The Death of Abraham – Testament of Abraham 15-20

The Lord tells Michael it is time for Abraham to return to his home so that he can make arrangements for his death. Abraham refuses to follow the angel even though he has fulfilled his request to see the whole world. Michael is forbidden to touch Abraham because he is a friend of God. The Lord calls on Death to go and collect Abraham. This “dazzling” personification of Death goes to Abraham at Mamre and tells him that he is the “bitter cup of death.” Death is so “dazzling” that Abraham does not believe him. He eventually understands this fantastic person is death, and refuses to follow him. Death is silenced by this refusal.

Image result for Abraham tentsAbraham goes back into his house and Death follows him; he lays down on his bed and Death sits at his feet. Abraham asks him again if he is Death, although he does not believe him because he is so glorious. Death tells Abraham he could not stand to see him as he really is. Abraham asks to see him, so Death obliges. Abraham is terrified to see a fiery seven-headed dragon with various frightening faces. Seven thousand servants died as a result of this display.

In chapter 18 Abraham begs death to hide himself with beauty once again. He agrees to go with Death if the servants are restored. Death agrees and (finally) Abraham rises from the earth and goes up into heaven. Abraham speaks with Death about Hades and the terrors of death.

Testament of Abraham 19.7 And Death said, “Hear, righteous Abraham, for seven ages I ravage the world and I lead everyone down into Hades—kings and rulers, rich and poor, slaves and free I send into the depth of Hades. And on this account I showed you the seven heads of the dragons. And I showed you the face of fire, since many will die burned by fire, and through the face of fire they see death.

In chapter 20 Abraham and Death discuss the possibility of an unexpected death. While there are seventy-two types of death, death always happens at the appropriate hour. Abraham bargains for more time and asks to be encircled by his family.  Isaac comes and weeps at his father’s feet. Death tells Abraham to kiss his hand and he will have a bit more strength. Death lied, as it turns out, and Abraham immediately dies and his carried by Michael and the other angels into glory.

Testament of Abraham 20.14 “Take, then, my friend Abraham into Paradise, where there are the tents of my righteous ones and (where) the mansions of my holy ones, Isaac and Jacob, are in his bosom, where there is no toil, no grief, no moaning, but peace and exultation and endless life.”

“No One Escapes Death” – Testament of Abraham 1-9

The book begins like other examples of testament literature. Abraham, now at the age of 995 years, is about to die “unexpectedly.” In this case, however, Michael comes down from heaven to Abraham at the command of God. Michael goes to Abraham and finds him at work in his field. Abraham greets him as a stranger, and the two of them walk together “high in spirits” back to Abraham’s house.

As they walked, the Lord commanded a cypress tree to cry out praise in a human voice. Abraham did not comment on this, thinking Michael had not hear the praise. They arrive at the house, and Isaac recognizes Michael and falls at his feet in worship. Isaac is blessed with a repetition of the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham washes Michael’s feet and Isaac draws water for him.

In chapter 4 Isaac is sent to fix up the guest room for Michael and to prepare the house for a guest. During the meal, Michael rises as if to go out to urinate, but in the “twinkling of an eye” he is in the presence of God. Michael wants to know if he ought to relate the news of Abraham’s death to him, but God says “my holy spirit” will reveal it to Isaac in a vision. The use of “the twinkling of an eye” for an instantaneous transition into heaven is found in 1 Cor 15:51.

Michael is to go and pretend to eat the meal with Abraham, which he does. After the meal, Isaac wishes to rest in the same room as his father and Michael, but Abraham sends him to his own room. There he has a vision of Abraham’s death. He returns to the room and weeps for his father. Michael reports that Isaac has had a dream which the family ought to hear. Sarah realizes the man is the Angel of the Lord, remembering him from the visit prior to Isaac’s birth.

In chapter 7 Abraham tells Isaac to relate the dream, which he does. His vision of the sun and moon are interpreted for Abraham by Michael as an indication Abraham is about to start his heavenly journey (which of course Michael knew already!) Abraham knows Michael is the Angel of the Lord and refuses to consent to have his soul taken. Hearing this, Michael becomes invisible and is immediately in the presence of the Lord. He once again asks for advice. God tells him to relate to Abraham that he will still keep his promise to make his name great and to ask him why he is resisting.

No one escapes death, but God did not send a normal death to kill Abraham. Rather, he sent the Angel of the Lord to collect his soul. Abraham falls to his face and confesses he is a sinner and knows he is mortal. His only request is that he see all the inhabited world before he dies. The Most High grants this request and takes Abraham on a fiery chariot of cherubim so that he might see the whole world.

What is the “Testament of Abraham”?

Image result for “Testament of Abraham”E. P. Sanders notes in his introduction to the next three testaments that they all three likely come from Greek-speaking Jewish author living in Egypt in the first or second century A.D. (OTP 1:869). They were, however, thoroughly taken over by Christians and became popular and influential books. Since there are no references to historical events in the books, they are difficult to date with precision. If the work is a translation of a Hebrew original, then it is possible to date the book as early as 200-165 B.C. (N. Turner, “The Testament of Abraham: A Study of the Original Language, Place of Origin, Authorship, and Relevance” (Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of London, 1953) 242-48).

