The Fallen Trees: Arboreal Metaphors and Polemics with the Divine Body Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham

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


The first eight chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham, a Jewish pseudepigraphon preserved solely in its Slavonic translation, deal with the early years of the hero of the faith in the house of his father Terah. The main plot of this section of the text revolves around the family business of manufacturing idolatrous divine statues. Terah and his sons are portrayed as craftsmen carving religious figures out of wood, stone, gold, silver, brass and iron. The zeal with which the family pursues its idolatrous craft suggests that the text does not view the household of Terah as just another family workshop producing religious artifacts for sale. Although the sacerdotal status of Abraham’s family remains clouded in rather obscure imagery, the Slavonic apocalypse’s authors seem to envision them as cultic servants whose “house” serves as a metaphor for the sanctuary polluted by idolatrous worship. From the very first lines of the apocalypse the reader learns that Abraham as well as Terah are involved in sacrificial rituals in temples.1 The aggadic section of the text, which narrates Terah’s and Abraham’s interactions with the “statues,” culminates in the destruction of the “house” along with its idols in a fire sent by God. It is possible that the Apocalypse of Abraham, which was written in the first centuries of the Common Era when Jewish communities were facing a wide array of challenges, including the loss of the Temple, was drawing here on the familiar metaphors derived from the Book of Ezekiel that construes idolatry as the main reason for the destruction of the terrestrial Sanctuary. Similar to the prophetic account, the hero of the Slavonic apocalypse is then allowed to behold the true place of worship – the heavenly shrine associated with the divine Throne. Yet despite the fact that the Book of Ezekiel significantly shapes the Abrahamic pseudepigraphon, there is a curious difference between the two visionary accounts. While in Ezekiel the false idolatrous statues of the perished temple are contrasted with the true form of the deity enthroned on the divine Chariot, the Apocalypse of Abraham denies to its hero a vision of the anthropomorphic Glory of God. When in the second part of the apocalypse Abraham travels to the upper heaven to behold the Throne of God, which invokes memories of the classic Ezekielean description, he does not see any divine form on the Chariot. Scholars have previously noted that while preserving some features of Ezekiel’s angelology, the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse appear to be carefully avoiding the anthropomorphic description of the divine Kavod, substituting it with a reference to the divine Voice.2 The common interpretation is that the Apocalypse of Abraham deliberately seeks “to exclude all reference to the human figure mentioned in Ezekiel 1.”3

In view of this polemical stance against the anthropomorphic understanding of God detected in the second part of the Apocalypse of Abraham, it is possible that the first part of the pseudepigraphon imbued with imagery of the divine idolatrous figures might also contain polemics against the divine body traditions. This article will try to explore the possible anti-anthropomorphic tendencies of the first part of the Slavonic apocalypse.


The introductory chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham entertain their readers with elaborate mocking portrayals of the idols produced in the household of Terah. Often, the main purpose of these narrations is to demonstrate the limited supernatural prowess of the anthropomorphic figures whose spiritual impotence is then contrasted with the power of the incorporeal God. It is possible that in these mocking accounts of the idolatrous statues found in the first eight chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham, the reader encounters one of the more vivid testimonies to the work’s overall retraction of an anthropomorphic understanding of the Deity. Possibly mindful of the broader extra-biblical context of Abraham’s biblical biography and his role as a fighter against the idolatrous practices of his father Terah, the work’s authors seem to use the patriarch’s story to advance their own anticorporeal agenda.

The limited scope of this investigation does not allow us to explore all of the depictions of the idolatrous figures found in the first part of the pseudepigraphon. This study will investigate only one polemical portrayal – the account involving the wooden idol Bar-Eshath (Slav. Варисать). 4 This mysterious idol first appears in chapter five, where Abraham is sent by his father to gather wooden chips left from manufacturing idols in order to make a fire and prepare a meal. In the pile of wooden splinters Abraham finds a small figurine whose forehead is decorated with the name Bar-Eshath.5 Skeptical of idols, Abraham decides to challenge their supernatural power by placing Bar-Eshath near the fire and, with irony, ordering him to confine the flames.6 The challenge leads to disastrous consequences for the wooden figurine, whom Abraham observes turn into a pile of dust after being enveloped and toppled over by fire.

