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Philology in the Service of Theology: Alexander Kulik’s book on the Apocalypse of Abraham
Alexander Kulik, Retroversing Slavonic Pseudepigrapha. Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004 (Text-Critical Studies. Vol. 3).

The author defines the goal of his book as “a further step in the research on ApAb” (p. 4), and, indeed, it is. Until recently, the main concern of the scholars of ApAb was establishing of the Slavonic text, but now, after critical editions by Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko (1981) and by Rubinkiewicz (1987), it is time to look deeper, that is, to figure out the Semitic original of ApAb as a whole. This is what the book is about.
Its main sections are the following: translation of the whole text of ApAb made by Kulik himself taking into account his own syntactical considerations on the text (p. 10-35), discussion of the Greek Vorlage of the Slavonic version (ch. 1, p. 37-60), discussion of the Semitic original of this Vorlage (ch. 2, p. 61-76), a short chapter 3 (p. 77-79) dealing with the retroversion as a mean to establish the Slavonic text, and, finally, an important chapter “Intertextual Verification as a Tool of Retroversion” (ch. 4, p. 81-90) and Conclusions (p. 91-94). Probably, it would not be out of place to see also an edition of the Slavonic text side by side with translation, but author limit himself to a recommendation to have handy both critical editions during the examination of his work (p. 4).
Kulik’s analysis is important not only to the historic linguistics and the history of the text transmission between the Jewish and Christian traditions, but also to the history of the theological traditions themselves. It is the latter perspective that the present reviewer is mostly interested in.
Naturally, the chapter dedicated to the Greek Vorlage (ch. 1) is the largest one, due to the fact that the Greek text, while disappeared, is more accessible to us than the Semitic original (the Slavonic translation being made from Greek and the Slavonic language itself being “shaped” by the translations from Greek). So, the chapter 1 consists of a long series of “graphic misinterpretations”, “morphological calques”, “semantic calques”, “syntactic Hellenisms”, and “phraseological Hellenisms”. Some of them seem to be important for a theological understanding of ApAb.
For instance, an explication of окрьсть (ApAb 18:3) through Greek uncial ΚΥΚΛΟΙ “wheels” misread as ΚΥΚΛΩΙ “round about” (p. 39). Abraham in his heavenly journey saw “many-eyed round about”, but these “round about” are in fact “wheels”, that is, “many-eyed wheels” of Ezek 10:12. A vision of angelic beings as many-eyed wheels is an additional marker showing that ApAb is embedded in the Second Temple Ezekielic traditions, as it has been shown especially by David Halperin (D. Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot. Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel’s Vision (TSAJ, 16; Tübingen; Mohr, 1988) 103-113).
Another interesting example one can find among the cases of the morphological calques, even if Kulik himself acknowledges that his solution is but a hypothesis and even one of three probable hypotheses while apparently the most attractive. ApAb 27:3: “And behold, I saw four съходы <…>. And they burned the temple with fire, and they carried away the holy things that were in it” (p. 42-43 and also p. 50). Kulik proposes that the mysterious word съходы (plural for masculine singular съходъ or feminine singular *съхода) renders here either σύνοδοι or συναγωγαί that means four angelic “camps” or “rows” attested in all the three books of Enoch as well as in some other Jewish texts. Four angelic camps as keepers of the holy things of the temple and destroyers of the temple itself when it becomes rejected by God, it is a rather impressive picture of the heavenly pattern of the earthly military camp of Israel during the Exodus that was itself divided into four parts (Num 2; this is the biblical reference to add to the later Jewish references provided by Kulik).
Let me notice on margin that I see no need to postulate a feminine form *съхода (used by Kulik even in the subtitle of the corresponding paragraph) that Kulik himself rightly considers as a hapax legomenon (p. 50) — if only we can accept its existence as proven at all. Indeed, the form of Acc. pl. съходы would correspond to both –a and –o declensions, that is, to both feminine Nom. sg. *съхода and masculine съходъ. Then, we have to choose between identifying a well-attested lexeme and postulating a hapax, and I don’t see why we should prefer the latter.
The reading съходы is also an example when retroversion is a tool to establish the critical text in Slavonic. Some of the mss have here a reading въходы, but Kulik rightly opts for a lectio difficilior. He deals at length with this use of the retroversion in chapter 3 (p. 77-79).
Another case of a semantic calque where Kulik is extremely successful is ApAb 25:1: Abraham “saw there the likeness of the idol of jealousy, as a likeness of a carpenter’s [work] <…>, and its statue was of shining cooper”. The problem is that an apparently wooden idol (“a carpenter’s [древодѣля] work”) is “of shining copper”. The vision of the “idol of jealousy” is that of Ezek 8:5 combined with the “vision of shining copper” in Ezek 40:3 LXX (MT has here “as a likeness of copper” only). Kulik resolves this problem by referring to an alternative meaning of τέκτων (“carpenter”, but also “craftsman”).
