ABRAHAM, APOCALYPSE OF:
By: Louis Ginzberg
An apocryphon that has been preserved in Old Slavonic literature. 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 idolatry to monotheism quite apart from the Apocalypse which follows.Abraham the Iconoclast.
Abraham, the son of the idol-maker Terah (Gen. R. xxxviii. 13), was, like his father, a thorough-going idolater, being chiefly devoted to the worship of the stone idol called Merumat ("Eben Marumah," stone of deceit and corruption). But on a journey to a place near Fandana (Padanaram), some of his idols were smashed, and having long felt misgivings as to their power, he became convinced of the unreality of such deities. Henceforth he fearlessly propagated this new truth, defending it even against his own father, whom he in vain endeavored to convert. He threw the wooden idol Barisat—( ("Son of the Fire")—into the flames, and when remonstrated with declared that it must have thrown itself in, in order to hurry the boiling of the food (compare a similar anecdote related of Abraham in Gen. R. xxxviii. 13). But not even this argument influenced his father; and his more elaborate ones in favor of monotheism, which almost to the very letter are identical with those found in the Midrash (Gen. R. l.c.), also proved futile. Finally God told Abraham to leave his father's house, which, no sooner had he done, than it was consumed by fire, as was also his father. The Biblical "Ur of the Chaldees" (Gen. xi. 31, xv. 7) is here interpreted as the fire of the Chaldees, and later in fuller detail in the Book of Jubilees, and still more fully in the Midrash, Gen. R., and in Pes. 118a. In the last passage the account of the death of Haran and of the miraculous escape of Abraham from the fire of the Chaldees is based on a combination of this Apocalypse with the Book of Jubilees.Date of Its 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 the Book of Jubilees (xi. 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 (Gen. R. xxxix. 7), whereas the Book of Jubilees presents the later one (compare Gen. R. xxx. 4, xxxix. 7, where Terah is treated quite mildly). As the Book of Jubilees can not have been written later than 70 (see Jubilees, Book of), the date of the composition should be set before the middle of the first century.Its Original Language.
It is by no means difficult to ascertain with some degree of certainty the language in which this legend was originally written. The sarcastic names given to the idols pre-suppose a familiarity with a Semitic dialect which a Greco-Jewish writer would scarcely have expected of his readers. It is not certain whether the book was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. The frequent phrase, "And I said, Behold me," suggests the Hebrew idiom , while the expression "silver" for "money" is common to both languages.Abraham and the Angels.
The second part of the book, the main Apocalypse, is a commentary on Gen. xv., which is not only interpreted by the Haggadah as a revelation of the future destinies of Israel up to their final redemption (Gen. R. xliv. 15), but also as implying the fact that "God lifted Abraham above the firmament" and told him to "look down upon the world beneath." The Apocalypse relates minutely the circumstances under which this ascension, mentioned in the Midrash, took place. According to this, Abraham's sacrifice of the animals (Gen. xv.) took place, by God's command, on the holy Mount Horeb, whither Abraham was led by the angel (Yahoel) after a journey of forty days. The angel introduces himself to Abraham, the "friend of God" (Book of Jubilees, 19; Men. 53b), as a being possessed of the power of the Ineffable Name (Name of the Existing), a quality assigned elsewhere by the rabbis to
After this interview with Satan, Abraham, borne by a dove (compare Matt. iii. 16), ascended to heaven, the splendor and glory of which are described at great length, and particularly the rivalry of the living creatures about the heavenly throne (; see Tan., ed. Buber; Gen. x.). He also saw there the angels that are born daily, and disappear as soon as they have sung their hymn (Gen. R. lxxviii. 1.) He repeats the prayer spoken for him by the angel, especially the following passage: "Thou, O Light, didst shine before the primeval morning [the Slavonic text has "morning-light," a mistranslation of the original or ] upon Thy creatures, to cause the day to illumine the earth by the light of Thy countenance," which is also found in the ritual. This view rests upon an ancient conception known to the students of the Merkabah mysteries, and is rendered in Gen. R. iii. 4: "God wrapped Himself in a garment of light, with which He illuminated the earth from one end to the other."