The story of the fiery challenge of the wooden idol appears to fit nicely into the overall anti-anthropomorphic argument of the text. It polemically invokes the memory of Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 3, two pivotal biblical theophanic accounts associated with the promulgation of the divine body ideology where one encounters depictions of divine beings in the midst of fire. Although the purpose of these two biblical accounts is to underline the distinction between true and false representations of the Deity where the form’s endurance against the element of fire testifies to its authenticity, in the Slavonic apocalypse the argument takes a different turn. There, it is not a fiery divine form but its incorporeal manifestation – the divine Voice appearing in the midst of fire 7 – that is contrasted with the anthropomorphic idolatrous figure that perishes in the flames. I have previously explored this aspect of Bar-Eshath’s narrative, arguing that it represents a polemical variation with the divine body traditions.8 In this study I will continue to probe the polemical features of the Bar-Eshath account by focusing on the symbolic dimension of his story reflected in chapter six of the Slavonic apocalypse. There, the story of the “fall” of the wooden idol is poetically retold again, this time in the mythological language reminiscent of depictions in the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Daniel, two central biblical writings where the ideology of the divine body comes to its most emphatic, developed articulation.

The Biblical Background of the Tale of the Fallen Tree

The Apocalypse of Abraham 6:10-17 offers the following poetic tale about the origin and the final destiny of the wooden statue conveyed through primordial mythological imagery:

… But Bar-Eshath <, your god, before he was made has been rooted in the ground. Being great and wondrous (великъ сы и дивен), with branches, flowers and [various] beauties (похвалами). And you cut him with an ax, and by your skill the god was made. And behold, he has dried up, and his sap (тукота его) is gone. He fell from the heights to the ground, and he went from greatness to insignificance, and his appearance has faded.> [Now] he himself has been burned up by the fire, and he turned into ashes and is no more….9

This description of the wondrous tree found in the Slavonic apocalypse appears to draw on the biblical arboreal metaphors reflected in Ezek 3110 and Dan 4. 11 It is no happenstance that the Slavonic apocalypse’s authors bring into play these two theophanic accounts.12 Several studies have previously observed that these two biblical texts, permeated with corporeal ideology, exercise a formative influence on the theophanic and angelological imagery found in various parts of the Apocalypse of Abraham. To better understand its appropriation in the Slavonic account we must now explore the ideological background of the arboreal portrayals in Ezekiel and Daniel.

As has been noted above, the Apocalypse of Abraham draws on a cluster of motifs from the Book of Ezekiel, while at the same time reshaping them by eliminating their anthropomorphic details.13 The authors’ peculiar use of the Ezekelien Chariot imagery in Abraham’s vision of the upper heaven has been investigated in detail in previous studies.14 Although the anthropomorphic thrust of Ezekiel understandably comes to its fore in the account of the vision of the divine Chariot where the seer beholds the human-like Kavod, other parts of the book also contain implicit and explicit reaffirmations of the corporeal ideology of the priestly tradition. It is noteworthy for our investigation that the corporeal ideology of both Ezekiel and the priestly source is shaped by the tenets of the Adamic tradition and its technical terminology.15 One of the examples of these corporeal developments involving Adamic imagery might be in Ezekiel 31 where one finds a portrayal of the wondrous tree first flourishing in the Garden of God and then doomed by the Deity and destroyed by the foreigners.

As any profound religious symbol, this arboreal metaphor can be understood in a number of ways. This passage was often interpreted as a reference to the destruction of nations or their arrogant rulers. There is, however, another, more personalist reading of the story focusing on the memory of Adam’s story. The peculiar reference to the location of the wondrous tree in the Garden of Eden (Nd() and its expulsion from this distinguished topos exhibits parallels with the story of the Protoplast who once also enjoyed an exalted status in the Garden but was then expelled by the Deity from his heavenly abode. Like the mysterious trees in the Ezekielien and Danielic accounts, the Protoplast too once possessed a gigantic and wondrous statue. Several passages found in Philo and some pseudepigraphical accounts, including the tradition that appears in the Apocalypse of Abraham 23:4-6, describe the Protoplast’s body as great in height, terrible in breadth and incomparable in aspect.16 This great body of the first human was also said to be luminous in nature and clothed with what was often described in Jewish traditions as the “garment of glory.”17

