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Echoes of Universalist Testament Literature in Christian and Rabbinic Texts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 January 2016

Malka Z. Simkovich*
Catholic Theological Union


The ancient text known as the Testament of Abraham is preserved in Coptic in the same codex as two other works, the Testament of Isaac and the Testament of Jacob. These testaments were probably written in the late first or early second centuries CE by Jewish writers, although the manuscript of the Coptic codex containing them is dated to 962. These books were considered part of the “testament” literary genre, which featured a biblical hero imparting his last words of religious wisdom to his family gathered at his bedside. Scholars agree that the stylistic and theological differences among these three testaments indicate that they were not written by the same author. Yet a close reading reveals that the Testament of Isaac is dependent on the Testament of Abraham, and that the Testament of Jacob is dependent on the two earlier texts. Moreover, the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Isaac share similarities that distinguish them from the Testament of Jacob: unlike the Testament of Jacob, the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Isaac reflect a universalist worldview that depicts a God concerned for all humankind, not only for his chosen people. This God reigns over all people, and themes specific to the Christian and Jewish faiths are virtually absent. Later Christian and Jewish literature concerning the theme of divine judgment exhibits elements that may reflect an awareness of a written or oral tradition that appears in the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Isaac. The images of judgment and punishment, especially those in the Testament of Abraham, appear in the second-century Apocalypse of Peter and the fourth-century Vision of Paul, which is also known as the Apocalypse of Paul. Likewise, midrashic traditions regarding Abraham and Moses are reminiscent of traditions found in these testaments, particularly the Testament of Abraham. The possibility that early Christian apocalyptic texts were aware of these testaments is grounded in the fact that scholars give these texts a common place of origin, Egypt. The provenance of the midrashic texts is more difficult to identify, but because they share literary elements and theological concerns with the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Isaac, I suggest that the authors of these midrashic traditions had access to written or oral traditions prominent in these testaments. This paper will examine early Christian apocalyptic and early Jewish midrashic texts that modify some of the traditions prominent in these testaments in order to accommodate their nonuniversalist rabbinic or early Christian worldviews.

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2016 

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1 The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. James H. Charlesworth; 2 vols.; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983, 1985) 1:875, 904 [hereafter OTP].

2 Box, G. H., The Testament of Abraham (London: Macmillan, 1927) 55Google Scholar. This testament also survives in Greek, Slavonic, Romanian, Arabic, and Ethiopic, which attests to its wide circulation and popularity in antiquity; see OTP 1:871. Interestingly, the Testament of Abraham (T. Ab.) only appears as a connected prequel to the Testament of Isaac (T. Isaac) and the Testament of Jacob (T. Jac.) in the Coptic version.

3 See, for instance, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job, the Testament of Moses, and the Testament of Solomon, which are preserved in vol. 1 of OTP. The only text that calls itself a testament but in fact contains no testament is T. Ab., which parodies this genre.

4 OTP 1:869.

5 Ibid., 1:875, 877. Erich Gruen writes about T. Ab., “The treatise makes no allusion to differences between Jew and Gentile. . . . The sins that Abraham observes and endeavors to stamp out are common to all: armed robbery, fornication, and burglary. The means of rehabilitation are also open to all: repentance and forgiveness . . . [this] suggests an attitude that transcends sectarianism and dismissed barriers between Jews dwelling abroad and their pagan neighbors” (Erich S. Gruen, Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002] 192–93). Yet Gruen notes that “the comic features [of T. Ab.] are more striking than any weighty messages that may be found in the text” (ibid., 192). Likewise, Lawrence Wills has analyzed T. Ab. from the angle of its satirical humor, which he claims converts the text into a sort of anti-testament. According to Wills, “If The Testament of Joseph and The Testament of Job display an excess of piety, The Testament of Abraham is a satire on that genre. . . . Abraham is first described as the most pious man who ever lived, admired by humans and angels alike, but in a series of scenes he reveals himself to be self-centered, vindictive, and even disobedient to God” (Lawrence M. Wills, Ancient Jewish Novels: An Anthology [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002] 269). This understanding of T. Ab. only applies to Recension A; the shorter Recension B strips the earlier recension of its satirical aspects. The Testament of Isaac in turn relies on both recensions of T. Ab. but lacks the humorous elements. The presence of humor in T. Ab. and the absence of humor in texts that rely on it is another important hermeneutical mode of studying how T. Ab. is used in later sources.

