Andrei A. Orlov

The Kavod and Shem Paradigms and Divine Manifestations in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha

 [An Introduction to A. Orlov, Divine Manifestations in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Orientalia Judaica Christiana, 2; Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009)]



… Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.

Apophthegmata Patrum, Joseph of Panephysis, 7.


Abba Bessarion, at the point of death, said, “The monk ought to be as the Cherubim and the Seraphim: all eye.”

       Apophthegmata Patrum, Bessarion, 11.


Silvanus and Anthony

In the collections of the sayings of early desert Fathers known as the Apophthegmata Patrum, one encounters a series of short narratives about distinguished monastics that have inspired and encouraged many Christian ascetics throughout history.  These fragmentary stories from the earliest monks’s lives, which sometimes take the form of folk-anecdotes, often strike readers with their unpretentious simplicity.  Behind unassuming, almost primitive narrations in these collections, however, lurks a panoply of complex esoteric practices and traditions carefully transmitted and cultivated by generations of adepts.

While the Apophthegmata Patrum offer a wealth of spiritual exercises of the ascetic and mystical mold, several stories in the collections seem to exhibit traces of the peculiar ancient apocalyptic praxis in which a human being is able to access the heavenly realm in order to obtain a vision of the Form of the Deity. One of the adepts engaged in such visionary practice in the Sayings of the Fathers is Abba Silvanus, an enigmatic ascetic allegedly born in Palestine and flourishing in Syria at the end of the forth century and the beginning of the fifth century. In one of the stories Abba Silvanus is taken to heaven to behold the Glory of God. The Apophthegmata Patrum (Silvanus, 3) offers the following depiction of this remarkable spiritual endeavor:   

Another time his disciple Zacharias entered and found him in ecstasy with his hands stretched towards heaven. Closing the door, he went away. Coming at the sixth and the ninth hours he found him in the same state. At the tenth hour he knocked, entered, and found him at peace and said to him, “What has happened today, Father?” The latter replied, “I was ill today, my child.” But the disciple seized his feet and said to him, “I will not let you go until you have told me what you have seen.” The old man said, “I was taken up to heaven (h(rpa&ghn ei)j to_n ou)rano_n) and I saw the glory of God and I stayed till now and now I have been sent away” (Silvanus, 3).[1]


Here an adept is depicted as being grasped in an ecstatic vision of heaven where he beholds nothing less than the Glory of God. Alongside ministering angels participating in celestial liturgy he is standing before the divine Kavod. After the visionary encounter the seer safely returns back to his cell where he conveys his apocalyptic experience to a disciple. It is obvious that the ecstatic experience is placed in the story within the  distinctive realities of monastic life carefully pinpointed, among other peculiar features, through references to specific chronological divisions of the day.

Yet it is also clear that the mystical praxis of encountering God in a vision reflected in the story of Abba Silvanus is not simply an ascetic novelty that originated in the cells of the first Christian monks; rather it is a custom deeply rooted in the ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic traditions that stem from the biblical and extra-biblical accounts. In these materials one can encounter a distinguished row of paradigmatic visionary figures who in the distant past, many centuries prior to Abba Silvanus, ascended into heaven and approached there the Glory of God.  It is thus no coincidence that, when mentioning that Abba Silvanus “was caught up into heaven” (h(rpa&ghn ei)j to_n ou)rano_n), the authors of  the Apophthegmata Patrum seem to be making a subtle terminological connection with the mystical encounter of another prominent visionary who, according to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, also “was caught up into paradise” (h(rpa&gh ei)j to_n para&deison).[2] 

Another fragment from the Sayings of the Fathers, also devoted to Abba Silvanus, appears to make the connection with the formative biblical accounts even more transparent. The Apophthegmata Patrum (Silvanus, 12) describes a striking luminosity of Silvanus’ face and body, the motif which  in several biblical materials is closely linked with the theophanic paradigm of the vision of the divine Glory:

The Fathers used to say that someone met Abba Silvanus one day and saw his face and body shining like an angel and he fell with his face to the ground. He said that others also had obtained this grace (Silvanus, 12).[3]


