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Smith's Bible Dictionary


Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) Any charm or amulet worn as a preservative from danger or disease.

2. (n.) A small square box, made either of parchment or of black calfskin, containing slips of parchment or vellum on which are written the scriptural passages Exodus xiii. 2-10, and 11-17, Deut. vi. 4-9, 13-22. They are worn by Jews on the head and left arm, on week-day mornings, during the time of prayer.

3. (n.) Among the primitive Christians, a case in which the relics of the dead were enclosed.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

fi-lak'-ter-i (phulakterion, "guard"):

1. Bible References:

This word is found only in Matthew 23:5 in our Lord's denunciation of the Pharisees, who, in order that their works might "be seen of men," and in their zeal for the forms of religion, "make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments." The corresponding word in the Old Testament, ToTaphoth (Kennedy in HDB suggests pointing as the segholate feminine singular, ToTepheth), is fonnd in three passages (Exodus 13:16 Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18), where it is translated "frontlets." This rendering, however, is not at all certain, and may have been read into the text from its later interpretation. In Exodus 13:9 the corresponding word to the Totaphoth of 13:16 is zikkaron, "memorial" or "reminder"; and in the parallel clauses of both verses the corresponding word is 'oth, "a sign" upon the hand, also used for the "sign" which Yahweh appointed for Cain (Genesis 4:15). It may be rendered then as a mark or ornament or jewel, and used figuratively of Yahweh's Law as an ornament or jewel to the forehead of the Israelite, a reference to the charm or amulet worn by the pagan. The word used in the Talmud for the phylactery is tephillah, "prayer," or "prayer-band" (plural tephillin), indicating its use theoretically as a reminder of the Law, although practically it might be esteemed as an automatic and ever-present charm against evil: an aid within toward the keeping of the Law, a guard without against the approach of evil; a degradation of an Old Testament figurative and idealistic phrase to the materialistic and superstitious practices of the pagans.

2. Description:

The phylactery was a leather box, cube-shaped, closed with an attached flap and bound to the person by a leather band. There were two kinds:

(1) one to be bound to the inner side of the left arm, and near the elbow, so that with the bending of the arm it would rest over the heart, the knot fastening it to the arm being in the form of the Hebrew letter yodh (y), and the end of the string, or band, finally wound around the middle finger of the hand, "a sign upon thy hand" (Deuteronomy 6:8). This box had one compartment containing one or all of the four passages given above. The writer in his youth found one of these in a comparatively remote locality, evidently lost by a Jewish peddler, which contained only the 2nd text (Exodus 13:11-16) in unpointed Hebrew.

(2) Another was to be bound in the center of the forehead, "between thine eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8), the knot of the band being in the form of the Hebrew letter daleth (d), with the Hebrew letter shin (sh) upon each end of the box, which was divided into four compartments with one of the four passages in each.

These two Hebrew letters, with the yodh (y) of the arm-phylactery (see (1) above), formed the divine name shadday, "Almighty." Quite elaborate ceremonial accompanied the "laying" on of the phylacteries, that of the arm being bound on first, and that of the head next, quotations from Scripture or Talmud being repeated at each stage of the binding. They were to be worn by every male over 13 years old at the time of morning prayer, except on Sabbaths and festal days, such days being in themselves sufficient reminders of "the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances" of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:1).

3. Interpretation of Old Testament Passages:

The passages on which the wearing of the phylacteries is based are as follows: "It (i.e. the feast of unleavened bread) shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of Yahweh may be in thy mouth" (Exodus 13:9); "And it (i.e. sacrifice of the firstborn) shall be for a sign upon thy hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes" (Exodus 13:16); "thou shalt bind them (i.e. the words of Yahweh) for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8); "therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes" (Deuteronomy 11:18). It is evident that the words in Exodus are beyond all question used figuratively; a careful reading of the verses in Deuteronomy in close relation to their contexts, in which are other figures of speech not to be taken literally, is sufficient proof of their purely figurative intention also. Only the formalism of later ages could distort these figures into the gross and materialistic practice of the phylactery. Just when this practice began cannot accurately be determined. While the Talmud attempts to trace it back to the primitive, even Mosaic, times, it probably did not long antedate the birth of Christ. In conservative Jewish circles it has been maintained through the centuries, and at present is faithfully followed by orthodox Judaism. Every male, who at the age of 13 becomes a "son of the Law" (bar mitswah), must wear the phylactery and perform the accompanying ceremonial.

