Apocalypse of Abraham
The Apocalypse of Abraham is a pseudepigraphic work (a text whose claimed authorship is unfounded) based on the Old Testament. Probably composed between about 70–150 AD, it is of Jewish origin and is usually considered to be part of the Apocalyptic literature. It has survived only in Old Slavonic recensions—it is not regarded as authoritative scripture by Jews or any Christian group.
The text of the Apocalypse of Abraham has been preserved only in Slavonic; it occurs in the Tolkovaja Paleja (or Explanatory Paleja, a Medieval compendium of various Old Testament texts and comments that also preserved the Ladder of Jacob). The original language of this text was almost surely Hebrew: it was translated into Slavonic either directly from Hebrew or from a lost intermediate Greek translation. The whole text survives in six manuscripts usually gathered in two families: the main manuscript of the first family is referred to as S edited by Tixonravov in 1863, while the main manuscripts of the other family, which preserve the text integrated in other material of the Tolkovaja Paleja, are referred to as A, B and K. The first English translation appeared in 1898 in the LDS magazine Improvement Era, and another notable English translation was produced by G.H. Box and J.I. Landsman some twenty years later.
Date of composition
The relative age of these works can be determined by comparing the legend of Abraham as contained in the Apocalypse with those in the Talmud and in the Book of Jubilees. The legend of the raven in Jubilees (11:18) and the account of the conversion of Abraham in his boyhood are still unknown to the Apocalypse, while the legend of the fire of the Chaldees is found there still in its incipient stage. The mockery of the idol Barisat is more extended in the Midrash than in the Apocalypse; also the condemnation of Terah as an idolater, as related in the Apocalypse, discloses the older Haggadah (Genesis Rashi 39:7), whereas the Book of Jubilees presents the later one (compare Genesis Rashi 30:4, 39:7, where Terah is treated quite mildly). As the Book of Jubilees can not have been written later than 70 (it treats the Temple as still existing, and is unaware of its destruction in 70AD), it can be dated prior to this.
The Apocalypse of Abraham narrates the Destruction of the Temple so it was written after 70 AD. It is most probably distinct from the Αποκαλυψις Αβρααμ used by the gnostic Sethites according Epiphanius, while this book was possibly known to the author of the Clementine Recognitions i. 32-33, a text that narrates legends known in the 2nd century AD. For this reason, and in comparison with other apocalyptic texts, the text is usually considered to be written before the half of the 2nd century AD. Within the usually accepted range of 70-150 AD, the date of 79-81 AD has been speculated.
Like all the apocalyptic literature preserved only in Slavonic, there is the problem of possible textual alterations made by the Bogomils, who were interested in this kind of literature, which contains some traces of the Dualistic principle typical of their beliefs. However the dualistic principle was also a feature of Gnosticism, which was contemporaneous with the original writing of this text. The main suspected Bogomils' interpolations are 20:5.7, 22:5, 9:7, 23:4-10: as suggested by Rubinkiewicz, but disputed by Sacchi. Scholars suspect that some other interpolations are present: including the whole of chapter 7, and some additions, difficultly determinable in extension, in 29:3-13.
Its title does not fully explain its contents, for about one-third of it might more appropriately be called The Legend of Abraham, as this contains an account of Abraham's conversion from polytheism to henotheism quite apart from the apocalypse which follows. The work is notable for its presentation of Judaism and non-Judaism as being diametrically opposed, and its strong iconoclasm.
- The text opens with a description of Abraham helping his father Terah who is a maker of idols. Abraham's doubts about idol-worship are awakened by accidents that break the stone image of Merumath and five other idols, that Abraham was supposed to sell. Pondering over this, he objects to his father against such idols, thus causing Terah’s anger. He tests further the powers of the idols by placing a wooden statue of Barisat near the fire, and telling the idol to take care of fire. On returning he finds Barisat burnt. He again strongly explains to his father the uselessness of such idols, but without results (Chapters 1-6).
- The fire, the water, the earth, and the heavenly bodies are shown to be more worthy than the idols, although each one of these elements is subject to another force, so none of them can claim to be God (Chapter 7, probably a later addition).
- Abraham is still considering his father's answer when he hears a voice from heaven asking him to leave his father’s house. He has scarcely left the house when a fire descends and burns Terah’s house (Chapter 8).