Again on margin, I would notice here an interesting case when ApAb relies on Ezek LXX where it differs with Ezek MT. Elsewhere I elaborate on a more important case of such dependence of ApAb from the Septuagint text of Ezekiel in spite of MT, namely, where ApAb deals with the Throne of God and the propitiatorium in the sanctuary on the seventh heaven, ch. 21-22 [В. М. Лурье, Чаша Соломона и Скиния на Сионе. Часть 1. Надпись на Чаше Соломона: текст и контекст, Византинороссика 3 (2005) 8-74, esp. 38-41; B. Lourié, Propitiatorium in the Apocalypse of Abraham, in: Ch. Böttrich, L. DiTommaso (eds.), Old Testament Apocrypha in the Slavonic Tradition: Continuity and Diversity (Texts and Studies. London/New York: T&T Clark International, 2006) (forthcoming)]. Such dependence looks a bit odd only at first glance. As it seems to me, ApAb can be considered as an indirect evidence for the Hebrew original of these specific readings of the Greek Ezekiel.
Among the semantic calques from Greek there are two places often considered in the previous scholarship as “Christian interpolations”. Kulik shows that both make sense in a purely Jewish context, and so, any supposition of an interpolation, Christian or Bogomilian, would be absolutely arbitrary.
First, an allegedly messianic place ApAb 29:8: “Hear, Abraham, the man whom you saw shamed and struck and again worshiped is the ослаба of the heathen for the people who will come from you in the last days” (p. 51-52). Previously the scholars, starting from the meaning of the Slavonic word ослаба, have translated this word as “relief” and even — that was, of course, a rather forced translation — “délivrance” and “liberation” (suggesting in Greek ἄνεσις or one of its synonyms). The problem is that then this allegedly messianic figure is “going out from the left side of the heathen,” kissed by Azazel, etc., that is, looks rather as an anti-Messiah than a true Messiah Christ. Kulik proves that this figure is an unambiguously that of Antichrist. He, too, suggests ἄνεσις for ослаба, but in another meaning, “willfulness”, or, alternatively, ἔκλυσις or παράλυσις with meaning “weakening”, “laxity.” The only inexactitude that I see in Kulik’s discussion of ApAb 29:8-10 as the verses dealing with the figures of Antichrist (false Messiah) and Christ (that is, a true Messiah, in a purely Jewish pre-Christian sense) is his translation of ἄνεσις as “willfulness.” I see neither any ground for this translation (no such meaning in any of the dictionaries including LSJ) nor any objection to understand here ослаба / ἄνεσις as “weakening” or “laxity.”
Secondly, an allegedly Bogomilian statement in ApAb 20:7: “How (како) <…> have you [God] set yourself with him [Azazel]?” (p. 54). According to its literal meaning, the Slavonic text here can be understood as an implicit assertion that there is a kind of collaboration (or, at least, a kind of “peaceful co-existence”) between God and Azazel, so that the question itself concerns only the mechanism of such collaboration. Therefore the phrase gives a pretext to “Bogomilian” speculations… Kulik resolves this difficulty by understanding of како as an unhelpful translation of πῶς that in fact has to be understood here as “why?” So, the phrase is a question of Abraham to God when Abraham asks about God’s seeming collaboration with Azazel, but is told (in subsequent verses) that there is no such collaboration at all.
Only one point in Kulik’s list of semantic calques seems to me wrong. It is the case of поновения / ἐγκαίνια / חנוכה in ApAb 9:9 (p. 46-47). If we, as Kulik does, define “semantic calque” as only the “wrong choice of meaning of a polysemantic word” (p. 44, n. 8 quoting Francis Thomson), the case of поновения is not a semantic calque — because it is not a “wrong choice of meaning” at all. The words понов(л)ения and обновления (these forms are neuter plural, like that of Gr. ἐγκαίνια) became in Church Slavonic quite common terms for the consecration of church (and so, as it is the case in ApAb, applicable also to “the ages”). Cf. also, for a small number but of the earliest mss of the works translated from Greek: Э. Благова, Р. М. Цейтлин, С. Геродес, Л. Панцерова, М. Бауэрова, Старославянский словарь (по рукописям X-XI веков), Moscow: Russkij Jazyk, 1994, p. 395 (s. v. обновление) and 478 (s. v. поновление). The term понов(л)ения / обновления was used in the original Slavonic works as well as in the translated ones, and there was hardly any alternative to this term in the Church Slavonic because it was (and still is) the only normative title of the rite of the consecration of church.

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