Apocalypse of Abraham
The Apocalypse of Abraham is a pseudepigraphic work (a text whose claimed authorship is uncertain) based on the Old Testament. Probably composed between about 70–150 AD from earlier writings and tradition possibly kept from the time of Abraham, it is of Jewish origin and is usually considered to be part of the Apocalyptic literature. It has survived only in Old Slavonic recensions and it is not regarded as authoritative scripture by Jews or any Christians, though it likely held some prominence up into the first century A.D.
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 was produced by E.H. Anderson and R.T. Haag, and appeared in 1898 in the Latter-day Saint magazine Improvement Era, under the title The Book of the Revelation of Abraham. Another notable English translation was produced by G.H. Box and J.I. Landsman some twenty years later.
Date of composition
Speculations of the time this ancient work was written vary greatly. Currently, only Old Slavonic language texts of the original have been discovered. So how far back in time the earlier Hebrew texts went is only conjectured.
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 and 39:7, where Terah is treated quite mildly). The Book of Jubilees treats the Temple as still existing, and therefore can be dated prior to 70 AD, when the Temple was destroyed.
It is most probably distinct from the Αποκαλυψις Αβρααμ used by the gnostic Sethites, according to Epiphanius, while the 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 in its current form is usually considered to be written before the second 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, and 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, whose extent is difficult to determine, in 29:3-13.
The first eight chapters of the book are introductory in nature. Abraham's young manhood in dealing in his father's house is set out. This contains an account of Abraham's conversion from polytheism to monotheism, quite apart from the apocalypse which follows. The work is notable for its presentation of the ills of idolatry.
- 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, inciting Terah’s anger. Abraham 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, perhaps 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 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 prepare for forty days for the event. The angel Yahoel is sent to Abraham, terrified of 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. Azazel, 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 are changing in aspect, running, prostrating, and crying aloud, and a fire comes toward them. They kneel down and worship the fire and a divine voice is heard, as the sound of rushing waters. Yahoel teaches Abraham a hymn of praise to sing, by which they ask the Lord to accept their prayer and the sacrifice made by 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 aspects of man, lion, ox, and eagle, and the many-eyed wheels. Yahoel has the task of mitigating the rivalry among the Living Beings. (Chapters 15–18)
- Abraham is shown by God everything that exists in the heavens: the angels, the celestial bodies, and 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 beguiled to commit sin by Azazel through his causing them to eat from the forbidden fruit (here said to be a grape from the vine). Abraham asks God why he would allow man to be corrupted by Azazel, and God replies that those who do evil have chosen to do so – which is hated by God – and they have been given over to Azazel. Abraham then asks God why God has allowed that evil should be desired in the hearts of men. (Chapter 23)
- God tells Abraham that he has allowed man to desire evil because he is angered by the treatment on Earth of Abraham's descendants as God's chosen people, and instructs Abraham to look again at the scene before him to see the judgement of man. He sees Cain and the "slaughtered Abel, (and) the destruction brought and caused upon him through the lawless one." He sees Impurity, Theft and Desire as personified sins and the destruction wrought by each. (Chapter 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 it is explained to Abraham 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 also 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, worshipped 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) will be 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)
The Man is also called "The Relief" and this man is kissed on his face by Azazel, not worshipped by him. Judas Iskariot gives Jesus from Nazareth a kiss on his face, when betraying him and it is Satan who affects J.Iskariot. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 2 verse 25 we read about Symeon who, among the rest of the Jews, are waiting for the "Consolation of Israel" to be born into the world. Relief and Consolation may well be the same person, and indeed in the Gospel of Luke the "Consolation of Israel" is also referred to as Messiah. Also there might be a reference to this scripture by Jesus from Nazareth himself, in the Gospel of John chapter 8, verse 56, where Jesus is talking about Abraham who in a prophetic vision is to see Christ being born into the world. This prophetic vision is not mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, nor in the Torah.
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 depicted as being like sapphire, his face like chrysolite, his hair like snow, his turban like the appearance of the rainbow, and his garments as purple, with 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 comes down upon the sacrifice which Abraham, the Biblical patriarch, has 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". In Singer, Isidore; et al. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
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