Aniconism of the Celestial Temple: Abode of the Divine Voice

Andrei Orlov
Kelly Chair in Theology and Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University. View Entries

Aniconism of the Celestial Temple: Abode of the Divine Voice

The first chapter of our study explored the anti-anthropomorphic polemics found in the initial chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham. There we witness a set of the elaborate depictions of the anthropomorphic statues that vividly illustrate the futility of idolatry, at the same time helping to unfold the authors’ polemical stand against with the divine body traditions. Although the second, apocalyptic, part of the text also demonstrates an intense presence of such polemics, the symbolic expression of this polemical strategy is strikingly different. The second section of the pseudepigraphon brings the reader into a different symbolic world, one filled with the details of the patriarch’s celestial trip and his encounters with the various spiritual beings – angelic, demonic, and divine. Thus, the polemical thrust of this part of the Slavonic apocalypse unfolds, in the main, apophatically, through the peculiar depictions of the celestial beings stripped of their usual anthropomorphic attributes.

In this respect some details of Abraham’s heavenly journey depart significantly from the mainstream Second Temple apocalyptic accounts. In the work’s elaborate description of the patriarch’s spectacular visitation of an upper realm, which depicts Abraham’s initiation into the heavenly mysteries, important details often found in other apocalyptic texts are missing. The authors of the Slavonic work seem deliberately to eschew anthropomorphic depictions of the Deity and angels that often mark climatic points in other early Jewish apocalyptic accounts. This reluctance to endorse traditions of the celestial anthropomorphic forms appears to be quite unusual, given that other features of this portion of the pseudepigraphon exhibit explicit allusions to motifs and themes of the Merkabah tradition. It has been already mentioned that several distinguished scholars of early Jewish mysticism have noted that the Apocalypse of Abraham might represent one of the earliest specimens of Merkabah mysticism, the Jewish tradition in which the divine form imagery receives some of its most advanced articulation. Yet despite many suggestive allusions in their depiction of the heavenly realities, the authors of the Apocalypse of Abraham appear very reluctant to endorse one of the most crucial tenets in the divine chariot lore: the anthropomorphic depiction of the Glory of God. The reluctance is particularly puzzling in view of the close similarities in angelological imagery that the Apocalypse of Abraham shares with the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel. And this initial vision in Ezekiel is the formative account of the Merkabah tradition, where the ideology of the divine form looms large.

As has been noted already, the seer’s vision of the divine throne found in the Apocalypse of Abraham relies significantly on Ezekiel’s account and stands in direct continuity with Merkabah tradition.1 At the same time, however, scholars observe that the Slavonic pseudepigraphon departs from the overt anthropomorphism of this prophetic book. Christopher Rowland, for example, contends that the shift from anthropomorphism is apparent in the portrayal of the divine throne in chapter 18 of the Apocalypse of Abraham.2 Notwithstanding the many allusions to Ezekiel 1 in the depiction of the throne room in chapters 18 and 19 of the Apocalypse of Abraham, Rowland highlights a radical paradigm shift in the text’s description of the Deity, noting “a deliberate attempt… to exclude all reference to the human figure mentioned in Ezek 1.”3 For Rowland this shift implies that “there was a definite trend within apocalyptic thought away from the direct description of God….”4

These observations about anti-anthropomorphic tendencies of the Slavonic apocalypse are intriguing and deserve further investigation. Even a cursory look at the text reveals that, despite an extensive appropriation of visionary motifs and themes, the authors appears to be avoiding anthropomorphic depictions of the Deity, as well as other celestial beings.5 This tendency leads to the creation of a new apocalyptic imagery that combines traditional and novel elements. This chapter of our study will investigate these new conceptual developments in the Apocalypse of Abraham and seek to understand their place in the larger sacerdotal vision of the Slavonic pseudepigraphon.

Biblical Background of the Shem Tradition

Our previous investigation demonstrated that the first eight chapters of the pseudepigraphon take the form of a midrash and recount the early years of Abraham, who is depicted as reluctantly helping his idolatrous father Terah. The concepts developed in this section of the work, especially the depictions of the idolatrous statues, play an important role in the work’s overall reaction against an anthropomorphic understanding of God. Given the broader extra-biblical context of Abraham’s biography – to wit, his role resisting the idolatrous practices of his father Terah – the work’s authors seem to be appropriating the patriarch’s story for their anti-corporeal agenda. One can detect subtle polemics with the divine body traditions in the depictions of the idol Bar-Eshath and Mar-Umath, whose features are vividly reminiscent of the anthropomorphic portrayals of the Deity and other celestial beings in Ezekiel and in other biblical and pseudepigraphical accounts. We already discussed in detail the scope and nature of these anti-anthropomorphic developments.

We now turn to the second, apocalyptic section of the Apocalypse of Abraham to continue the ongoing inquiry into its anti-anthropomorphic tendencies and their sacerdotal significance. The second portion of the Slavonic pseudepigraphon takes the form of a visionary account, and it deals with celestial and eschatological revelations given to Abraham after he openly renounces idolatry.

One of the important features of this section of the text is the authors’ apparent anti-anthropomorphic attitude, as it is reflected in their peculiar portrayals of the Deity and the heavenly hosts in chapters 8-19. It must be granted that the apocalyptic imagery found in this portion of the pseudepigraphon apparently stems from the theophanic paradigm of the early Merkabah speculations, similar to those found in Ezekiel 1, 1 Enoch 14,6 and the Exagoge of Ezekiel the Tragedian. Nonetheless, the authors of the Slavonic text exhibit consistent efforts to re-fashion this traditional theophanic imagery in accordance with a new anti-anthropomorphic template that insists on expressing the divine presence in the form of the Deity’s Voice.7 In his comparative analysis of the accounts from Ezekiel and the Apocalypse of Abraham, Christopher Rowland notes that, while preserving the angelology of Ezekiel’s account, the author of the Slavonic apocalypse carefully avoids anthropomorphic descriptions of the Kavod, substituting them with references to the divine Voice.

These anti-anthropomorphic tendencies can be observed already in the very beginning of the apocalyptic section of the work. The very first manifestation of the Deity to the seer is found in chapter 8, and it takes the form of a theophany of the divine Voice, depicted as coming from heaven in a stream of fire.8 This peculiar expression of the Deity as the voice erupting in a fiery stream will subsequently become a customary theophanic expression, which appears multiple times in the apocalypse, including the climatic account of the revelation given to Abraham in the seventh firmament. There in his vision of the throne room, which evokes memories of Ezekelian ideology, Abraham sees the Deity’s formless voice, not the human-like form of God.

This tendency to substitute the anthropomorphic depiction of the Deity with expressions of the divine Voice or Name is, of course, not a novel development of the Apocalypse of Abraham, but a specimen of the long-lasting tradition whose roots can be found already in the biblical materials.

The Hebrew Bible reveals complicated polemics for and against an anthropomorphic understanding of God. Scholars argue that the anthropomorphic imagery found in biblical materials was “crystallized” in the Israelite priestly ideology, known to us as the Priestly source. Moshe Weinfeld points out that the theology of worship delineated in the Priestly source depicts God in “the most tangible corporeal similitudes.”9 In the Priestly tradition God is understood to have created humanity in his own image (Gen. 1:27) and is thus frequently described as possessing a human-like form.10 Scholars have shown that the anthropomorphism of the priestly authors appears to be intimately connected with the place of divine habitation – the Deity possesses a human form and needs to reside in a house or tabernacle.11 Weinfeld argues that the anthropomorphic position was not entirely an invention of the Priestly tradition, but derived from early pre-exilic sacral conceptions about divine corporeal manifestations found in Mesopotamian literature.12 Scholars observe that the priestly understanding of the corporeal representation of the Deity finds its clearest expression in the conception of the “Glory of the Lord” (כבוד יהוה).13 This conception is always expressed in the Priestly tradition in the symbolism grounded in mythological corporeal imagery.14 One of the paradigmatic accounts of the portrayal of the divine Kavod can be found in the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel, which amounts to a manifesto of the Priestly corporeal ideology. There the Kavod is portrayed as an enthroned human form enveloped by fire.15

