What Is Book of Life?
In Christianity and Judaism, the Book of Life (Hebrew: Sefer HaChaim; Greek: Biblíon tēs Zōēs) is the book in which God records the names of every person who is destined for Heaven or the World to Come. According to the Talmud it is open on Rosh Hashanah, as is its analog for the wicked, the Book of the Dead. For this reason extra mention is made for the Book of Life during Amidah recitations during the Days of Awe, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement (the two High Holidays, particularly in the prayer Unetaneh Tokef).
In the Hebrew Bible
In the Hebrew Bible the Book of Life—the book or muster-roll of God—records forever all people considered righteous before God. To be blotted out of this book signifies death. It is with reference to the Book of Life that the holy remnant is spoken of as being written unto life in Jerusalem; 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 Psalms also speaks of a book of the living: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.
Even the tears of men are recorded in this Book of God. “Every one that shall be found written in the book . . . shall awake to everlasting life”. This book is probably identical with the “Book of Remembrance” in which are recorded the deeds of those that fear the Lord.
The apocryphal Book of Jubilees 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 Jubilees 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 12:1 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 56:1, 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.” Reference is made also in The Shepherd of Hermas (Vision i. 3; Mandate viii.; Similitude ii.); 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 (Phil 4:3), and “the assembly of the first-born” (Hebrews 12:23; compare I Clem. 45). Allusion is made also in Enoch 81:4, 89:61–77, 90:17–20, 98:76, 104:7; 2 Baruch 24:1; Ascension of Isaiah 9:20.
In the New Testament
The Book of Life is referred to six times in the Book of Revelation (3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15, 21:27) one of the books of the New Testament, attributed to John of Patmos. As described, only those whose names are written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, and have not been blotted out by the Lamb, are saved at the Last Judgment; all others are doomed. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15, King James Version). “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works”. (Rev. 20:12, King James Version)
It is also mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
- Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
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, the Jewish liturgy and the tradition relating to the New Year and Atonement days adhered to the ancient view, which took the Book of Life in its natural meaning, preferring, from a practical point of view, the 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 Hashanah), God sits in judgment over his creatures and has the Books of Life together with the books containing the records of the righteous and the wicked.
The origin of the heavenly Book of Life must be sought in Babylonia, where legends speak of the Tablets of Destiny and of tablets containing the transgressions, sins, wrongdoings, curses and execrations of a person who should be “cast into the water”; that is, blotted out. The living are the righteous, who alone are admitted to citizenship in the theocracy, while the wicked are denied membership and blotted out of God’s book (Ex. xxxii. 32 et seq.). The life in which the righteous participate is to be understood in a temporal sense, as temporal life is apparently prayed for in the liturgical formula: “Inscribe us in the Book of Life.”
In Daniel xii. 1, however, those who are found written in the book and who escape the troubles preparatory to the coming of the Messianic kingdom are they who, together with the risen martyrs, are destined to share in everlasting life. Eternal life is certainly meant in Enoch xlvii. 3, civ. 1, cviii. 3, and frequently in the New Testament, especially in Revelation. The Targum (Isa. iv. 3; Ezek. xiii. 9) speaks of the “Book of Eternal Life.” The Mishnah states that the deeds of every human being are recorded in a book (Abot, ii. 1; see iii. 16). The Sefer Ḥasidim (xxxiii) pointedly adds that God is in no need of a book of records; “the Torah speaks the language of man.”
- Shemot (Book of Exodus) 32:33
- A. V., “among the living”
- Isaiah 4:3
- Psalms 69:28; compare Psalms 139:16.
- Psalms 56:9
- Daniel 12:1 et seq.
- Malachi 3:16
- xxx. 20-22.
- Philippians 4:3
- See Creation Tab. iv. 121, and the Zu legend, ii. 7, quoted in Harper’s “Babylonische Legenden,” in Beitr. z. Assyriologie by Delitzsch and Haupt, 1892, ii. 2, p. 412.
- Compare Micah vii. 19 and the art. Tashlik.
- Ps. lxix.29.
- Ezek. xiii. 9; Jer. xxii. 30; and Ex. xxxii. 30-34, accordingly assigned by Holzinger to a late stratum; see his commentary.
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