It appears that some details of Abba Silvanus’ remarkable metamorphosis, namely the seer’s shining visage, invoke not only the event of Christ’s transfiguration but also the memory of Moses’s luminous face after his encounter with the Glory of God on Mt Sinai. This peculiar feature of Mosaic typology, which often serves in various Jewish and Christian materials as a theophanic sign of paradigmatic visionary praxis, looms large in the Apophthegmata Patrum. The stories of two other distinguished desert ascetics, Abba Pambo and Abba Sisoes, also contain specific references to their shining visages.  Pambo 1 reads:

There was a monk named Pambo and they said of him that he spent three years saying to God, “Do not glorify me on earth.” But God glorified him so that one could not gaze steadfastly at him because of the glory of his countenance (Pambo, 1).[4]


Here again the tradition of the seer’s glorified countenance, which plays such an important role in the formative biblical and extra-biblical theophanic accounts, is placed in the context of his encounter with the Deity. Although the vision of the divine Glory is not explicit in Pambo 1, another passage in the Apophthegmata Patrum makes the theophanic connections more obvious:

They said of Abba Pambo that he was like Moses, who received the image of the glory of Adam when his face shone. His face shone like lightening and he was like a king sitting on his throne. It was the same with Abba Silvanus and Abba Sisoes (Pambo, 12).[5]


In this passage that compares Abba Pambo with Moses, the seer is also portrayed as a replica of the Glory of God, an anthropomorphic royal figure sitting on a throne. The transformed adept’s appropriation of the attributes of the divine Kavod is a common feature of the visionary accounts found in the Jewish pseudepigraphic and Hekhalot materials.

The passage also invokes the motif of the prelapsarian glory of Adam, an important theophanic symbol prominent in the anthropomorphic ideology of the divine Kavod found in the Book of Genesis and the Book of Ezekiel.

It is also noteworthy that the aforementioned passage from Pambo 12 refers to a distinguished cohort of glorified practitioners, a group that, besides the already known to us Abba Silvanus and Abba Pambo, also includes Abba Sisoes, a desert monk known for his visionary praxis of the heavenly ascent.  The Apophthegmata Patrum (Sisoes, 14) offers a striking account of the final hours of this ascetic culminating in the adept’s approaching the divine Glory and his luminous transformation at the point of his death:      


It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the Fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, “Look, Abba Anthony is coming.” A little later he said, “Look, the choir of prophets is coming.” Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, “Look, the choir of apostles is coming” … Once more his countenance suddenly became like the sun and they were all filled with fear. He said to them, “Look, the Lord is coming and he’s saying, ‘Bring me the vessel from the desert.’” Then there was as a flash of lightening and all the house was filled with a sweet odor (Sisoes, 14).[6]



Here the final entrance of the seer into heaven corresponds to the progressive transfiguration of his body hinted at through the gradual glorification of his countenance. The seer’s report to his companions during his ascent is also noteworthy in invoking the memory of some later Jewish visionary accounts found in the Hekhalot tradition in which mystical adepts often report to their colleagues and disciples details of their gradual progress into the Merkabah.[7]

It is possible that the practice of the ascent and the vision of God’s Glory, combined with the glorification that occurs either at the point of the adept’s death, as in the case of Abba Sisoes, or during his lifetime, as in the story of Abba Silvanus, was understood by the authors of the Apophthegmata Patrum as the climax of the monastic vocation unfolding in the desert cells.[8] This paramount importance of the mystical practice in the life of a monk appears to be enigmatically summarized by Abba Bessarion in his famous saying uttered at the point of his death:


Abba Bessarion, at the point of death, said, “The monk ought to be as the Cherubim and the Seraphim: all eye.” (Bessarion, 11).[9]



In this respect it does not appear coincidental that Abba Bessarion’s affirmation of the significance of the visionary praxis in monastic life — in which a monk is compared with the highest angelic servants beholding God’s Glory — occurs at the moment of Bessarion’s death — an important crux of transition that  seems to be pointing, as in the case of Abba Sisoes, to a unique opportunity of the final ascent, vision, and glorification. 