Yet according to the Adamic traditions, the original condition of the Protoplast’s body dramatically changed after the Fall when he lost his great beauty, statue, and luminosity. In view of these parallels to the Adamic developments, it has been previously proposed that in Ezek 31 and Daniel 4 one might have the symbolic rendering of the Protoplast story, where the metaphor of the fallen tree forewarns of the demise of the original condition of humanity.18

The memory of the Protoplast story as a metaphor for the Fall of the exalted, “divine humanity” has paramount significance in the conceptual framework of the corporeal ideologies found in the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Daniel. Previous studies have noted that the divine body traditions often juxtapose dialectically the exaltation and demotion of the mediatorial figures to the end of both promoting and delimiting the divinization of humanity.19 The demise of the wondrous trees thus appears to fit well into this dialectical interplay of reaffirmations and deconstructions of various corporeal ideologies.20

These conceptual developments involving the symbolism of the wondrous trees in Ezek 31 and Dan 4 bring us back to the arboreal imagery in chapter six of the Apocalypse of Abraham. In the already mentioned passage Apoc. Ab. 6:10-11 the authors seem to invoke cautiously the memory of the aforementioned biblical accounts when Bar-Eshath is compared with the wondrous tree. All three accounts emphasize the beauty of the protological tree. In all three stories the tree faces eventual demise in the imagery of a fall from heights to the ground. 21

In highlighting similarities between biblical and pseudepigraphic accounts of the great tree, it is also important to note the distinctive purposes that arboreal imagery serves in Ezekiel and Daniel on the one hand and the Apocalypse of Abraham on the other. While the imagery of the fallen tree in Ezekiel and Daniel is employed to advance the ideology of divine corporeality, in the Slavonic apocalypse it is unambiguously set against traditions of divine corporeality. One peculiar detail illuminates the ideological difference. In the biblical stories the symbolic arboreal statue of exalted humanity is diminished by the will of the Creator22 and both of the biblical trees are cut by celestial beings – in Ezekiel by God and in Daniel by the heavenly envoy. In contrast, in the Apocalypse of Abraham the tree is cut down not by the Deity but by Abraham’s idolatrous father Terah who throughout the narrative is portrayed as a “creator” of his idols in a manner ironically reminiscent of God’s role23 in the biblical account of creation.24 In Apoc. Ab. 4:3 Abraham tells Terah that he is a god to his idols since he made them. Here again, like the accounts found in Ezekiel and Daniel, the subtle presence of Adamic motifs can be discerned. Yet, unlike the prophetic books where the Adamic currents reaffirm the possibility of the human-like body of the Deity who fashions his beloved creature in his own image, in the Slavonic apocalypse these currents work against such a possibility.

The Demoted Cherub

The arboreal hymn of the demise of Bar-Eshath in Apoc. Ab. 6:10-17 that defines him as a god brings us to another important passage – Ezek 28:1-19 – which contains two oracles about an enigmatic celestial figure, an anointed Cherub (x#mm bwrk), whom the text defines as the prince of Tyre and who, like Bar-Eshath, appears to be envisioned as a demoted idol.25

It is noteworthy that, like the wooden idol, the main character of this Ezekelian passage is also repeatedly described in ironic fashion as a god. Further it is intriguing that both the hymn from the Slavonic apocalypse and the account from Ezek 28 describe their “idols” as wondrous creatures decorated with “beauties.” Although the Slavonic text does not elaborate on the nature of Bar-Eshath’s “beauties” (Slav. похвалы),26 the passage from Ezekiel describes the Cherub as “the model of perfection” (tynkt Mtwx), “perfect in beauty” (ypy lylkw), and decorated with precious stones. It appears that in both accounts references to the characters’ “beauties” serve to indicate their exalted status.27 Scholars have previously observed that the attribution of the “beauties” invokes the memory of another important “representation” of the Deity – the supreme angel Metatron – who according to the Sefer Hekhalot was also “enhanced” with various “beauties” in the form of precious stones.28 In this context the reference to the protagonist of the Merkabah tradition does not seem out of place, given that he himself might also be viewed as a conceptual nexus reflecting both the dynamics of exaltation and demotion of humanity. In this capacity he could be envisioned as a sort of “idol” who serves as a stumbling block for the infamous visionary of the Talmud, Elisha b. Abuyah, who according to b. Hag. 15a takes Metatron as the second deity in heaven that leads him to the heretical conclusion about two “powers” in heaven. The passage from the Hagigah then depicts the demotion of the dangerous “idol”: the supreme angel is publicly punished in front of celestial hosts with sixty fiery lashes in order to prevent future confusions between the Deity and his angelic replica.

