The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament/Abraham


Of Abraham a word must be said. The lists give us the name of Abraham simply, and Nicephorus attaches to it the number of 300 lines; the MSS. also read 1300 and 3300, but 300 is best supported. The Apostolic Constitutions mention apocryphal writings under the names of the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob); Epiphanius says that the Sethians used an Apocalypse of Abraham which was "full of all manner of wickedness," and Origen gives something like a quotation from an Abrahamic book, in these terms (on Luke, Hom. 35): "We read—at least if any one likes to accept a writing of the kind—of the angels of righteousness and of iniquity disputing over the salvation or perdition of Abraham, each band wishing to claim him for its own company." He then refers to a passage in the Shepherd of Hermas. We have these Homilies on Luke only in a Latin version, and I have little doubt that the original of this passage was fuller—apocryphal quotations being apt to be slurred over, if not wholly expunged, by orthodox fourth-century translators. I also suspect that the point of the quotation has been spoilt, and that it was not Abraham's soul, but another, about whom the angels disputed.

Passing from these three references to extant literature, we find two Abraham books, one called an Apocalypse, the other a Testament, of Abraham. The Apocalypse exists only in Slavonic: it is accessible in a translation recently issued by the S.P.C.K., and is of considerable antiquity and great interest. The Testament exists in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, Slavonic, Roumanian, and was edited by me in 1892.[1] All the texts of it have been more or less tampered with. The plurality of versions and revisions is in favour of the book's antiquity, and it does contain an episode which might be identified with that of Origen's quotation. The Apocalypse does not. We have seen, moreoever, that books of the Three Patriarchs are mentioned in the fourth century: and the Testaments of Isaac and Jacob, especially that of Isaac, have undoubtedly quite ancient elements. With them this, of Abraham, is found in Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic.

So I think the Testament represents an early book, and am sure that the Apocalypse is early. Which of them is the text meant in the lists I will not undertake to say. They do not differ in length so much that we can decide from the stichometry.

  1. A translation of the Coptic of the Testaments of the Three Patriarchs is promised by Mr. Gaselee for the present series.