ABRAHAM, TESTAMENT OF:
By: Louis Ginzberg
An apocryphal book, published for the first time by Montague Rhodes James, in two different recensions, in Robinson's "Texts and Studies," ii. No. 2 (Cambridge, 1892), and translated from the Greek original by W. A. Craigie in the "Ante-Nicene Library," ix. 182-201. Ethiopic, Slavonic, and Rumanian versions also have been found, and some of them published.
The book contains the story of the death of Abraham, told in exactly the same form as that in which the death of Moses is described by the ancient Haggadah; with the view of portraying in poetic style the pious man, on the one hand, struggling against the fate of mortality, and yet, on the other, enjoying, while still in mortal garb, the privilege of surveying the whole world with the eyes of an immortal being (see
Immediately after midnight (the time of divine favor, Ber. 3b) Isaac dreams of his father's death. Having related the dream to Abraham, son and father begin to weep, thus rousing Sarah, who recognizes Michael as one of the three angels (Gen. xviii. 1-10). According to recension A, Michael had been the speaker of the three; while, according to recension B, he had gone to rescue Lot (see Gen. R. 1. 2, and B. M. 86b). Abraham confirms Sarah's observation; saying that, when washing Michael's feet, he saw that the stranger was one of the angels ("for their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their foot like the sole of a calf's foot," Ezek. i. 7; compare Gen. R. lxv. 21). Michael had also appeared to Isaac, in his dream, as a man of gigantic size, shining more than seven suns (see Isa. xxx. 26), or, according to B, "like the father of light" (see also Apoc. Mosis, § 36: "father of lights"). He introduces himself to Abraham as the archangel who stands before the face of the Lord (Sar ha-Panim, "Prince of the Presence," is Michael's original title before he is transformed into the Meṭaṭron—Tanḥuma, Genesis, ed. Buber, p. 17, and Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxii. 6), and reveals to him the meaning of the dream. But Abraham refuses to give him his soul. Michael returns to the Lord, who orders him to plead with Abraham, and to tell him that all the descendants of Adam and Eve must die, but that, as an especial token of divine favor, he will be transferred to a better world without pain or the pangs of death.Abraham's Visit to Heaven.
Finally Abraham yields; but at the same time he requests Michael to intercede with the Lord and to ask that he (Abraham) may be permitted to see the whole world created by one word (the "ten creative words"—Ab. v. 1—is a later rabbinical view; see Mek., Shirah, x., ed. Weiss, 52b, end) before his death. The Lord consents, and orders Michael to take a cloud of light, 'anan kabod (the rabbinical 'amuda de-nura, Ket. 17a, 62b), and angels of the chariot (merkabah), and to place Abraham in the chariot of the cherubim and to carry him (compare II Kings, ii. 11, and Tanna debe Eliyahu R. v.) to heaven, whence he would be able to survey the whole universe. His ride begins with the Great Sea (mistranslated in the Apocr. "ocean"; but compare Slavonic Book of Enoch, iii. 3, and "the waters above the firmament," Gen. i. 6). While surveying all the world with its joys and woes, its beautiful and evil things, he is filled with indignation at the sight of the awful crimes committed; and he asks the archangel to smite all malefactors with instant death—which he did. But a voice resounds from heaven, crying: "O Arch-angel Michael, order the chariot to stop, and turn Abraham away, lest, seeing that all live in wickedness, he destroy all creation. For behold Abraham, not having sinned himself, has no pity for sinners; but I, who made the world, take no delight in destroying any, but await the death of the sinner, that he may be converted and live." Michael directs the heavenly chariot eastward toward paradise (B. B. 84a; Ethiopic Book of Enoch, xxxii.; and Slavonic Book of Enoch, xlii. 3), near which Gehenna lies, separated only by a handbreadth (Yalḳ., Eccl. § 976). At this point an interesting picture of the Judgment of the Souls is presented: Two gates, one narrow and one wide, lead into heaven; and before them sits upon a golden throne a man whose appearance is terrible like that of the Lord. It is Adam, the image of the Lord (B. B. 58a); and all the souls pass by him—the just through the narrow gate and the wicked through the wide gate, each by his own merit or demerit, but none encumbered by Adam's sin (Tan., Num., ed. Buber, p. 124; Zohar, Gen. vii. 6). Abraham is allowed to watch the procedure of judgment within the wide gate. He sees the scourging angels called malake ḥabbalah (Eccl. R. iv. 3), malake saṭan (Tosef., Shab. xvii. 3), "fierce of appearance, pitiless of mind, lashing the souls with fiery tongues." On a table is spread a book ten cubits in breadth and five cubits in thickness (a