6 This detail is especially interesting given the geographically localized nature of deities in antiquity.

7 There are some significant exceptions that reflect obvious Christian interpolations, particularly in T. Ab. A 20:12–15, T. Ab. B 14:9, T. Isaac 1:1, and T. Isaac 8:7. The verses in T. Isaac 8:7 are added to the end of the manuscript, and of course T. Isaac 1:1 is an added introduction (OTP 1:895, 902, 903, 911).

8 The Apocalypse of Peter (Apoc. Pet.) is difficult to date. Its earliest citation is found in the writings of Clement of Alexandria. Andrew Rutherford places this text sometime before 150 CE, although that may be too early; see The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Allan Menzies; trans. Andrew Rutherford; 10 vols.; New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007) 9:299 [hereafter ANF].

9 Menzies dates the Vision of Paul (Vis. Paul) to the 4th cent., specifically to 388 CE, since the introduction of the text states that Paul's revelation was made “in the consulship of Theodosius Augustus the Younger and Cynegius” (ANF 9:308–309). The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul (Apoc. Paul) is closely related to the Vision of Paul.

10 Charlesworth notes the scholarly consensus that T. Ab. and T. Isaac are thought to have originated in Egypt. His reasoning is based on the fact that literary analyses of both recensions of T. Ab. indicate that they were probably written in Greek and later copied into other languages. There is no surviving Greek manuscript of T. Isaac, but given its literary dependence on T. Ab., it is possible that it too has Egyptian origins; see Charlesworth's remarks in OTP 1:875, 904. Jan Bremmer writes that Apoc. Pet. was either written in Egypt or in Palestine but was “revised by a Jewish-Christian author who used an Egyptian source or version and clearly was well-educated and at home in Greek culture” (Bremmer, Jan M., “Christian Hell: From the Apocalypse of Peter to the Apocalypse of Paul,” Numen 56 [2009] 298325CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 300). Bremmer also places the composition of Vis. Paul in an early 5th-cent. Egyptian monastic setting (ibid., 305).

11 George Nickelsburg has noted the differences between the two recensions and considers A to be superior to B from a literary perspective. Nickelsburg writes, “A is the more artful of the compositions. It has shape and plot, and out of these, a discernible point to make. Its parodies on a known genre and on traditional portraits of Abraham are evidence of the author's message. By contrast, Rec. B is a potpourri of incidents, elements, and characters, with little evident structure, plot, and relationships among the characters” (Nickelsburg, George W. E., “Structure and Message in the Testament of Abraham,” in Studies on the Testament of Abraham [ed. idem; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976] 8593Google Scholar, at 92). While there is some merit to Nickelsburg's evaluation, he may not give enough credit to Recension B, which, having stripped the earlier text of its humorous tone, is making a statement to the reader about how to understand the meaning and significance of this Abrahamic story. Although less sophisticated, Recension B, with its changes, encourages the reader to understand the story literally, which may reflect a more general change in how biblical traditions were being read in antiquity.

12 George MacRae suggests that the Coptic Apoc. Paul was influenced by Recension B of T. Ab.; see MacRae, George, “The Judgment Scene in the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul,” in Studies on the Testament of Abraham (ed. Nickelsburg, George W. E.; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976) 285–88Google Scholar, at 285. Moreover, Samuel Loewenstamm compares Recension A to midrashic texts about Moses's resistance of the Angel of Death; see Loewenstamm, Samuel E., “The Testament of Abraham and the Texts Concerning the Death of Moses,” in Studies on the Testament of Abraham (ed. Nickelsburg, George W. E.; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976) 219225Google Scholar, at 222.

