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Review: Testament Of Abraham

October 26, 2012

Testament Of Abraham
Testament Of Abraham by Dale C. Allison Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a superb piece of scholarship on a non-canonical Jewish-origin text that really deserves to be better known. The story of Abraham’s encounter with the archangel Michael, his misapprehensions, delaying tactics, tour of heaven and earth, change of heart, encounter with Death, and eventual death is hilarious and fascinating. If Dr. Allison does not presently have plans to publish his translation and an abridged commentary in a more popularly (and financially) accessible version, I hope he’ll consider it!

Because as good as this book is, it is not for the faint-of-academic-heart. I skipped entirely over the text-critical notes (commenting on the various manuscripts in which the text has survived), and almost entirely over the superabundance of parenthetical references to other ancient texts (Jewish, Christian, Graeco-Roman, and others) with comparable words, themes, or ideas. I sounded out some of the Greek words and recognized some cognates, but was frustrated because I can’t actually read Greek and thus much of the detailed word-analysis was lost on me.

On the other hand, the introductory chapters which present some context for the text are excellent in their own right. The translation itself, with the long and short recensions presented in parallel, reads very well. The verse by verse commentary attends to the literary structure of the text and its intense intertextuality with scripture and with other ancient writings. It also provides judicious assessments of where Christian influences likely dominate, and engages with other contemporary commentary.

The Testament of Abraham was a delightful discovery for me this semester; and if this volume is typical of the series, the Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature will be indispensable to serious scholarship in the field.

H/T and thanks to Diglotting, whose review of this book came up in my search results for “Testament of Abraham.”

(cross-posted at Gaudete Theology)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2012 1:05 am

    I’m not familiar with this translation, but there is (what seems to be) a perfectly serviceable translation by E. P. Sanders in Charlesworth’s Pseudepigrapha collection (volume 1), which you can pick up for $44 on Amazon. It is the single most complete source of Jewish apocryphal writings (more than 2100 pages) that I am aware of — I can recommend it wholeheartedly.

    Richard Baukman, James Davilla, and Alex Panayotov are working on a third volume that promises to weigh in at a further 800 pages or so.

    Of course, these versions just have the translations and introductions — not the detailed textual notes that Dale Allison’s book probably has.

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