While containing forceful anthropomorphic ideologies, the Hebrew Bible also attests polemical narratives contesting the corporeal depictions of the Deity. Scholars have long noted a sharp opposition of the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic school to early anthropomorphic developments. In fact, the Deuteronomic school is widely thought to have initiated the polemic against the anthropomorphic and corporeal conceptions of the Deity, which were subsequently adopted by the prophets Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah.16 Seeking to dislodge ancient anthropomorphism, the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic school promulgated an anti-corporeal theology of the divine Name with its conception of the sanctuary or tabernacle as the exclusive dwelling abode of God’s Name.17 Gerhard von Rad argues that the Deuteronomic formula, “to cause his name to dwell” (לשכן שמו), advocates a new understanding of the Deity that challenges the popular ancient belief that God actually dwells within the sanctuary.18 It is noteworthy that, while the Deuteronomic Shem ideology does not completely abandon the terminology pertaining to the concept of the divine Glory (Kavod), 19 it markedly empties it of any corporeal motifs. Weinfeld observes that “the expression כבוד, when occurring in Deuteronomy, does not denote the being and substantiality of God as it does in the earlier sources but his splendor and greatness,” signifying “abstract and not corporeal qualities.”20

One of the early examples of the polemical interaction between the corporeal ideology of the divine form (Kavod) or, what amounts to the same thing, the divine Face (Panim), and the incorporeal theology of the divine Name is possibly seen in Exodus 33, where upon Moses’ plea to behold the divine Kavod, the Deity offers an aural alternative by promising to reveal his Name to the seer:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence…but,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

This account appears to highlight the opposition between visual and aural revelations: the Deity is encountered not only through the form but also through sound. One mode of revelation often comes at the expense of the other – the idea hinted at in Exodus 33 and articulated more explicitly in Deut 4, “You heard the sound of words, but saw no form (תמונה).” Scholars point to a paradigm shift in Deuteronomy’s move from the visual to the aural.21 In this new, theo-aural, as opposed to theo-phanic, understanding, even God’s revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19, a seminal event for the visual anthropomorphic paradigm, is now reinterpreted along aural lines. Deuteronomy 4:36 describes the Sinai theophany as hearing of the divine Voice: “Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you; and on earth he let you see his great fire and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.” Here the revelation is received not in the form of tablets, the medium that might implicitly underline the corporeality of the Deity; rather “the commandments were heard from out of the midst of the fire … uttered by the Deity from heaven.”22 This transcendent nature of the Deity’s revelation, which now chooses to manifest itself as the formless voice in the fire, eliminates any need for its corporal representation in the form of the anthropomorphic glory of God.

The depiction of God’s activity and presence as the voice in the fire thus becomes one of the distinctive features of the Shem theology.23 The classic example of this imagery occurs in the account of God’s appearance to Elijah on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19:11-13:

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This passage is vividly similar to the description found in chapter eight of the Apocalypse of Abraham, where the Deity is described as “the voice of the Mighty One coming down from the heavens in a stream of fire.” And although in the account found in 1 Kings 19 the fire is not mentioned directly, the fiery nature of the divine Voice is implicitly affirmed through the portrayal of the seer wrapping his face in a mantle. He must shield himself from the dangerous nature of an encounter with the divine Voice.

The Voice of the Mighty One

Keeping in mind the aforementioned biblical specimens relating to the Kavod and the Shem conceptual developments, we will next examine the imagery of the divine presence in the Apocalypse of Abraham.

Depictions of theophanies of the divine Voice in the Apocalypse of Abraham reveal marked similarities with the traditions in Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic materials.24 Already in chapter eight, which marks a transition to the apocalyptic section of the work and narrates the patriarch’s response to the divine call in the courtyard of Terah’s house, the divine presence is depicted as “the voice of the Mighty One” coming down in a stream of fire.25 Rather than coming via some angelic or divine form, God’s self-disclosure comes in the formless “voice” (Slav. глас), and this becomes a standard description adopted by the author(s) to convey manifestations of the Deity.26

The divine Voice appears continually in the narrative. Notably, in Apocalypse of Abramham 9:1 the Voice of “the primordial and mighty God” commands Abraham to bring sacrifices, and in chapter 10 it appoints the angel Yahoel as a celestial guide of the exalted patriarch.27

Similar to the developments in the Kavod tradition, the aural expression of the Deity evokes veneration. The epiphany of the divine Voice is repeatedly accompanied by veneration from the seer, in a fashion that recalls veneration of the Kavod in the apocalyptic visionary accounts. Thus, in the dramatic portrayal of Abraham’s aural encounter with the Deity in Apocalypse of Abraham 10:1-3, his spirit is said to have been frightened,28 his soul to have fled him, and he “became like a stone (быхъ яко камыкъ), and fell down upon the earth (и падохъ [яко] ниць на земли).”29

It is not novel for a prophet to be veritably transformed when encountering divinity. Indeed, it is customarily found in theophanic narratives as early as the Book of Ezekiel, which depicts Ezekiel falling prostrate while approaching the Glory of God.30 There is, however, a significant difference between these two apocalyptic traditions. In the Apocalypse of Abraham, the visionary’s prostration occurs not before the divine form but before the divine Voice. Veneration of the divine sound can be found in other parts of the text, too. Not only Abraham but also his celestial companion, Yahoel, is depicted as worshiping an aural manifestation of the divine:

And while he was still speaking, behold, a fire was coming toward us round about, and a sound was in the fire like a sound of many waters, like a sound of the sea in its uproar. And the angel bowed with me and worshiped (и покляче съ мною ангелъ и поклонися). (Apoc. Ab. 17:1-2)31

The symbolism of fire paradoxically juxtaposed with water – “in the fire like a sound of many waters” – underscores the voice’s significance by bringing together a cluster of familiar theophanic markers.

Ascent through the Song: Spatial Dynamics of the Aural Mysticism

Throughout the second part of the work, there seems to be a peculiar emphasis on the aural revelation of God. Arguably, the text is dictating spatial aesthetics that strikingly differs from that of the visual paradigm. They permeate various symbolic features of the narrative and profoundly affect traditional apocalyptic imagery.

The spatial dynamics of the Slavonic apocalypse has puzzled generations of scholars. They often reflected on the unusual setup of the heavens found in the text and the peculiarities of the seer’s ascent to the throne of God.32 Abraham’s entrance into the divine realm unfolds in chapters 15 and 17. There the readers encounter intense liturgical traditions that emphasize the routine of prayer and praise. The aural praxis of the patriarch and his celestial guide reaches an important conceptual pinnacle there, demonstrating the decisive power of prayer in breaching the boundaries between heaven and earth.

Intriguingly, the work gives scant details about Abraham’s ascent through various heavens. On the contrary, in the Slavonic apocalypse the seer achieves immediate access to the upper region of heaven through his recitation of a hymn. This could be quite puzzling for a reader accustomed to the visual Kavod paradigm, with its attention to the details of the various levels of heaven, each one containing symbolic content all its own. Indeed, the apocalyptic narratives of the Kavod paradigm often stress the importance of “structured” space by demonstrating the gradual progress of its visionaries through the various echelons of heaven. The progression implicitly underlines the ideology of the divine form, since the heavens are understood as a structured house for the Deity’s form.

In view of these conceptual peculiarities of the Kavod paradigm, it is not coincidental that in the rival aural framework of the Apocalypse of Abraham, the long song of Abraham in chapter 17 – the aural medium of the patriarch’s ascension – serves as a striking alternative to the usual ascent-through-heavens pattern. It is not happenstance, therefore, that in the Apocalypse of Abraham the references to levels of heaven will appear only after the patriarch’s arrives at God’s abode, during his “vision” of primordial and eschatological events. This is when he is allowed to “behold” the structure of the heavens during the Deity’s revelation. Yet, it is interesting that the content of this visual revelation is largely negative, as it is filled with an array of ominous markers – events and characters responsible for corruption of creation and humanity, including disclosures about the abode of Leviathan, Azazel’s corruption of the protoplasts and the defilement of the earthly temple by idolatry. Keeping in mind these conceptual developments we should direct our attention to the song of Abraham, which plays such important role in the patriarch’s transition from the lower to the upper realm.

