Testament of Abraham

by Daniel Seay Burbage

[Daniel Burbage is a undergraduate at Wofford College in South Caroline and is spending a semester of his junior year at the University of St. Andrews.–JRD]

In the search for the origin of the Testament of Abraham one must work backwards from the present available texts to (hopefully) an original form. The main point of this abstract is to ( concisely) present three major issues that I feel “surround” this work.

The first issue in the Testament of Abraham is its two Greek forms. There is a long recension and a short recension which are made up of several Greek MSS and other versions of the work as well. For example, the long form is supported by a Rumanian version and the short is supported by a 5th century Sahidic version.

The problem is that because there are two different forms (Recensions A and B) the difficult question of which is the oldest arises. Is one an adaptation of the other or are they both separate recensions of a lost original? Personally, at this time I feel there is no real definitive answer– only a lot of contradictory opinions. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to find the origin of the Testament of Abraham. One must proceed with the present text and look at certain details such as language, coherence in form and content, and the thought process of the writers or translators of the work. One can do that by looking at a work’s style or genre.

The second issue, genre, is important to address in the Testament of Abraham. For example, in the beginning of recension A and B the reader is prepared for the death and testament of Abraham. However, Abraham refuses to accept death and make his last testament. As a result, the Testament of Abraham is a non-testament testament. So, what point is the author trying to make in his use of the character of Abraham? I feel that his refusing death and then getting his wish granted to see his people leads up to the the theme of the story. This work actually teaches a lesson. By Abraham’s condemnation of the sinners and his awareness of his sin through praying for the dead the character of the righteous, hospitable Abraham is used as a way to teach a lesson–that it is wrong to cause the death of a sinner no matter how righteous you are.

The third issue is comparisons and contrasts between Abrahamic traditions of both Jewish and Christian literature and of those found in the Testament of Abraham. By looking at works such as Paul and John and even Josephus and Philo one can compare them in order to look for similar themes that might give some clue in finding the original.

In conclusion, the Testament of Abraham tells two stories. B is a version that is less wordy and more “primitive” in language but lacks the genre of A. I would like to pose the question why do we have to only concentrate on which recension is older? Why can’t the critic use the present text and compare and contrast its genres as well as compare and contrast its themes with those of similar works whose date is know. When we look at the problem at whole and not just at the recensional problem, I feel we will be able to come a little closer in shedding light on the origins of this work. But, we must go through this type of process or the question of the Testament of Abraham’s origin will never be answered.

(c) 1999  Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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