Ascending higher, Abraham reaches the seventh heaven, where he sees the throne, but he does not see God, as He is invisible. Here he 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, in addition, the Leviathan and its possessions in the nethermost waters (compare Cant. R. on i. 4), and the world founded upon its fins (compare Pirḳe R. El. ix.). Furthermore, he sees the rivers and their origin, and paradise (Syriac Apoc. of Baruch, iv. 4). The fall of mankind is explained to him, just as in the Slavonic Book of Baruch and Pirḳe R. El. xxi. Adam and Eve are led to commit (sexual) sin by Azazel (Satana-El in the Book of Baruch; Sama-El in Pirḳe R. El.) through his causing them to eat from the forbidden fruit, a grape from the vine (compare Slavonic Book of Baruch and Ber. 40a). God informs Abraham that, notwithstanding yeẓer ha-ra' ("the lustful desire"), and ("the pollution of the serpent"), with which man from that time has been possessed, he has a free will of his own and may choose to abstain from sin. Abraham then obtains an insight into the future of both individuals and nations, and especially is he forewarned of the sufferings of the people of Israel and their final redemption in the Messianic time. The destruction of the Temple, which sorely grieves Abraham, is declared by God to be a necessary punishment for the sins of the people of Israel; and, as in Pirḳe R. El. xxviii., a time is hinted for the end of their sufferings under the four empires. The description of the period preceding the Messianic time is the only part containing Christian interpolations, which are easily separated from the main part, all of which has a decidedly Jewish character. This is evidenced by the mention of the ten plagues which shall befall the heathen nations, a constantly recurring feature in the description of the Messianic time (see Tan., ed. Buber, ii. 30; Ex. R. ix. 13), and by the concluding part of the Apocalypse, which contains the prophecy of the gathering of Israel in the Promised Land, to be ushered in by a trumpet-blast from God (Jellinek, "B. H." vi. 58), and by the judgment to be passed upon the heathen and the wicked.Date of Composition.
Concerning the date of the composition of the Apocalypse proper, it clearly can not have been written before the destruction of the First Temple, as it contains Abraham's lamentations over that catastrophe. The emphasis laid on the freedom of will, notwithstanding the fall of man, presupposes a knowledge of the Christian doctrine of sin, against which this passage seems to be directed. But this very opposition to the Christian dogma shows that at the time the Apocalypse was written Christianity was not far removed from Judaism, at least not in Palestine, where, since he used a Semitic language, the author must have lived. The last decades of the first century appear to be the period in which the Apocalypse was written. This remark, however, applies to the main part of the book, and not to its Christian and Gnostic interpolations. In connection with these must be considered the statement found in the Apocalypse that Azazel, who is described as being endowed with twelve wings (which description coincides exactly with that given in the Haggadah, Pirḳe R. El. xiii.), shares with God the power over Israel. This is, no doubt, the Gnostic doctrine of the God of the Jews as Kakodaimon; and in this connection Irenæus may be quoted, who says of the Ophitic Gnostics ("Contra Ελεγχος," i. 30, 9), "et projectibilem serpentem duo habere nomina, Michael et Samael, dicunt" (and they called the wretched serpent two names, Michael and Samael). Thus, in the mind of these Gnostics, Samael ( "the entwined serpent") and Michael were fused into one being. Therefore, it is quite probable that certain parts of the heretical Apocalypse of Abraham, which was in circulation among the Gnostics (Epiphanius, Πανάριον 39, 5), were incorporated in the present text. Subtracting, then, the first part, which does not belong to the Apocalypse, and the Gnostic and Christian interpolations, only about three hundred lines remain, and this number would exactly correspond with the number which, according to the stichometry of Nicephorus, the Apocalypse of Abraham contained. Outside of this, no trace of the Apocalypse is found in ancient writings. The quotation by Origen ("In Lucam," hom. 35) from an apocalypse of Abraham certainly does not refer to the present text. Compare also Azazel and Abraham, Testament of.
- Die Apokalypse Abrahams, ed. G. Nathanael Bonwetsch in Studien zur Gesch. der Theol. und Kirche, ed. G. Nathanael Bonwetsch and R. Seeberg, i. 1, Leipsic, 1897;
- Schürer, Gesch. iii. 250-253;
- Ginzberg, Die Haggadah b. d. Kirchenvätern, in Monatsschrift, 1898, pp. 537-549, and 1899, pp. 17-22, 61-75, etc.