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Arboreal Metaphors and the Divine Body Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham

  • Andrei Orlov (a1)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0017816009000947
  • Published online: 01 October 2009
Abstract

The first eight chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham, a Jewish pseudepigraphon preserved solely in its Slavonic translation, deal with the early years of the hero of the faith in the house of his father Terah.1 The main plot of this section of the text revolves around the family business of manufacturing idols. Terah and his sons are portrayed as craftsmen carving religious figures out of wood, stone, gold, silver, brass, and iron. The zeal with which the family pursues its idolatrous craft suggests that the text does not view the household of Terah as just another family workshop producing religious artifacts for sale. Although the sacerdotal status of Abraham's family remains clouded in rather obscure imagery, the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse seem to envision the members of Terah's household as cultic servants whose “house” serves as a metaphor for the sanctuary polluted by idolatrous worship. From the very first lines of the apocalypse the reader learns that Abraham and Terah are involved in sacrificial rituals in temples.2 The aggadic section of the text, which narrates Terah's and Abraham's interactions with the “statues,” culminates in the destruction of the “house” along with its idols in a fire sent by God. It is possible that the Apocalypse of Abraham, which was written in the first centuries of the Common Era,3 when Jewish communities were facing a wide array of challenges including the loss of the Temple, is drawing here on familiar metaphors derived from the Book of Ezekiel, which construes idolatry as the main reason for the destruction of the terrestrial sanctuary. Like Ezekiel, the hero of the Slavonic apocalypse is allowed to behold the true place of worship, the heavenly shrine associated with the divine throne. Yet despite the fact that the Book of Ezekiel plays a significant role in shaping the Abrahamic pseudepigraphon,4 there is a curious difference between the two visionary accounts. While in Ezekiel the false idols of the perished temple are contrasted with the true form of the deity enthroned on the divine chariot, the Apocalypse of Abraham denies its hero a vision of the anthropomorphic Glory of God. When in the second part of the apocalypse Abraham travels to the upper heaven to behold the throne of God, evoking the classic Ezekielian description, he does not see any divine form on the chariot. Scholars have noted that while they preserve some features of Ezekiel's angelology, the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse appear to be carefully avoiding the anthropomorphic description of the divine Kavod, substituting references to the divine Voice.5 The common interpretation is that the Apocalypse of Abraham deliberately seeks “to exclude all reference to the human figure mentioned in Ezekiel 1.”6

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Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
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