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Monday, June 18, 2012

Chapter 67: Noncanonical - Testament of Abraham

Phenomenology of World Religions ©
Chapter 67
Testament of Abraham
This text is part of the group of Jewish scripture that is part of a group of falsely attributed works in the pseudepigrapha category, usually Jewish religious texts that were written between 200 BC to 200 AD. This and other texts of its type are not part of the canonical Bible nor is it accepted in canonical Hebrew scriptures; but appear in the Septuagint and Vulgate versions of the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles. Catholics categorize these books as Apocrypha or Apocalyptic literature and whose works were popular among early Christians, but later excluded by the Roman Catholic Church as part of the legitimate canon for various reasons. Some Apocalyptic scriptures were included among the canonical books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, and Daniel. All are in common with the themes of being prophetic scriptures.
Some pseudepigrapha texts were either discovered or produced after the final canonization of scriptures of the Hebrew Bible and before the production of the Christian canon by the Roman Catholic Church and the edition authorized by King James of England. The list is quite extensive. Some feel that the exclusion of some books was only on a decision based upon size of the canonical Bible.

E.P. Sanders – New Testament scholar, wrote:
The Testament of Abraham is a Jewish work, probably of Egyptian origin, which is generally dated to the latter part of the first century AD. It is most closely related to the Testaments of Isaac and Jacob, both of which are dependent on it. It has many themes in common with several other works, most notably 2En and 3Bar. It should not be confused with the Apocalypse of Abraham, even though the latter work also describes a heavenly tour (chapters 15-29). [Outside the Old Testament, p. 56]
In 1892, M.R. James edited the text and M. Gaster had translated the Testament of Abraham into English in the London Biblical Archeological in 1887. In 1927, G.H. Box translated the Testament of Abraham from the original Greek and published it in London as well.
The text goes into detail about Abraham and his encounter with the archangel Michael, who is identified as chief captain of God's angels in the testament. Michael becomes the mediator between God and Abraham, especially when Michael is sent to Abraham to inform him that he to ascend to heaven after a long life; but Abraham respectfully refuses to leave earthly existence at that time. Michael relays to God the words of Abraham:
Thus says your friend Abraham, I will not go with you, but do whatever you are commanded; and now, O Lord Almighty, does your glory and immortal kingdom order anything?
And God replies:
Go to my friend Abraham yet once again, and speak to him thus, Thus says the Lord your God, he that brought you into the land of promise, that blessed you above the sand of the sea and above the stars of heaven, that opened the womb of barrenness of Sarah, and granted you Isaac as the fruit of the womb in old age, Verily I say unto you that blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed, and I will give you all that you shall ask from me, for I am the Lord your God, and besides me there is no other. Tell me why you have rebelled against me, and why there is grief in you, and why you rebelled against my archangel Michael? Do you not know that all who have come from Adam and Eve have died, and that none of the prophets has escaped death? None of those that rule as kings is immortal; none of your forefathers has escaped the mystery of death. They have all died, they have all departed into Hades, they are all gathered by the sickle of death. But upon you I have not sent death, I have not suffered any deadly disease to come upon you, I have not permitted the sickle of death to meet you, I have not allowed the nets of Hades to enfold you, I have never wished you to meet with any evil. But for good comfort I have sent my chief-captain Michael to you, that you may know your departure from the world, and set your house in order, and all that belongs to you, and bless Isaac your beloved son. And now know that I have done this not wishing to grieve you. Wherefore then have you said to my chief-captain, I will not go with you? Wherefore have you spoken thus? Do you not know that if I give leave to death and he comes upon you, then I should see whether you would come or not?
In paragraph 9, Version 1, God orders that Abraham be taken into a chariot and flown high above the earth. This portion is examined by historians and those who believe that humans have been visited by extraterrestrial beings throughout the history of homo sapiens:
And the archangel Michael went down and took Abraham upon a chariot of the cherubim, and exalted him into the air of heaven, and led him upon the cloud together with sixty angels, and Abraham ascended upon the chariot over all the earth. And Abraham saw the world as it was in that day, some ploughing, others driving wains, in one place men herding flocks, and in another watching them by night, and dancing and playing and harping, in another place men striving and contending at law, elsewhere men weeping and having the dead in remembrance. He saw also the newly-wedded received with honor, and in a word he saw all things that are done in the world, both good and bad. …
And straightway there came a voice from heaven to the chief-captain, saying thus, O chief-captain Michael, command the chariot to stop, and turn Abraham away that he may not see all the earth, for if he behold all that live in wickedness, he will destroy all creation. For behold, Abraham has not sinned, and has no pity on sinners, but I have made the world, and desire not to destroy any one of them, but wait for the death of the sinner, till he be converted and live. But take Abraham up to the first gate of heaven, that he may see there the judgments and recompenses, and repent of the souls of the sinners that he has destroyed.
  1. So Michael turned the chariot and brought Abraham to the east, to the first gate of heaven; and Abraham saw two ways, the one narrow and contracted, the other broad and spacious, and there he saw two gates, the one broad on the broad way, and the other narrow on the narrow way. And outside the two gates there he saw a man sitting upon a gilded throne, and the appearance of that man was terrible, as of the Lord. And they saw many souls driven by angels and led in through the broad gate, and other souls, few in number, that were taken by the angels through the narrow gate. And when the wonderful one who sat upon the golden throne saw few entering through the narrow gate, and many entering through the broad one, straightway that wonderful one tore the hairs of his head and the sides of his beard, and threw himself on the ground from his throne, weeping and lamenting. But when he saw many souls entering through the narrow gate, then he arose from the ground and sat upon his throne in great joy, rejoicing and exulting. And Abraham asked the chief-captain, My Lord chief-captain, who is this most marvelous man, adorned with such glory, and sometimes he weeps and laments, and sometimes he rejoices and exults? The incorporeal one said: This is the first-created Adam who is in such glory, and he looks upon the world because all are born from him, and when he sees many souls going through the narrow gate, then he arises and sits upon his throne rejoicing and exulting in joy, because this narrow gate is that of the just, that leads to life, and they that enter through it go into Paradise.
By paragraph 12, Abraham is visited by “Death” - an angel of Death – and shows Abraham many wondrous and frightening things.
At the end, Abraham's soul ascends to heaven and Isaac, son of Abraham and family bury the body of his father beside his mother, Sarah, and the testament ends.
M.R. James wrote:
The Testament was originally put together in the second century by a Jewish Christian, who for the narrative portions employed existing Jewish legends, and for the apocalyptic, he drew largely on his imagination.
The Testament of Abraham is also mentioned by Origen that the work is merely legend and not an apocalypse. It is believed that the book was originally written in Greek by an author living in Egypt and this is surmised, in part, by the fact that the vocabulary in the test was used in later books that were included in the Septuagint, as well as in the three Maccabees, also written in Egypt.
While the text has some theological elements, it is thought of by most scholars as merely an entertaining story with Abraham trying to prolong his death and is finally tricked by the angel of Death into ascending to heaven. It also has elements of humor within its paragraphs.
New Advent, the Catholic Encyclopedia, published by the Vatican provides the full text of both versions and also offers it on CD.
Amazon also offers this and other related texts in book and Kindle format. …

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