Andrei Orlov

Abraham as the Goat for YHWH?

an excerpt from A. Orlov “The Eschatological Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham: Part I: The Scapegoat Ritual,” in: Symbola Caelestis. Le symbolisme liturgique et paraliturgique dans le monde Chrétien (Scrinium, 5; eds. A. Orlov and B. Lourié; Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009) 79-111.


.... Abraham’s symmetrical role in relation to Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham again evokes the memory of the Enochic tradition and its legendary hero – the seventh antediluvian patriarch. In both cases the protagonists appear to be mirroring their respective negative counterparts, as both stories portray them exchanging attributes and roles with one another. Just as Enoch takes the priestly and celestial offices of Asael, while the fallen angel assumes some human roles, so in the Apocalypse of Abraham too, Azazel surrenders his angelic garment to the hero of the faith. Both parties, thus, accept the roles and offices of their counterparts as they enter the realms of their opponents. In this respect it is noteworthy that the transition of the antagonist of the Slavonic apocalypse into the lower realm, as in the case of Asael of the Enochic tradition, encompasses two steps: his removal first to the earth,[1] then further, to the fiery abyss of the subterranean sphere.[2]

Furthermore, similarly to the Book of the Watchers, in the Abrahamic pseudepigraphon the protagonist progresses in the direction opposite to his negative counterpart by ascending into heaven, as he acquires a special status and a celestial garment that allows him to enter the celestial sanctuary.[3] The progression of the patriarch into upper sancta has here, like in 1 Enoch, a sacerdotal significance, as it betrays connections with the Yom Kippur ceremony of the high priest’s entrance into the divine presence. Moreover, it is possible that Abraham’s progressive movement into the heavenly Holy of Holies might be understood here as encompassing not only the priestly but also the sacrificial dimension, in view of the patriarch’s symmetrical position to the celestial scapegoat, by virtue of which Abraham’s lot is repeatedly juxtaposed with the lot of Azazel.

The Slavonic text conceals many details, and it remains unclear whether Abraham is understood in the Slavonic apocalypse as the sacrificial goat for the Lord. Yet, some cryptic traditions found in the text might hint at this possibility. As is known from the biblical and rabbinic descriptions of the Yom Kippur ritual, the flesh of the goat[4] for YHWH was destroyed by fire, while his blood (which represents in Jewish tradition the soul of the sacrificial animal) was then brought into the Holy of Holies by the high priest and used there for purification.[5]

In light of these traditions, could Yahoel and Abraham’s entrance into the heavenly Throne room in chapter 18 be understood as an allusion to the entrance of the high priest who brings the purifying sacrifice into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur?

 It is interesting that in Apoc. Ab. 13:4-5 Azazel warns his counterpart representing the “divine” lot that he will be destroyed by fire along with other sacrificial animals:

And the impure bird spoke to me and said, “What are you doing, Abraham, on the holy heights, where no one eats or drinks, nor is there upon them food of men? But these will all be consumed by fire and they will burn you up. Leave the man who is with you and flee! Since if you ascend to the height, they will destroy you.”[6]


Azazel’s arcane warning remains one of the most profound puzzles of the text. Yet, the motif of a seer’s encounter with fire appears significant for the authors of the pseudepigraphon, who envision fire as a theophanic substance surrounding the very presence of the deity. Thus, later in the text Abraham’s transition into the divine realm is described as his entering into the fire.[7] Could the promise of a celestial garment to the patriarch in the Apocalypse of Abraham signify here, as in many other apocalyptic accounts, that his “mortal” body must be “altered” in the fiery metamorphosis?[8] Unfortunately, the text does not provide direct answers for such inquiries.

In order to better understand Abraham’s connections with the “divine” lot, which might help us further clarify his eschatological role as the “goat for YHWH,” we must now explore the imagery of the two lots found in the Slavonic apocalypse.