Returning to the similarities between the stories of the anointed Cherub and Bar-Eshath, it should be noted that both of them seem to contain traces of corporeal ideologies in their symbolic rendering of the Adamic story of the exaltation and fall of the Protoplast.29 Thus in Ezekiel the Cherub, similar to Bar-Eshath, falls from “the heights to the ground” being cast out as a profane thing from the mountain of God.

It is noteworthy that both texts, like the Protoplast traditions, appear to envision the process of demotion as the loss of the original condition of the characters. Ezek 28 hints that the Cherub was originally installed like the divine Kavod on the holy mountain in the midst of fire: “you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire (#) ynb)) you walked.” The story continues with the exalted figure expelled from the exalted topos by its guardians: “I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God (Myhl) rhm), and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire.” According to the text, when the cherub was expelled from his original lofty abode he was “cast to the ground” and “exposed” before the spectators’ gaze. In light of the possible Adamic background for the Ezekielean oracles, demotion to the lower realm and exposure to the gazing public can be understood as references to the loss of the original luminous garment of the Protoplast after the Fall. A similar tradition about the loss of the shining attire of the Protoplast seems present in the Slavonic apocalypse that describes the “fall” of Bar-Eshath as the “fading” of his primordial condition. Apoc. Ab. 6:14-15 reads: “He fell from heights to the ground, and he went from greatness to insignificance, and his appearance has faded….”30

It is also intriguing that in both stories the characters share the same final destiny as their “bodies” turn into ashes by fire. As has been previously noted, in Ezekiel the demoted Cherub is clearly envisioned as an idolatrous statue destroyed by fire. Further it is pointed out that the “cremation of the king of Tyre resembles the burning of a statue and the scattering of its ashes on the ground or in the underworld. If the king of Tyre is identified as a cherub, represented as a statue, and punished for claiming to be a god, then the burning of this statue can be seen as the rite of disposal of the impurity of idolatry.”31

The divine body traditions, and especially their peculiar usage of the fire test in the adjudication between true and false representations of the Deity, appear to be present both in Apoc. Ab. and in the Ezekelian oracles since the anointed Cherub is first depicted as passing the fiery test (“in the midst of the stones of fire you walked”) and then failing it (“I brought forth fire from the midst of you; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes”).

The Divine Face

There is no doubt that the symbolism of various Adamic currents permeates the story of Bar-Eshath. In this respect it is especially interesting to examine the aforementioned passage from Apoc. Ab. 6 where one finds some peculiar details accompanying the “fall” of the wooden idol. The text says that Bar-Eshath fell from the heights to the ground and that his condition was changed from greatness to smallness (оть велiиства прiиде в малость).32 Although in the course of narration the wooden statue literally fell to the ground, it appears that the reference to the idol’s fall has an additional symbolic dimension. The account of the infamous idol’s “fall” again appears to be reminiscent of the story of the Protoplast. The “Adamic” aspect of the terminology in Apoc. Ab. 6:15 can be further clarified if the vocabulary of this passage is compared with the terminology found in another central pseudepigraphical account that survived in the Slavonic language, the 2 (Slavonic) Apocalypse of Enoch. There two conditions of Adam’s corporeality – one original before the Fall and the other fallen after the transgression – are also conveyed through the terminology of greatness and smallness.

