From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [1]

When God told the people of Israel through Moses that they were to bind his laws upon their hands and between their eyes, he was no doubt emphasizing that his people were to live in the constant remembrance of his law. Not only their actions but also their thoughts were to be governed by the law of God ( Exodus 13:9;  Exodus 13:16;  Deuteronomy 6:8;  Deuteronomy 11:18).

Taking God’s instructions literally, Israelites of later times wrote selected commands of the law on small strips of cloth or parchment, placed these strips in small leather boxes called phylacteries, and bound the phylacteries on to their arms or foreheads. Jesus condemned those Pharisees and scribes who wore extra large phylacteries to try to impress people with their apparent devotion to God ( Matthew 23:5).

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]

PHYLACTERIES ( OT ‘frontlets’).—The observance of phylacteries is based on  Exodus 13:9-10 and  Deuteronomy 6:8;  Deuteronomy 11:18. For the Heb. and Greek terms see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , s.v . It is disputed whether the passages in the Pentateuch are to be understood literally (so most of the Rabbinic writers, and Ginsburg in Kitto’s Cyclop .) or metaphorically (so Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, the Karaites, Jerome, Lyra, Calvin, Hengstenberg, Knobel, Keil, and Kennedy in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible); some assign a metaphorical meaning to the passages in Ex. and a literal to those in Deuteronomy. Under the more legal and formal interpretation and observance of the OT which flourished after the Return, the literal interpretation became dominant. The exact date of the introduction of the literal observance of the precept cannot be given. No indisputable reference is found in the OT; passages like  Proverbs 1:9 being indecisive. From the relatively large number of regulations referring to phylacteries—some of them connected with the Tannaim—it follows that they were used as early as the time of the Sopherim, the 4th or at least the 3rd cent. b.c. (see JE [Note: E Jewish Encyclopedia.] x. 26). The first explicit reference, and that to the hand phylactery, is in the letter of the pseudo-Aristeas, the date of which is variously assigned between 200 and 100 b.c., where they are regarded as an established custom. They are also mentioned in connexion with Simeon ben Shetach, brother-in-law of Alexander Jannaeus (b.c. 105–78). Josephus ( Ant. iv. viii. 13) speaks of them as an established and recognized custom. We may, therefore, regard them as having preceded by about two centuries the birth of Jesus Christ. For our knowledge of the customs associated with them we are indebted chiefly to the references in the Mishna (for which see Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. 113). Though the collection of these traditions took place in the 2nd Christian cent., they may be regarded, for the most part, as representing an earlier state of things.

In the later Jewish writers, phylacteries play a great part; their manufacture and use are elaborately described, and their significance and importance dwelt upon at length. ‘There are more laws—ascribed to delivery by God to Moses—clustering about phylacteries than about any other institution of Judaism. Maimonides ( Yad Tef .) mentions 10; Rodkinssohn ( Tef. le Mosheh ) mentions 18’ ( J [Note: Jahwist.] E [Note: Elohist.] ). According to the Kabbala, they were significant of the wisdom, reason, and greatness of God. Phylacteries were more holy than the gold plate worn by the high priest, since that contained the Divine Name once, the phylacteries twenty-three times. The Mishna taught that’ be who has Tephillin on his head and his arm, Tsitsith on his garment, and Mezuzah on his door, has every possible guarantee that he will not sin.’ The wearing of them distinguished the cultured and pious from the common mass, the am-hâ’âreẓ , the ‘people who knew not the law’ ( John 7:49). Though worn probably at first all day, they became limited to the time of morning prayer. Careful directions are given as to the person (women, the unclean), the times (Sabbaths and festivals), and the places (cemeteries, etc.) where their use was prohibited.

Phylacteries are of two kinds, those for the hand and those for the head. In the case of the former, a box or house (כּיִת) was made of the skin of a clean animal, which had been softened in water and shaped and stiffened on a mould. In this was inserted a parchment on which the Scripture passages,  Exodus 13:1-16,  Deuteronomy 6:4-9;  Deuteronomy 6:13-21, had been written in four columns; the parchment was rolled and tied with white, washed hairs from a cow or calf, usually from the tail. This box was then sewn on to a leather base, furnished with a loop through which a leather strap passed. In the case of the head phylactery a similar box was prepared, but with four divisions, in which were placed in order, beginning from the left side, the four above named passages of the Pentateuch. On the right hand side of the box of this phylactery was impressed a three-pronged Shîn (ש), and on the left hand one with four prongs (ש). This, too, was sewn on a base and provided with a leather strap (see Illustration in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 870).