Eschatological Lots

We have already noted that the remarkable angelic metamorphosis of the sacrificial animal associated with the lot of Azazel has had a long-lasting conceptual afterlife in Jewish apocalypticism and its eschatology. Yet one should not forget another portentous aspect of Yom Kippur symbolism that similarly exercised a formative influence on some Second Temple apocalyptic materials, including the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In the Qumran writings one encounters a broad appropriation of the imagery of two lots,  symbolism that has profound significance in the scapegoat ordinance. Like the figure of Azazel, who is enhanced with a new celestial profile, the imagery of the sacrificial lots also receives a novel eschatological reinterpretation. Thus, in a number of Qumran materials such as 1QM, 1QS, 4Q544, and 11Q13, the two lots become associated not with two sacrificial goats but with celestial protagonists, both positive - like Melchizedek or the Angel of Light - as well as negative - like Melchirešac, Belial, or the Prince of Darkness. Those fascinating characters come to be understood in these documents as the leaders of the “portions of humanity” associated with the lots of good and evil, darkness and light. [9] In Qumran documents one can find repeated references to these eschatological lots representing the respective good and evil portions of humanity, often designated as “the men of the lot of Melchisedek”[10] (11Q13 2:8) or “the men of the lot of Belial”[11] (5Q11 1:3).

Such eschatological re-interpretation of the lots looms large in the Apocalypse of Abraham as well. Numerous references to the two lots are widely dispersed in the second, apocalyptic part of the pseudepigraphon. Scholars have previously noted that the peculiar conceptual elaborations that surround the imagery of the lots are reminiscent of the eschatological reinterpretations and terminology found in the Qumran materials.[12] Thus, it has been previously noted that the word “lot” (Slav. часть) appears to be connected to the Hebrew lrwg, a term prominent not only in biblical descriptions of the scapegoat ceremony[13] but also in the Qumran materials.[14]

Similarly to the Qumran materials where the lots are linked to angelic representatives (like Belial or Melchizedek), in the Apocalypse of Abraham the lots are now tied not to the sacrificial animals but to the main heroes of the story – the fallen angel Azazel[15] and the translated patriarch Abraham.[16]

Yet, in comparison with the Qumran materials, connections to the underlying formative pattern of the scapegoat ritual appear even more distinctive and therefore more easily recognizable in the Slavonic accounts of the lots.[17] Thus, in Apoc. Ab. 13, in one of the first passages in the text to invoke imagery of two “lots” or “portions,” one can easily discern allusions to particular details associated with Yom Kippur observance.  Apoc. Ab. 13:7-8 reads:

And he [Yahoel] said to him, “Reproach is on you, Azazel! Since Abraham’s portion is in heaven, and yours is on earth, since you have chosen it and desired it to be the dwelling place of your impurity. Therefore the Eternal Lord, the Mighty One, has made you a dweller on earth….”[18]


Here the distinctive reference to the dwelling place of the “impurity” of the antagonist immediately recalls the motif of the removal of impurity into another realm by means of Azazel, a concept which plays a prominent role in the original scapegoat ceremony.

Further connections can be seen in the description of the other lot, associated with Abraham. Thus, similarly to the Day of Atonement commemoration, wherein the lot of the goat for YHWH is called the lot for the Lord, in Apoc. Ab. 20:5 the lot of Abraham is designated as the lot of the deity (my [God’s] lot):

20:1 And the Eternal Mighty One said to me, “Abraham, Abraham!” 20:2 And I said, “Here am I!” 20:3 And he said, “Look from on high at the stars which are beneath you and count them for me and tell me their number!” 20:4 And I said, “Would I be able? For I am [but] a man.” 20:5 And he said to me, “As the number of the stars and their host, so shall I make your seed into a company of nations, set apart for me in my lot with Azazel.”[19]



This identification of the positive lot with the lot of God is also present in the Qumran materials.[20]

While the parallels between the imagery of the lots found in the Apocalypse of Abraham and in Qumran materials have often attracted scholars’ attention, they have often failed to discern the pronounced similarities with the rabbinic developments. Yet the intriguing details in the descriptions of the lots in the Slavonic apocalypse seem to point to close connections with later rabbinic re-interpretations of Yom Kippur imagery found in the Mishnah and the Talmud. A captivating parallel here involves the spatial arrangement of the lots on the left and right sides, found both in the Slavonic apocalypse and in rabbinic materials.

