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 likely come from Greek-speaking Jewish authors 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(N. Turner, “The Testament of Abraham: A Study of the Original Language, Place of Origin, Authorship, and Relevance,” Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of London, 1953; 242-48). So What is the “Testament of Abraham”?

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 and one of the better-written pseudepigraphical texts. It is 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 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.

4 thoughts on “What is the “Testament of Abraham”?

  1. Thank you for your work in summarizing and expounding these pseudepigraphal texts.
    I have a slightly off-topic question for you regarding the Fourth Book of Ezra. OTP’s introduction informs us that a Christian author or authors added the first two and last two chapters of the book (at least of the book as it stands in the text printed in OTP). I am wondering if there has been any further discussion on whether the middle portions of Fourth Ezra contain Christian additions or redactions. It seems to me that chapters 10, 11, and 12 contain what could be allusions to New Testament writings. Do you have any insight on this matter?



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