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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. (1) The main plot of this section of the text revolves around the family business of manufacturing idols. 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 authors of the Slavonic apocalypse seem to envision the members of Terah's household 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 and Terah are involved in sacrificial rituals in temples. (2) 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, (3) when Jewish communities were facing a wide array of challenges including the loss of the Temple, is drawing here on familiar metaphors derived from the Book of Ezekiel, which construes idolatry as the main reason for the destruction of the terrestrial sanctuary. Like Ezekiel, the hero of the Slavonic apocalypse is 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 plays a significant role in shaping the Abrahamic pseudepigraphon, (4) there is a curious difference between the two visionary accounts. While in Ezekiel the false idols of the perished temple are contrasted with the true form of the deity enthroned on the divine chariot, the Apocalypse of Abraham denies 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, evoking the classic Ezekielian description, he does not see any divine form on the chariot. Scholars have noted that while they preserve 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 references to the divine Voice. (5) The common interpretation is that the Apocalypse of Abraham deliberately seeks "to exclude all reference to the human figure mentioned in Ezekiel 1." (6)
In view of this polemical stance against the anthropomorphic understanding of God in the second part of the Apocalypse of Abraham, it is possible that the first part of the pseudepigraphon, which is imbued with imagery of idolatrous figures, might also contain a polemic against the divine body traditions. (7) This article will explore the possible anti-anthropomorphic tendencies in the first part of the Slavonic apocalypse.
* Bar-Eshath, the Wooden Idol
The introductory chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham entertain the reader 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 idols 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 the 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 be using the patriarch's story to advance their own anticorporeal agenda. (8)
The limited scope of this investigation does not allow us to explore all 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. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). (9) 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 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. (10) Skeptical of idols, Abraham decides to challenge their supernatural power by placing Bar-Eshath near fire and, with irony, ordering him to confine the flames. (11) 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 evokes two pivotal biblical theophanic accounts associated with the divine body ideology--Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 3--that contain depictions of divine beings in the midst of fire. Although the purpose of these two biblical accounts is to highlight the distinction between true and false representations of the Deity by depicting the authentic form enduring fire, in the Slavonic apocalypse the argument takes a different turn. Here, it is not a fiery divine form but its incorporeal manifestation--the divine Voice appearing in the midst of fire (12)--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 on the divine body traditions. (13) In this study I will continue to probe polemical features of the Bar-Eshath account by focusing on the symbolic dimension of the story in chapter six of the Slavonic apocalypse. There, the story of the "fall" of the wooden idol is poetically retold, this time in mythological language reminiscent of Ezekiel and Daniel, two biblical writings in which the ideology of the divine body …