Sanders, however, believes the work was originally Greek, and can be dated no later than A.D. 117 because of the use of this work in the Apocalypse of Peter. Two recensions of the work appear in OTP, opinion is divided as to which is the older.  The Judaism of the book is, as Sanders notes, “the lowest common denominator Judaism” (OTP 1:876).

This is a very interesting text to read and is one of the better written of the pseudepigraphal texts. It is very much an apocalypse since Abraham is taken on a heavenly tour with Michael as a guide. The final discussions with the personification of death clearly influence medieval thinking about Death (imagery, etc.).  While the parallel to 1 Cor. 3 is possible, it seems better to find a reflection of a common thinking about “judgment” behind both Paul and T. Abraham. A more fruitful area of study is the “son of Adam” imagery in chapters 12-13. At the very least, this indicates a variety in the usage of the term “son of man” which may serve as a corrective to over-interpreting the gospel’s “son of man” sayings.

Bibliography: Philip B. Munoa,  Four Powers of Heaven: The Interpretation of Daniel 7 in the Testament of Abraham. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 28. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998. C. Fishburne, “1 Co. 3:10-15 and the Testament of Abraham” NTS 17 (1970), 109-115.

The Testament of Job

Chapter 1 is a brief introduction to the book; Job gathers his family to listen to his final words. In this section we learn the names of the children of Job and that his second wife is the daughter of Dinah, making the children of Jacob. This is critical for the Jewish reader since Job is a pagan at the beginning of the story who “converts” to Judaism. “Conversion” of a great Jewish hero is a motif is a part of the Apocalypse of Abraham and Joseph and Asenath.  Chapters 2-5 describe the conversion of Job from paganism to a belief in God. The Apocalypse of Abraham, Job worships idols but wonders if they are real or not. The Lord speaks to Job and informs him he will learn great mysteries after he purges the temple of Satan. He levels the temple of the idol then returns home and bolts the door.

Image result for job william blakeIn chapters 6-8 Satan disguises himself as a beggar and comes to Job’s door. Job gives him a burnt loaf, insulting him as an enemy. This lack of hospitality toward Satan is the direct cause of Job’s torments (rather than God’s boasting, as in the biblical story) and stands in contrast to Job’s reputation for generosity (chapters 9-15 describe Job’s various kindnesses). This section also describes Job as an exceptionally talented musician (chapter 14). This is based on Job 21:12, but may also an appeal to the Hellenistic reader. As in the biblical book of Job, he loses his possessions and family. Satan is given authority to test Job (although the source of the authority is not explicit in 16:1). Chapters 16-20 expand the details of each of Job’s losses greatly.

Unlike the biblical story, we read a great deal more about Job’s wife as Sitis (chapters 21-26). This section is not unlike the book of apocryphal book of Tobit. There, Tobit is a righteous Jew living in the Assyrian captivity who is struck blind and his wife Anna is forced to work to provide for the family. In the Testament of Job, Job mourns for his loses by sitting on a dung heap for 48 years while his wife is driven by poverty to become a slave. This drives Job back to his senses, but eleven years later Sitis is still begging daily bread for Job. Satan disguises himself as a bread seller and tells Sitis that she deserved the evil which had befallen her. She sells the hair of her head for three loaves, and Satan begins to lead her heart astray.

In chapters 24 and 26 she begins to accuse Job, chapter 25 is a lament for Job’s wife. OTP 1:850 suggests this is an interpolation since it is similar to 2 Cor 6:9-11 and Titus 3:3-7 in content. It is also possible this is intended something like a Greek chorus, commenting on the attitude of Sitis. Job sees the devil standing behind his wife “unsettling her reason” for the purpose of tempting him. Job accuses the devil and he can no longer hide behind the woman. Satan was so ashamed that he leaves Job alone for three years (chapter 27).

Job is visited by three “kings” who have heard of his affliction (chapters 28-38). Like the canonical book, they are astonished at Job’s suffering and attempt to explain the reasons why he has had to endure such things. There is a great deal of lamenting alongside Job’s responses in this section, although the way in which the visitors speak is considerably different than the biblical characters. For example, Baldad closely questions Job wondering if he is “emotionally disturbed” (36:6), something which Job denies (38:1).

Sophar offers to let Job use the physicians from the three kingdoms (38:2-7). Sitis laments her children, falls on the ground in worship, and dies (chapters 39-40). We find out that Elihu was inspired by Satan (41:6) and the three kings are only forgiven for what they have said by Job’s intercessory prayer (chapter 42), although Eliphas takes the time to curse Elihu (chapter 43). Job is restored in the end and returns to the doing of good works for the poor (chapters 44-45).

As mentioned in the introduction, chapters 46-52 appear to be a later addition by a Christian editor. This section concerns Job’s three daughters who received cords or sashes from their father as an inheritance (chapters 46-47).  As each of the daughters puts on her sash, they no longer care for earthly things and they have a visionary experience. The first speaks in an angelic dialect (48:3), the second speaks in the dialect of the archons (49:2-3), and the third spoke ecstatically in the dialect of “those on high,” the cherubim (50:2-3). They all three sang hymns in these unusual languages.

