May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life for 5774

And, By the Way, What Book Might That Be?

People of the Book: In 1935, artist Nicholas Roerich offered his vision of the ‘Book of Life.’
Wikimedia Commons
People of the Book: In 1935, artist Nicholas Roerich offered his vision of the ‘Book of Life.’

By Philologos

Published September 08, 2013, issue of September 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

When Moses, therefore, asks to be erased from God’s book, he is talking about a Hebrew version of the Babylonian-Sumerian “book of life,” although it is not quite clear whether he asking to die or simply to be relieved of the role God has cast him in and forgotten. Other biblical passages also state or imply that God records his plans and judgments in a book, but the actual phrase sefer he-ḥayyim occurs in the Hebrew Bible only once. This is in the 69th Psalm, whose author requests that his enemies be “erased from the book of life and not listed with the righteous.” Apparently, this book was conceived of as being for the righteous alone; the files on the wicked were kept somewhere else.

A “book of life” is also mentioned in the apocryphal book of I Enoch, a second-century BCE Hebrew visionary work that survived only in an Ethiopian Christian translation. In it, implored by “the saints in heaven” to remember “the righteous whose blood has been spilled,” God is described as sitting on “His glory seat, the books of life opened before him and all the heavenly hostS standing by.” And in the New Testament book of Revelations, written in Greek in the late first century C.E. and clearly influenced by Enoch, there is this description:

“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…. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Here, too, the book of life is only for the righteous; the sinners are listed in other books. This was also the opinion of the ancient rabbis. In the talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashanah, we find it written: “Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: One for the totally wicked, one for the totally righteous, and one for those in between. The totally righteous are at once inscribed and sealed for life, the totally wicked are at once inscribed and sealed for death, and the in between are left in suspension.”

“In between,” I take it, means nearly all of us. Have a happy 5774, suspense and all!

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.