13 Nickelsburg considers the structure of Recension A to be more ancient than the structure of Recension B, although he leaves room for the possibility that B may preserve older wordings of an original T. Ab. tradition. Nickelsburg writes, “If Rec. A is the more primitive of the two recensions, one must look for reasons for the revision in Rec. B. . . . It is not impossible that some of this deviation is the result of a clumsy process of oral transmission, in which the storyteller(s) badly garbled the tradition” (“Structure and Message,” 92). However, the possibility that an oral transmission was garbled may not account for all of the structural changes that Recension B makes to Recension A, which place Abraham's trip across the earth at the narrative climax of the story.

14 T. Ab. A 10:5, 8, 10 (OTP 1:887).

15 T. Ab. B 12:2, 6, 9 (OTP 1:901).

16 T. Ab. B 10:6 (OTP 1:900).

17 See T. Isaac 4:49–52 (OTP 1:908). Isaac's lengthy speech spans forty-two verses, but these three prohibitions are juxtaposed to each other. This juxtaposition, coupled with the fact that Isaac does not mention the prohibition to steal, indicates that the writer likely relied on T. Ab. Recension B. This possibility is also supported by T. Isaac's serious tone and lack of satire, which parallels Recension B rather than Recension A.

18 Isaac's vision is laid out in detail in Appendix A.

19 T. Isaac 5:17 (OTP 1:909).

20 T. Isaac 5:27. These sinners are placed at the lowest point of the fiery river, for, as the angel clarifies to Isaac, “truly, they were due a drastic punishment” (T. Isaac 5:27 [OTP 1:909]).

21 Michel Foucault refutes the popular idea that early Christians invented the notion that sexuality is a shameful attribute that must be harnessed and controlled. Instead, Foucault argues, the abundance of writing on homosexuality and pederasty in particular in the final centuries of the Greek empire reflects a social reality that these practices troubled many individuals; see Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure (trans. Robert Hurley; vol. 2 of The History of Sexuality; New York: Pantheon, 1985) 249.

22 The most obvious of these interpolations are in the introduction and conclusion of T. Isaac. Verse 1:1 reads, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the One God” (OTP 1:905). The penultimate and antepenultimate verses of T. Isaac, 8:6–7, read, “Whatever person has manifested mercy in the name of my beloved Isaac, behold I will give him to you in the kingdom of heaven and he shall be present with them at the first moment of the millennial banquet to celebrate with them in the everlasting light in the kingdom of our Master and our God and our King and our Savior, Jesus the Messiah. He is the one to whom are due the glory, the dignity, the majesty, the dominion, the reverence, the honor, the praise, and the adoration, along with the merciful Father and the Holy Spirit now and for all time, and to all eternity and forever and ever, amen!” (OTP 1:911). Another reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in T. Isaac appears in 2:8 (see OTP 1:905), and in 3:18 Isaac predicts that “Jesus the Messiah [will come] from your descendants out of a virgin named Mary” (OTP 1:907).

23 Gray, Patrick, “Abortion, Infanticide, and the Social Rhetoric of the Apocalypse of Peter,” JECS 9 (2001) 313337Google Scholar, at 314.

24 John Collins defines apocalypse as a “genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (Collins, John J., “Introduction: Towards the Morphology of a Genre,” Semeia 14 [1979] 120Google Scholar, at 9).

25 Bremmer, “Christian Hell,” 301.

26 In fact, because of its humorous and satirical tone, most scholars do not place T. Ab. in the apocalypse genre, despite Abraham's vision of heaven. In her book on ascents to heaven in apocalyptic literature, Martha Himmelfarb explains in her introduction that she does not engage with T. Ab. because she does not consider it to be a true apocalypse; see Himmelfarb, Martha, Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)Google Scholar 8. Despite the less-than-serious tone of Recension A, it is arguable that T. Ab., especially Recension B, functioned as a sort of proto-apocalypse. There is no reason to draw boundary lines between the genres of apocalypse and satire.

