Monday, March 12, 2007

Summary of Friday 9th March Class (The Apocalypse of Abraham)

Our session on Friday involved a presentation by one of our students on The Apocalypse of Abraham, followed by a discussion of the paper and of the issues it raised.

The paper explored several interwoven themes relating to this problematic text:

1) How does the text relate to the national fortunes of the Jewish people, specifically the destruction of the Second Temple?
2) How are the themes of monotheism and the appropriate worship of God developed within the text and how might this relate to the choice of Abraham as the central figure in the apocalypse?
3) How do the above issues relate to the question of authorship and date of composition? Do they require a Jewish authorship and a date soon after the fall of the Second Temple?

The discussion afterward raised a number of interesting issues. We explored some of the connections between the apocalypse and Muslim traditions found in the Qu’ran. We also discussed at some length the question of whether the alleged Hebraisms in the text carry any probative value for establishing whether the text was originally composed in Hebrew. Dr. Davila and I are rather sceptical about this: most, if not all, can be explained on the basis of the influence of Greek translations of biblical narrative. Leading on from this, much of our conversation concerned whether the evidence really requires a Jewish authorship. If we start with the manuscript evidence—and we only have late Slavonic mss.—we can only argue for dates of composition that precede this historical context if elements of the text cannot be accounted for therein. So, only if elements of the text are inexplicable in a Slavic context can we push back towards a putative Jewish original. We discussed at some length what might constitute such evidence. I suggested that the presence of Azazel as the villain of the piece may be one fruitful line of enquiry: Christian texts tend to use Satan as the main figure of evil and in the Slavonic context, especially among the Bogomils, Satan (or Satanael) tends to displace other figures.

We also discussed the difficult passage found in chapter 29, a section of the text with numerous internal contradictions. The student paper provided a helpful examination of this passage, which tends to be read as a Christian interpolation, raising the possibility that it belonged to the original layer of the apocalypse and that a Christian author altered it in a more "Christological" direction. This theory would be most compatible with a Jewish authorship, of course, and scholars who have advocated it have tended to assume that the apocalypse was originally Jewish.

The discussion, then, highlighted that the question of whether the text is Jewish may not be quite as well-settled as many scholars claim. All in all, it was a very good session and the student paper opened up the questions admirably.