In ‘laying’—to use the technical term—the phylacteries, that for the hand was adjusted first. The box part was placed above the elbow on the inside of the left arm where it would press against the heart, a fact to which significance was given ( Deuteronomy 6:6). A knot in the shape of the letter Yôdh (י) was made, the strap was wound about the arm four times and three times, and three times round the middle finger of the hand. The box of the other was placed on the forehead, where the hair ceases to grow, the band taken round the head and fastened with a knot like the letter Dâleth (ר), while the two ends were made to hang down in front over the shoulders. The Shîn on the box, the Dâleth knot on the head phylactery, and the Yôdh knot on the hand phylactery, made the letters of one of the Divine Names—שׁדַּי Shadddâi , ‘Almighty.’

The following benedictions are said. At the laying of the hand phylactery—‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments, and has commanded us to lay the Tephillin.’ An almost identical one is uttered during the placing of that for the head, and when it is finished—‘Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is for ever and ever.’ At the adjusting of the strap round the middle finger, which is left till the last, ‘And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercy. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord’ ( Hosea 2:19). In removing, the fastening of the hand is first undone, the head phylactery removed, then that on the arm; they are kissed and placed in a bag, as. to the place and use of which careful directions are given.

It cannot be doubted that the Pharisees and scribes in the time of our Lord used phylacteries; but how far the custom was followed by the people generally is uncertain. In order to emphasize their profession of religion, these people ‘made broad’ (πλατύνουσι,  Matthew 23:5) these mementoes of their Judaism, whether by enlarging the whole, the boxes and the straps, or, as the Sinaitic and Curetonian Syriac suggest, the straps only. It was the vain extension of the outward sign of an unreal religion that our Lord rebuked; it marked the externality and hollowness of contemporary Pharisaism. While this is the only NT reference to phylacteries, their use by a certain class should continually be borne in mind by the reader, as it may add to the vividness of the picture suggested by many incidents. Thus in  Matthew 22:34 || it may be considered as certain that the group of Pharisees with whom our Lord held His controversy wore their broadened phylacteries, and that the passage He quoted, the Shema ’, the foundation of Hebrew religion, would be found in the phylacteries they carried on their heads and arms.

Literature.—Comm. on Ex. and Deut., including long note in Kalisch’s Exodus  ; Maimonides, Yad Hachazakah, Hilcoth Tephillin  ; Wagenseil, Sota  ; artt. in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, the EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] (‘Frontlets’), Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] (‘Frontlets’), Kitto’s Cyclop ., the JE [Note: E Jewish Encyclopedia.] , Hamburger’s RE [Note: E Realencyklopädie.] , Riehm’s HWB [Note: WB Handwörterbunch.] ; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. 113; Buxtorf, Lex. Chald. and Syn. Jud. (which contains much curious information); Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life  ; Margoliouth, Fundamental Principles of Judaism (much information as to modern use).

J. T. L. Maggs.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

called by the Jews תפלין , are little scrolls of parchment, in which are written certain sentences of the law, enclosed in leather cases, and bound with thongs on the forehead and on the left arm. They are called in Greek φυλακτηρια , from φυλαττω , custodio, either because they were supposed to preserve the law in memory, or rather because they were looked upon as a kind of amulets or charms to keep them from danger. The making and wearing these phylacteries, as the Jews still do in their private devotions, is owing to a misinterpretation of those texts, on which they ground the practice, namely, God's commanding them "to bind the law for a sign on their hands, and to let it be as frontlets between their eyes," &c,   Deuteronomy 6:8 . The command ought doubtless to be understood metaphorically, as a charge to remember it, to meditate upon it, to have it as it were continually before their eyes, and to conduct their lives by it; as when Solomon says, concerning the commandments of God in general, "Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the table of thy heart,"  Proverbs 3:1;  Proverbs 3:3;  Proverbs 6:21 . However, the Jews understanding the precept literally, wrote out the several passages wherever it occurs, and to which it seems to refer, and bound them upon their foreheads and upon their arms. It seems the Pharisees used to "make broad their phylacteries." This some understand of the knots of the thongs by which they were fastened, which were tied very artificially in the form of Hebrew letters; and that the pride of the Pharisees induced them to have these knots larger than ordinary, as a peculiar ornament. The Pharisees are farther said to "enlarge the borders of their garments," τα κρασπεδα των ιματιων ,  Matthew 23:5 . These κρασπεδα were the ציצית , the fringes which the Jews are commanded to wear upon the borders of their garments,  Numbers 15:38-39 . The Targum of Onkelos calls them כרוספדין , which has so near an affinity with the Greek word κρασπεδον , that there is no doubt but it signifies the same thing; which is, therefore, an evidence that the κρασπεδα were the ציצית . These were worn by our Saviour, as appears from the following passage: "Behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment," κρασπεδον του ιματιου ,  Matthew 9:20 . Again: the inhabitants of Gennesaret are said to have brought unto him their diseased, and to have "besought him, that they might only touch the hem of his garment," κρασπεδον του ιματιου ,  Matthew 14:36 . Κρασπεδον του ιματιου is, in both these passages, very improperly translated the "hem of his garment." It should have been rendered "the fringe." The Pharisees are censured by our Saviour for enlarging these fringes of their garments, which we may suppose they did partly from pride, and partly from hypocrisy, as pretending thereby an extraordinary regard for the precepts of the law. It is reported by Jerom, as quoted by Godwin, that they used to have fringes extravagantly long; sticking thorns in them, that, by pricking their legs as they walked, they might put them in mind of the law. See Frontlets .