Despite the importance of visionary experiences in monastic life in the aforementioned collections of the desert fathers’ sayings, the Apophthegmata Patrum does not offer a single, monolithic model for the encounter with the Deity but open to many other forms of spiritual exercises.  Thus, some traditions found in the Apophthegmata Patrum reveal another mode of divine communication that emphasizes the aural rather than visual aspect of the interaction between the Deity and the adept. The Sayings of the Fathers (Anthony 26) reads:


The brethren came to Abba Anthony and laid before him a passage from Leviticus. The old man went out into the desert, secretly followed by Abba Ammonas, who knew that this was his custom. Abba Anthony went a long way off and stood there praying, crying in a loud voice, “God, send Moses, to make me understand this saying.” Then there came a voice speaking with him. Abba Ammonas said that although he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not understand what it said (Anthony, 26).[10] 


Here, in contrast with the previous visionary accounts, Abba Anthony receives no visual signs; the divine is manifested only through a heavenly voice. The passage also underlines the aural praxis of human prayer that in many ways mirrors and re-affirms the auditory revelation of the Deity.

Although Abba Anthony’s revelation of the heavenly sound appears on first look to be very different from the visionary praxis of Abba Silvanus and Sisoes, it should not be conceived as completely divorced from them. Rather it can be seen as situated in dialogue, or maybe even polemic, with these traditions.

In this respect it does not seem coincidental that, as in the previously mentioned visionary accounts, the account of Abba Anthony also invokes the memory of Moses, a hero of the visionary paradigm who is posited here as an interpreter of aural revelations. This reference to various theophanic offices of the son of Amram brings us again to the formative accounts found in the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy where the Israelite prophet was privileged to encounter God both through vision and sound.


Moses and Elijah


As has already been suggested, the aforementioned theophanic traditions found in the monastic Christian accounts did not originate in the abodes of the desert ascetics but rather are examples of the ancient mystical praxis with roots in the biblical and extra-biblical accounts.

Already in the Hebrew Bible one can find complex and elaborate descriptions of  various ways of communication between humanity and God. Scholars have long noted that one of the traditions emphasizing the visual aspect of the divine-human interaction, with its keen attention to the anthropomorphic manifestations of the divine Form, received its conceptual crystallization in the Israelite priestly ideology known as the Priestly source. Moshe Weinfeld points out that the liturgical traditions delineated in the Priestly ideology attempt to depict the Deity in “the most tangible corporeal similitudes.”[11] The extensive protological speculations found in the Priestly source also try to advance the anthropomorphic understanding of God, a feature crucial for the subsequent elaborations of this theophanic current. Thus, in the Priestly ideology God is understood to have created humanity in his own image (Gen. 1:27) and is thus frequently described as possessing a human-like form.[12]

Scholars contend that the anthropomorphic understanding of the Deity was not entirely an invention of the Priestly tradition but has its roots in early pre-exilic sacral conceptions about divine corporeal manifestations found in Mesopotamian literature.[13] The priestly understanding of the corporeal representation of the Deity finds its clearest expression in the conception of the “Glory of God” (hwhy dwbk)[14] – a portentous theophanic symbol that will become an object of aspiration for the subsequent generations of visionaries in various religious traditions. One of the paradigmatic accounts of the portrayal of the divine Kavod[15] can be found in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel where the seer receives the vision of an enthroned human form enveloped by fire.[16]  

Alongside forceful anthropomorphic ideologies promulgating the possibility of encountering the Deity in a vision, the Hebrew Bible also attests to another important theophanic current that emphasizes auditory revelations of God. Often these two trends are in competition with each other.  Scholars have long noted a sharp opposition of the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic school to early anthropomorphic developments.  In fact, the Deuteronomic school is widely thought to have initiated a polemic against anthropomorphic and corporeal conceptions of the Deity and the possibility of encountering the divine Form in a vision.[17] Thus, Weinfeld argues that

