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Abraham, Apocalypse of


ABRAHAM, APOCALYPSE OF , a work of the second century c.e., extant only in the Slavonic version of a Greek translation of a presumably Hebrew original. Several variant forms of the Slavonic exist, including reworked versions in the medieval Eastern church sacred histories known as the Palaiai. The late Christian editing gives it a flavor which is strange to the Jewish reader. But only one interpolation can be identified as Christian and that not with certainty. Although translations of the book have been accessible to western scholars for 50 years, it is little known.

The book opens with a legend of Abraham's discovery of God (ch. 1–8), a theme well known from the aggadah and early Christian literature. This tells of Abraham's tragicomic adventures as an assistant in his father's business of making and selling idols, and culminates in his realization and recognition of the Creator. The legend concludes with a voice urging Abraham to leave his father's house, which is immediately destroyed by lightning.

A further heavenly call commands him to fast for 40 days and to offer the sacrifice described in Genesis 15:9. This leads to the main visionary section of the book. The angel Iaoel (Mss. Ioal, Iloel, etc.) appears (ch. 10–11) and leads him to the place of the sacrifice; the victims appear miraculously (ch. 12). The vulture (Gen. 15:11), later unmasked as Azazel, tells Abraham to flee the "holy heights" and to leave the angel (ch. 13). At the angel's bidding, Abraham refuses to listen to Azazel (ch. 14). The furnace (Gen. 15:17) appears, and angels carry up the sacrificial victims while the wings of the undivided dove serve to carry Abraham and his angelic guide to heaven (ch. 15).

Trembling, Abraham sees the Divine Glory (ch. 16), praises God, and prays for instruction (ch. 17). He is then enabled to contemplate the four-faced cherubim (ch. 18) and bidden to look down on the several lower heavens, which open under him. He observes the angels of the seventh and sixth heavens, and the stars in the fifth (ch. 19–20). The lower heavens remain undescribed, for he next sees an overall picture of the world (ch. 21). He also sees a great multitude of people, some on the right and some on the left. This is "the Creation." Those on the left are all the generations of mankind, those on the right, the chosen people (ch. 22). Next he is shown several scenes such as the Fall, the Temple, and its destruction (ch. 23–27), which form a condensed history of the world. As these are explained to him, he dares to ask some questions, such as "Why does God will (or permit) evil?" and "How long shall the suffering of the elect people last?" The rather obscure answers appear to contain an assertion of human free will (ch. 24). A computation of "eons" and "hours" is briefly sketched (ch. 28).

Finally (ch. 29) "a man" appears. He is worshipped by the heathen of the left side: from the right some revile him, others worship him. Azazel, who is contradictorily described both as coming from the left side and as a descendant of Abraham, also worships him. The "man's" function is "the remission for (?) the heathen in the last days," at which time the chosen people shall be tried by him. Although his description is followed by an eschatological prediction, he does not seem to be an instrument of the final deliverance. Abraham's vision ends with a statement about the "eon of righteousness" (ch. 29).

Back on earth he prays for further instruction, which he receives in the form of another prediction of the last things, including ten chastisements prepared for the heathen (ch. 30) and the salvation of the people at the hands of the elect one (ch. 31). There follows a short prediction of the Egyptian servitude and the deliverance – a paraphrase of Genesis 15:13–14 (ch. 32). This serves as the conclusion of the book, which thus fits neatly into the framework of a Midrash on Genesis 15.

The Jewish origin of the book cannot be doubted. The author's main concern, the nation's destiny, is discernible even in the peculiar passage about "the man." 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.

The Apocalypse of Abraham is perhaps the last important product of the Apocalyptic movement. Possibly influenced by iv*Ezra, it reflects the plight of the Jews as the "people despised by the nations." However, the destruction of the Temple is not fresh in the author's memory. The characteristic, elaborate pseudepigraphic framework is missing and not all the extant recensions present it as a first-person account by Abraham. Within the tight framework of a simple version, the book successfully presents several important apocalyptic themes, including speculation about a transcendent God presiding over the heavens, a view of history as a sequence of periods, and an attempt to "compute the date of the end." Dualistic and deterministic tendencies are clearly present, but not strongly developed. There is, indeed, no special emphasis on any point of doctrine. The author, aiming at a restatement of ideas developed by his predecessors, is not too eager to break fresh ground. This impression, however, must be qualified by the possibility that the book has been abbreviated or badly edited, although it has survived as a remarkably complete literary unit.


G.N. Bowetsch, Apokalypse Abrahams (1897); G.H. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham (1918); P. Riessler, Altjuedisches Schrifttum… (1928), 13–39; J. Kaufmann, in: ej, 1 (1928), 548–53; Rubinstein, in: jjs, 8 (1957), 45–50; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 336–9.

[Jacob Licht]

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