27 Apoc. Pet. 1:21–33 (ANF 9:304–305).

28 T. Isaac 4:50–53 (OTP 1:908).

29 T. Ab. A 10:8; T. Ab. B 10:13; 12:2–3 (OTP 1:886, 1:900–901); and Apoc. Pet. 23–25, 31 (ANF 9:304–305)

30 For a discussion of the Christian identity that underlies the Apocalypse of Peter see Bauckham, Richard, “Jews and Jewish Christians in the Land of Israel at the time of the Bar Kokhba War, with Special Reference to the Apocalypse of Peter,” in Tolerance and Intolerance in Early Judaism and Christianity (ed. Stanton, Graham N. and Stroumsa, Guy; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 228–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 229–30. Bauckham suggests that the historical context for this apocalypse was 2nd-cent. CE Palestine, in the years immediately following the Bar Kokhba rebellion. In this paper, I will rely on scholarship that links Apoc. Pet. to Egypt, since there is no explicit link between this apocalypse and the Christians who witnessed the Bar Kokhba rebellion. However, Bauckham's identifications of uniquely Christian viewpoints in this apocalypse are undeniable.

31 Bremmer writes, “[Apoc. Pet.’s] reliance on Jewish models and stress on persecution must have made [it] look old fashioned, and in due time it was replaced by the most popular medieval apocryphal Apocalypse, that of Paul” (“Christian Hell,” 302).

32 See the commentary to the Vision of Paul by Rutherford in ANF 9:308–9. For a translation of the Coptic version of this text, see Budge, E. A. Wallis, Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London: Oxford University Press, 1915) 1043–84Google Scholar. The Coptic manuscript used by Budge is not identical to Apoc. Paul found at Nag Hammadi, which is a very abridged account of Paul's vision that does not include a judgment scene. The sinners that Paul sees in the Coptic version are those who:

never governed themselves, and those who never gave away a cup of cold water, and those who never joined themselves wholly to the righteous, and those who never joined themselves wholly to sinners; and they themselves destroyed their own lives upon earth. They were in the habit of passing a few days in worshipping God, and then they would pass a few days in committing sin and in fornication; and they ceased not from their sins until they died in the middle of them,

. . . they who used to go out of church and occupy themselves with works of various kinds, and commit sin daily,

. . . who used to receive the Body of the Christ and His Holy Blood, and go away and commit fornication, and ceased not from their sins,

. . . those who used to slander the church and their own houses,

. . . those who were wont to deride each other with crooked counsel, and to behave deceitfully towards each other,

. . . they who never made God their helper in the time of tribulation,

. . . an elder who did not fully act up to the name that had been conferred upon him. He ate, he drank, and he committed fornication, and then went to offer up the Sacrifice upon the earth,

. . . a bishop who did not fulfill satisfactorily the duties of his bishopric,

. . . a deacon who committed fornication with women who did not belong to him, and he did not act rightly before God. He ate the Offerings fearlessly, and he wasted himself in every kind of worthless manner,

. . . a reader whose duty it was to teach the people, but he did not act in accordance with the things which he read to them, and with the commandments of God,

. . . People who took usury and devoted their minds to their riches, and did not make God their helper,

. . . they who used to slander the Church,

. . . the magicians who worked enchantments on men and women,

. . . the woman who used to commit fornication with strange men, although they had their own husbands available, and the men who [used to commit fornication with strange women, although they] had their own wives available,

. . . they who defiled their virginity before they were given to [their] husbands, and before they were of age to be married,

. . . they who oppressed and wronged the poor and the orphans, and who did not make God their hope and help,

. . . they who broke [their] fast before it had been kept by them,

. . . the women who used to beautify themselves with the paints and unguents of the Devil, and then go to church to find occasions for committing adultery, and not [to seek] their lawful husbands; and through their deceitful paints and unguents they made God their enemy,