In the longer recension of 2 Enoch 30:10 the Lord reveals to the seventh antediluvian hero the mystery of the two conditions or “natures” of Adam, one original and the other fallen. It is striking that these conditions are rendered in the text through the familiar formulae of “greatness and smallness”:

… From visible and invisible substances I created man.
From both his natures come both death and life.
And (as my) image he knows the word like (no) other creature.
But even at his greatest he is small,
and again at his smallest he is great.33

Both recensions of the Slavonic text further invoke this terminology in 2 Enoch 44:1: “the Lord with his own two hands created mankind; in a facsimile of his own face, both small and great (мала и велика),34 the Lord created [them].”35

It is intriguing that both the Apocalypse of Abraham and 2 Enoch use in their description of Bar-Eshath and Adam identical Slavonic terminology which unambiguously points to the Adamic “flavor” of the story of the wooden idol. The description of the fall of Bar-Eshath as the transition “from greatness to smallness” in Apoc. Ab. 6:14 further reinforces this connection with Adamic developments, given that it recalls the tradition about the diminution of the Protoplast’s statue after his transgression in Eden in 2 Enoch.36

Apoc. Ab. 6:15 depicts Bar-Eshath as the one whose “face” (Slav. лицо) has faded: “He fell from the heights to the ground, and he went from greatness to insignificance, and the appearance of his face (взор лица его)37 has faded.”38 The notion of Bar-Eshath’s fading face is striking in that it again invokes conceptual developments found in 2 Enoch, which widely operates with the imagery of divine and human “faces” and views “panim” not simply as a part of human or divine bodies but as a reference to their entire corporealities. The “fading of the face” in this context seems related to the adverse fate of the original body of the first human(s) which literally “faded” when their luminosity was lost as a result of the transgression in Eden. These terminological affinities demonstrate that the authors of the Apocalypse of Abraham were well cognizant of the divine Face terminology and its prominent role in the divine body traditions.


At the conclusion of this study it should be noted that an investigation of Bar-Eshath’s story can help clarify not only the broader ideological context of the anti-corporeal polemical currents found in the Slavonic apocalypse but also the textual issues pertaining to the provisional status of the passage with the arboreal tale. Since the passage containing the tale is absent from one of the important manuscripts of the Apocalypse of Abraham, the so-called the Silvester Codex, it has often been considered as a later interpolation39 and scholars have been reluctant to attribute the arboreal tale to the original core of the apocalypse.40 In this context the establishment of a relationship between the passage and the broader theological framework of the Slavonic apocalypse is important. Our study demonstrates that the passage is consistent with the original theological argument of the work. The research therefore offers additional, this time theological, evidence that the story of the demoted tree does not seem to be an interpolation but may belong to the original core of the text, sharing with it common anti-anthropomorphic polemics consonant with its overall ideological agenda.

1 Apoc. Ab. 1:2-3 “… at the time when my lot came up, when I had finished the services of my father Terah’s sacrifice to his gods of wood, stone, gold, silver, brass and iron, I, Abraham, having entered their temple for the service….” Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 9.

2 Such polemical development which attempts to confront the anthropomorphic understanding of the Deity with the alternative depictions of God through the imagery of the divine Voice or Name has its roots already in the biblical materials, particular in the Book of Deuteronomy and later deuteronomistic developments. On these traditions, see O. Grether, Name und Wort Gottes im Alten Testament (BZAW, 64; Giessen: Toepelmann, 1934) 1-58; Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 191ff.; Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth. Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies, 124ff.; I. Wilson, Out of the Midst of Fire: Divine Presence in Deuteronomy (SBLDS, 151: Atlanta: Scholars, 1995) 1-15; C. A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (AGAJU 42; Leiden; Boston: Brill, 1998) 51-123. On the formative role of the Deuteronomic tradition for the theophanic imagery of the Apocalypse of Abraham, see A. Orlov, “Praxis of the Voice: The Divine Name Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” JBL 127.1 (2008) 53-70 at 58-60.

3 Rowland, The Open Heaven, 87.

4 On Bar-Eshath and the background of this name, see Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 63.

5 Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 12.

6 Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 12-13.

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

8 See A. Orlov, “The Gods of My Father Terah”: Abraham the Iconoclast and Polemics with the Divine Body Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 18.1 (2008) 33-53.

9 Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 48; Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 14.