In the New Testament passage (Matthew 23:5) our Lord rebukes the Pharisees, who make more pronounced the un-Scriptural formalism and the crude literalism of the phylacteries by making them obtrusively large, as they also seek notoriety for their religiosity by the enlarged fringes, or "borders."



The various commentaries. on Exodus and Dt: tractate Tephillin; the comprehensive article by A. R. S. Kennedy in HDB; articles in Encyclopedia Biblica and Jewish Encyclopedia.

Edward Mack

5440. phulakterion -- an outpost, fortification, an amulet
... an amulet. Part of Speech: Noun, Neuter Transliteration: phulakterion Phonetic Spelling:
(foo-lak-tay'-ree-on) Short Definition: a phylactery, an amulet ...
// - 7k

The Upbringing of Jewish Children
... The "Mesusah" was a kind of phylactery for the house, serving a purpose kindred
to that of the phylactery for the person, both being derived from a ...
/.../edersheim/sketches of jewish social life/chapter 7 the upbringing of.htm

Christ Crucified
... If you looked at him, he had the law between his eyes; there was the phylactery,
and the borders of his garments of amazing width, that he might never be ...
/.../spurgeon/spurgeons sermons volume 1 1855/christ crucified.htm

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
... of sainthood by virtue of the distinctive dress, which served them at once as a
passport to delightful freedom and as a broadened phylactery of pretentious ...
/.../chapter xxxvii the world the.htm

Trypho Asks Whether a Man who Keeps the Law Even Now Will be Saved ...
... you to place around you [a fringe] of purple dye, [2088] in order that you might
not forget God; and He commanded you to wear a phylactery, [2089] certain ...
/.../chapter xlvi trypho asks whether a.htm

The First Ministry of the Baptist.
... The Pharisees were the ritualists and formalists of their day, who would wrangle
about the breadth of a phylactery, and decide to an inch how far a man might ...
// the baptist/v the first ministry of.htm

Christian Morals. Part iii.
... To thoughtful observators, the whole world is a phylactery; [154] and every
thing we see an item of the wisdom, power, or goodness of God. ...
// morals/christian morals part iii.htm

The Deputation from Jerusalem - the Three Sects of the Pharisees ...
... to which we add, by way of explanation, that the wearing of phylacteries was deemed
by that party of Scriptural obligation, and that the phylactery for the ...
/.../the life and times of jesus the messiah/chapter ii the deputation from.htm

Satan's Banquet
... You may know him; he has his phylactery between his eyes; the hem of his garment
is made exceeding broad; he is one of the best of the best professors." "Ah ...
/.../spurgeon/spurgeons sermons volume 5 1859/satans banquet.htm

A People Prepared for the Lord
... It was not making broad the borders of their garments, it was not wearing a text
of Scripture as a phylactery between their eyes, it was not making long ...
/.../spurgeon/spurgeons sermons volume 41 1895/a people prepared for the.htm

Divine Destruction and Protection
... He makes broad fringes to his own garment, and he cannot think how good men can
wear such narrow fringes to theirs; he has a wide phylactery, and he cannot ...
/.../spurgeon/spurgeons sermons volume 62 1916/divine destruction and protection.htm

...PHYLACTERY. ... 2. Description: The phylactery was a leather box, cube-shaped, closed
with an attached flap and bound to the person by a leather band. ...
/p/phylactery.htm - 13k

Phylacteries (2 Occurrences)
... Another form of the phylactery consisted of two rolls of parchment, on which the
same texts were written, enclosed in a case of black calfskin. ...
/p/phylacteries.htm - 8k


/p/phylarch.htm - 6k

Frontlets (3 Occurrences)
... of which were regarded as an emblem of God." This case tied around the forehead
in a particular way was called "the tephillah on the head." (see PHYLACTERY.). ...
/f/frontlets.htm - 9k

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