Seer” in Journal of Biblical Literature, 109:3, (1990), 478.
  2. Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 6b (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 240.
  3. Bar-Ilan, 487.

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