Apocalypse of Abraham

Andrei A. Orlov

The Apocalypse of Abraham is a Jewish pseudepigraphon preserved solely in its Slavonic translation. It provides a unique insight into the complex world of the Jewish sacerdotal debates in the early centuries of the Common Era. It was a time when, faced with a wide array of challenges involving the loss of the terrestrial sanctuary, the authors of the Jewish apocalyptic writings tried to embrace other theological alternatives for preserving and perpetuating traditional priestly practices. The Apocalypse of Abraham is drawing on one of those alternatives connected with the idea of the celestial sanctuary represented by the divine Chariot when it offers the story of the young hero of the faith who travels from the destroyed terrestrial shrine polluted by the idols of his father to the heavenly Temple.

The Slavonic text of the apocalypse can be divided into two parts – “aggadic” and “apocalyptic.” The first part (chaps. 1–8) represents an aggadic elaboration of the story of Abraham’s rejection of the idols. This portion of the text depicts the young hero of the faith as a reluctant witness of the idolatrous practices of his immediate family. Such midrashic expansion of Abraham’s story is not an entire novelty created from scratch by the authors of the pseudepigraphon, but rather an important link in the chain of a long-lasting interpretive tradition attested already in the Book of Jubilees and further developed by other pseudepigraphical and rabbinic sources. The aggadic section of the pseudepigraphon ends with fiery destruction of the temple of idols. The second, apocalyptic, part (chaps. 9–32) depicts the patriarch’s ascension to heaven where he is accompanied by his angelic guide, Yahoel, and becomes initiated into the heavenly and eschatological mysteries connected with the celestial sacrificial practices and the worship in the heavenly Temple. According to some scholars the two parts of the Slavonic apocalypse might have originally existed independently and probably were written by different authors. Yet in the pseudepigraphon they appear synthesized into a coherent unity, sharing common theological themes.

The extant text of the Apocalypse of Abraham is known only in East Slavic manuscripts. Six of them, dated from the 14th to 17th centuries, contain a relatively full text of the pseudepigraphon. Most of them are incorporated into the so-called Palaea Interpretata (Tolkovaja Paleja), a historiographical compendium in which canonical biblical stories are mixed with non-canonical elaborations and interpretations. As has been already mentioned such integration represents the typical mode of existence of the Jewish pseudepigraphical texts and fragments in the Slavic milieu when they were usually transmitted as part of the larger historiographical, moral, hagiographical, liturgical, and other collections that contained both ideologically marginal and mainstream materials. Thus, in the Palaea Interpretata, the Apocalypse of Abraham is conflated with other Abrahamic traditions and supplemented with Christian anti-Jewish polemical exegesis. The only independent manuscript containing the full text of the Apocalypse of Abraham is the so-called the Sylvester Codex (Sil’vestrovskij Sbornik) – one of the oldest witnesses to the Slavonic prototext. It is also considered by scholars as the “most obscure” and “extremely faulty” evidence, abundant “in errors major and minor.” It is possible that the scribe’s Vorlage was in “an unfamiliar archaic orthography, strongly influenced by glagolitic habits” (Lunt, 1985).

Original Language
Many features of the text point to the fact that the original language of the Apocalypse of Abraham was Semitic, either Hebrew or Aramaic. The numerous features of the Semitic original have been noticed already by L. Ginzberg and G.H. Box and then further explored by A. Rubinstein, R. Rubinkiewicz, and M. Philonenko. The recent study of A. Kulik demonstrates that the literal renderings of Hebrew or Aramaic are attested on several linguistic levels in the text thus proving beyond any doubt the existence of the Semitic original of the Apocalypse of Abraham.  Most scholars also believe that the Slavonic prototext of the Apocalypse of Abraham similar to almost all early Slavonic texts was translated from an intermediate Greek Vorlage. The hypothesis about the possibility of direct translation from a Semitic language into Slavonic was also proposed.

The general scholarly consensus holds that the apocalypse was composed after 70 CE and before the end of the second century CE. The depiction of the destruction of the Temple in chapter 27 and the peculiar interest in the idea of the celestial sanctuary represented by the divine Chariot hint to the fact that the earthly sanctuary was no longer standing. Another significant chronological marker is established by the second century work - the Clementine Recognitiones 32-33 which provides one of the earliest external references for the dating of the Apocalypse of Abraham.

Scholars point to the fact that both the content of the pseudepigraphon as well as its “linguistic features” testify to its “undoubtedly Jewish origin” (Kulik, 2004). Like in the case of 2 Enoch some suggestions have been made about the influences of the Bogomils’ ideology on the text. Yet, in the recent scholarship these hypotheses about the Bogomils’ editorship and interpolations have been met with increasing skepticism and recognized as based on the misinterpretation of the text.