combination of Ezekiel, ii. 9, and Zechariah, v. 1, 2; see Erubin, 21a), in which all the good and all the bad actions of man are recorded by two angels. As to the many parallels in the apocryphal literature, compare Harnack's notes to his edition of "Hermæ Pastor" i. 3, § 2, and Baraita, R. H. 16b; also Slavonic Book of Enoch, xix. 5. While the two angels officiate temporarily as recorders during the judgment (Ḥag. 16a), the permanent recorder is Enoch (see Book of Enoch and Targ. Yer. Gen. v. 24), "the teacher of heaven and earth, the scribe of righteousness." But the actions of the man are also weighed in the scales, to find out whether the good outweigh the bad, enabling the soul to enter paradise, or whether the bad prevail, resulting in the consignment of the soul to Gehenna. In case, however, his good and evil deeds are equal in weight, the soul has to undergo the process of purification by fire, remaining in an intermediate state (Benoni) corresponding to the purgatory of the Church (compare Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 3; 'Er. 19a; Ḥag. 27a; Origen, in Psalm xxxvii. hom. 3; Ambrose, enarratio in Psalm xxxvii. No. 26). But the weighing of the sins is also done for the purpose of ascertaining their quality, since there are light and heavy ones, sins such as adultery being compensated for only bymany good actions (R. H. 17a). The name of the weighing angel is very significant—Dokiel (compare Isa. xl. 15, 21, "by the dust  in the balance"; see Jerome on this passage), while the angel who probes the soul is called Puriel, from the Greek word for fire, πῦρ. This apocrypha contains an utterance of God which is peculiar to it: "I shall not judge man [see Gen. vi. 3]; therefore shall Abel, the first man born of woman, be judge."
Abraham is then represented in a touching way as pitying a soul that is just being weighed, and that lacks but one meritorious act to outbalance its evil doings. He intercedes on its behalf; the angels join in; and the soul is at last admitted into paradise. The merit of the pious helping the sinner is often mentioned in rabbinical and apocryphal literature (compare Slavonic Book of Enoch, vii. 4, and Apoc. Mosis, 33; Soṭah, 10b). Abraham now reproaches himself for having previously caused the death of the malefactors by his excessive zeal, but is assured by God that "an uncommon mode of death works pardon for all sins," and that, consequently, his act was beneficial (compare Sanh. 43b).Abraham Refuses to Yield His Soul.
Abraham, having seen the entire world above and below, is carried back to his own house by the arch-angel, who for the third time is commanded by God to take Abraham's soul; but (as is the case with Moses in the legend) Abraham persistently refuses to surrender it to him. Michael returns to the Lord, saying: "I care not to lay hand upon Abraham, who was Thy friend from the beginning and has none like him on earth, not even Job, the marvelous man"; meaning that Abraham had learned to worship the One God as a child of three (or thirteen) years (see Abraham, where the different traditions of the rabbis are given), whereas Job became a worshiper of the Lord only when he was king (see Job, Testament of). Furthermore, Abraham worshiped God from love, while Job only feared the Lord (compare Mishnah Soṭah, v. 5 [27b]).
Another plan for obtaining the soul of Abraham is resorted to. Death (Azazel), the angel of the dauntless countenance and of the pitiless look, who spares neither young nor old, is commanded to appear in the guise of a bright and beautiful angel before Abraham. This disguise is considered necessary lest Abraham, as Moses did after him, might drive Death off at once by using the power of the Holy Name (), but when the angel tells him that he, "the bitter cup of death" (Samael), has come to take his soul, Abraham refuses to go with him. The Angel of Death thereupon arouses Abraham's curiosity by saying that the form in which he appears is not his real one; the very sight of which would, by its terrors, bring death to the sinner. Abraham naturally expresses the wish to see him in his true form, and the angel then appears with his seven serpent-heads and fourteen faces; and the very sight kills seven thousand male and female slaves of Abraham's household, Abraham himself becoming sick unto death (compare M. Ḳ. 28a, concerning the "terrors of the Angel of Death," and the description in 'Ab. Zarah, 20b of his face full of many terrible eyes and of the bitter cup of poison which he carries with him to cast into the mouths of mortals as they open them at the ghastly sight, so as to kill them; see also Jellinek, "B. H." i. 150). Abraham restores the lives of the seven thousand slaves by his prayer, and then causes the Angel of Death to explain to him all the terrible faces which he has shown to him, as well as the seventy-two kinds of death, timely and untimely, that men may meet.
