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!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • 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.