Scholars have noted that this song not only assists the seer in overcoming the fiery obstacles and fear of ascending into the dwelling place of God – it actually serves as a medium of ascent. Thus, Martha Himmelfarb has suggested that “the Apocalypse of Abraham treats the song sung by the visionary as part of the means of achieving ascent rather than simply as a sign of having achieved angelic status after ascent.”33 However, though scholars have often noted the role of the song as the medium of Abraham’s ascent, they have less often noted the uniqueness of this heavenly journey. There is a striking absence of the customary progress through the heavens as the seer travels to the divine abode. Yet it appears that the absence of any level-by-level ascent in the Slavonic apocalypse has an important conceptual significance. It emphasizes aural revelation, a tendency which attempts to substitute the traditional visual topology with its aural counterpart. It is quite possible that Abraham’s song stands at the crux of the rival aural paradigm, challenging that of the Kavod theophanic trend.

In this respect it is not coincidental that the song of Abraham disrupts the normative spatial dynamics, and therefore leads to the collapse of the previous topological order, which in the text coincides with the beginning of the song.34 Thus, in Apocalypse of Abraham 17:3, immediately before Abraham ascends by means of the song, the visionary reports unusual changes affecting the spatial features of his surroundings.35 When Abraham tries to prostrate himself, as is his wont, he suddenly notices that the surface escapes his knees: “And I wanted to fall face down to the earth. And the place of elevation on which we both stood <sometimes was on high,> sometimes rolled down.36 This reference to the collapse of the spatial arrangement is then supported by further remarks from Abraham. A couple of verses later in the Apocalypse of Abraham 17:5, the visionary reflects again on his unusual spatial situation: “Since there was no earth to fall to, I only bowed down and recited the song which he had taught me.”37 All of a sudden, there is no ground beneath Abraham’s feet.

The accompanying angel’s behavior during the ascension is also noteworthy. In Jewish apocalyptic accounts an angelus interpres normally serves as an important figure who affirms the traditional setting of the celestial topology. Thus, during the progress of a visionary the interpreting angel usually assists the visionary by explaining the contents of various heavens, gradually leading the seer through the divisions of the heavenly space.

But in the aural paradigm of the Slavonic apocalypse, the customary role of an angelus interpres undergoes some striking revisions. Yahoel, instead of showing and explaining the contents of various levels of heaven, prefers to teach him how to be attentive to the aural means of ascent by urging the seer to participate fully in aural practices.38 The apocalypse unveils his repeated insistence on the details of a new ascending routine: “And he [Yahoel] said, ‘Only worship, Abraham, and recite the song which I taught you.’ And he said, ‘Recite without ceasing.’”39 Here the aural theurgical praxis might in itself serve as the substance of the heavenly reality. The divine presence is literally invoked or constituted by a visionary through his actions. In this framework the practitioner himself must be initiated in the peculiar aural enterprise before he encounters the divine manifestation. In this respect Rowland and Morray-Jones remind us that “it may be no coincidence that we are told that Abraham learnt to recite [the song] before he came into the presence of God….”40 If the content of the practitioner’s praise is somehow connected with the aforementioned practice of the invocation of the deity, then the content of the song uttered by Abraham appears also to be noteworthy, especially its first part which is filled with names and attributes.41

Divine names and attributes here, like in later Jewish mysticism,42 not only serve as a sort of aural pass – representing the means by which the visionary can enter the divine realm – they also serve as the building blocks of the divine reality itself. Often, calling on the Deity brings together a cluster of motifs common to creation accounts, in which God himself calls the universe into existence. For this reason, it is noteworthy that the song of the patriarch contains references to the theme of creation. Moreover, it underlines the aural communication between the Creator and His creation.43 Because of his invocation, Abraham is transported to the highest point of the heavenly realm, God’s dwelling place, without encountering any elements to be expected, given other visionary accounts.

The seer’s behavior in the throne room is also noteworthy. One of the features that catches the eye here is that Abraham, upon his arrival to the divine realm, first hears the divine Voice, and only then returns to the spatial dynamics typical of the visionary paradigm as he sees the realities of the throne room, such as the fiery seat of the Deity and its angelic wheels:

<And> while I was still reciting the song, the edge of the fire which was on the expanse rose up on high. And I heard a voice like the roaring of the sea, and it did not cease because of the fire. And as the fire rose up, soaring higher, I saw under the fire a throne [made] of fire and the many-eyed Wheels …44

Scholars previously noted that here, “like the chants of the Merkabah literature, Abraham’s hymn appears to have the force of bringing on the vision of the divine throne.”45 The aural and visual co-exist, and this stands at the heart of the apocalyptic enterprise.

A reminder is in order here. The symbol of fire plays a paramount role during the aural ascent of the seer and his angelic companion. As we remember, the beginning of the celestial journey of Abraham and Yahoel is depicted as an entrance into fire.46 Thus, in Apocalypse of Abraham 17:1 the seer reports this fiery ordeal:

And the angel took me with his right hand and set me on the right wing of the pigeon and he himself sat on the left wing of the turtledove, since they both were neither slaughtered nor divided. And he carried me up to the edge of the fiery flame.47

Later, in Apocalypse of Abraham 17:1, immediately before his ascent, Abraham again mentions approaching fire. This time fire envelops him and the great angel: “And while he was still speaking, behold, a fire was coming toward us round about, and a sound was in the fire like a sound of many waters, like a sound of the sea in its uproar.”48 The end of ascent, too, is highlighted through the similar imagery: “<And> while I was still reciting the song, the edge of the fire which was on the expanse rose up on high.”49

It appears that in the Slavonic apocalypse the symbolism of fire serves as an important aural marker, reminding the reader of the aural theophanic manifestation of the deity – that is, the Voice in the midst of fire, which Abraham encountered already at his initiation. The fire here is the substance of God’s dwelling place, surrounding the presence of the Deity. The visionary and his celestial guide step into the divine realm when they become enveloped by the fiery substance.

Already in chapter 17 the seer’s progress to the upper heaven is described as immersion into fire mixed with the theophanic voice. Thus, Abraham’s transition into a fiery manifestation of God helps to solidify the main conceptual tenets of the aural ideology of the Slavonic apocalypse.

At the outset of this section, we discussed the unusual imagery of the patriarch’s immediate access to heaven through the aural medium of the song. This symbolism is reiterated at the end of Abraham’s vision, when he is returned at once to earth.50 Apocalypse of Abraham 30:1 reads:

And while he was still speaking, I found myself on the earth, and I said, “Eternal, Mighty One, I am no longer in the glory in which I was above, but what my soul desired to understand I do not understand in my heart.”51

It is interesting that here, as in his paradoxical ascent, Abraham’s return to earth has an aural accompaniment. But now it is not a song performed by Abraham, but the utterance of the divine Voice.

The Singer of the Eternal One

It is important not to underestimate the role of Abraham’s celestial guide in the theological framework of the Slavonic apocalypse. Indeed, Yahoel is a decisive symbol within the overarching theological thrust of the pseudepigraphon. The Apocalypse of Abraham defines him as the mediation of “my [God’s] ineffable name (неизрекомаго имени моего).”52 Even apart from this explanation of the guide’s spectacular office, the peculiar designation “Yahoel” (Slav. Иаоиль) itself unequivocally reveals the angel as the representation of the divine Name. Since this work has similarities with the Deuteronomic Shem theology, it is no coincidence that the angelic guide is introduced as “the Angel of the Name.” Many have noted the significant role the Angel of the Name (or the Angel of YHWH) plays in the conceptual framework of Shem ideologies. According to one hypothesis, the Angel of the Lord (or the Angel of the divine Name) in Exodus constituted one of the conceptual roots of the Shem theology. Tryggve Mettinger observes: “it appears that when the Deuteronomistic theologians chose shem, they seized on a term which was already connected with the idea of God’s presence. Exod 23:21 tells us how God warned Israel during her wanderings in the desert to respect his angel and obey his voice, ‘for my name in him.’”53