Thus, a passage found in Apoc. Ab. 22 portrays two portions of humanity arranged according to the two lots and situated on the left and right sides:

22:4 And he said to me, “These who are on the left side are a multitude of tribes who were before and who are destined to be after you: some for judgment and justice, and others for revenge and perdition at the end of the age. 22:5 Those on the right side of the picture are the people set apart for me of the people [that are] with Azazel. These are the ones I have destined to be born of you and to be called my people.”[21]


In Apoc. Ab. 27:1-2 and 29:11 this division of the two lots arranged on the left and right is repeated again:

And I looked and saw, and behold, the picture swayed, and a heathen people went out from its left side and they captured those who were on the right side: the men, women, and children. And some they slaughtered and others they held with them (Apoc. Ab. 27:1-2).



And that you saw going out from the left side of the picture and those worshiping him, this [means that] many of the heathen will hope in him (Apoc. Ab. 29:11).


It should be noted that while in the Qumran materials the spatial arrangement of the lots on the left and right sides does not play any important theological role, such a distinction receives its paramount cultic significance in the rabbinic descriptions of the Yom Kippur custom of the selection of the goats. [22]

In this respect it is intriguing that the spatial arrangement of the lots on the left and right sides in the Apocalypse of Abraham is reminiscent of the descriptions found in the mishnaic treatise Yoma where the ritual selection of two goats – one for YHWH and the other for Azazel - also operates with the symbolism of the left and right sides.

Thus in m. Yoma 4:1 the following tradition is found:

He shook the casket and took up the two lots. On one was written “For the Lord,” and on the other was written “For Azazel.” The prefect was on his right and the chief of his father’s house on his left. If the lot bearing the Name came up in his right hand the Prefect would say to him, “My lord High Priest, raise thy right hand”; and if it came up in his left hand the chief of the father’s house would say to him, “My lord High Priest, raise thy left hand.” He put them on the two he-goats and said “A sin-offering to the Lord.”[23]


Although the passage from Mishnah does not openly identify the right side with the divine lot, as does the Slavonic apocalypse, the Babylonian Talmud makes this connection explicit. Thus b. Yoma 39a reads:

Our Rabbis taught: Throughout the forty years that Simeon the Righteous ministered, the lot [“For the Lord”] would always come up in the right hand; from that time on, it would come up now in the right hand, now in the left. And [during the same time] the crimson-colored strap would become white. From that time on it would at times become white, at others not.[24] 


This imagery of the selection of the goats in rabbinic materials, in which the scapegoat is placed on the left and the goat for the Lord on the right, recalls the spatial arrangement of the lots in the Slavonic apocalypse where the divine lot is similarly situated on the right side and the lot of Azazel on the left side.[25]   


[1] “Reproach is on you, Azazel! Since Abraham’s portion is in heaven, and yours is on earth, since you have chosen it and desired it to be the dwelling place of your impurity." (Apoc. Ab. 13:7-8).

[2] “May you be the fire brand of the furnace of the earth!” (Apoc. Ab. 14:5).

[3] The apocalyptic story thus can be seen as a re-enactment of the two spatial dynamics which are also reflected in the Yom Kippur ritual – the entrance into the upper realm and the exile into the underworld. In this respect Daniel Stökl notes that the Yom Kippur ritual “consisted of two antagonistic movements … centripetal and centrifugal: the entrance of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies and the expulsion of the scapegoat. As the first movement, the holiest person, the High Priest, entered the most sacred place, the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple, burned incense, sprinkled blood and prayed in order to achieve atonement and purification for his people and the sacred institutions of the Jewish cult. As a second movement, the scapegoat burdened with the sins of the people was sent with an escort to the desert.” D. Stökl, “The Biblical Yom Kippur, the Jewish Fast of the Day of Atonement and the Church Fathers,” Studia Patristica 34 (2002) 493-502 at 494.   

[4] Lev 16:27 “The bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp; their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be consumed in fire.”

[5] Milgrom observes that “the blood of the slain goat may have been brought into the adytum in its entirety.” Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 1031.

[6] Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham (TCS, 3; Atlanta: Scholars, 2004) 20.

[7] Cf. Apoc. Ab. 15:3 “And he carried me up to the edge of the fiery flame…”; Apoc. Ab. 17:1 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.”