10 Ezek 31:2-14 reads: “Mortal, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his hordes: Whom are you like in your greatness? Consider Assyria, a cedar of Lebanon, with fair branches and forest shade, and of great height, its top among the clouds. The waters nourished it, the deep made it grow tall, making its rivers flow around the place it was planted, sending forth its streams to all the trees of the field. So it towered high above all the trees of the field; its boughs grew large and its branches long, from abundant water in its shoots. All the birds of the air made their nests in its boughs; under its branches all the animals of the field gave birth to their young; and in its shade all great nations lived. It was beautiful in its greatness, in the length of its branches; for its roots went down to abundant water. The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were as nothing compared with its branches; no tree in the garden of God was like it in beauty. I made it beautiful with its mass of branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, I gave it into the hand of the prince of the nations; he has dealt with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. Foreigners from the most terrible of the nations have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs lie broken in all the watercourses of the land; and all the peoples of the earth went away from its shade and left it. On its fallen trunk settle all the birds of the air, and among its boughs lodge all the wild animals. All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to lofty height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For all of them are handed over to death, to the world below; along with all mortals, with those who go down to the Pit.” [NRSV].

11 Dan 4:10-17 reads: “Upon my bed this is what I saw; there was a tree at the center of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it, the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed. I continued looking, in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and there was a holy watcher, coming down from heaven. He cried aloud and said: ‘Cut down the tree and chop off its branches, strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from beneath it and the birds from its branches. But leave its stump and roots in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field. Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be with the animals of the field in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a human, and let the mind of an animal be given to him. And let seven times pass over him. The sentence is rendered by decree of the watchers, the decision is given by order of the holy ones, in order that all who live may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of mortals; he gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of human beings.’”[NRSV].

12 Alexander Kulik (Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 72) also points to the similarities with Isa 44:14-20: “He cuts down cedars or chooses a holm tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!’ The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, ‘Save me, for you are my god!’ They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and have eaten. Now shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?’” [NRSV].

13 On the author’s use of the Ezekelian traditions, see: Rubinkewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” 1.685.

14 C. Rowland, “The Vision of God in Apocalyptic Literature,” JSJ 10 (1979) 137-154; idem, The Open Heaven, 86-87.

15 In recent years scholars have become increasingly aware of the formative value of the Adamic traditions in the shaping of the corporeal ideologies about the anthropomorphic body of the Deity. Already in the Book of Ezekiel the imagery of the human-like Kavod is connected with the protological developments reflected in the Genesis account where humanity is told to be created in the image of God.

16 Several early Jewish sources attest to the lore about the enormous body of Adam which the protoplast possessed before his transgression in Eden. Thus, Philo in QG 1.32 mentions a tradition according to which the first humans received at their creation bodies of vast size reaching a gigantic height: “… [the first humans] … were provided with a very great body and the magnitude of a giant….” Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis (tr. R. Marcus; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1949) 19. Moreover, in some pseudepigraphic accounts the body of the protoplast is portrayed, not simply as gigantic, but even as comparable with the dimensions of the divine corporeality. Thus, in several pseudepigraphic materials depictions of Adam’s statue are often linked to the imagery of the enthroned divine anthropomorphic extent known from the priestly and Ezekelian sources as God’s Kavod. The pseudepigraphical and rabbinic sources also refer to the luminosity of the original body of the Protoplast which like the divine Body was emitting light.