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [4]

Were little rolls of parchment, in which were written certain words of the law, and which were worn by the Jews upon their foreheads, and upon the left arm. The custom was founded on a mistaken interpretation of  Exodus 13:9,16 , "And it shall be for a taken upon thy hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes."

Leo of Modena informs us particularly about these rolls. Those worn upon the forehead have been described under the article FRONTLETS, which see. Those that were to be fastened to the arms were two rolls of parchment written in square letters, with ink made on purpose, and with much care. They were rolled up to a point, and enclosed in a sort of case of black calfskin. They then were put upon a square bit of the same leather, whence hung a throng of the same, of about a finger's breadth and a cubit and a half long. These rolls were placed at the bending of the left arm, and after the throng had made a little knot in the form of the letter Yodh, it was wound about the arm in a spiral line, which ended at the top of the middle finger. They were called the Tephila of the hand.

The phylactery, from a Greek word signifying preservative, was regarded not only as a remembrancer of God's law, but as a protection against demons. It was probably introduced at a late period in the Old Testament history. Our Savior reproaches the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, shown in making their phylacteries broad as a sign of their superior wisdom and piety,  Matthew 23:5 . David, on the other hand, says, "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee,"  Psalm 119:11 .

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [5]

We meet with this word but once in the whole Bible, namely,  Matthew 23:5. Our blessed Lord condemned the Jews for making broad their phylacteries. It should seem that the Jews had a superstition, that by wearing certain amulets or borders with words of Scripture upon them, they would act like so many charms, and preserve them from danger. The word phylacteries, which is derived from the Greek, means to preserve. The Jews, it is said by some, justified this from what was commanded in Scripture. "And it shall be for a sign unto thee, upon thine head, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Lord's law may be in their mouth." ( Exodus 33:3) But had the Jews observed the pure sense of this precept, it was their wonderful deliverance from Egypt that was to be the memorial, and not the preservation from future dangers to which this command had respect. It should rather seem, therefore, that that natural proneness the children of Israel had to imitate their idolatrous neighbours, tempted them to do as the heathen did, whose superstition is well known to have been of this kind; though Israel in the midst of their using charms like them, still had respect to words of Scripture. That this was the case, seems highly probable, in that the Lord Jesus reproved them for it. See Frontlets

Easton's Bible Dictionary [6]

  •  Deuteronomy 6:4-9;  Deuteronomy 11:18-21 , and which were enclosed in a square leather case, on one side of which was inscribed the Hebrew letter shin, to which the rabbis attached some significance. This case was fastened by certain straps to the forehead just between the eyes. The "making broad the phylacteries" refers to the enlarging of the case so as to make it conspicuous. (See Frontlets .)

    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. This was worn on the left arm near the elbow, to which it was bound by a thong. It was called the "Tephillah on the arm."

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Phylacteries'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • Smith's Bible Dictionary [7]

    Phylacteries. See Frontlets .

    Fausset's Bible Dictionary [8]

    Totaphoth . (See Earrings .)

    Webster's Dictionary [9]

    (pl.) of Phylactery

    The Nuttall Encyclopedia [10]

    Strips of vellum inscribed with certain texts of Scripture, enclosed in small cases of calf-skin, and attached to the forehead or the left arm; originally connected with acts of worship, they were eventually turned to superstitious uses, and employed sometimes as charms and sometimes by way of ostentatious display.