Book of Life
In Christianity and Judaism, the Book of Life (Hebrew: ספר החיים, transliterated Sefer HaChaim; Greek: βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς 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 Old Testament
In the Old Testament the Book of Life - the book or muster-roll of God - records forever all people considered righteous before God. God has such a book, and to be blotted out of it 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 ix. 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 Psalmist likewise speaks of the Book of Life in which only the names of the righteous are written "and from which the unrighteous are blotted out". 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.
Book of Jubilees
The 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 ib. xxxvi. 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 Dan. vii. 10 and Enoch xlvii. 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 civ. 1, the righteous "written before the glory of the Great One," and, according to Enoch cviii. 3, the transgressors "blotted out of the Book of Life and out of the books of the holy ones." To this Book of Life reference is made also in Hermas (Vision i. 3; Mandate viii.; Similitude ii.); in Rev. iii. 5, xiii. 8, xvii. 8, xx. 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 x. 20), or "the fellow-workers" of Paul (Phil. iv. 3), and "the assembly of the first-born" (Heb. xii. 23; compare I Clem. xlv.). To these Books of Records allusion is made also in Enoch lxxxi. 4, lxxxix. 61-77, xc. 17-20, xcviii. 76, civ. 7; Apoc. Baruch, xxiv. 1; Ascensio Isa. ix. 20.
References in the New Testament
The Book of Life is referred to six times in the Book of Revelation, 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)
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—and to this inclines also Targ. Jon. to Isa. iv. 3 and Ezek. xiii. 9 (compare Targ. Yer. to Ex. xxxii. 32)—the Jewish liturgy and the tradition relating to the New-Year's and Atonement days adhered to the ancient view which took the Book of Life in its natural meaning, preferring, from a sound practical point of view, the this-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 ha-Shanah) 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. And out of the middle state of the future judgment (see Testament of Abraham, A, xiv.) there arose the idea of a third class of men who are no longer held in suspense. (Benonim, the middle), and of a corresponding third book for this all (R.H. 16b). In Tos. Sanh. xiii. 3, however, the annual (Rosh ha-Shanah) judgment (Yom ha-Din) is recognized (compare Tos. R. H. i. 13, R. Jose's opinion in opposition to that of R. Akiba and R. Meïr, which has become the universally accepted one).
The origin of the heavenly Book of Life must be sought in Babylonia, whereas the idea of the annual Judgment Day seems to have been adopted by the Jews under Babylonian influence in post-exilic times. The Babylonian legends speak of the Tablets of Destiny; also of the tablets of the transgressions, sins, and wrongdoings, of the curses and execrations, of a person which should be "cast into the water"; that is, to be blotted out. As to the resemblance of the Babylonian Zagmuku or New-Year to the Jewish New-Year see the art. Rosh ha-Shanah. The living are the righteous (second half of the verse), who alone are admitted to citizenship in the theocracy. The wicked are denied membership therein: they are blotted out of God's book (Ex. xxxii. 32 et seq.). The figure is derived from the citizens' registers. The life which the righteous participate in is to be understood in a temporal sense. In Dan. xii. 1, however, those who are found written in the book and who shall escape the troubles preparatory to the coming of the Messianic kingdom are they who, together with the risen martyrs, are destined to share in the everlasting life referred to in verse 2. The 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." Temporal life is apparently prayed for in the liturgical formula: "Inscribe us in the Book of Life" (see Atonement, Day of). The Mishnah tells us 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"; i.e., figuratively.
A book of life motif is frequently found in Jewish houses of worship. It is both a decorative feature and fundraiser. Enterprising men—one example was Lazarus Morgenthau—raised money by selling congregation members on having their name included in the book of life on the wall.
- Shemot (Book of Exodus) 32:33
- A. V., "among the living"
- Yisheyah (Book of Isaiah) 4:3
- Ps. lxix. 28; compare Ps. cxxxix. 16.
- Ps. lvi. 9 .
- Dan. xii. 1 et seq.
- Mal. iii. 16.
- xxx. 20-22.
- 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.
- Charles, Book of Enoch, pp. 131–133
- Gustaf Dalman, Worte Jesu, p. 171.
- JAL, "The Book of Life."