. . . the godless heathen who never knew God,

. . . the widows and the virgins who have killed the image of God, and who have abused their bodies by means of fornication; and with them, and suffering the same punishment, are the men who had carnal intercourse with them,

. . . they who withdrew themselves from the world, and who donned the garb of the Christ, but the possessions of the world and the cares thereof made them miserable beings. They never performed an act of charity any day. They never showed mercy to a widow and to an orphan on the same day. They never received a stranger into their houses. They never did a kindness to their neighbor. Never did a pure prayer of their own ascend to God from them,

. . . every one who saith that Jesus has not come in the flesh, and that He was not brought forth by Mary, the Holy Virgin; and those who say that the bread and the wine over which the Name of God is pronounced are not the Body of Christ and His Blood, and all those who deny their baptism, and who pollute their seal with violence,

. . . they who say that the Christ has not risen from the dead, and that this flesh [of ours] cannot rise [from the dead]” (Budge, Miscellaneous Coptic Texts, 1058–67).

This Coptic version of Vis. Paul, which Budge identifies as “The Apocalypse of Paul,” is more detailed than the version used in the body of this paper, which is taken from ANF and is a translation of the Latin version of this text with critical commentary and notes that incorporate the Syriac and Greek manuscripts of the text. The punishments of sinners detailed in the Coptic version are more gruesome and horrific than the punishments described either in the Latin version of this text or in Apoc. Pet.

33 The best way to explain the difference between these sections is to say that in section C Paul is shown paradise, whereas after his vision ends following section D, Paul actually enters paradise.

34 The structure of this section, charted in Appendix D, is divided into what Paul sees, what Paul asks, and the angel's answers, although the chart does not include the entirety of these passages.

35 Bremmer, “Christian Hell,” 302.

36 Translation of the Vision of Paul is in ANF 9:149–66.

37 In his article “Human Rights in Early Christian Perspective,” E. Glenn Hinson writes, “A superlative example [of the emphasis on charity in early Christian communities] appears in Cornelius’ report to Fabius of Antioch in 251 CE, that the Roman church, in addition to clergy, had over fifteen hundred widows and indigents on its relief rolls. . . . Nothing evoked stronger censure among early Christian writers than neglecting or demeaning the poor. . . . A Valentinian decree in 364 CE charged bishops specifically with the duty of watching out for the poor and saving them from unfair exactions” (Hinson, E. Glenn, “Human Rights in Early Christian Perspective,” in Resurrection and Responsibility: Essays on Theology, Scripture, and Ethics in Honor of Thorwald Lorenzen [ed. Dyer, Keith D. and Neville, David J.; Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2009] 164–84Google Scholar, at 173–75). Although Hinson acknowledges that Jewish communities of the early centuries CE also had organized systems of charity distribution, it was not considered as fundamental to participation in the worshipping community as it was in Christian circles.

38 Fasting, and ascetic behavior in general, was considered by many early Christians to be necessary to return to a state of pre-original sin. See Beatrice, Pier Franco, “Ascetical Fasting and Original Sin in the Early Christian Writers,” in Prayer and Spirituality in the Early Church, (ed. Allen, Pauline; Queensland, Australia: Australian Catholic University, 1998)Google Scholar 1:211–28. Himmelfarb suggests that Vis. Paul may have been written by monks, since it seems to be critical of church leadership; see Himmelfarb, Martha, The Apocalypse: A Brief History (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) 103CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Himmelfarb's theory is supported by Paul's seeing those who broke their fasts, since fasting was more popular among Christian monks than among the lay leadership. Interestingly, Hinson sees the financial protection of society's vulnerable and the popularity of fasting as responses to the same phenomenon—what he calls the “mal-distribution of wealth” (Hinson, “Human Rights,” 169). Christians responded to this “mal-distribution” either by emphasizing the redistribution of wealth to poorer members of the community, or by rejecting the material life altogether by embracing asceticism. The Vision of Paul's juxtaposition of charity and asceticism confirms Hinson's perspective that these two qualities were considered to be linked in 4th-cent. Christian communities.