[8] In this respect it should be noted that the entrance of a visionary into a fire and his fiery transformation represent common apocalyptic motifs found in texts ranging from Daniel 3 to 3 Enoch where Enoch undergoes the fiery metamorphosis that turns him into the supreme angel Metatron.

[9] Paul Kobelski notes that each of these “lots” or “portions” of humanity is “characterized by one of the two spirits allotted by God – the spirit of truth and the spirit of perversity (1QS 3:18-21). Those belonging to the lot of God, of Melchizedek, of light, etc., are characterized by spirit of truth; they are the sons of righteousness whose leader is the Prince of Light (1QS 3:20). Those who belong to the lot of Belial, of darkness, etc., are characterized by the spirit of perversity; they are the sons of perversity whose leader is the Angel of Darkness (1QS 3:20-21).” P.J. Kobelski, Melchizedek and Melchirešac (CBQMS, 10; Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1981) 57.

[10] qdc [yk] lm lrwg [y]#n). The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1206.

[11] l(ylb lrwg y#n). The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1132-1133.

[12] Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 33; Rubinkiewicz, L'Apocalypse d'Abraham en vieux slave. Édition critique du texte, introduction, traduction et commentaire, 54. On the two lots see also Philonenko-Sayar, B., and Philonenko, M. “Die Apokalypse Abrahams,” Jüdische Schriften aus hellenistisch-römischer Zeit 5.5 (1982) 413–460 at 418.

[13] For the lrwg terminology in its connection with the scapegoat ritual see Lev 16:8, 9, 10.

[14] See for example, 1QS l(ylb lrwg (the lot of Belial); My#wdq lrwg  (the lot of the holy ones). 1QM  K#wx ynb lrwg (the lot of the sons of darkness); K#wx lrwg  (the lot of darkness).

11Q13 qdc [yk] lm lrwg [y]#n) (the men of the lot of Melchizedek).

[15] Apoc. Ab. 13:7: “… And he said to him, “Reproach is on you, Azazel! Since Abraham’s portion (часть Аврамля) is in heaven, and yours is on earth …” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, 20; Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 66.

[16] Apoc. Ab. 10:15: “Stand up, Abraham, go boldly, be very joyful and rejoice! And I am with you, since an honorable portion (часть вѣчная) has been prepared for you by the Eternal One.” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, 18; Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 60.

[17] The sacerdotal significance of the eschatological lots in the Slavonic apocalypse is underlined also by the fact that the Slavonic term “жребий”  used for the designation of the “lots” of humanity in the Apoc. Ab. 20:5 and Apoc. Ab. 29:21 is also used in Ap.Ab. 1:2 for designation of the priestly lot that Abraham shares in Terah’s temple. Cf. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et notes, 36, 82 and 102.

[18] Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, 20.

                [19] Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, 25.

[20] Cf. 1QM 13:5-6: “For they are the lot of darkness but the lot of God is for [everlast]ing light.” The Dead sea Scrolls Study Edition, 135.

                [21] A. Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham (TCS, 3; Atlanta: Scholars, 2004) 26-27.

[22] Besides the mishnaic and talmudic materials such topological arrangements of the lots on the left and right sides plays a significant role in later Jewish mysticism. Thus, for example, Box noticed that Apoc. Ab.’s distinction between the left and right side is reminiscent of some developments found in the Book of Zohar. He observes that “in the Jewish Kabbalah … ‘right side’ and ‘left side’ ... become technical terms. In the emanistic system of the Zohar, the whole world is divided between “right” and “left,” where pure and impure powers respectively operate—on the right side the Holy One and His powers, on the left the serpent Samael and his powers...” Box, The Apocalypse of Abraham, xx.

[23] Danby, The Mishnah, 166.

[24] The Babylonian Talmud. Yoma (ed. I. Epstein; London: Soncino, 1938) 184.

[25] In the light of the passage from b. Yoma which talks about the right hand of the high priest in relation to the goat for YHWH, it is also noteworthy that in Apocalypse of Abraham Yahoel, who is portrayed as a high priest, is often depicted as putting his right hand on Abraham: Apoc. Ab. 10:4 “And the angel whom he sent to me in the likeness of a man came, and he took me by my right hand and stood me on my feet.” Apoc. Ab. 15:2 “And the angel took me with his right hand and set me on the right wing of the pigeon….”