Genesis Apocryphon, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Genesis Apocryphon

Genesis Apocryphon. By Geza Vermes –, CC BY-SA 4.0,

One of the works found in cave 1 among the original scrolls was the previously unknown Genesis Apocryphon. Fragments were later found in cave 4 as well. This scroll retells the patriarchal narratives, at least as far as the text has been preserved, covering the period from Lamech to Abraham. It is one of the four relatively complete scrolls purchased by Yadin from the Syrian Metropolitan Athanasius Samuel. It is only partially preserved and published, and the unpublished sections have deteriorated, so that for the most part, little can be read. Recently devised scientific techniques of spectral imaging have helped scholars read a previously illegible word, so it is possible that this approach will yield further material from this text.

The text is written in Aramaic and is largely in the first-person singular. There are no parallels in this text to either the beliefs or the teachings of the Qumran sect, nor is there any reason to associate its composition with that group. Neither are there any apocalyptic teachings, at least in the preserved portions of this scroll. We should remember that it is almost an ironclad rule that texts found at Qumran that were composed in Aramaic are part of the heritage of Second Temple literature brought to Qumran.

The author presents a running narrative parallel to that of the Book of Genesis. Sometimes this work repeats the Bible, and sometimes it paraphrases it. Often it has substantial additions, some of which are parallel to material in other compositions such as the Book of Jubilees, which may have been one of its contemporaneous sources. Genesis Apocryphon also contains parallels to later texts such as the Targumim (the Jewish Aramaic translations of the Bible) and Midrashim.

Like I Enoch, this book contains a story of the miraculous birth of Noah except that the protagonist is Lamech, not Enoch (columns 2–5). Columns 6–17 recount the Flood story and its aftermath and display a number of parallels to Jubilees. We also find Noah observing the laws of the Torah. Here Noah is the narrator-

I and all my sons began to cultivate the earth and I planted a vineyard . . . on Mt. Lubar. And in the fourth year it produced wine for me. . . . And I began to drink (from) it on the first day of the fifth year.

A very similar tradition is found in Jubilees (7-2). In this passage, Noah is observing the legislation of the Torah regarding the fruit of new trees or vines (Leviticus 19-23–25). Accordingly, he does not drink of the produce of the fourth year until the beginning of the fifth year. While this interpretation is at variance with later rabbinic tradition, requiring that fourth-year produce be offered as a sacrifice, it is clear that this text is reflecting an alternative approach to fulfilling that law. The complete text, in its original form, must have included many more such halakhic details.

From column 18 the scroll tells the story of Abraham. Also here, there are parallels with Jubilees. Abraham dreams of people trying to cut down a cedar and a date palm—symbolizing himself and his wife, Sarah. The danger he senses in his dream serves in the story to justify the lie he tells, claiming that Sarah is his sister. The poetic description of Sarah’s beauty is influenced here by Song of Songs, using the analogic method of exegesis to fill out the details of the biblical narrative. (Both of these passages are discussed in greater detail in other chapters.) Abraham is portrayed as a seer, interpreter of dreams, and healer. The portrayal of the character of Abraham has clearly been influenced by the biblical stories of Joseph and Daniel.

Pages 187-190

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