Yahoel is both a manifestation and a non-manifestation of the divine Name.54 He is a paradoxical figure, at once reaffirming the divine presence through mediation of the Tetragrammaton and challenging its overt veneration.55 This ambiguity in his mediatorial role of the divine presence is very similar to the role the angel Metatron will later play in the Merkabah tradition. In that tradition, Metatron represents not only the divine Name but also the form of the Deity, his Shicur Qomah.56 In this capacity the great angel finds himself in an awkward position. He becomes a stumbling block for the infamous visionary of the Talmud, Elisha b. Abuyah who in b. Hag. 15a takes Metatron as the second deity in heaven. Yet in both accounts (talmudic and pseudepigraphical) the difference between the Deity and his angelic manifestation is properly reaffirmed. In the Apocalypse of Abraham, Yahoel prevents Abraham from venerating him by putting the patriarch on his feet. In b. Hag. 15a, the distance between the Deity and his vice-regent, Metatron, is reaffirmed even more radically. The supreme angel is publicly punished in front of celestial hosts with sixty fiery lashes to prevent any future confusion between the Deity and his angelic representative. Despite these reaffirmations, however, the boundaries between God and his angelic manifestation, his Shicur Qomah, are somewhat ambiguous. The paradoxical nature of this angelic mediation of the divine Name is hinted at in the Apocalypse of Abraham through the depiction of Yahoel delivering a prayer to the Deity, a hymn that now paradoxically includes his own name, “Yahoel.”57

Theurgical Means: Ascension with the Name

In our study we have already mentioned the curious presence of the divine names and attributes invoked in Abraham’s song during his ascent. While these names might be envisioned as the theurgical means of ascent, another important detail of the narrative must be mentioned. The aural ideology of the text takes a new step when it depicts the angelic companion of the patriarch, Yahoel, as the embodiment of the divine Name. Here one can see the important development of the “embodied” theurgy. The divine Name becomes not simply the aural medium of the transition to the upper realm; it becomes the angelic mediator who leads the seer into heaven.

Abraham’s transition to the upper realm accompanied by the embodied Name provides a conceptual framework for future Jewish mystical developments, in which visionaries are transposed to the upper realm by the means of the divine Name. Ithamar Gruenwald underscores the formative value of this imagery. He brings attention to the depiction of the divine Voice ordering Yahoel to raise Abraham to heaven “by means of the ineffable name.” Gruenwald observes that this practice of speaking out holy names in order to bring about a mystical experience is well known from the later testimonies reflected in the Hekhalot literature. He also directs attention to Rashi’s commentary in b. Hag. 14b about the four visionaries who entered the Pardes. Rashi suggests that the heroes of this story ascended to heaven by means of a name.58

In this context it is important not only that Abraham’s guiding angel is a representation of the divine Name, but that it is he who teaches the seer a hymn containing the cluster of divine names59 which allow him to ascend into heaven. In the Apocalypse of Abraham, theurgical practices are executed by various means, and this underlines the complexity of the mystical aural universe of the text.

Praxis of the Voice

The identification of divine manifestation with the voice or sound in the Apocalypse of Abraham highlights the importance of praise as a parallel process of the aural expression of creation in relation to its Creator. Also, the authors of the text seem to view praising God as a mystical act that in many ways mirrors the significance of a vision within the Kavod paradigm. In the Shem paradigm, an aural invocation of God actualizes his presence.60 By invoking the Deity (or more precisely the divine Name) in praise, the practitioner brings the Deity into existence metaphorically speaking,61 summoning him from non-being into being, thus replicating the prototypical event of creation recounted in Genesis 1, where God himself brings everything into being by invoking the divine Name.62

Time and again the angel Yahoel serves as a faithful guide of this mystical praxis of praise. The text defines him as the Singer of the Eternal One (Apoc. Ab. 12:4). He is exceptional both as a practitioner and as an instructor of this aural mysticism, conveying the teachings of the praxis to many of God’s creatures, earthly as well as celestial. In Apocalypse of Abraham 10:8-9 he is described as the celestial choirmaster of the Hayyot:

I am a power in the midst of the Ineffable who put together his names in me. I am appointed according to his commandment to reconcile the rivalries of the Living Creatures of the Cherubim against one another, and teach those who bear him [to sing] the song in the middle of man’s night, at the seventh hour (Apoc. Ab. 10:8-9).63

This role can be compared to the future office of Metatron, who often serves in the Hekhalot and Shicur Qomah accounts as the celestial choirmaster64 conducting the liturgies of the Living Creatures.65

Yahoel’s expertise in heavenly praise does not seem to be limited to heavenly matters. In the apocalypse he is also depicted as the one who initiates a human visionary, Abraham, into this mystical praxis of praising the Deity, which serves as an alternative practice to vision mysticism:

And he said, “Only worship, Abraham, and recite the song which I taught you.” …And he said, “Recite without ceasing.” And I recited, and he himself recited the song. (Apoc. Ab. 17:5-7)66

Our previous remarks about the connections between the visionary and aural praxis makes it intriguing that veneration of the Deity is described in the Apocalypse of Abraham through the paradoxical formulae of seeing/not seeing: “He whom you will see (его же узриши) going before both of us in a great sound of qedushah is the Eternal One who had loved you, whom himself you will not see (самого же не зриши)” (Apoc. Ab. 16:3).67

This ambiguous mixture of the paradigms of vision and voice can be seen in other parts of the text as well. For example, in the depiction of Abraham’s fast in 12:1-2, two mystical practices appear to be mixed:

And we went, the two of us alone together, forty days and nights. And I ate no bread and drank no water, because [my] food was to see the angel who was with me, and his speech with me was my drink (Apoc. Ab. 12:1-2).68

The first mystical practice is a traditional motif found in numerous visionary accounts – viz., the theme of nourishment through the beholding of a celestial being, often in the form of the Kavod. An especially famous example of this is the later interpretations of Moses’ story, where he is often depicted as a being fed through the vision of God’s Shekhinah. Yet this mystical practice is not alone. A second is the motif of nourishment through the voice of the heavenly being, the angel Yahoel.69

Also noteworthy is that in the Apocalypse of Abraham the praise seems to be understood as a sort of garment that envelops the formless Deity, similar to the Merkabah tradition where the divine Form is enveloped in the garment known as the Haluq (חלוק),70 an attribute that underlines there the anthropomorphic nature of the divine substance. In contrast, in Apocalypse of Abraham 16:2-4 the Deity is enveloped in the sound of angelic praise, a description that may serve to reaffirm the bodiless presence of the Deity:71

And he [Yahoel] said to me, “Remain with me, do not fear! He whom you will see going before both of us in a great sound of qedushah is the Eternal One who had loved you, whom himself you will not see. Let your spirit not weaken <from the shouting>, since I am with you, strengthening you” (Apoc. Ab. 16:2-4).72

The importance of angelic praise is also highlighted in the depiction of the divine throne in chapter 18, which draws on the imagery found in Ezekiel 1. One of the new details there, however, is the persistent emphasis on the symbolism of vocal praxis: in their portrayals of the Living Creatures (the Hayyot) and the Wheels (the Ophannim), the authors accentuate their role in praising the Deity:

And as the fire rose up, soaring higher, I saw under the fire a throne [made] of fire and the many-eyed Wheels, and they are reciting the song. And under the throne [I saw] four singing fiery Living Creatures (Apoc. Ab. 18:3).73

Thus, instead of emphasizing the role of the Hayyot as the foundation of the throne, which in the formative account found in the Book of Ezekiel holds the divine presence or form, the Slavonic apocalypse stresses the role the Living Creatures have in divine worship. They are depicted as “singing the divine Presence.”74

As one can see that the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse attempt to reinterpret the prominent functions of the Hayyot according with the new aniconic template. They add some new details to the symbolism surrounding the creatures of the divine throne. It has already been mentioned that one of the novel conceptual developments here is the motif of the rivalry of the Hayyot. As we remember in Apocalypse of Abraham 10:8-9 Yahoel is described as a “pacifier” of the Living Creatures who, according to the text, are involved in the rivalries against each other. The theme of the rivalry of the Hayyot is invoked again later in the text when the patriarch sees how the celestial creatures are threatening each other. This motif of the Hayyot’s hostility has puzzled students of the Slavonic apocalypse for a long time. Martha Himmelfarb suggests that this theme can be related to the polemics with the idolatry. She recalls the episode of Abraham’s arrival to the divine throne when he sees the rivalry of the Hayyot. She notes:

… after his initial moment of terror Abraham shows no fear, even when confronted with sights that might be expected to produce fear. As he arrives before the divine throne, he observes a peculiar incident. When they have completed the song, the four creatures begin to look at each other threateningly, and Abraham’s angelic guide must turn their faces away from each other and teach them the song of peace (18:8-10). That this rowdy behavior is habitual is clear from Iaoel's words as he introduces himself to Abraham before the ascent: “I am he who is appointed by [God’s] command to appease the strife the cherubic creatures have with one another . . .” (10:10). The meaning of the creatures’ behavior is not at all clear. It is quite different from the chaotic fiery worship that frightened Abraham during the ascent. The emphasis on the rejection of idolatry in the first section of the Apocalypse of Abraham might suggest that the incident is intended to guard against idolatrous worship of the creatures that stand closest to God.”75

Himmelfarb’s suggestion deserves careful attention in the view of the fact that the function of the Hayyot is reformulated according to the new aural template. As we recall these angelic holders of the throne sing the divine presence instead of supporting it. This new conceptual framework dramatically changes old spatial dynamics in which the holders of the throne were envisioned to be static. Now the traditional static structural unity, urgent for this class of the “sustaining angels” has been shattered by their novel aural functions which relieve them from their previous spatial duties. It leads in its turn to a paradoxical violation of the boundaries between the Hayyot, who are depicted now as fighting with one another.

No Other Power of Other Form”

The most striking detail in the description of the divine throne in chapter 18 is that, at the climactic moment of the seer’s encounter with the divine chariot, the text does not give any indications of the presence of the anthropomorphic glory of God. Curiously, the chariot even appears to be missing a rider. This radically differs from the Ezekielian account, which in 1:26 describes the figure on the throne as דמות כמראה אדם. Instead, Abraham encounters the already familiar voice in the midst of fire surrounded by the sound of the qedushah:

While I was still standing and watching, I saw behind the Living Creatures a chariot with fiery Wheels. Each Wheel was full of eyes round about. And above the Wheels there was the throne which I had seen. And it was covered with fire and the fire encircled it round about, and an indescribable light surrounded the fiery people. And I heard the sound of their qedushah like the voice of a single man.76 And a voice came to me out of the midst of the fire…. (Apoc. Ab. 18:12-19:1)77

Polemics with the divine body traditions is then further developed in chapter 19. In fact, chapter 19 can be considered the climax of the aniconic ideology of the apocalypse. Here the seer is allowed to take a final look at the upper firmaments so that he and (more importantly) his audience may be assured that no divine form is present there. The account detailing this final gaze is rather lengthy:

And he [God] said, “Look at the levels which are under the expanse on which you are brought and see that on no single level is there any other but the one whom you have searched for or who has loved you.” And while he was still speaking, and behold, the levels opened, <and> there are the heavens under me. And I saw on the seventh firmament upon which I stood a fire spread out and light, and dew, and a multitude of angels, and a power of the invisible glory from the Living Creatures which I had seen above. <But> I saw no one else there. And I looked from the altitude of my standing to the sixth expanse. And I saw there a multitude of incorporeal spiritual angels, carrying out the orders of the fiery angels who were on the eight firmament, as I was standing on its suspensions. And behold, neither on this expanse was there any other power of other form, but only the spiritual angels, and they are the power which I had seen on the seventh firmament. (Apoc. Ab. 19:3-7)78

Intriguingly, the text repeatedly stresses the absence of any corporeal manifestation of the Deity, in one instance even using the term “form” (Slav. образ):79 “… and behold, neither on this expanse was there any other power of other form (образом силы иноя)….”80 Further, the text seems to deny even the presence of angelic “bodies” on the upper firmaments, constantly referring to angelic creatures found there as “incorporeal” (бесплотныхъ) or “spiritual” (духовныхъ) angels. Importantly for our ongoing inquiry, according to the Apocalypse of Abraham it is not a manifestation of the Deity but the incorporeal angels who now represent “the power” (Slav. сила) that the seer beholds on the seventh firmament.

As one can see the anti-anthropomorphic tendencies manifest themselves not only in the apocalypse’s depictions of the Deity but also in its peculiar portrayals of the angels and supernatural creatures. This suggests that its authors’ agenda goes beyond the distinctive aniconic depictions of the Deity and encompasses the imagery of other celestial beings, too. It is important to explore the anti-anthropomorphic features of the angelological developments in the Apocalypse of Abraham.

Yahoel: The Bird of Heaven

The anti-anthropomorphic character of the text’s angelology is something of an enigma. One of the possible clues to understanding it lies in the cryptic conceptual developments surrounding Abraham’s celestial guide, Yahoel. This angelic character first appears in chapter 10 as “the namesake of the mediation of God’s ineffable name.”81 It has been already noted that the close association of the angel with mediating the divine Name does not seem coincidental in light of the work’s aural symbolism in its depiction of the Deity. Apocalypse of Abraham 11:2-3 unveils further features of the angel’s unique identity by providing a depiction of his physique:

The appearance of the griffin’s (ногуего)82 body was like sapphire, and the likeness of his face like chrysolite, and the hair of his head like snow, and a turban on his head like the appearance of the bow in the clouds, and the closing of his garments [like] purple, and a golden staff [was] in his right hand.83

The Slavonic word ногуего, used in the description of Yahoel’s body, has puzzled scholars for a long time. It can be translated as “his leg” (ногу его), but this rendering does not fit in the larger context of Yahoel’s description. Previous translators therefore preferred to drop the puzzling word and translated the first sentence of Yahoel’s description as “the appearance of his body was like sapphire.”84 Recently Alexander Kulik offered a new hypothesis. The Slavonic term ногуего might derive from the Slavonic ногъ or ногуи, “a griffin.”85 Kulik proposes that the whole phrase can be translated as “the appearance of the griffin’s (ногуева) body” and thus refers to the eagle-like body of Yahoel. He further suggests that Yahoel might be a composite creature, a man-bird, since he is sent to Abraham in “the likeness of a man” (Apoc. Ab. 10:4). Kulik argues that since Yahoel has “hair on his head” and also has hands (since he is able to hold a golden staff), it appears that “only the torso of Yahoel must be of griffin-like appearance, while his head is like that of a man.”86 To provide evidence of such puzzling angelic imagery, Kulik points to some examples of “griffin-like” angels in the Hekhalot writings.

Basil Lourié has recently supported Kulik’s hypothesis about the avian features of Yahoel by providing references to the tradition of transporting angels, such as psychopomps or other angelic servants, in the form of griffins.87 Both Kulik’s and Lourié’s findings are important for understanding Yahoel imagery. That said, the primary angels in apocalyptic and Merkabah materials are usually depicted as anthropomorphic creatures. Further, as has been already mentioned, these primary angels often serve as representations or even “mirrors” of the anthropomorphic glory of God.88 The tendency of the Apocalypse of Abraham to depict the primary angel in the form of a bird looks quite unusual in this respect.

Even more intriguing, in Yahoel and his composite ptero-anthropomorphic corporeality one can possibly witness polemics against the anthropomorphic traditions of the divine Glory. After all the great angel serves as a representation of the deity – the role which is hinted through his endowment with the divine Name. Drawing on the account offered in Apocalypse of Abraham 10:4 which tells that God sent Yahoel to Abraham “in the likeness of a man,”89 Jarl Fossum observes that the reference to “human likeness is a constant trait in the representation of the Glory.”90 He further notes that other depictions of Yahoel bring to memory various traditions of the divine Glory as well. Thus, for example, Apocalypse of Abraham 11:2-3 states that Yahoel’s body was “like sapphire, and the likeness of his face like chrysolite, and the hair of his head like snow, and a turban on his head like the appearance of the bow in the clouds, and the closing garments [like] purple, and a golden staff [was] in his right hand.”91 Fossum suggests that

… this description contains adaptations of various portraits of the Glory. The radiant appearance of the body of the Glory is mentioned already in Ez. i.27. In the Book of Daniel, the angel Gabriel, who is represented as the Glory, is in one place described in the following way: “His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like gleam of burning bronze …” (x.6). In the Shicur Qomah texts, there is frequent reference to the shining appearance of the body of the Glory, and chrysolite is even used expressly to describe it: “His body is like chrysolite. His light breaks tremendously from the darkness […]” … The rainbow-like appearance of Yahoel’s turban is reminiscent of Ez. i.28, which says that “the appearance of the brightness round about” the Glory was “like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain.”92

It is noteworthy that in the Apocalypse of Abraham these spectacular features of the anthropomorphic divine Glory became applied to the composite creature that combines anthropomorphic and avian features, which clearly demonstrates the polemical character of the text’s angelology.