The apocalyptic section begins with Abraham's sacrifice to God, expanding and modifying the Biblical narrative of Genesis 15:8-17:
- The voice of God orders Abraham to prepare a sacrifice on the high mountain (Mount Horeb) where he will receive a revelation. Abraham is asked to have a forty days preparation for such event. The angel Yahoel is sent to Abraham, terrified at the experience, to guide him and to teach him how to perform the sacrifice. Yahoel introduces himself as a being "whose name is like unto that of God Himself" followed by a long introduction of his duties. (Chapters 9-11)
- On Mount Horeb, under the guidance of Yahoel, and assisted by many other angels, Abraham offers up his sacrifice, but not without being disturbed by Azazel, the fallen archangel and seducer of mankind, who, in the form of an unclean bird, swoops down upon the carcasses, and, speaking with a human voice, tries to persuade Abraham to leave the holy place. Abraham is not seduced and Yahoel fights off Azazel. Yahoel then adds that the celestial garments, originally set aside for Azazel, now belong to Abraham. (Chapters 11-14)
The third part of the Apocalypse of Abraham narrates the ascension of Abraham to heaven:
- Abraham and Yahoel, borne by a dove, ascend to the heavens: they see a great light and a great crowd in the likeness of men that were changing in aspect, running, prostrating and crying aloud, and a fire came toward them. They kneel down and worship the fire and a divine voice was heard as the sound of rushing waters. Yahoel teaches Abraham a hymn of praise to be sung, by which they ask the Lord to accept their prayer and the sacrifice made the Lord himself. When they reach the seventh heaven Abraham sees a classic example of Merkabah: the throne of God (but he does not see God), the four Living Beings with aspect of man, lion, ox, and eagle, and the many-eyed wheels. Yahoel has the task of mitigating the rivalry among Living Beings. (Chapters 15-18)
- Abraham is shown by God everything that exists in the heavens: the angels, the celestial bodies, also the earth, and everything that is moving upon it. He sees also the Leviathan and its possessions in the nethermost waters, the rivers and their origin, and the Garden of Eden. He realizes it is the whole creation as designed by God before God decreed it to exist. (Chapters 19-22)
- He sees the scene of the Fall: Adam and Eve as huge figures who are led to commit (sexual) sin by Azazel through his causing them to eat from the forbidden fruit (here said to be a grape from the vine). God informs Abraham that, notwithstanding "the pollution of the serpent", the man may choose to abstain from sins. Four main sins are listed: fornication, theft, homosexuality and desire. (Chapters 23-24)
- Abraham then sees a scene of idolatry with boys being slaughtered, and God explains that it is his Temple and his priesthood full of his anger against the people who came out from Abraham. A vision of the destruction of the Temple follows and Abraham is explained that this is due to the sin of idolatry on the part of his seed, but the coming of men who will take care of his seed is predicted. (Chapters 25-27)
- Answering how long the judgment lasts, God reveals a description of the last times: the Age is said to be divided in twelve parts; a character known simply as “a man” will appear from the pagan side, worshiped by many pagans, Jews and by Azazel and insulted and beaten by other Jews; ten plagues will occur and finally, at the sound of the trumpet, the Chosen One (the Messiah) is sent to fight the enemies, and the judgment will pass upon the heathen and the wicked. The book is closed by a short promise of the chosen people’s deliverance from oppression. (Chapters 28-32)
Yahoel (or Iaoel) in the Apocalypse of Abraham is the mighty angel sent to guide Abraham. Yahoel introduces himself as a being possessed of the power of the Ineffable Name "whose name is like unto that of God Himself". As the angel nearer to God, or perhaps as a manifestation of the power of God himself, Yahoel is said to be also the heavenly choirmaster, the one who teaches the angels their hymn, who has the control over "the threats and attacks of the reptiles", the angel with the chief task of protecting and watching over Israel. These functions were traditionally ascribed to Michael and mark the gradual transformation of Michael, originally the guardian angel of Israel, into Meṭaṭron. Yahoel's body is depict like sapphire, his face like chrysolite, his hair like snow, his turban like the appearance of the rainbow, his garments like purple and a golden sceptre is in his right hand. Iaoel and Yahoel have been used also as alternate names for Metatron.
