1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Testaments of the Three Patriarchs

TESTAMENTS OF THE THREE PATRIARCHS. This apocryphal work of the Hebrew Scriptures was first published by M. R. James (The Testament of Abraham, the Greek Text now first edited with an Introduction and Notes. With an appendix containing extracts from the Arabic Version of the Testaments of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by Barnes, Texts and Studies, ii. 2: Cambridge). The Greek testament of Abraham is preserved in two recensions from six and three MSS. respectively. This testament is also edited by Vassiliev in his Anecdota Graeco-Byzantina, 1893, i. 292–308 from a Vienna MS. already used by James. According to James, it was written in Egypt in the 2nd century A.D., and was translated subsequently into Slavonic (Tichonrawow, Pamjatniki otretschennoi russkoi Literaturi, 1863, i. 79–90), Rumanian (Gaster, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, 1887, ix. 195–226), Ethiopic and Arabic.

This testament deals with Abraham’s reluctance to die and the means by which his death was brought about. As regards its origin James writes (op. cit., p. 5 5); “The Testament was originally put together in the second century by a Jewish Christian: for the narrative portions he employed existing ]ewish legends, and for the apocalyptic, he drew largely on his imagination.” He holds that the book is referred to by Origen, Hom. in Luc. xxxv. With the exception of x.–xi. the work is really a legend and not an apocalypse.

To the above conclusions Schürer, Gesch. des jüd. Volkes, 3rd ed., iii. 252, takes objection. He denies the reference in Origen, and asserts that there are no grounds for the assumption of a partial Jewish origin. But the present writer cannot agree with Schürer in these criticisms, but is convinced that a large body of Jewish tradition lies behind the book. Indeed, Kohler (Jewish Quarterly Review, 1895, v. 581-606) has given adequate grounds for regarding this apocryph as in the main an independent work of Jewish origin subsequently enlarged by a few Christian additions.

An English translation of James’s texts will be found in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (Clark, 1897), pp. 185-201. The testaments of Isaac and Jacob are in part still preserved in Arabic and Ethiopic (see James, op. cit., 140-161).  (R. H. C.)