Abraham’s Heavenly Journey – Testament of Abraham 10- 14

Many apocalyptic texts include a heaven journey. For example, in the Book of the Watchers Enoch passes through the heavens and sees various locations. He sees the “high places” and storehouses of the earth where the rains and snows are kept. In Chapter 18 he sees the storehouse of the wind, the cornerstone of the earth, and the pillars of heaven. He also sees a “dark pit” with heavenly fire, described as a “desolate and terrible place.” Second Enoch also has a heavenly journey in which he sees the orderliness of the universe.

Image result for Abraham Bible visionIn chapter 10 Abraham’s “heavenly tour” begins. He sees various things happening all over the world, including many sinners (robbers, immorality, etc.) He asks the Lord to open the earth and swallow them up, which it does. This sort of thing reoccurs several times. We are told Abraham has never sinned, therefore he has no mercy on sinners. Michael then takes Abraham to a place where he can see two ways, a narrow way and a broad and spacious way (ch. 11). There are two gates here, one leading to the broad way, which is destruction and the other to the narrow way, which leads to life. This motif of “two ways” is common in the testament literature.

Abraham sees two terrible angels appear and drive people with fiery lashes who have entered through the broad gate. Within the broad gate Abraham sees a terrifying throne and the books open for judgment (cf. Rev 20). Abraham asks who the judge and angels are. The one seated on the throne is the “Son of Adam” – Abel, the first formed. This is an interesting use of a phrase which might be taken as “son of man” which does not refer to a messianic figure in quite the same way as 2 Baruch. At the time of the Parousia every person will be judged by the twelve tribes of Israel and will receive a judgment which cannot be changed. This eschatological outline is familiar from other apocalyptic in the pseudepigrapha, but also from the New Testament.  On either side is an angel who records either good or bad deeds.

An archangel, Purouel, holds a balance in his hand to test the works of those being judged. This angel, we are told, is in charge of the fire by which he tests the works of men. C. W. Fishburne has argued that Paul was aware of T.Abraham in his description of judgment in 1 Corinthians. The verbal parallels noted by Fishburne are fairly general and may be a reflection of a similar topic rather than Paul’s knowledge (and use) of T. Abraham.

Abraham asks about the soul in the hand of the angel in the middle of the scene (ch. 14). It is lacking one righteous deed more than its sin in order to be saved. Abraham prays for the soul, and it is saved as a result. Perhaps this added to the popularity of the Testament of Abraham in the medieval period since it implies the prayers of the righteous are effective for the dead.


Abraham’s Death- Testament of Abraham 15-20

The Bible is silent about Abraham’s death, but the Testament of Abraham includes a remarkable legend about his encounter with Death. The Lord tells Michael the archangel 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, but Abraham refuses to follow him. Death is silenced by his refusal.

Death of Abraham

Abraham 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 cannot stand to see him as he 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 the Testament of Abraham 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 more strength. Death lies, as it turns out, and Abraham immediately dies and is 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 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.