Andrei A. Orlov


 The Theophany of Azazel



An excerpt from A. Orlov “‘The Likeness of Heaven’:

Kavod of Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” in: With Letters of Light: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic and Mysticism (eds. D. Arbel and A. Orlov; Berlin; N.Y.: de Gruyter, 2010)



... The second, apocalyptic, section of the Apocalypse of Abraham begins with a series of arcane portrayals unveiling the striking appearance and the spectacular offices of Abraham’s celestial guide, angel Yahoel. Yet, in comparison with these disclosures about the great celestial being, the figure of another important character in the story, the main adversary of the text, the fallen angel Azazel, is shrouded in a cluster of even more ambiguous and enigmatic descriptions. For unknown reasons, possibly viewing the arch-demon’s figure as providing one of the conceptual clues to understanding the mystery of the theological universe of the text, the authors of the pseudepigraphon appears very reluctant to unveil and clarify the exact status of their mysterious antihero, instead offering to their readers the rich tapestry of arcane traditions embroidered with the most recondite imagery that can be found in the apocalypse.

Yet despite the aura of concealment that envelops the cryptic profile of the arch-demon, the cosmic significance of this perplexing character peeps through various details of the story.  Thus, the very first lines of chapter 13, which introduce Azazel to the audience, appear to hint at him as a figure with a very special authority. His bold descend on the sacrifices of the hero of the faith does not appear coincidental; the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse may want to signal to their readers that Azazel is not merely an abandoned, demoted creature, but rather an object of worship, veneration, and sacrificial devotion, who possibly possesses an exalted status and place that negatively replicate and mimic the authority and position of the Deity.

Many previous studies have shown conceptual links between Azazel and Abraham,[1] as well as parallels between Azazel and Yahoel.[2] Yet despite the significance of these comparative studies, which have been able to clarify conceptual symmetry between positive and negative protagonists of the story, scholars have often neglected another portentous parallelism found in the text – that is, the correspondence in the roles and attributes between the Deity and the demon. The initial sign of this baffling dualistic symmetry appears already to be hinted at in the depictions of the eschatological lots, where the portion of Azazel is explicitly compared with the lot of the Almighty. Yet this juxtaposition between the fallen angel and the Divinity can be considered as rather schematic. In this correspondence between the two portions of humanity, one belonging to God and the other to the demon, one might see a merely metaphorical distinction that does not intend to match fully the status and the attributes of the Deity with the condition of Azazel; rather it simply hints at the demon’s temporary role in the eschatological opposition. A closer analysis of the text, however, reveals that the comparisons between God and Azazel have much broader conceptual ramifications that appear to transcend a purely metaphorical level, as the depictions of both characters unveil striking theophanic similarities. An important feature in this respect is the peculiar imagery of the epiphanies of both characters unfolding in the special circumstances of their fiery realms.  

It is intriguing that in the text, where the theophanic manifestations of the Deity are repeatedly portrayed as appearing in the midst of flames, the presence of Azazel is also conveyed through similar imagery.

It has been previously noted that the imagery of fire plays an important conceptual role in the Slavonic apocalypse.[3] It is often envisioned there as the substance predestined to examine the authenticity of things and test their eternal status. Apoc. Ab. 7:2 relates that “the fire mocks with its flames the things that perish easily.”[4] Both animate and inanimate characters of the story, including the infamous idols and their blasphemous makers, are depicted in the text as undergoing fiery probes – the ominous tests that often lead them into their final catastrophic demise. Thus by means of fire, the young hero of the faith “tests” the wooden stature of his father, the idol Bar-Eshath, which the flames turn into a pile of ashes. Further, the craftsmen of the idolatrous figures themselves are not exempted from the fiery probes’ scrutiny. The first haggadic section of the text concludes with the blazing ordeal during which the workshop of Terah is obliterated by fire sent by God. Later, in the second, apocalyptic, section of the work, the patriarch Abraham himself undergoes multiple fiery tests during his progress into the upper heaven. All these remarkable instances of the fiery annihilations of certain characters of the story, and miraculous survivals of others, do not appear coincidental. Scholars have previously noted that in the Apocalypse of Abraham, as in several other apocalyptic texts, including Dan 3 or Ezek 28, fire serves as the ultimate test for distinguishing  inauthentic and idolatrous representations of the Divinity from its true counterparts. In accordance with this belief, which often envisions the endurance of the “true” things in the flames, the very presence of the Deity is repeatedly portrayed in the text as situated in the stream of fire. Thus, already in chapter eight, which marks a transition to the apocalyptic section of the work and narrates the patriarch’s response to the divine call in the courtyard of Terah’s house, the divine presence is depicted as “the voice of the Mighty One” coming down in a stream of fire.[5] This self-disclosure of God in the midst of the theophanic furnace becomes then a standard description adopted by the author(s) of the apocalypse to convey manifestations of the Deity.[6]

 In view of these peculiar theophanic tenets of the pseudepigraphon, it is intriguing that some eschatological manifestations of Azazel, similar to the epiphanies of the Deity, are depicted with fiery imagery.

Although in chapter 13 the patriarch sees Azazel in the form of an unclean bird, the apocalypse makes clear that this appearance does not reflect the true appearance of the demon whose proper domain is designated several times in the text as situated in the subterranean realm.[7] What is striking is that in the antagonist’s authentic abode, in the belly of the earth, the domicile of the great demon is fashioned with the same peculiar visual markers as the abode of the Deity – that is, as being situated in the midst of the theophanic furnace. 