Abraham, however, does not fully recover from the shock; and God (according to recension B, which is here more consistent than A) removes his soul "as in a dream"—for which the more poetic expression of the rabbis is "by a kiss" (B. B. 17a). Then Michael, the heavenly caretaker of souls (Apoc. Mosis, ed. Tischendorf, 20f, and "Peṭirat Mosheh"), with a host of angels, comes and wraps Abraham in heaven-spun linen and anoints him with paradisiacal incense (comp. Adam, Book of), and after the lapse of three days they bury him under the tree of Mamre (compare Gen. R. c.). Then, amid hymns and praises of the saints, they carry his soul up to heaven, and having prostrated himself before God the Father, Abraham, the friend of God, is brought into paradise to the pavilions of the righteous (compare B. B. 75b: "The Lord shall build pavilions for the righteous ones, for each according to his merit," "where there is neither trouble nor grief nor anything but peace and rejoicing and life unending"—Ber. 17a).Jewish Origin of the Book.
The above description of the contents of the apocrypha, with the numerous parallels given from rabbinical literature, which extend to the smallest detail, leaves not the least room for doubt as to its Jewish origin. In fact, apart from some late Christological additions made in a few manuscripts by copyists, there is not a single Christian interpolation found in the whole book. In claiming a Christian origin for the Testament of Abraham, James erroneously points (p. 50) to Luke, i. 19, where the position of chief angel that stands "in the presence of God" is intentionally assigned to Gabriel; while ancient Jewish angelology ascribes it to Michael, the heavenly chieftain of Israel. Neither is the idea of the "two ways" and the "two gates" taken from Matt. vii. 13. Aside from the fact that the "Two Ways" is originally a Jewish work (see Didache), the conception is known to Johanan b. Zakkai (Ber. 28b), and is found also in the Greek allegorical work, "Tabula Cebetis," by the Theban philosopher Cebes, a pupil of Socrates. Dr. James has failed to observe that Luke, xxii. 30, presents the Christianized view of the Jewish doctrine concerning "the future judgment of the world by the twelve tribes of Israel," referred to in chap. xiii. of the Testament of Abraham, and also expressed in Yalḳ., Dan. § 1065, thus: "In the time to come the Lord will sit in judgment, and the great of Israel will sit on thrones prepared by the angels and judge the heathen nations alongside of the Lord." Luke, as a Pauline writer transformed the twelve tribal representative judges of Israel into the twelve tribes of Israel being judged. The very spirit of this passage is decidedly non-Christian. It does not contain so much as an allusion to the Messiah as the judge. The very belief in a personal Messiah seems to be unknown; nor is Adam's fall anywhere referred to in chap. xi. A, or viii. B, where there was ample occasion for mentioning it. Death does not show any relation to Satan. All these facts, together with the view of the world's creation by one word instead of ten words (see Ginzberg, "Die Haggada bei den Kirchenvätern" in "Monatsschrift," 1899, p. 410),point to a very early date for the Testament of Abraham. But there are also clear indications of the existence of a Hebrew original; as, for example, the name of the angel Dokiel (chap. xiii. A); the allusion to the names Azazel, and Samael, ("Poison of Death"); and particularly the misunderstanding of the Greek translator (chap viii. B), who mistook the heavenly "Great Sea" () for "the ocean beneath," which is the usual neo-Hebrew designation for "ocean." The expression "thrice holy" (chap. xx.) has nothing to do with the Christian Trinity, as Dr. James thinks(p. 50), but is the translation of the rabbinical term, shillush ḳedushah, for the angelic song (Isa. vi. 3, Tanna debe Eliyahu R. vi.).
Whether the author of the book was a Pharisee or, as Kohler asserts, an Essene, can not be determined here, though it is significant that the Law is not once mentioned. The view of retribution, as presented in the Testament, certainly precludes Sadducean authorship. As regards the two recensions, A and B, neither is probably a faithful translation of the Hebrew original; and the reconstruction, here attempted for the first time, depends sometimes upon one and sometimes upon the other.
- See the valuable preface and notes by M. R. James to his ed. of the Testament of Abraham, 1892;
- Schürer, Gesch., 3d ed., iii. 252;
- and especially on the Jewish origin and character of the book: K. Kohler, The Pre-Talmudic Haggadah, in Jew. Quart. Rev. 1895, vii. 581-606.