…Deuteronomy has … taking care to shift the centre of gravity of theophany from the visual to the aural plane. In Exod. 19 the principal danger confronting the people was the likelihood that they might “break through to the Lord to gaze” … Indeed, the pre-deuteronomic texts always invariably speak of the danger of seeing the Deity … The book of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, cannot conceive of the possibility of seeing the Divinity. The Israelites saw only “his great fire” … God himself remains in his heavenly abode. The danger threatening the people here, and the greatness of the miracle, is that of hearing the voice of the Deity: “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire as you have heard, and survived?”[18]


In an effort to dislodge ancient anthropomorphism, which represented the core of the visual theophanic paradigm, the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic school promulgated the anti-corporeal theology of the divine Name with its conception of sanctuary (tabernacle) as the exclusive dwelling abode of God’s Name.

Tryggve Mettinger argues that the Deuteronomic theology was …


… programmatically abstract: during the Sinai theophany, Israel perceived no form (hnwmt); she only heard the voice of her God (Deut 4:12, 15)… [its] preoccupation with God’s voice and words represents an auditive, non-visual theme.[19]


One of the early examples of polemics between the visual ideology of the divine Form (Kavod), which is often labeled in the theophanic accounts as the divine Face (Panim), and the aural theology of the divine Name, or the divine Voice, can be found in Exod 33 where, upon Moses’ plea to behold the divine Kavod, the Deity offers an auditive alternative by promising to reveal to the seer his Name:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory (Kdbk).” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name (M#b yt)rqw), the Lord, in your presence... but,” he said, “you cannot see my face (ynp), for no one may see me and live.”


            This account appears to highlight the opposition between visual and aural revelations, focusing on the possibility of encountering the Deity not only through form but also through sound. One mode of revelation often comes at the expense of the other—the idea hinted at in Exod 33 and articulated more explicitly in Deut 4, “You heard the sound of words, but saw no form (hnwmt).” Scholars point to a paradigm shift in Deuteronomy’s switch of the revelatory axis from the visual to the aural plane.[20] In this new, theo-aural, as opposed to theo-phanic, understanding, even God’s revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai in Exod 19, an event marking a vital nexus of the visual anthropomorphic paradigm, becomes now reinterpreted in the terms of its aural counterpart.  Deut 4:36 describes the Sinai theophany as hearing of the divine Voice:

Out of heaven he let you hear his voice that he might discipline you; and on earth he let you see his great fire and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 


Here the revelation is not received in the form of tablets, the media that might implicitly underline the corporeality of the Deity; rather “the commandments were heard from out of the midst of the fire... uttered by the Deity from heaven.”[21] This transcendent nature of the Deity’s revelation that now chooses to manifest itself as the formless voice in the fire eliminates any need of its corporal representation in the form of the anthropomorphic Glory of God.  A classic example of this imagery can be found in the account of God’s appearance to Elijah on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19:11-13:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”


            The depiction of the Deity’s activity and presence as the voice in the fire became one of the most distinctive features of the aniconic Shem theology[22] found in the Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic materials that would play a very important role in later Jewish pseudepigraphical and targumic accounts.  



Enoch and Abraham


Despite the notable prominence of theophanic symbolism in the materials associated with the Hebrew Bible, arguably the most profound conceptual expressions of the visual and aural manifestations of the Deity were developed in the extracanonical accounts of the so-called pseudepigraphical writings. In these apocalyptic materials the already familiar patriarchs and prophets of the Bible were portrayed as recipients of the most recondite revelations of the Divinity manifested in both visual and in aural form.

Similar to later rabbinic and patristic writings, the pseudepigraphical accounts stir their readers’ imagination with a rich tapestry of theophanic trends and currents.  For a focused overview of the Shem and Kavod conceptual developments in the extra-biblical pseudepigraphical accounts, two early Jewish apocalypses are instructive. These writings are 2 (Slavonic) Enoch and Apocalypse of Abraham, texts where the ideologies of the divine Form and the divine Name possibly come to their most paradigmatic expressions. It is noteworthy that both of these important specimens of Jewish apocalyptic thought were preserved in the Slavonic language and circulated in the eastern Christian environment. Despite that both writings share a similar transmission history, their theophanic language, however, is strikingly different as they strive to convey manifestations of God in the peculiar symbolisms of their unique theophanic paradigms.

