ご無沙汰しております。It’s been a while since my last post. In fact, if I wait two more days, it will have been two full years. I’m sorry for the long hiatus. Let’s just get right back to it.
Update (Jan 6, 2017): I found the author’s English article and abstract, which I somehow missed earlier. I have added this below. Note, however, that I have kept my own translations elsewhere, especially in the outline.
There is a helpful Japanese article about Abraham in early interpretation by Dr. Etsuko Katsumata, Associate Professor at Doshisha University Graduate School of Theology. The article is:
Abraham the Iconoclast: Different Interpretations in the Literature of the Second Temple Period, the Texts of Rabbinic Judaism, and the Quran
Abstract: The Hebrew Bible does not describe how Abraham, the common patriarch of the three monotheistic faiths, came to know the one God. However, literature from the Second Temple period, texts of Rabbinic Judaism, targumim (Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible), the Quran, and other documents abound with narratives based on a common plot that recount how Abraham came to know the one God, confronted the idolatry that had continued until the generation of his father, and broke down the practice through various schemes. This paper presents translations of passages taken from the Book of Jubilees, the Apocalypse of Abraham, Genesis Rabba, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and the Quran that relate the tradition of “Abraham the iconoclast,” believed to have been highly popular at the time of the writing of the respective texts. The passages are then analyzed to extract a common plot, identify different focal points, and compare in terms of Abraham’s relationship with his father, Terah. From this comparative reading, the following observations can be made: the focus is placed on the importance of knowing one God in the Book of Jubilees, and on confrontation with idolatry in the Apocalypse of Abraham; various narrative components appear evenly with similar frequency in Genesis Rabba and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, possibly to maintain conformity as exegeses; in the Quran, the focus is on Abraham’s role of introducing the monotheistic notion to local residents. (From CiNii)
偶像を打破するアブラハム : 第二神殿時代文学・ラビ・ユダヤ教文献・クルアーンでの解釈の変遷 (Abraham the Idol-Breaker: Developments in Interpretation in Second Temple Literature, Rabbinic Literature, and the Quran)
三大一神教の祖とされるアブラハムが唯一神の認識に至る道程は、ヘブライ語聖書では描かれていない。しかし、第二神殿時代文学、ラビ・ユダヤ教文献、タルグム(アラム語訳聖書)、クルアーン他には、いかにアブラハムが、唯一の神を認識し、父の代までの偶像崇拝と対決し、画策の上 、打破したかを描く共通の構成要素からなる伝承が広く存在する。本稿では、おそらく高い人気を博したと思われるこの「偶像を打破するアブラハム」伝承を、『ヨベル書』『アブラハムの黙示録』『創世記ラッバ』『タルグム・偽ヨナタン』そして、イスラームの『クルアーン』から訳出し、共通する構成要素を抽出し、強調点の相違、また父テラへの関係の相違から比較する。その結果、『ヨベル書』では唯一神の認識の重要性 、『アブラハムの黙示録』では偶像崇拝との対決が、『創世記ラッバ』『タルグム・偽ヨナタン』では様々な構成要素が万遍無く現れ、聖書解釈としての整合性の維持への関心が強いこと、また、『クルアーン』でのアブラハムは、地元住民への唯一神観念の導入を果たす役割に重点が置かれていることが窺える。（CiNiiより）
The full-text version of this article is freely available online through the link above, thanks to the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions (see below for full bibliographic information).
Update: Initially, I had only found the article in Japanese, so I provided a bilingual outline with annotations in English to give readers an overview of the article. This simply an overview, not an attempt to reproduce the author’s argument in full.
「偶像を打破するアブラハム : 第二神殿時代文学・ラビ・ユダヤ教文献・クルアーンでの解釈の変遷」 (Abraham the Idol-Breaker: Developments in Interpretation in Second Temple Literature, Rabbinic Literature, and the Quran)
1. Introduction・序 (38–41)
- Katsumata briefly explains Abraham’s significance within each of the big three monotheistic religions, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Abraham’s role in much inter-religious dialogue. (38–39)
- The author briefly introduces Second Temple, Rabbinic, and Islamic traditions that developed concerning Abraham’s life before he sets out from Ur. These traditions are in stark contrast to the narrative in Genesis, which is completely silent about this period in Abraham’s life (the author notes, too, that we find relatively few references to these traditions in early Christian interpretation). (39)
- The author argues that this study is necessary because, as a collection, these texts have received little scholarly attention in the past; and because they are largely inaccessible in Japanese translation, and thus largely unknown in Japan (mostly because these traditions do not appear in the New Testament or in many early Christian texts). (39–40)
- The author aims:
- to translate and introduce important texts about “Abraham the idol-breaker”
- to analyze the major characteristics of the tradition(s) in each text
- to learn about these rich traditions behind the biblical story
- to recognize the shared significance of these traditions among different religious traditions
- to achieve a better understanding of the various settings (religious and otherwise) of these texts through understanding how they were received within each tradition. (40)
- The author concludes the introduction with a brief introduction of each primary text. (40–41)
2. Text Translations and Compositional Elements・テキスト訳出と構成要素 (41–54)
- Katsumata briefly explains her grouping of the texts into two time periods.
- Katsumata has based her Japanese translations on the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts for texts which appear in those languages, and on English versions of the rest, except for the Quran, which she quotes from a Japanese translation by Toshihiko Izutsu. (Note: this may need some correction due to a possible typo in the lines explaining her sources.) (41)
Compositional Elements・構成要素 (42–43)
In this section, Katsumata introduces five elements – these might be viewed as motifs, or scenes – including three variations each for B and D.
