On The Term Phylacteries (Matt 23:5) -- By: Jeffrey H. Tigay

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 10:4 (Autumn 1981)
Article: On The Term Phylacteries (Matt 23:5)
Author: Jeffrey H. Tigay


On The Term Phylacteries (Matt 23:5)

Jeffrey H. Tigay

[Jeffrey H. Tigay is professor of Oriental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.]

Although it is widely agreed that the phylacteries mentioned in Matt 23:5 are tĕfîllîn,a this equation has not gone entirely unquestioned. L. Blau stated that only the words tĕfîllâ (singular) and tĕfîllîn (plural) are used in Talmudic literature, and that conclusions based on the word phylacteries are without foundation, “since this name was not used in truly Jewish circles.”1 G. G. Fox argued that since Greek phylaktēria refers to charms or amulets, and since for the Pharisee the tĕfîllîn were truly spiritual symbols rather than magical amulets, Matthew’s use of the term must be a misrepresentation, probably intentional, expressing his contempt for tĕfîllîn.2 J. Bowman summed up both arguments thus: “One is all the more amazed when one knows the difference between phylacteries and Tefillin, that any Jew could ever think of calling Tefillin phylacteries.”3 Bowman echoed an earlier objection voiced by I. Abrahams to the effect that Matthew’s phrase “making broad” (platynousin) is not intelligible if the reference is to the “boxes [of the tĕfîllîn], which were cubical. One hardly widens a cube.”4 However, Bowman considered implausible the view of Abrahams and others that the reference was to the straps5 rather than to the capsules. Bowman’s own view, following a suggestion by M. Gaster, was that Matthew was not referring to tĕfîllîn at all, but, indeed, to amulets, of a type known among the Samaritans, made of parchment and worn directly on the

arm rather than held in a container. E. R. Goodenough even produced a fourth-century patristic writer, Epiphanius, who denied the usual interpretation and argued that the term in Matthew refers to “broad stripes of purple” on the scribes’ garments.6

These objections notwithstanding, the equation of phylacteries i...

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