            Thus, 2 Enoch, can be seen as the apex of the visual theophanic paradigm in which the Kavod theology receives possibly its most elaborate articulation. The apocalypse depicts the heavenly tour of the seventh antediluvian patriarch Enoch during which he receives revelations from angels and God. In accordance with the conceptual matrix of the visual theophanic praxis, the revelation of the divine Form, labeled in the text as the divine Face, is envisioned in 2 Enoch as the pinnacle of the exalted seer’s revelatory experience  The authors of the Slavonic apocalypse use even the structure of the text to underline the importance of this disclosure: the information about the divine Face comes in the central section of the narration. In fact, 2 Enoch, contains not one but two theophanic descriptions involving the motif of the divine Countenance. The first occurs in 2 Enoch 22 that portrays Enoch’s dramatic encounter with the Glory of God in the celestial realm. Enoch recounts:

I saw the view of the face of the Lord, like iron made burning hot in a fire and brought out, and it emits sparks and is incandescent. Thus even I saw the face of the Lord. But the face of the Lord is not to be talked about, it is so very marvelous and supremely awesome and supremely frightening. And who am I to give an account of the incomprehensible being of the Lord, and of his face, so extremely strange and indescribable? And how many are his commands, and his multiple voice, and the Lord’s throne, supremely great and not made by hands, and the choir stalls all around him, the cherubim and the seraphim armies, and their never-silent singing. Who can give an account of his beautiful appearance, never changing and indescribable, and his great glory? And I fell down flat and did obeisance to the Lord (2 Enoch 22:1-4, the longer recension).[23]


The importance of the vision of the divine Form for the distinctive theophanic ideology in 2 Enoch is also highlighted by the fact that the seer’s encounter of the divine Face becomes one of the central points of his revelation to his children.

In chapter 39 Enoch reports his theophanic experience to his sons during his short visit to earth, adding some new details. Although both portrayals show a number of terminological affinities, the second account explicitly connects the divine Face with the divine anthropomorphic “Extent,” known also as the Glory of God or Kavod. 2 Enoch 39 reads:

And now, my children it is not from my lips that I am reporting to you today, but from the lips of the Lord who has sent me to you.  As for you, you hear my words, out of my lips, a human being created equal to yourselves; but I have heard the words from the fiery lips of the Lord. For the lips of the Lord are a furnace of fire, and his words are the fiery flames which come out. You, my children, you see my face, a human being created just like yourselves; I am one who has seen the face of the Lord, like iron made burning hot by a fire, emitting sparks. For you gaze into my eyes, a human being created just like yourselves; but I have gazed into the eyes of the Lord, like the rays of the shining sun and terrifying the eyes of a human being. You, my children, you see my right hand beckoning you, a human being created identical to yourselves; but I have seen the right hand of the Lord, beckoning me, who fills heaven. You see the extent of my body, the same as your own; but I have seen the extent of the Lord, without measure and without analogy, who has no end... To stand before the King, who will be able to endure the infinite terror or of the great burning (2 Enoch 39:3-8, the shorter recension).[24]


In both theophanic descriptions the notion of the divine Face plays a crucial role. It is no coincidence that in both of them the Countenance of the Deity is associated with light and fire. In this respect the descriptions found in the Slavonic apocalypse represent a continuation of biblical theophanic currents. Already in the biblical theophanic developments found in the Hebrew Bible, smoke and fire are understood as a divine envelope that protects mortals from the sight of the divine Form.  Radiant luminosity emitted by the Deity fulfills the same function, signaling the danger of the direct vision of the divine Form. In some cases luminosity also represents a screen that protects the Deity from the necessity of revealing its true Form. In some theophanic traditions God’s Form remains hidden behind his light. The hidden Kavod is revealed through this light, which serves as a luminous screen, the Face of this anthropomorphic extent. 2 Enoch’s theophanies, which use the metaphors of light and fire, may well be connected with such traditions where the divine “Extent” is hidden behind the incandescent “Face” that covers and protects the sovereignty of the Lord. It is clear that in 2 Enoch 39:3-6 the Face of the Deity seems to be understood not simply as a part of God’s body (his Countenance) but as a radiant façade of his entire anthropomorphic Form. This identification between the Lord’s Face and the Lord’s Form is reinforced by an additional parallel pair in which Enoch’s face is identified with Enoch’s form:

You, my children, you see my face, a human being created just like yourselves; but I am one who has seen the face of the Lord, like iron made burning hot by a fire, emitting sparks... And you see the form of my body, the same as your own: but I have seen the form (extent) of the Lord, without measure and without analogy, who has no end (2 Enoch 39:3-6).[25]


The association between the divine Face and the divine Form in 2 Enoch 39:3-6 also alludes to the aforementioned biblical tradition from Ex 33:18-23 where the divine Panim is mentioned in connection with the glorious divine Form - God’s Kavod:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory (Kdbk).” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence... but,” he said, “you cannot see my face (ynp), for no one may see me and live.”


            In light of this account, it becomes clear that in 2 Enoch, like in the Exodus, the impossibility of seeing the divine Face is understood not simply as the impossibility of seeing a particular part of the Deity but rather as the impossibility of seeing any part of his glorious Body. It is therefore possible that in 2 Enoch 39:3-6, like in Ex 33:18-23, the divine Face serves as the terminus technicus for the designation of the divine anthropomorphic extent – God’s Kavod.

            One can see that the traditions identical or similar to those found in Ex 33 or 2 Enoch 22 and 39 may have exercised a formative influence on the later Jewish and Christian theophanic currents comparable to those found in the Apophthegmata Patrum. The early desert fathers too were privileged to receive a vision of the divine Form and, as a result, underwent the glorious transformation of their countenances and bodies. One encounters the same luminous metamorphosis in 2 Enoch where the body and face of seventh antediluvian hero is depicted as covered with light.

Like in the accounts of the desert fathers who were glorified by the divine presence, in the Slavonic apocalypse the luminous metamorphosis of the seer takes place in front of the Lord’s glorious “Extent” labeled in 2 Enoch as God’s Face. In 2 Enoch 22 the vision of the divine Face has dramatic consequences for Enoch’s appearance. The patriarch’s body endures radical changes as it becomes covered with the divine light. This encounter transforms Enoch into a glorious angelic being “like one of the glorious ones, and there was no observable difference.”[26] This phrase describes Enoch’s transition to a new celestial identity as “one of the glorious ones.”

Similar to the accounts of the ascetics in the Sayings of the Fathers, the Slavonic apocalypse also hints to the glorification of the patriarch’s countenance. Thus, in 2 Enoch 37, similarly to the divine Countenance, Enoch’s face acquires a degree of luminosity that poses danger for ordinary creatures of flesh and blood. In 2 Enoch 37 the Deity must call one of his special angelic servants to chill Enoch’s face before his return to earth. The angel, who “appeared frigid,” then chilled Enoch’s face with his icy hands. Immediately after this procedure, the Deity tells Enoch that, if his face had not been chilled, no human being would have been able to look it. The chilling procedure indicates that Enoch’s metamorphosis near the Face involves the transformation of his human face into a fiery, dangerous entity that now resembles the Kavod. These strange rituals surrounding the seer’s face bring to memory the familiar biblical traditions of Moses’ luminous countenance and his protective veil.

All these peculiar details of the seer’s metamorphosis show that the Slavonic apocalypse represents a new formative stage in the development of the visionary paradigm where the symbolic features of this theophanic trend receive their long-lasting epitomic expressions.

In contrast to 2 Enoch, another Jewish apocalypse preserved in the Slavonic environment, the Apocalypse of Abraham, exhibits striking features of a different theophanic trend. Unlike 2 Enoch, the Abrahamic pseudepigraphon emphasizes the aural aspect of the encounter with the Deity, while, at the same time, engaging in polemics with the anthropomorphic theology of the Divine form.