The Turtledove and the Pigeon: Pteromorphic Psychopomps

Suggestions about Yahoel’s possession of a griffin body deserve careful attention since in the Apocalypse of Abraham pteromorphic imagery appears to be applied to other angelic beings as well. Another example can be found in chapters 12 and 13 where Yahoel conveys to Abraham the following instructions about the sacrifices:

And he said to me, “Slaughter and cut all this, putting together the two halves, one against the other. But do not cut the birds. And give them [i.e., the halves] to the two men whom I shall show you standing beside you, since they are the altar on the mountain, to offer sacrifice to the Eternal One. The turtledove and the pigeon you will give me, and I shall ascend (возиду) in order to show to you [the inhabited world] on the wings of two birds….” And I did everything according to the angel’s command. And I gave to the angels who had come to us the divided parts of the animals. And the angel took the two birds. (Apoc. Ab. 12:8-13:1)93

Although this description appears to rely on the Abrahamic traditions found in Genesis, it also contains some important additions to the biblical narrative. 94 Thus, the birds that in the Genesis account serve merely as sacrificial objects appear to have some angelic functions in the Apocalypse of Abraham.95 Yahoel, who requests two birds from Abraham, mentions that later the birds will serve as the psychopomps of the visionary and his celestial guide. Yahoel’s prediction about the birds is fulfilled in Apocalypse of Abraham 15:2-4, where the seer and his angelic guide are depicted as traveling on the wings of the pigeon and the turtledove:

And the angel took me with his right hand and set me on the right wing of the pigeon and he himself sat on the left wing of the turtledove, since they both were neither slaughtered nor divided. And he carried me up to the edge of the fiery flame. And we ascended <like great winds to the heaven which was fixed on the expanses….> (Apoc. Ab. 15:2-4)96

In view of the established tradition of angelic psychopomps in the apocalyptic accounts, it appears that the pigeon and turtledove here fulfill functions traditionally performed by angels.

The Fallen Angel Azazel: The Impure Bird

There is further evidence for the hypothesis of Yahoel’s pteromorphic, eagle-like body and for the polemical tendency of the text against anthropomorphic portrayals of celestial beings in general. The negative angelic protagonist in the text, the fallen angel Azazel, is also depicted as an avian creature, an impure bird (Slav. птица нечистая). Azazel enters the apocalypse at chapter 13, when Abraham offers animal sacrifices to God. As in the case of the sacrificial birds refashioned into angelic psychopomps, the authors of the apocalypse expand the details of the biblical story of Abraham’s sacrifices, particularly the point when the birds of prey come down on the carcasses of the patriarch’s offerings. Genesis 15:11 informs us that the birds of prey came down on Abraham’s sacrifices, and he drove them away. By contrast, in the Slavonic apocalypse the reference to the birds of prey becomes appropriated into the book’s angelology. The Apocalypse of Abraham 13:2-6 reads:

And I waited for [the time of] the evening offering. And an impure bird (птица нечистая) flew down on the carcasses, and I drove it away. And an impure bird spoke to me and said, “What are you doing, Abraham, on the holy heights, where no one eats or drinks, nor is there upon them food of men. But these will all be consumed by fire and they will burn you up. Leave the man who is with you and flee! Since if you ascend to the height, they will destroy you.” And it came to pass when I saw the bird speaking I said to the angel, “What is this, my lord?” And he said, “This is iniquity, this is Azazel!”97

Later on, during the story of the fall of the protoplasts, Azazel is described as a composite creature – a serpent with human hands and feet and with wings on his shoulders:

… And behind the tree was standing, as it were, a serpent in form, but having hands and feet like a man, and wings on its shoulders: six on the right side and six on the left. And he was holding in his hands the grapes of the tree and feeding the two whom I saw entwined with each other. (Apoc. Ab. 23:5-8).98

Since the portrayal of the demon is given in the middle of the Adamic story, it is not entirely clear whether this composite physique represents Azazel’s permanent form or whether it is just a temporary manifestation acquired during the deception of Adam and Eve. Yet the avian features of the fallen angel are again reaffirmed in this description.

As in the case of Yahoel and the pteromorphic psychopomps, the peculiar imagery used for depicting Azazel signals the authors’ reluctance to identify unambiguously the celestial beings with the traditional human-like appearance. And this seems to reflect the pseudepigraphon’s anti-anthropomorphic tendency.

Invisible Angels

The general anti-corporeal thrust of the pseudepigraphon’s angelology seems also to be reflected in the text’s insistence on the invisibility of certain classes of angelic beings. The reader encounters this trend already in the beginning of the apocalyptic section of the work. Directly following a description of his avian features, Yahoel makes a cryptic statement. He reveals to Abraham that his strange composite body is merely a temporal manifestation that will not last long. To be invisible is his destiny:

And he said, “Let my appearance not frighten you, nor my speech trouble your soul! Come with me and I shall go with you, visible until the sacrifice, but after the sacrifice invisible (невидим) forever.” (Apoc. Ab. 11:4)99

The text deconstructs the visible form of the primary angel and insists on his eternal incorporeality. This reveals persistent, deliberate tendency deeply connected with the notion of God’s own incorporeality. It strikingly contrasts the visual ideology of the Merkabah tradition, wherein the body of the primary angel is often envisioned as God’s Shicur Qomah – that is, the measurement and the visual reaffirmation of the Deity’s own anthropomorphic corporeality. Yet in the Apocalypse of Abraham one can see a quite different picture.

As the story unfolds and Abraham progresses in his celestial journey to the upper firmaments and the abode of the bodiless Deity, references to incorporeal or “spiritual” angels occur more and more often. This is hardly coincidental. In fact, the idea of the incorporeality of the angelic hosts inhabiting the upper firmaments looms large in the Apocalypse of Abraham. In this regard, consider Apocalypse of Abraham 19:6-7; in the upper firmaments the seer beholds

…a multitude of incorporeal (бесплотное множество) spiritual (духовныхъ) angels, carrying out the orders of the fiery angels who were on the eighth firmament….And behold, neither on this expanse was there any other power of other form, but only the spiritual angels…. (Apoc. Ab. 19:6-7)100

Yet again, one can see the transitional nature of the pseudepigraphon’s angelology. The new, incorporeal understanding of the celestial retinue mixes with the old, anthropomorphic understanding of the Kavod paradigm. For this reason, the authors occasionally designate angels as “men” – for example, the angels who received the sacrifices from Abraham – despite the fact that they usually insist on the incorporeality of angels. This bespeaks the fluidity of angelic imagery in the Slavonic apocalypse, which in many ways stands on the threshold of the Kavod and Shem traditions, sharing the two conceptual worlds.

The complex world of the apocalypse’s angelology demonstrates its paradoxical nature, drawn from the complex dynamics of several apocalyptic streams interacting with each other. There is an insistence of the invisibility of certain classes of angels, not to mention the Deity himself. Yet side by side with this, the very dynamics of Abraham’s trip unavoidably require physical angels. The protagonist must interact with other characters in the story, after all. The authors of the apocalypse, therefore, cannot keep the angelic figures in the narrative completely invisible. In this context avian angelic imagery seems to serve as a useful device for sustaining the anti-anthropomorphic agenda of the pseudepigraphon without interrupting the dynamics of the patriarch’s celestial trip.

1 Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 228-229. Collins also notes that Abraham’s vision “stands in the tradition of 1 En. 14, conveying a sense of the visionary’s experience of awe and terror.” Ibid, 229.

2 Rowland, The Open Heaven, 86.

3 Rowland, The Open Heaven, 87.

4 Rowland, The Open Heaven, 87.

5 It should be noted that an anti-anthropomorphic reinterpretation of Ezekiel’s vision can also be detected in the Targums. For the extensive discussion on avoidance of anthropomorphism in the Targum of Ezekiel 1, see Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot, 120ff.