In the Apocalypse of Abraham, Azazel is portrayed as an unclean bird which came down upon the sacrifice which Abraham, the Biblical patriarch, prepared. This is in reference to Genesis 15:11 Birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
- And the unclean bird spoke to me and said, 'What are you doing, Abraham, on the holy heights, where no one eats or drinks, nor is there upon them food for men. But these all will be consumed by fire and ascend to the height, they will destroy you.' And it came to pass when I saw the bird speaking I said this to the angel: 'What is this, my lord?' And he said, 'This is disgrace, this is Azazel!' And he said to him, 'Shame on you Azazel! For Abraham's portion is in heaven, and yours is on earth, for you have selected here, (and) become enamored of the dwelling place of your blemish. Therefore the Eternal Ruler, the Mighty One, has given you a dwelling on earth. Through you the all-evil spirit [is] a liar, and through you (are) wrath and trials on the generations of men who live impiously. — Apocalypse of Abraham 13:4-9
The Apocalypse of Abraham also associates Azazel with Hell. Abraham says to him "May you be the firebrand of the furnace of the earth! Go, Azazel, into the untrodden parts of the earth. For your heritage is over those who are with you" (14:5-6) There is also the idea that God's heritage (the created world) is largely under the dominion of evil. It is "shared with Azazel" (20:5) Azazel is also identified with the serpent which tempted Eve. His form is described as a dragon with "hands and feet like a man's, on his back six wings on the right and six on the left." (23:7)
"A man" in chapter 29
The Apocalypse of Abraham is concerned with the future of the Jewish nation, Israel. In chapter 29 an ambiguous character known simply as “a man” appears. The text tells us that some worship this man, while others revile him. He is worshiped even by Azazel. Apparently, the man has the task of offering some kind of remission for the heathens in the end of days.
According to Jacob Licht (Professor of Biblical Studies, Tel-Aviv University,) this work is a Jewish text, although not one that represents mainstream rabbinic Jewish thought. Licht writes:
- The most obvious and perhaps the correct explanation of this passage is to declare it a late Christian interpolation, yet “the man” does not fit the medieval Christian concept of Jesus. His function is not clearly messianic. This problematic passage therefore may have originated in some Judeo-Christian sect, which saw Jesus as precursor of the Messiah, or it may be Jewish, badly rewritten by an early Christian editor Perhaps it reflects a Jewish view of Jesus as an apostle to the heathen, an explanation which would make it unique, and indeed startling.
- Sil'verstrovskij Sbornik, Moscow, Central'nyi Gosuderstvennyj Arxiv Drevnyx Aktov, Sin. Tip. 53, ff 164-183, 14th century
- N.S. Tixonravo, Pamjatniki otrecennoj russkoj literature 1, Petersburg 1863, 32-35
- Paleja of Volokolamsk, Moscow, Rossijkaja Gosudarstvennaja Biblioteka, 299, n. 704, ff 85-101, 15th century
- 'Paleja, Moscow, Gosudarstvennui Istoriceskij Muzej, Sin. 211 (869), ff 79-90, 14th century
- Paleja of Soloveck, Petersburg, Rossijskaja Nacional'naja Biblioteka, Kazan. Dux. Akad. 431, ff79-85, end 16th century
- G. Nathanael Bonwetsch (1897). "Die Apokalypse Abrahams". Studien zur Geschichte der Theologie und der Kierke (Leipzig) (1,1). trans. Edward H. Anderson and R. T. Haag (August 1898). Improvement Era (1): 705–14, 793–806.
- Box, G. H.; J. I. Landsman (1918). The Apokalypse of Abraham. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
- Epiphanius, Haer. xxxix. 5
- R. Rubinkiewicz, see note at pag 683 of ISBN 0-385-09630-5
- R. Rubinkiewicz, pag 684 of ISBN 0-385-09630-5
- Sacchi, page 65 of ISBN 88-394-0583-6
- R. Rubinkiewicz Apocalypse of Abraham, a new Translation and Introduction in ed. James Charlesworth The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol 1 ISBN 0-385-09630-5 (1983)
- P.Sacchi Apocalisse di Abramo in ed. P.Sacchi Apocrifi dell'Antico Testamento Vol 3 ISBN 88-394-0583-6 (1999)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Louis Ginzberg (1901–1906). "Abraham, Apocalypse of". Jewish Encyclopedia.
- Apocalypse of Abraham
- Jewish Encyclopedia: ABRAHAM, APOCALYPSE OF
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