Although the apocalyptic imagery found in the pseudepigraphon appears to stem from the theophanic paradigm of the early Merkabah speculations similar to those found in Ezek 1, 1 En. 14, and the Exagoge of Ezekiel the Tragedian, the authors of the Apocalypse of Abraham appear to consistently re-fashion this traditional theophanic imagery in accordance with a new aniconic template that insists on expressing the divine Presence in the form of the Deity’s Voice.[27] In his comparative analysis of the accounts from Ezekiel and the Apocalypse of Abraham, Christopher Rowland notes that, while preserving the angelology of Ezekiel’s account, the author of the Slavonic apocalypse carefully avoids anthropomorphic descriptions of the Kavod substituting them with references to the divine Voice. 

These aniconic tendencies can be observed already in the very beginning of the second, apocalyptic section of the work.  The very first manifestation of the Deity to the seer found in chapter 8 takes the form of theophany of the divine Voice that is depicted as coming from heaven in a stream of fire.

And as I was thinking about these things, here is what happened to my father Terah in the courtyard of his house: The voice of the Mighty One came down from heaven in a stream of fire, saying and calling, “Abraham, Abraham!” (Apoc. Ab. 8:1).[28]


The divine Voice appears continually in the narrative. More notably, in Apoc. Ab. 9:1 the voice of “the primordial and mighty God” commands Abraham to bring sacrifices, and in chapter 10 it appoints the angel Yahoel as a celestial guide of the exalted patriarch.

This peculiar expression of the Deity as the voice erupting in fiery stream will subsequently become a customary theophanic expression appearing multiple times in the apocalypse, including the climatic account of the revelation given to Abraham in the seventh firmament. There, in his vision of the throne room, which evokes memories of Ezekelian angelology, the hero of the faith sees not the human-like form of God but the Deity’s formless voice:

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. And I heard the sound of their qedusha like the voice of a single man. And a voice came to me out of the midst of the fire, saying, “Abraham, Abraham!” And I said, “Here am I!” (Apoc. Ab. 18:13-19:2).[29]


            This tendency to substitute the anthropomorphic depiction of the Deity with expressions of the divine Voice or Name is, of course, not a novel development of the Apocalypse of Abraham authors but a specimen of the long-lasting tradition the roots of which can be seen seen in the Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic biblical materials.   

                  In the Apocalypse of Abraham the aural symbolism of divine disclosures constitutes the basis for a new theophanic praxis that is now opposed to the visionary paradigm.    The center of this mystical experience consists in the mutual aural communication between the Deity and the adept that, like in the case of Abba Anthony, involves the practitioner’s prayer and praise.

            The identification of divine manifestation with the Voice or the Sound in Apoc. Ab. thus underlines the importance of praise as a parallel process of the aural expression of creation in relation to its Creator. The authors of the Apocalypse of Abraham seem to view praying to and praising of God as a mystical aural praxis that in many ways mirrors the visionary praxis of the Kavod paradigm.

In conclusion it should be noted that the consequences of the polemical interplay between the two revelatory trends in 2 Enoch and the Apocalypse of Abraham appear to have exercised a lasting influence on the development of future Jewish and Christian theophanic traditions.

The purpose of the current collection is to explore the formative theophanic patterns found in such pseudepigraphical writings as 2 Enoch, Apocalypse of Abraham, and the Ladder of Jacob where the visual and aural mystical trends undergo their creative conflation and thus provide the rich conceptual soil for the subsequent elaborations prominent in later patristic and rabbinic developments.

The visionary and aural traditions found in the Slavonic pseudepigrapha are especially important for understanding the evolution of the theophanic trends inside the eastern Christian environment where these Jewish apocalyptic materials were copied and transmitted for centuries by generations of monks. As has been shown, the mystical testimonies reflected in Christian ascetic literature, including the aforementioned accounts from the Apophthegmata Patrum, show  remarkable similarities with the transformational accounts found in these Jewish pseudepigraphical writings. These early apocalyptic specimens of visual and aural traditions that were carefully copied, translated and preserved in the monastic environments seem to have had profound influence on the form and content of the theophanic symbolism of the eastern Christian tradition. The extent of these influences, however, has never been explored in any systematic way. Moreover, despite a renewed scholarly interest in the doctrine of the theosis, almost all recent studies of this important tradition have been reluctant to include any discussion of these Jewish pseudepigraphical writings.[30] Yet, the distinctive pursuits in the attainment of immortality on display in these transformational accounts where the heroes acquire their new heavenly identities during their initiation into the celestial community appear to point to the very roots of the ancient praxis of deification.







