The Testament of Abraham


The Testament of Abraham is very difficult to date, but most would put it around two thousand years ago. That is old for this point in the course, but it strikes me as especially timeless and even current to 2019 in its concern with personal over collective eschatology and call to laugh at what might otherwise make us cry or tremble. It was almost certainly written in Greek outside the Jewish homeland. The text was preserved only by Christians, and represents an expression of Judaism other than that which survived, namely, Rabbinic Judaism, represented by the other reading for this hour, from the Talmud.


Humor is difficult to explain or define. If you don’t think the Testament of Abraham is funny look for it. If you still can’t see it take my word for it. It’s hilarious. The text opens by saying that Abraham lived almost 1000 years, but no tradition of Genesis or otherwise puts Abraham’s age over 175. I think the point is to signal to the reader right up front, “don't take me too seriously.” The text goes on to make light of Abraham, angels, death, and most of all, human fear of death. We are so afraid of it, but why? We may say we want to live longer, or have time to set our affairs in order, or to be more assured of our afterlife, but the Testament of Abraham calls B.S. Even Abraham, who lived a full life in God’s company and had every assurance of a peaceful death and pleasant afterlife still shared this irrational fear and anxiety about the inevitable will of God.


Many times we have seen concern about the probability of “making the cut” and faring well in eschatological judgment.


Questions of eschatology are never too far away from questions of theodicy. According to the Testament of Abraham,

Personal eschatology without collective eschatology

I detect no real trace of collective eschatology, intermediate state, or a deferred day of judgment. Other than some comic resuscitations, there is no hint of resurrection of the body. All of that should be a little surprising from Judaism about two thousand years ago.