Nereus, the brother of Job, wrote out these hymns (chapter 51), and afterwards Job falls ill and dies (chapter 52). When an angelic chariot descends to take Job to heaven, the three daughters greet the one in the chariot (chapter 52). The final chapter of the book is the Lament of Nereus for his dead brother (chapter 53).  While the evidence is thin, it is possible Spittler’s proposal of a Montanist addition is correct given the extreme interest in “heavenly language.” It is certainly in contrast to the sentiment of Paul who desired to speak five words in an understandable language that a ten thousand in a heavenly tongue (1 Cor. 14:18).

What is the “Testament of Job”?

Unlike the Testament of the Twelve, the Testament of Job is an independent text which has been edited by Christians, although the original text likely dates to the first century. The book takes the occasion of Job’s last words to his even sons and his three daughters, identified as Tersi, Choros, Hyon, Nike, Phoros, Phiphe, Phrouon, Hemera, Kasia, and “Amaltheia’s Horn.” These names of Job’s daughters are found in LXX Job 42:14, the names of his sons are clearly Greek. The author attempts to tie Job to the family of Abraham, claiming is from the “sons of Esau” and “your mother Dinah” (1:6).

Image result for job william blakeThe Testament of Job was most likely written in Greek during either the first century B.C. or A.D. Spittler considered it likely to have come from the Egyptian Jewish sect known as the Theraputae (OTP 1:833). Spittler’s assertion is not without opponents, as he himself admits. D. Rahenführer, for example, argues the book is a pre-Christian non-Essene text which served as a propaganda tool for missionary Hellenistic Judaism (cited by Spittler). The book may have been re-worked by a Christian writer, possibly as much as chapters 46-53 are Christian additions.

Spittler believes the book was re-worked by Montanists in the second century, especially in the second generation of that movement (OTP 1:834, see also Spittler, Testament of Job unpublished dissertation:, Ph. D. Harvard University, 1971). The value of the work for New Testament studies is limited by the uncertainty of the provenance. If the work does represent some of the ideas of the Theraputae then we have evidence of another variety of Judaism in the first century. If the book was re-worked by the Montanists, however, it may be difficult to tell the difference between Montanist and Theraputae theology. Either way, the book represents a fringe element of Judaism and / or early Christianity.

The book is listed as a “testament” in OTP, but it could just as easily have been listed as an expansion on an Old Testament book. There is a testament-like gathering of children to hear the last words of a patriarch, but the bulk of the book is an expansion of the Job story.


Bibliography:  Knibb, Michael A. and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Studies on the Testament of Job. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.  The papers from the 1986 and 1987 meetings of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas Pseudepigrapha Seminar; Spittler, Russell A. Testament of Job. Unpublished dissertation:, Ph. D. Harvard University, 1971; Spittler, “Testament of Job” in OTP 1:829-868.

Reading Acts Goes to Zambia

I leave Sunday afternoon for Zambia to participate in a pastor’s Bible conference. The conference is July 3-7 and we are expecting pastors from Zambia, Tanzania, and Malawi. There are a two theology sections and two practical theology sections. I will be teaching twelve sessions on the book of Ephesians. I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time and I am glad to finally start traveling to the conference. I expect it will be both exhausting and exhilarating.

This is the official blog for the trip, although I may post a few things here as well.

While I am gone Reading Acts will be on autopilot. I have scheduled the rest of my series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Testaments, and that will run until I return to my office in early July. I should be able to respond to comments, although I am not sure what my internet situation will be while I am in Zambia.

Evangelical Quarterly 1929-2011 Now On-Line

Evangelical Quarterly Digitisation

Rob Bradshaw at has been scanning theological journals and other resources for many years, with more than 32,000 articles available for free download. He just added Evangelical Quarterly. As Rob explains on his blog,

The Evangelical Quarterly (1929-present) represents a tremendous resource for Bible students. It contains contributions from the best of 20th Century Evangelical scholarship, including G.W. Bromiley, I. Howard Marshall and F.F. Bruce. This morning I completed the digitisation of the back-issuesa project that I have been working on for over 10 years. Paternoster Publication’s archive of this journal was destroyed in the 1990s, so a complete set of scans has been sent to the current publisher. I would like to acknowledge the assistance of a number of UK Bible College who provided copies for scanning, including Highland Theological CollegeWycliffe Hall and Tyndale House.

Just browsing the table of contents, I can see many articles which are valuable for biblical and theological studies. One thing that makes this particularly important is that Evangelical Quarterly does not appear in the ATLA database in full text PDF. I have been occasionally frustrated by finding a pertinent article in EQ then not having access through the ATLA database. This new collection solves that problem.

Most, but not all all of the articles are online in PDF format due to Paternoster’s copyright policy: after one year the copyright reverts to the author, so he must contact each of authors of the 1500+ article individually for permission. If you are copyright holder and have not given your permission, contact Rob so he can add your article to this collection.

I want to thank Rob for making this database available. If you have not used his site, certainly visit it and see what is available. Leave a donation to help keep the servers running.