39 Vis. Paul 13 (ANF 9:313); T. Ab. A 10:1–15 (OTP 1:887–8); and T. Ab. B 12:1–16 (OTP 1:901).

40 Vis. Paul 13 (ANF 9:313); T. Ab. A 10:6, 9, 11 (OTP 1:887–88); and T. Ab. B 12:1, 7, 10 (OTP 1:901).

41 Angels usher sinners into hell in Apoc. Paul 35 and 39, as well as in T. Ab. A 11:5; 12:1–3, and T. Ab. B 9:5 (OTP 1:888–89; OTP 1:899). Michael welcomes the righteous into heaven in Vis. Paul 25–27, and in both recensions of T. Ab. his mission is to bring Abraham into heaven.

42 T. Ab. A 14:6–8, 12–15 (OTP 1:891).

43 Vis. Paul 43 (ANF 9:328).

44 Vis. Paul 44 (ANF 9:328).

45 Vis. Paul 17 (ANF 9:316).

46 T. Ab. B 10:4–12 (OTP 1:900).

47 Vis. Paul 20 and T. Ab. B 11:3 (ANF 9:317; OTP 1:900). In Recension A, it is Abel who plays this role, and the description of Abel also bears similarities to the description of Enoch in Vis. Paul.

48 T. Ab. B 11:1–4 (OTP 1:900).

49 Vis. Paul 20 (ANF 9:317).

50 Gk. Apoc. Ezra 5:25 (OTP 1:577).

51 Apoc. Ab. 24:6–25:3 reads, “And I saw there fornication and those who desired it, and its defilement and their zeal; and the fire of their corruption in the lower depths of the earth. And I saw there theft and those who hasten after it, and the system of their retribution, the judgment of the great court. I saw there naked men, forehead to forehead, and their shame and the harm (they wrought) against their friends and their retribution. And I saw there desire, and in her hand (was) the head of every kind of lawlessness. . . . I saw there the likeness of the idol of jealousy, like a carpenter's figure such as my father used to make, and its body was of glittering copper” (OTP 1:701).

52 See 3 Bar. 8:5: “And I Baruch said, ‘Lord, by what are its rays defiled upon earth?’ And the angel said to me, ‘By the sight of the lawlessness and unrighteousness of men committing fornication, adultery, theft, robbery, idol-worship, drunkenness, murder, discord, jealousy, slander, murmuring, gossip, divination, and other things which are unacceptable to God.’ ” See also 13:4: “We have seen [evil men] enter into no church, nor (go) to the spiritual fathers, nor to anything good. But wherever there is murder, they are in the midst of it, and wherever there is fornication, adultery, theft, slander, perjury, envy, drunkenness, strike, jealousy, grumbling, gossip, idol worship, divination, and things similar to these. There are (with these men) works of such nature and worse” (OTP 1:673, 677, respectively). Testament of Levi 17:11 reads, “In the seventh week there will come priests: idolators, adulterers, money lovers, arrogant, lawless, voluptuaries, pederasts, those who practice bestiality” (OTP 1:794).