17 Thus, the Tarqums attest to the prelapsarian luminosity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Biblical background for such traditions includes the passage from Gen 3:21, where “the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” The Targumic traditions, both Palestinian and Babylonian, read “garments of glory” instead of “garments of skin.” For example, in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 3:21 the following tradition can be found: “And the Lord God made garments of glory for Adam and for his wife from the skin which the serpent had cast off (to be worn) on the skin of their (garments of) fingernails of which they had been stripped, and he clothed them.” Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (tr. M. Maher, M.S.C.; The Aramaic Bible, 1B; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992) 29. Targum Neofiti on Gen 3:21 unveils the similar tradition: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of glory, for the skin of their flesh, and he clothed them.” Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (tr. M. McNamara, M.S.C.; The Aramaic Bible, 1A; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992) 62-63; A. Díez Macho, Neophiti 1: Targum Palestinense MS de la Biblioteca Vaticana (6 vols.; Seminario Filológico Cardenal Cisneros del Instituto Arias Montano. Textos y estudios, 7-11, 20; Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1968-79) 1.19. The Fragmentary Targum on Gen 3:21 also uses the imagery of glorious garments: “And He made: And the memra of the Lord God created for Adam and his wife precious garments [for] the skin of their flesh, and He clothed them.” M.I. Klein, The Fragment-Targums of the Pentateuch according to Their Extant Sources (2 vols.; AB, 76; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1980) 1.46; 2.7. Targum Onqelos on Gen 3:21 reads: “And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of honor for the skin of their flesh, and He clothed them.” The Targum Onqelos to Genesis (tr. B. Grossfeld; The Aramaic Bible, 6; Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1988) 46; The Bible in Aramaic Based on Old Manuscripts and Printed Texts (4 vols.; ed. A. Sperber; Leiden: Brill, 1959) 1.5.

18 See, for example, C. Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam. Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ, 42; Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 2002), 101-103; S. N. Bunta, “The Mēsu-Tree and the Animal Inside: Theomorphism and Theriomorphism in Daniel 4,” in: The Theophaneia School: Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism (eds. B. Lourié and A. Orlov; Scrinium, 3; St. Petersburg: Byzantinorossica, 2007) 364-384.

19 D. Arbel, “‘Seal of Resemblance, Full of Wisdom, and Perfect in Beauty’: The Enoch/Metatron Narrative of 3 Enoch and Ezekiel 28,” HTR 98 (2005) 121-42.

20 Another example of such dialectical interplay of reaffirmation and demotion can be found in Ezek 28:1-19 where one can find the symbolic depiction of judgment against the prince of Tyre. This account also appears to be informed by the Adamic traditions. As will be shown later, Ezek 28 also contributes to the background for the imagery found in the Apoc. Ab. since in both texts the idolatrous statues are destroyed by fire.

21 The concept of the cosmic tree as the building material for the divine figure found in the arboreal hymn of the Apocalypse of Abraham appears to be reminiscent not only of the descriptions in Ezek 31 and Dan 4 but also some Mesopotamian traditions about the cosmic tree also known there as the Mēsu-Tree. In this respect scholars have previously noted that the tradition about the wondrous tree reflected in Ezekiel 31 seems to draw on the Mesopotamian traditions about the Mēsu-Tree, a cosmic plant envisioned there as the building material for the divine statues. The traditions about the mythological tree are documented in several sources, including the Book of Erra, a Mesopotamian work dated between the eleventh and the eighth century B.C.E. The Book of Erra 1:150-156 reads:
“Where is the mēsu tree, the flesh of the gods, the ornament of the king of the uni[verse]?
That pure tree, that august youngster suited to supremacy,
Whose roots reached as deep down as the bottom of the underwor[ld]: a hundred double hours through the vast sea waters;
Whose top reached as high as the sky of [Anum]?
Where is the glittering zaginduru stone which I make choose ….
Where is Ninildu, the great woodcarver of my godhead,
Who carries the golden axe, who knows his own ….” [ L. Cagni, The Poem of Erra (SANE, 1/3; Malibu: Undena, 1977) 32]. This passage vividly demonstrates that the Mesopotamian “matrix” of the traditions about the gigantic cosmic tree as the building material for the divine statues is still reflected not only in Ezekiel, but also in the Slavonic apocalypse where the “flesh” of the cosmic tree serves as the building material for the idolatrous statue of Bar-Eshath. It is striking that the account of the cosmic Tree from Apoc. Ab. and the passage in the Book of Erra share several similar features including the motif of a craftsman carving the wooden statues of a godhead with his axe. On the Mesopotamian traditions about the Mēsu-Tree and their connection with Ezek 31 and Dan 4, see Silviu N. Bunta, “The Mēsu-Tree and the Animal Inside: Theomorphism and Theriomorphism in Daniel 4,” The Theophaneia School: Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism (eds. B. Lourié and A. Orlov; Scrinium, 3; St. Petersburg: Byzantinorossica, 2007) 364-384.