[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection (rev. ed.; tr. B. Ward; CS, 59; Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1986) 222-223; PG 65, 409A.

[2] On this terminological connection, see A. Golitzin, “‘The Demons Suggest an Illusion of God’s Glory in a Form’: Controversy over the Divine Body and Vision of God’s Glory in Some Late Forth, Early Fifth Century Monastic Literature,” in: The Theophaneia School: Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism (Scrinium, III; eds. B. Lourié and A. Orlov; St. Petersburg: Byzantinorossica, 2007) 49-82 at 72.

[3] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 224.

[4] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 196.

[5] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 197.

[6] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 214-215.

[7] Thus, for example, in the Hekhalot Rabbati, R. Nehuniah ben ha-Qanah reports to his disciples and colleagues, in a state of mystical trance, what he encounters during his celestial tour. Cf. P. Schäfer, with M. Schlüter and H. G. von Mutius., Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur (TSAJ, 2; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1981) §§ 224-228.

[8] Another passage found in the Apophthegmata Patrum (Joseph of Panephysis, 7) understands the transformational praxis of glorification also as a pinnacle of the monastic journey: “Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say in my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’” The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 103. It is noteworthy that this passage shares some similarities with Silvanus’ ascent through a reference to a praxis of stretching hands towards heaven.

[9] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 42.

[10] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, 7.

                [11] M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) 191.

                [12] Ludwig Köhler and Moshe Weinfeld argue that the phrase, “in our image, after our likeness” precludes the anthropomorphic interpretation that the human being was created in the divine image. L. Köhler, “Die Grundstelle der Imago-Dei Lehre, Genesis i, 26,” ThZ 4 (1948): 16ff; Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 199.

                [13] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 199.

                [14] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 200-201.

[15] The term dwbk can be translated as “substance,” “body,” “mass,” “power,” “might,” “honor,” “glory,” “splendor.” In its meaning as “glory” dwbk usually refers to God, his sanctuary, his city, or sacred paraphernalia. The Priestly tradition uses the term in connection with God’s appearances in the tabernacle. P and Ezekiel describe dwbk as a blazing fire surrounded by radiance and a great cloud. M. Weinfeld, “dwbk TDOT, 7. 22-38.

                [16] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 201.

                [17] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 198.

[18] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 207-208. For criticism of Weinfeld’s position, see I. Wilson, Out of the Midst of Fire: Divine Presence in Deuteronomy (SBLDS, 151; Atlanta: Scholars, 1995) 90-92.

          [19] T. N.D. Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth. Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies (Coniectanea Biblica. Old Testament Series, 18; Lund: Wallin & Dalholm, 1982) 46. See also Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 193.

                [20] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 207.

                [21] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 207.

[22] Mettinger notes that “it is not surprising that the Name of God occupies such central position in a theology in which God’s words and voice receive so much emphasis.” Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth, 124.

[23] F. I. Andersen, “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.; ed. J. H. Charlesworth; New York: Doubleday, 1985 [1983]) 1.136.

[24] Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.163.

[25] Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.163.


[26] Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.139.

                [27] On hypostatic voice of God, see J.H. Charlesworth, “The Jewish Roots of Christology: The Discovery of the Hypostatic Voice,” Scottish Journal of Theology 39 (1986): 19-41.

[28] A. Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham (TCS, 3; Atlanta, 2004) 16.

[29] Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24.

[30] Thus, for example, a recent study by Norman Russell [The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004)] does not even mention 2 Enoch and Apocalypse of Abraham – two pivotal apocalyptic accounts circulated in the eastern Christian environment for millennia.