53 For translations of some of these medieval texts, see Kushelevsky, Rella, Moses and the Angel of Death (New York: Peter Lang, 1995) 195267Google Scholar. I include one such text in this footnote to give the reader a sample of how medieval accounts parallel T. Ab. in a way that is different from earlier midrashic parallels to T. Ab. The 12th-cent. midrash Pĕṭirat Mošeh reads, “When the day came for Moses our teacher to leave this world, the Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, ‘Your day to die is approaching.’ [Moses] said before him, ‘Master of the World: After all the toil that I have toiled, you tell me I am going to die? ‘I will not die, for I will live’’ (Ps 118:17). The Holy One, blessed be he, answered him, ‘You have had enough [life] up to this point; come and do not extend [your stay on earth]. Call Joshua and I will command him [concerning how to lead the Israelites.]’ [Moses] said to him, ‘Master of the World, for what reason am I to die? If it is on account of the honor of Joshua, let Joshua become the authority and I will stay out.’ The Holy One, blessed be he, answered [Moses], ‘And do to him as he would have done to you?’ Moses answered, ‘Yes.’ Immediately Moses agreed and followed Joshua and called him ‘Rabbi Joshua.’ Joshua became very frightened and said to [Moses], ‘You call me a rabbi?!’ Moses answered Joshua, ‘Do you want me to live and not to die?’ Joshua answered, ‘Yes.’ ”The translation of this midrash is my own. I have translated the Hebrew text found in ’Oṣar Midrāšim. Bēt ‘Ēked Lĕmātayim Midrāšim Qĕṭānim Wĕ’aggādot Uma‘aśiyot (ed. Judah D. Eisenstein; New York: Noble Offset Printers, 1990) 362–64. For more discussion on parallels between Pĕṭirat Mošeh and T. Ab., see Loewenstamm, “Testament of Abraham,” 219–25.

54 As translated by Ruth Bar-Ilan in Kushelevsky, Moses and the Angel of Death, 59–60.

55 In T. Ab. A 7:12, Abraham says to Michael, “Now I do know that you are an angel of the Lord, and you were sent to take my soul. Nevertheless, I will not by any means follow you, but you do whatever he commands.” This sort of brash challenge to God himself is absent in the midrashic account of the Angel of Death's pursuit of Moses. T. Ab. A 8 recounts Michael's return to God to ask him what to do next. In Recension B, Abraham is more respectful and compliant, saying to Michael in 7:18, “I beseech you, lord, if I am to leave my body, I want to be taken up bodily, in order that I may see the things of creation which the Lord my God created in heaven and on earth.” In Recension B 8, Michael returns to God and asks him how to answer Abraham's request. (See OTP 1:886 and 898–99, respectively.) The fact that the midrash seems to parallel Recension A more than Recension B in this part of the narrative supports the claim made on page 3 that rabbinic writers more likely had access to the oral or written tradition of Recension A.

56 A parallel account of God's hiding Moses from the Angel of Death is found in Midrash Tannaim to Deut 34:5, which reads:

Another explanation: “And Moses died there” [Deut 34:5]: Moses said before the Holy One, blessed be he: “Master of the World, although you decreed death upon me, do not give me over to the Angel of Death.” God said to him, “By your life, I will care for you and hide you [from the Angel of Death].” And the Holy One, blessed be he, showed him his place [in heaven], as he had shown Aaron, his brother. And when [Moses] saw his seat in the garden of Eden, his mind grew cold [i.e., he became fearful]. At that moment the Holy One, blessed be he, said to the Angel of Death, “Go and bring me the soul of Moses.” [The Angel of Death] went all around the world and could not find him. He went to the sea and said to him, “Have you seen Moses?” [The sea] answered him, “I have not seen him since the day that he brought Israel out from me.” He went to the mountains and hills and said to them, “Have you seen Moses?” They said to him, “We have not seen him since the day that the Torah was accepted on Mount Sinai.” [The Angel thought,] “Perhaps he is standing and praying before God that he might enter the land of Israel.” He went to the land of Israel and said to her, “Perhaps the soul of Moses is here?” She answered, “You will not find it in the land of the living” [Job 28:13]. He went to the clouds of glory and said to them “Perhaps the soul of Moses is here?” They said to him, “It has disappeared from the eyes of the living” [Job 28:21]. He went to the ministering angels and said to them, “Perhaps the soul of Moses is here?” They said to him, “From the birds [mē‘ofĕfin] of the sky it is hidden” [Job 28:21]. And these ministering angels are called mē‘ofĕfin. He went to the abyss and said to him, “Maybe the soul of Moses is here?” He said to him, “No, as it says, ‘The abyss says, “It is not in me”’” [Job 28:14]. He went to Sheol and Abaddon and said, “Have you seen Moses?” They said to him, “We have heard him [but] we have not seen him, as it says, ‘Abaddon and Death said, [“We have heard a rumor of it with our ears”]’” [Job 28:22]. . . . He went to the ministering angels and said, “Have you seen Moses?” They said to him, “He is with humankind.” He went to humankind and said to them, “Have you seen Moses?” They said to him, ‘‘God knows his path and he knows his place” [Job 28:23]. And he concealed him in the world to come, and no creation knows [where he is], as it says, “And Wisdom, where might it be found?’’ [Job 28:12–14].

