Testament of Abraham

An apocryphal writing originating among first-century Jews (Köhler) or second-century Jewish-Christians (M.R. James). It describes how the patriarch is shown the universe and told that it will survive seven thousand years. Then the archangel Michael at the first gate of heaven shows him the paths to hell and paradise, and three different judgments taking place. Praying for the forgiveness of sinners, Abraham is returned to earth and on to paradise. The major interest is in the fate of individual souls and not with the impending crisis characteristic of conventional Jewish apocalyptic. The Greek text, which includes Christian passages (interpolations?), survives in a longer and a shorter recension, with translations in Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, Slavonic, and Romanian.


ABRAHAM, TESTAMENT OF (Διαθήκη, ̓Αβρααμ, Testament of Abraham). An ancient Jewish apocryphon giving an account of Abraham’s experiences at death.

Abraham, who is pictured as a very aged man, is informed, by the angel Michael, that he must die. But Abraham refuses to give up his spirit. The angel then takes him in a chariot through the reaches of the firmament and, as Abraham observes the wickedness of men on earth, he calls down judgment upon them. Abraham is then given a vision of the broad road and the narrow road leading respectively to perdition and to Paradise. The weighing of souls in judgment is then viewed and a soul is spared through the intercession of Abraham. At last, while Abraham is still reluctant to give up his soul, “Death” takes him, and brings him, with great honor, to Paradise.

The Testament is extant in ten Gr. MSS, seven representing a long recension and three a shorter. The oldest may date to the 13th cent. Origen, however, knew the work and an original Heb. form belonging to the early 1st cent. seems probable. There are some Christian interpolations but the work as a whole is thoroughly Jewish. The hypothesis that the work was originally Jewish and was tr. into Gr. by a Christian hand seems to fit the facts best, though an Alexandrian origin has also been suggested. In addition to the Gr. MSS, the work is extant in Slavonic, Rumanian, Arabic, Ethiopic and Coptic VSS.

The Testament has some affinity with the Testament of Job and with the Apocalypse of Abraham and has generally drawn its ideas from Jewish sources. The angel Michael figures largely in the book and occupies the position of supremacy usually assigned to him by Jewish writings of the time. “Death” is portrayed as the OT angel of death but with some foreign traits (possibly Egyptian, Babylonian or Persian) attached. There are three judgments according to the eschatology of the Testament: one by Abel, one by the twelve tribes of Israel and one by God at the last day. The Messiah does not appear at all at any of the judgments, but the whole book still moves well within the spirit of Jewish thought generally.

Bibliography

M. R. James, “The Testament of Abraham,” Texts and Studies, II, no. 2 (1892); G. H. Box, The Testament of Abraham (1927); J. E. H. Thompson, “Apocalyptic Literature,” ISBE, I (1939), 177.