Thus, in Yahoel’s speech found in chapter 14, which reveals the true place of the chief antagonist, the arch-demon’s abode is designated as the furnace of the earth.[8] Moreover, Azazel himself is portrayed as the “burning coal” or the “firebrand” of this infernal kiln.[9] This depiction of Azazel glowing in the furnace of his own domain is intriguing. It evokes the peculiar memory of the fiery nature of the divine abode which, in the Apocalypse of Abraham, is portrayed as the upper furnace. The fiery nature of the heavenly plane is underlined multiple times in the text. It is notable that the seer’s progress into the domain of the deity is portrayed as his movement into the fiery realm. Thus, in Apoc. Ab. 15:3, the transition of the hero and his guiding angel through the boarder of heavenly realm is portrayed as an entrance into fire: “…and he carried me up to the edge of the fiery flame. And we ascended like great winds to the heaven which was fixed on the expanses.”[10]

Then, in chapter 17, the readers again encounter this terrifying presence of the celestial furnace as the flames envelop the visionary and his celestial guide on their progress to the abode of the Deity:

  And while he was still speaking, behold, a fire was coming toward us round about, and a sound was in the fire like a sound of many waters, like a sound of the sea in its uproar (Apoc. Ab. 17:1).[11]


In 18:1, upon his entrance into the celestial Holy of Holies, the visionary again passes another fiery threshold: “… while I was still reciting the song, the edge of the fire which was on the expanse rose up on high.”[12]

The fiery apotheosis reaches its pinnacle in chapter 18 where the patriarch sees the Deity’s heavenly throne room. There, in the utmost concealed theophanic locale, the seer beholds the very seat of the Deity fashioned from the substance of fire: “And as the fire rose up, soaring higher, I saw under the fire a throne [made] of fire and the many-eyed Wheels” (Apoc. Ab. 18:3).[13] This fiery nexus of the divine presence paradoxically parallels the fiery nature of the antagonist’s subterranean abode.

This striking imagery brings us back to the Azazel tradition found in Apoc. Ab. 14:5 where, according to some scholars, the demonic presence is fashioned as the fire of Hell.[14]   

This identification of Azazel’s essence through the imagery of the subterranean flames is intriguing in view of the aforementioned conceptual currents in which fire serves as a distinctive theophanic medium, expressing the very presence of the Deity.  Similar to the Deity who is depicted as the fire of heaven enthroned on the seat of flames, the demon is portrayed as the fire of the underworld.

In this respect it is also noteworthy that, similar to the divine Voice, the main theophanic expression of the Deity in the book, which is depicted as coming in a stream of fire, Azazel’s aural expression is also conveyed through similar fiery symbolism. Thus, Apoc. Ab. 31:5 speaks about “the fire of Azazel’s tongue” (Slav. огонь языка Азазилова): 


And those who followed after the idols and after their murders will rot in the womb of the Evil One—the belly of Azazel, and they will be burned by the fire of Azazel’s tongue (палими огнемъ языка Азазилова).[15]



It is also interesting that, like the fire of God that destroys the idols and idolaters alike in its flames,[16] the fire issuing from Azazel has power to destroy those who “follow after the idols.”  Though it is not entirely clear in this context if the fire of Azazel is the fire of God, since in Apoc. Ab. 31:3, the Deity says that he has destined those who “mocked” him “to be food for the fire of hell, and ceaseless soaring in the air of the underground depths.”[17]



[1] Orlov, “The Eschatological Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham: Part I: The Scapegoat Ritual,” in: Symbola Caelestis, 79-111. 

[2] See B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes (Semitica, 31; Paris, 1981) 31; D.S. Harlow, Idolatry and Otherness: Israel and Nations in the Apocalypse of Abraham (forthcoming).

[3] See A. Orlov, “‘The Gods of My Father Terah’: Abraham the Iconoclast and the Polemics with the Divine Body Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 18.1 (2008) 33-53.

[4] Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 15.

                [5] Apoc. Ab. 8:1: “The voice (глас) of the Mighty One came down from heaven in a stream of fire, saying and calling, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’” Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 16; B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 54.

                [6] See, for example, Apoc. Ab. 18:2 “And I heard a voice (глас) like the roaring of the sea, and it did not cease because of the fire.” Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24; B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 76.

[7] Box reflects on the peculiarities of Azazel’s true abode noting that “over against Jaoel stands Azazel, who here appears as the arch-fiend, and as active upon the earth (chap. xiii), though his real domain is in Hades, where he reigns as lord (chap. xxxi.). Box and Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham, xxvi.

[8] Already George Box noticed the fiery nature of the demonological imagery found in the Slavonic apocalypse where Azazel is portrayed as the fire of Hell. Box reflects on this fiery theophany of Azazel arguing that “…in fact, according to the peculiar representation of our Apocalypse, Azazel is himself the fire of Hell (cf. chap. xiv. ‘Be thou the burning coal of the furnace of the earth,’ and chap. xxxi. ‘burnt with the fire of Azazel’s tongue’).” Box and Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham, xxvi.

[9] See Apoc. Ab. 14:5 “Say to him, ‘May you be the fire brand of the furnace of the earth! (главънею пещи земныя).’” Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 21; B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 68.

[10] Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

[11] Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

[12] Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 23.

[13] Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24. See also Apoc. Ab. 18:13: “And above the Wheels there was the throne which I had seen. And it was covered with fire and the fire encircled it round about, and an indescribable light surrounded the fiery people.” Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24.

[14] Box and Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham, xxvi.

[15] Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 35; Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave. Introduction, texte critique  traduction et commentaire, 202.

[16] Cf. Apoc. Ab. 31:2-3 “And I shall burn with fire those who mocked them ruling over them in this age and I shall commit those who have covered me with mockery to the reproach of the coming age.” Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 35.

[17] Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 35.