Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Abraham

Introduction to the Text:

The Apocalypse of Abraham is a narrative that was composed within the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. and expresses two aspects of Abraham not spoken of in the book of Genesis. First, chapters 1-8 focus on Abraham’s childhood and how he comes to the conclusion that idols, namely physical representations of deities, should not be worshiped. Second, chapters 9-32 is an apocalyptic vision revealed to Abraham by God. Based on textual analysis, it is most reasonable to assume that the original composition, aside from later Christian interpolations, included chapters 1-6 and 9-32.

In this post, I will assume the same chapter divisions and examine how the text reflects early logic regarding idolatry, God, and how humans should think of the two.

The Logic of Judaism and Christianity

In the account of Abraham’s youth in the Apocalypse of Abraham, the primary focus is the inequality of serving deities represented through stone and wood. Questioning the actual benefit and return of worshiping these deities, Abraham asks: “What is this inequality of activity which my father is doing?” (3:2). Essentially, he observes that Terah, Abraham’s father, constantly crafts new gods; yet, Terah never receives any payments or benefit. In fact, the gods merely break, with nothing in return. The focus on the long-term value of a manufactured representation of a deity is re-enforced when Abraham suggests an alternative deity: “For behold, Zouchaios, my brther Nahor’s god is more venerable than your god Marumath because he made of gold, valued by man” (6:7). This deity, of course, doesn’t rust or age. Thus, alongside the question of what a god can give in return, the narrative in the Apocalypse of Abraham raises the questions of the longevity of gods.

So, as Chapters 9-32 transition into the apocalyptic portion of the text, the narrative points towards hope for a deity that doesn’t rust or age and also returns something for worship. Approaching the remainder of the apocalypse from this perspective may be beneficial in illustrating and drawing out literary motifs within the text. For example, in the beginning of the apocalyptic revelation, God says the following: “Behold, it is I. Fear not, for I am Before-the-World and Mighty, the God who created previously, before the light of the age. I am the protector for you and I am your helper” (9:3-4). In the introduction, the first thing we see is God’s re-affirmation that he has longevity and is eternal, a value emphasized in Abraham’s encouragement to worship gold idols, and that he acts to protect and help Abraham, a value initially criticized by Abraham regarding Terah’s gods.

These considerations help us to understand the logic of Jews and early Christians in the 1st century C.E. with regard to their conceptualization of idolatry, God, and why humanity should focus on the latter rather than the former. The text itself is undeniably a Jewish text; however, due to parallel expressions between the Apocalypse of Abraham and the New Testament, it is clear that both documents drew from a common tradition. Thus, the Apocalypse of Abraham is important for understanding the historical theological and philosophical foundations of early Judaism and Christianity.