22 The motif of the Deity demoting or diminishing the original gigantic statue of the Protoplast is a dialectical device of re-affirmation widespread in the pseudepigraphical and rabbinic materials connected with the divine body traditions. Cf. J. Fossum, “The Adorable Adam of the Mystics and the Rebuttals of the Rabbis,” in: Geschichte-Tradition-Reflexion. Festschrift für Martin Hengel zum 70. Geburtstag (3 vols.; eds. H. Cancik, H. Lichtenberger and P. Schäfer; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1996) 1.529-30.

23 In Apoc. Ab. 4:3 Abraham compares Terah with the Creator telling him that he is a god to his idols since he made them.

24 Thus, for example, Apoc. Ab. 6:2 tells about Terah’s “creation” of the bodies of the idols.

25 Ezek 28:1-19 reads: “The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD: Because your heart is proud, and you have said, `I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you consider yourself as wise as a god –you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you; by your wisdom and your understanding you have gotten wealth for yourself, and have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries; by your great wisdom in trade you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth — therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you consider yourself as wise as a god, therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They shall thrust you down into the Pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas. Will you still say, `I am a god,’ in the presence of those who slay you, though you are but a man, and no god, in the hands of those who wound you? You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, says the Lord GOD. Moreover the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, topaz, and jasper, chrysolite, beryl, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald; and wrought in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought forth fire from the midst of you; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more for ever.’”

26 This Slavonic word can be literally translated as “praises.” For the discussion of the translation of Slavonic “похвала” as “beauty,” see Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 73, n. 6.

27 Thus, Daphna Arbel observes that “the bejeweled garb covered with precious stones that adorns the primal figure further highlights his state of exaltation.” Arbel, “‘Seal of Resemblance, Full of Wisdom, and Perfect in Beauty,’” 131.

28 Arbel, “‘Seal of Resemblance, Full of Wisdom, and Perfect in Beauty,’” 131.

29 On the Adamic background of Ezek 28 see J. Barr, “‘Thou art the Cherub’: Ezekiel 28.14 and the Postexilic Understanding of Genesis 2–3,” in: Priests, Prophets and Scribes. Essays on the Formation and Heritage of Second Temple Judaism in Honour of Joseph Blenkinsopp (eds. E. Ulrich, J. W. Wright, R. P. Caroll, P. R. Davies; JSOTSup, 149; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992) 213–223; N. C. Habel, “Ezekiel 28 and the Fall of the First Man,” Concordia Theological Monthly 38 (1967) 516–524; K. Jeppesen, “You are a Cherub, but no God!” SJOT 1 (1991) 83–94; D. Launderville, O.S.B., “Ezekiel’s Cherub: A Promising Symbol or a Dangerous Idol?” CBQ 65 (2004) 165–183; O. Loretz, “Der Sturz des Fürsten von Tyrus (Ez 28,1–19),” UF 8 (1976) 455–458; H. G. May, “The King in the Garden of Eden: A Study of Ezekiel 28:12–19,” in: Israel’s Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg (eds. B. Anderson and W. Harrelson; New York, 1962) 166–176; J. E. Miller, “The Maelaek of Tyre (Ezekiel 28, 11–19),” ZAW 105 (1994) 497–501; A. J. Williams, “The Mythological Background of Ezekiel 28:12–19?” BTB 6 (1976) 49–61; K. Yaron, “The Dirge over the King of Tyre,” ASTI 3 (1964) 28–57.

30 Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 14.

31 Launderville, “Ezekiel’s Cherub: A Promising Symbol or a Dangerous Idol,” 173-174.

32 Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave, 116.

33 Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.152.

34 Sokolov, “Материалы и заметки по старинной славянской литературе,” 44, 96.

35 Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.170.

36 Cf. 2 Enoch 30:10.

37 Kulik traces this Slavonic expression to the Hebrew expression wynp twmd. See Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 14, n. 30; 72-73.

38 Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave, 116; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 48.

39 For example, G.H. Box and J.L. Landsman consider it as “a later interpolation.” Box and Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham, 41, note 5.

40 For example, B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko include the passage with the arboreal tale only in the footnotes of their critical edition of the text. Cf. Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 48.

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