6 George Nickelsburg notices that “Abraham’s ascent and throne vision stand in a tradition that stretches from 1 En. 12-16 to the medieval mystical texts.” G.W.E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction (2nd ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) 288.

7 On the hypostatic Voice of God, see J.H. Charlesworth, “The Jewish Roots of Christology: The Discovery of the Hypostatic Voice,” SJT 39 (1986) 19-41.

8 Scholars have noted that the patriarch’s vision reflected in the second part of the Slavonic apocalypse seems to be reminiscent not only of Ezek 1 but also the visionary account in Gen 15 (“with an allusion to Gen 22 insofar as the sacrifice is located on a high mountain,” Collins, Apocalyptic Imagination, 226). Thus, George Herbert Box notes that “the apocalyptic part of the book is based upon the story of Abraham’s sacrifices and trance, as described in Gen. xv.” Box and Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham, xxiv. Both in Gen. and Apoc. Ab. the patriarch is asked to prepare sacrifices, and the content of the sacrifices is also very similar. Yet, the theophanic tradition of the divine Voice does not play a prominent role in Gen 15. Although it mentions the word of God given to Abraham, it does not say anything about the voice in the fire, a standard theophanic formula found in the Apocalypse of Abraham. It is also noteworthy that at the end of Genesis’ account the patriarch sees the vision of a fiery phenomenon – a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch.

9 M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) 191.

10 Ludwig Köhler and Moshe Weinfeld argue that the phrase, “in our image, after our likeness” precludes the anthropomorphic interpretation that the human being was created in the divine image. L. Köhler, “Die Grundstelle der Imago-Dei Lehre, Genesis i, 26,” ThZ 4 (1948) 16ff; Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 199.

11 Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 191.

12 Ibid., 199.

13 Ibid., 200-201.

14 Ibid., 201.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid., 198.

17 Tryggve Mettinger observes that the concept of God in the Shem theology is “… strikingly abstract….God himself is no longer present in the Temple, but only in heaven. However, he is represented in the Temple by his Name….” T.N.D. Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth. Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies (ConBOT, 18; Lund: Wallin & Dalholm, 1982) 124. See also Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 193.

18 Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 193.

19 This tendency for polemical re-interpretation of the imagery of the rival paradigm is also observable in the Kavod tradition which in its turn uses the symbolism of the divine Voice and other aspects of the Shem symbolism.

20 Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 206.

21 Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 207.

22 Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 207.

23 Mettinger notes that “it is not surprising that the Name of God occupies such central position in a theology in which God’s words and voice receive so much emphasis.” Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth, 124.

24 The affinities with the Deuteronomic materials can also be seen in the implicit and explicit connections between how the apocalypse envisions Abraham’s encounter with God vis-à-vis how the Deuteronomist envisions Moses’ Sinai encounter. In this respect David Halperin notes that the author of Apoc. Ab. “… gives us several clues that he is modeling Abraham’s experience after Moses’ at Sinai. The most obvious of these is his locating the experience at Mount Horeb, the name that Deuteronomy regularly uses for Sinai.” Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot, 109-110. Halperin also notices the allusion to the Deuteronomistic traditions including the story of Elijah.

25 Apoc. Ab. 8:1: “The voice (глас) of the Mighty One came down from heaven in a stream of fire, saying and calling, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 16; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 54.

26 See, for example, Apoc. Ab. 18:2: “And I heard a voice (глас) like the roaring of the sea, and it did not cease because of the fire.” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 76.

27 Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions I.32 tells about the patriarch’s angelus interpres: “Whence also an angel, standing by him in a vision, instructed him more fully concerning those things which he was beginning to perceive. He showed him also what belonged to his race and posterity, and promised him that those districts should be restored rather than given to them….” Smith, “Recognitions of Clement,” 165.

28 Scholars have reflected on the fact that Abraham stumbles before the divine Voice in various parts of the pseudepigraphon. In relation to this, Martha Himmelfarb observes: “Further, remember that Abraham fainted the first time he heard the voice of the invisible God (ch. 9). Now he stands before the divine throne and again hears the Voice of God, who remains unseen, as Iaoel had warned Abraham he would (16:3), although he manifests himself through fire (17:1). Following his angelic guide, who bows his head in worship, Abraham wishes to prostrate himself, but he cannot since the ground rocks beneath him (17:2-3). Still, it appears that Abraham’s desire to prostrate himself is a matter of etiquette rather than of fear.” Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 64. “In two of the manuscripts the angel’s response to Abraham’s expression of fear singles out the noise as a cause: ‘Do not let your spirit fail for the shouting.’” Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 63.

29 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 17; Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave, 126; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 58.

30 See also 1 En. 71; 2 En. 22.

31 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 72.

32 Cf. J.C. Poirier, "The Ouranology of the Apocalypse of Abraham," JSJ 35.4 (2004) 391-408.

33 Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 64.

34 It is necessary to bring attention to another important aural marker that occurs immediately before the patriarch’s ascent through the song that is, his encounter with the group of mysterious angels involved in the heavenly liturgical praxis. Apoc. Ab. 15:6-7 reads: “And behold, in this light a fire was kindled [and there was] of a crowd of many people in male likeness. They were all changing in appearance and likeness, running and being transformed and bowing and shouting in a language the words of which I did not know.” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22. This tradition of the patriarch’s encounter with the angelic liturgical praxis at the outset of his own recitation of the hymn to the Deity probably is not coincidental.

35 Even earlier in the aforementioned passage from Apoc. Ab. 15:7 the seer reports strange disturbances, saying that he saw a crowd of men who were changing in aspect and size. This imagery of the human crowd changing in aspect and size can be an allusion to the builders of the Tower of Babel. The references to the fiery Gehenna and to Abraham passing the fiery threshold invoke the cluster of motifs often found in the later midrashic and targumic accounts already mentioned in this study. In these accounts the references to the patriarch’s trials in the furnace often coincide with the imagery of the Tower of Babel and their infamous builders. For the conceptual background of this imagery, see Box and Landsman, Apocalypse of Abraham, 56, n. 7; Dean-Otting, Heavenly Journeys, 250.

36 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

37 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

38 Nonetheless, it appears that in the beginning of the patriarch’s ascent in chapter 15 one can still find the “remnants” of the traditional celestial journey and traditional functions of the angelus interpres. There the text describes Abraham and his interpreting angel embarking on the wings of the pigeon and the turtledove. When the ascent starts, the seer reports a vision of a strong indescribable light. In this light the visionary then sees a fiery Gehenna and a great crowd of men changing aspect and shape. Puzzled, Abraham then interacts with his angelus interpres about this enigmatic vision. This is reminiscent of traditional progress through the celestial space, when a human seer asks his interpreting angel about puzzling events that occur during his progress.

39 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

40 C. Rowland and C.R.A. Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (CRINT, 12; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 83.

41 Rowland and Morray-Jones note that “the hymn in the Apocalypse of Abraham includes an extensive recital of the attributes of God.” Rowland and Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God, 83.

42 Several scholars, including Gershom Scholem, have argued for parallels between the song of Abraham and the hymns found in the Hekhalot literature. Cf. G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1954) 59-61. Mary Dean-Otting summarizes these arguments in her study. See Dean-Otting, Heavenly Journeys, 252-253.

43 Cf. Apoc. Ab. 17:16: “…receiving the entreaties of those who honor you <and turning away from the entreaties of those who besiege you by the siege of their provocation….” Apoc. Ab. 17:20: “Accept my prayer, <and let it be sweet to you,>….” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 23.

44 Apoc. Ab. 18:1-3. Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 23-24.

45 Dean-Otting, Heavenly Journeys, 253.

46 Here the fire appears to embody a special substance that reshapes the mortal body of the seer.

47 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

48 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

49 Apoc. Ab. 18:1. Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 23.

50 Mary Dean-Otting underlines the uniqueness of this imagery. See Dean-Otting, Heavenly Journeys, 255.

51 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 34.

52 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 17; Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave, 128; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 58.

53 Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth, 124-125.