This version of the tradition is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. Here God explicitly assures Moses that he will protect him from the Angel of Death's pursuit. The Angel of Death travels to more places than he does in the account in Sifrē Deuteronomy, and as in that account, these places symbolize various locations where important events occurred that impacted the destiny of the Israelites during Moses's tenure as their leader. The development of this section amplifies this midrash's high regard for Moses as a major player in the Israelites’ formative experience. Instead of going to gehenna as he does in Sifrē, the Angel of Death goes to Sheol and Abaddon. The latter, which comes from the Hebrew root ’-b-d, which means “to destroy,” should be translated as something like “the place of destruction” or “the place where negative judgment is meted out.” These two locations are, as far as I know, used interchangeably with Gehenna. The translation of this midrash is my own.

57 The dating of this midrash is widely contested, but scholars agree that its origins are early; see Strack, H. L. and Stemberger, G., Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976) 278Google Scholar.

58 Strack and Stemberger cite B. Z. Wacholder's opinion that the Mĕkhiltā’ dĕ Rabbi Ishmael originated in Egypt or somewhere in North Africa. They cite his reasoning as follows: “[The Mĕkhiltā’ dĕ Rabbi Ishmael] uses [the Babylonian Talmud] and post-Talmudic writings, invents Tannaites, and is ignorant of conditions in the Talmud period” (Strack and Stemberger, Talmud and Midrash, 278). However, Strack and Stemberger question this claim and conclude that it is impossible to determine definitively the place of origin for this midrash. Nevertheless, there is a scholarly consensus that supports the possibility that it originated in Egypt. The Egyptian origins, or at least early popularity, of Genesis Rabbāh is more definitive. Twelve manuscript fragments of this midrash have been discovered at the Cairo Genizah. Incredibly, one manuscript includes two different palimpsests. The lower script of one is dated to the 6th cent. and is a Christian Aramaic text, while the lower script of the other is a New Testament text, also dated to the 6th cent. The upper scripts are dated to the early 7th cent. (Strack and Stemberger, Talmud and Midrash, 306). These lower scripts point to a continued literary sharing between Christians and Jews during these centuries in Egypt.

59 Translation of this text is my own unless otherwise noted.

60 The translation of Gen 15:17 is taken from the NRSV.

61 Himmelfarb writes that Daniel's vision of four beasts that correspond to four kingdoms impacts the metaphor of four beasts representing kingdoms in the 1st-cent. apocalypses 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the book of Revelation (Himmelfarb, Apocalypse, 35–39).

62 Translation is mine, unless otherwise noted.

63 Translation of this line, starting from “choose without delay,” is from Jacob Neusner, Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic Commentary to the Book of Genesis (3 vols.; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) 2:142.

64 NRSV.

65 Neusner translates ‘ad hayyom hazzeh not as “until the present day,” but as until the time of the exodus, which is foretold by God in Genesis 15. According to Neusner, then, both opinions agree that Abraham was shown the future. See Neusner, Genesis Rabbah, 2:143.

66 Genesis Rabbāh 48:6 in Bereishit Rabbah (ed. Hanoch Albeck; Jerusalem: Vahrman, 1965). The translation of this passage is my own.

67 OTP 1:908–9.

68 ANF 9:304–6.

69 ANF 9:323–28.

70 Menzies notes that this section is not in the Greek or Syriac versions of this text; see ANF 9:323.

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