Geographical Provenance
Several scholars noticed that the priestly concerns that loom large in the text appear to correspond well to the conceptual tenets of the Palestinian priestly environment. Some doctrinal and linguistic affinities of the Apocalypse with the Qumran writings give rise to the hypothesis of a connection between the pseudepigraphon and the Essene milieu. Yet, to date there has not been a convincing study which would prove that the Apocalypse of Abraham was generated from the Essene environment.

Several distinguished scholars of early Jewish mysticism have previously noted that the Apocalypse of Abraham might represent one of the earliest specimens of Merkabah mysticism, the Jewish tradition in which the divine Form ideology arguably receives its most advanced articulation. Yet, although apocalyptic imagery found in the second part of the Slavonic pseudepigraphon stems from early Merkabah speculations similar to the ones found in Ezekelian and Enochic traditions, the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse appear to exhibit consistent efforts to re-fashion this traditional anthropomorphic imagery in accordance with a new aniconic template that insists on expressing the divine presence not in the form of a human-like Kavod, but in the form of the divine Voice and the divine Name. In view of these developments it is possible that the Apocalypse of Abraham, in which the aural praxis of the divine Name was unfolded amid the familiar Merkabah imagery, can be seen as an important conceptual nexus where the traditions of the divine Name become polemically engaged with the visionary Merkabah paradigm, thus anticipating the process of the gradual unification of both conceptual streams in the later Jewish mystical lore.

For the published Slavonic manuscripts and fragments of the Apoc. Ab., see I. Franko, “Книга о Аврааме праотци и патриарси,” Апокрiфи i легенди з украïнських рукописiв (Monumenta Linguae Necnon Litterarum Ukraino-Russicarum [Ruthenicarum]; 1-4, 5; 5 vols.; Львов: Шевченка, 1896-1910) 1.80-86; A. I. Jacimirskij, “Откровение Авраама,” Библиографический обзор апокрифов в южнославянской и русской письменности (Списки Памятников). Выпуск 1. Апокрифы ветхозаветные (Петроград, 1921) 99-100; P. P. Novickij (ed.), "Откровение Авраама," Общество любителей древней письменности 99 (С.-Петербург, 1891); I. Ja. Porfir’ev, “Откровение Авраама,” Апокрифическия сказания о ветхозаветных лицах и событиях по рукописям соловецкой библиотеки. Сборник Отдела Русского Языка и Словесности Императорской Академии Наук 17.1 (1877) 111-130; B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes (Semitica, 31; Paris, 1981) 36-105; A. N. Pypin, Ложные и отреченные книги славянской и русской старины, Памятники старинной русской литературы, издаваемые Графом Григорием Кушелевым-Безбородко. Том 3 (С.-Петербург, 1860-62) 24-36; R. Rubinkiewicz, L'Apocalypse d'Abraham en vieux slave. Édition critique du texte, introduction, traduction et commentaire (Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego: Źródła i monografie, 129; Lublin, 1987) 98-255; I. I. Sreznevskij, “Книги Откровения Авраама,” Известия Императорской академии наук по отделению русского языка и словестности. Том 10 (С.-Петербург, 1961-1963) 648-645; N. S. Tihonravov, Памятники отреченной русской литературы (2 тома; С.-Петербург/Москва, 1863) 1.32-77.

For the translations of the Apoc. Ab., see Nathanael Bonwetsch, Die Apokalypse Abrahams: Das Testament der vierzig Märtyrer (Studien zur Geschichte der Theologie und der Kirche, Bd.1, Heft 1; Leipzig: Deichert, 1897); Box and Landsman, Apocalypse of Abraham, 35–87; Mario Enrietti and Paolo Sacchi, “Apocalisse di Abramo,” in Apocrifi dell’Antico Testamento (ed. Paolo Sacchi et al.; 5 vols.; Turin/Brescia: Unione tipografico-editrice torinese, 1981–97), 3:61–110; Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 9–35; A. Pennington, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” AOT, 363–491; Donka Petkanova, “Откровение на Авраам” [“The Apocalypse of Abraham”], in Старобългарска Есхатология. Антология [Old Bulgarian Eschatology. Anthology] (ed. D. Petkanova and A. Miltenova; Slavia Orthodoxa; Sofia: Slavica, 1993), 17–30; Belkis Philonenko-Sayar and Marc Philonenko, “Die Apokalypse Abrahams,” JSHRZ 5.5 (Gutersloh: Mohn, 1982), 413–60; Paul Rie.ler, “Apokalypse des Abraham,” in Altjüdisches Schriftum außerhalb der Bibel (Freiburg: F. H. Kerle, 1928), 13–39; 1267–69; Rubinkiewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” OTP 1:681–705; idem, “Apocalypsa Abrahama,” in Apokryfy Starego Testamentu (ed. R. Rubinkiewicz; Warsaw: Oficyna Wydawnicza “Vocatio,” 1999), 460–81.






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