54 Martha Himmelfarb brings attention to the divine attributes of Yahoel’s figure: “…Iaoel's body of sapphire recalls the sapphire pavement beneath God’s feet in Ex. 24:10 and Ezek. 1:26; it is worth noting that two manuscripts make Iaoel's feet sapphire, rather than his body. The hair of Iaoel's head is like snow, like God’s hair in Dan. 7:9.” Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 62.

55 Apoc. Ab. 10:4: “… he took me by my right hand and stood me on my feet.” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 17.

56 On the formative influence of the Yahoel lore on the figure of Metatron, see G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary, 1965) 51.

57 Apoc. Ab. 17:7-13: “And I recited, and he [Yahoel] himself recited the song: O, Eternal, Mighty, Holy El, God Autocrat … Eternal, Mighty, Holy Sabaoth, Most Glorious El, El, El, El, Yahoel….” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 23.

58 Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, 52.

59 Cf. Apoc. Ab. 17:13: “Eli {that is, my God,} Eternal, Mighty, Holy Sabaoth, Most Glorious El, El, El, El, Yahoel….” Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 23.

60 Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth, 125.

61 The process of constituting the angelic or divine presence or re-constituting a human nature into a celestial one through the invocation of the divine Name can be seen in a couple of traditions. Moses is invested with the divine Name during his Sinai experience, and similarly Jesus is invested with the divine Name at his baptism. For a detailed discussion of these traditions, see J. Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord: Samaritan and Jewish Mediation Concepts and the Origin of Gnosticism (WUNT, 36; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1985) 76-112.

62 In the Palestinian targumic tradition (Targ. Neof., Frag. Targ.) the divine command יהי uttered by God during the creation of the world is identified with the Tetragrammaton. For a detailed discussion of this tradition, see Fossum, The Name of God, 80.

63 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 18. For the extensive discussion on the passages about the rivalries of the Hayyot in the Apoc. Ab. 10:8-9 and 18:8-10 see: K.W. Whitney, Jr., Two Strange Beasts: Leviathan and Behemoth in Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism (HSM, 63; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006).

64 On Metatron’s role as the celestial choirmaster of the Hayyot, see A. Orlov, “Celestial Choirmaster: The Liturgical Role of Enoch-Metatron in 2 Enoch and Merkabah Tradition,” in: idem., From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 197-221.

65 “One hayyah rises above the seraphim and descends upon the tabernacle of the youth whose name is Metatron, and says in a great voice, a voice of sheer silence: “The Throne of Glory is shining.” Suddenly the angels fall silent. The watchers and the holy ones become quiet. They are silent, and are pushed into the river of fire. The hayyot put their faces on the ground, and this youth whose name is Metatron brings the fire of deafness and puts it into their ears so that they could not hear the sound of God’s speech or the ineffable name. The youth whose name is Metatron then invokes, in seven voices, his living, pure, honored, awesome, holy, noble, strong, beloved, mighty, powerful name.” Synopse zur Hekhaloth-Literatur (eds. P. Schäfer et al.; TSAJ, 2; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1981) 164. Another Hekhalot passage attested in Synopse §385 also elaborates the liturgical role of the exalted angel: “…when the youth enters below the throne of glory, God embraces him with a shining face. All the angels gather and address God as ‘the great, mighty, awesome God,’ and they praise God three times a day by means of the youth….” Synopse zur Hekhaloth-Literatur, 162-63. The designation of Yahoel as the Singer of the Eternal One in Apoc. Ab. 12:4 is also intriguing. It again recalls the description of Metatron in the aforementioned account where he is depicted as the leading singer of the heavenly host, the one who is able to invoke the divine Name in seven voices.

66 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22-23.

67 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22. Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 70.

68 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 19.

69 David Halperin notices some similarities between the celestial nourishments of Abraham and Moses. He observes that “… Moses also discovered that the divine Presence is itself nourishment enough. That is why Exod 24:11 says that Moses and his companions beheld God, and ate and drank. This means, one rabbi explained, that the sight of God was food and drink to them; for Scripture also says, In the light of the King’s face there is life …. We might assume that the author of the Apocalypse of Abraham had such midrashim in mind when he wrote that ‘my food was to see the angel who was with me, and his speech –that was my drink.’” Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot, 111.

70 On the imagery of Haluq see Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, 57ff; P. Schäfer, The Hidden and Manifest God. Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism (tr. A. Pomerance; Albany: SUNY, 1992) 19, 133.

71 The concept of praise as a garment seems to be connected to the tradition of investiture with the divine Name discussed earlier in our article.

72 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

73 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24, emphasis mine.

74 Christopher Rowland noticed in some Qumran materials a similar tendency to reform the functions of the Creatures of the Throne. He notes, “The merkava passage from Qumran Cave 4, like the Apocalypse of Abraham, is restrained about speaking of the form of God: ‘The cherubim bless the image of the throne chariot above the firmament, and they praise the majesty of the fiery firmament beneath the seat of his glory’ (4Q405 frag 20–21–22, lines 8–9).” Rowland and Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God, 68.

75 Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 64.

76 Halperin noticed the paradigm shift from the visual plane to the aural plane when he observes that “Ezekiel’s phrase ‘like the appearance of a man,’ becomes, in a concluding sentence, that plainly draws on the end of Ezek 1:28, ‘like the voice of a man.’ ” Halperin, Faces of the Chariot, 108.

77 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24.

78 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 24-25, emphasis mine.

79 The Slavonic word образ can be also translated as a “type,” an “image,” an “icon,” or a “symbol.” See I. Sreznevskij, Материалы для словаря древнерусского языка по письменным памятникам (3 тома.; С-Петербург: Типография Императорской академии наук,1883–1912) 2.539-542.

80 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 25; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 80.

81 Scholars trace the origin of Yahoel’s figure to the biblical imagery of the Angel of the Lord found in Exodus. On this connection, see Fossum, The Name of God, 318.

82 The reading is supported by mss. A, C, D, I, H, and K. It is omitted in mss. B, S, and U. For the sigla of the known manuscripts of the Apocalypse of Abraham, see Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 97.

83 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 19.

84 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 83.

85 In his dictionary Izmail Sreznevskij traces the Slavonic terms ногъ and ногуи to the Greek word γρύψ. See Sreznevskij, Материалы для словаря древнерусского языка по письменным памятникам, 2.462. See also R.I. Avanesov, Словарь древнерусского языка (XI–XIV вв.) (10 vols.; Mосква: Русский Язык, 1988) 5.429.

86 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 83.

87 Lourié points to “…a medieval legend of the ascension of Alexander the Great, which goes back to the Hellenistic era. In the legend Alexander reaches the heaven (or even heavenly Jerusalem) transported by four griffins. This motif suggests that the griffins as the psychopomps transporting visionaries to heaven were not an invention of the authors of the Hekhalot literature but were a part of the early Jewish environment….” B. Lourié, “Review of A. Kulik’s Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha,” JSP 15.3 (2006) 229-237 at 233.

88 On these traditions see Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition, 165-176; idem, “The Face as the Heavenly Counterpart of the Visionary in the Slavonic Ladder of Jacob,” in: Orlov, From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 399-419.

89 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 17.

90 Fossum, The Name of God, 319.

91 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 19.

92 Fossum, The Name of God, 319-320.

93 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 19-20; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 64.

94 Gen 15:8-12 reads, “But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.”

95 Mary Dean-Otting notices the oddity of this apocalyptic imagery. She observes, “…in the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abraham is set upon the right wing of the pigeon by the angel who himself sits upon the left wing of the turtledove (chap. 15). This feature of the ascent is immediately striking for here the angel uses an ‘artificial’ means of transporting himself and Abraham into the heavens. In two of the four major ascents, the Testament of Levi and 3 Baruch, the one ascending is merely guided or lifted into the heavens by an angel; in 1 Enoch 14 Enoch ascends unassisted (cf. 1 Enoch 71); but, in the Testament of Abraham, Abraham ascends on the divine chariot which is driven by angels (rec. A, 10).” Dean-Otting, Heavenly Journeys, 249.

96 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 22.

97 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 20; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 64.

98 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 27.

99 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 19; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 62.

100 Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 25; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 80.

Andrei Orlov
Kelly Chair in Theology and Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity at Marquette University.