A. Abraham’s Recognition of the Only God・アブラハムによる唯一神の認識
B. Polemics Concerning Idols・偶像をめぐる論争
C. Acts of Idol Destruction・偶像破壊行動
D. The Fire Motif・火のモチーフ
E. The Death of Brother Haran・兄ハランの死
I. Second Temple Literature・第二神殿時代文学 (43–51)
The following two texts are presented side-by-side in Japanese translation:
- Book of Jubilees 11:14–12:31『ヨベル書』
- Apocalypse of Abraham 1:1–8:5『アブラハムの黙示録』
II. Midrash (Rabbinic Biblical Interpretation), Targum, Quran・ミドラシュ（ラビ・ユダヤ教聖書解釈）、タルグム、クルアーン (51–54)
The following three texts are presented side-by-side in Japanese translation:
- Genesis Rabbah 38:13『創世記ラッバ』
- Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Gen 11:28『タルグム・偽ヨナタン』創世記11:28
- Quran, Sura 21:52–71 (The Prophets)『クルアーン』預言者章（スーラ21:52–71）
3. Considerations Concerning the Compositional Elements・構成要素からの考察 (54–57)
In this section, Katsumata observes how the five elements (or motifs) are expressed in each text, and she points out certain characteristics of each text based on their different emphases, etc.
Book of Jubilees『ヨベル書』(54–55)
Abraham’s enlightenment about the foolishness of idolatry and his “discovery” of the creator God is especially important in this text. Etc.
Apocalypse of Abraham『アブラハムの黙示録』(55–56)
Above all, this text is chiefly interested in battling idolatry. Etc.
Genesis Rabbah 38:13『創世記ラッバ38・13』(56)
More than anything else, this text appears to be interested in explaining why Haran died before his father, both in terms of time and space (i.e., “before the face of [in the presence of] Terah”; Gen 11:28). Etc.
This text is also concerned with explaining Gen 11:28, though Haran’s wickedness receives more emphasis here. Etc.
This text is especially interested in Abraham’s campaign against idolatry and his discovery of the one and only God (note that the Quran contains several other passages recounting Abraham’s opposition to idol worship). Etc.
Katsumata concludes this section by drawing several parallels and contrasts among the various texts.
4. Distinguishing the Traditions by Focusing on the Relationship to Father Terah and Brother Haran・伝承群の区別: 父テラ・兄ハランとの関係を中心として (57–58)
In this section, the author argues that the best way to distinguish the traditions from one another is to consider Abraham’s attitude, and the attitude of each “transmitter” (伝承者) or narrator (語り手), towards Terah and Haran. This is connected to their interpretation of why Abraham left home in Genesis 12.
The Book of Jubilees emphasizes the foolishness of idolatry without depicting any significant breach in the relationship between Abraham and his ancestors.
The Apocalypse of Abraham depicts a degree of warmth in Abraham’s treatment of Terah, even as Abraham points out the foolishness of his father’s idolatry. Therefore, it requires outside forces (fire from heaven) to help Abraham make a clean break from his father.
In Genesis Rabbah and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Abraham shows no affection for his father, and his brother is depicted as a wicked man. While these texts were composed chiefly to explain Gen 11:28 (see above), they effectively drive a deep wedge between Abraham and his earthly relations up this point.
The Quran shows no interest in cutting Abraham off from his family and neighbors. Rather, its chief interest lies in introducing monotheistic concepts.
Here are some of the author’s main conclusions (in heavily abbreviated form):
- Whereas the Book of Jubilees emphasizes monotheistic ideas, the Apocalypse of Abraham emphasizes putting an end to idol worship. Idolatry must have been a serious problem in the time and place in which the latter text was composed.
- The texts depict Abraham’s relationship to Terah in various ways and for various purposes (see section 4, above).
- Apart from their primary concern to explain Gen 11:28, Genesis Rabbah and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan appear to castigate idolators more than the practice of idolatry itself (e.g., by identifying Abraham’s father and brother with Nimrod).
- The Quran’s use of this tradition reflects how Muslims were to dwell among idolators and direct them towards monotheistic faith.
Katsumata closes the article by expressing her desire to achieve a more complex (in the sense of composite) understanding of monotheism by extending her research to see how Abraham’s smashing of idolatry has been received by Church Fathers and other Christian thinkers. We look forward to it, Katsumata Sensei!
Etsuko Katsumata received her Ph.D. at Hebrew University. She specializes in Jewish Studies, especially Rabbinic Judaism and Rabbinic interpretation of Scripture.
Dr. Katsumata’s article appears in volume 8 of Journal of the Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions, published by Doshisha University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions in March of 2013.
English and Japanese Citations
Etsuko Katsumata, “Gūzō wo daha suru aburahamu: Dai-ni shinden jidai bungaku, rabi yudaya-kyo bunken, kuruān de no kaishaku no hensen” (Abraham the Iconoclast: Different Interpretations in the Literature of the Second Temple Period, the Texts of Rabbinic Judaism, and the Quran), Isshinkyō Gakusai Kenkyū 8 (Journal of the Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions 8) (2012): 38–62.
勝又 悦子「偶像を打破するアブラハム : 第二神殿時代文学・ラビ・ユダヤ教文献・クルアーンでの解釈の変遷」『一神教学際研究』第8号，2012年，38–62。
CiNii Links: English and Japanese
Previous Posts Related to Abraham
An Anthology of Akedah Stories in Japanese
Four Japanese Approaches to Genesis 22
Philosophical Interpretations of the Old Testament
Other Recommended Works
For English readers interested in pursuing this theme further, I strongly recommend by Jon D. Levenson’s Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
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