In this Essay, we will discuss how Moses and Abraham speak with the Lord, and how both are given a vision of the Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the Fall from within the heavenly veil. Significantly, in explicit contradiction to the text of ApAb where Yaho’el declared to Abraham: “the Eternal One… himself you will not see,” the fourteenth–century Christian illustrator of the Codex Sylvester seems to have had no qualms about representing God visually. Commenting on these sorts of contradictions, Margaret Barker observes:
To see the glory of the Lord’s presence — to see beyond the veil — was the greatest blessing. The high priest used to bless Israel with the words: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” … Seeing the glory, however, became controversial. Nobody knows why. There is one strand in the Old Testament that is absolutely opposed to any idea of seeing the divine… [On the other hand,] Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”; and John saw “one seated on the throne.” There can be no doubt where the early Christians stood on this matter.
God’s Purpose and Will Are His Own
As the Book of Moses refers to “mine own purpose” and the “wisdom [that] remaineth in me,” so ApAb, in the answer to Abraham’s second question after his vision of the Fall, God declares “the will desired by me” is “inevitable” [i.e., “sure to come”] just “as the will of your father is in him.” Kulik sees a “very similar context” in Ephesians 1:11, which combines the concepts of “purpose” and “will”: “predestined according to the purpose of him who does all things according to the will desired by him.”
Alexander Kulik concludes that “we are dealing here [in ApAb] with the rabbinic conception of free will combined with the inevitability of God’s will (predetermination).” Similarly, in the Jewish Mishnah we read: “Everything is foreseen, and free choice is given.”
The Book of Moses phrase “it remaineth in me” subtly echoes scriptural passages that depict God and wisdom as inseparably associated since before the creation of the earth. This exclusive relationship makes the mysteries of true wisdom inaccessible to man except as made known through God Himself. The Book of Mormon employs similar phraseology to describe how God’s hidden intentions—in this case the preservation of Nephite records — are “wise purposes in him” — things that can only be known by direct revelation. Note that in Moses 1:31, although God is saying he has a wise purpose, it does not seem that He tells Moses what the reason is.
Seeing the Lord Face to Face
In the illustration above, Abraham and Yaho’el are “traveling … about the air” with “no ground [beneath] to which [Abraham] could fall prostrate.” The figure pictured on the throne seems to be the Christ. His identity is indicated by the cruciform markings on His nimbus. Behind the enthroned Christ is a second figure, perhaps alluding to the statement in ApAb that “Michael is with me [i.e., the Lord] in order to bless you forever.”
Beneath the throne are fiery seraphim and many-eyed “wheels” praising God. The throne is surrounded by a series of heavenly veils separating the Lord from the material world — the latter being signified by the outermost dark blue veil. The representation of the veils as multicolored may stem from an interpretation of Ezekiel 1:28, where the glory of the Lord is likened to a rainbow. In the depiction shown here, the illustrator has deliberately chosen to use the colors of red, green, and blue.
Vision of the Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the Fall
At this point, just as Moses is shown the events of the Creation and the Fall, ApAb describes how the great patriarch looked down to see the affairs of what is called in modern revelation the “kingdoms of a lower order.” The Lord’s voice commanded Abraham to “look,” and a series of heavenly veils were opened beneath his feet. Like Moses, Abraham is shown the heavenly plan for creation — “the creation that was depicted of old on this expanse” (21:1), its realization on the earth (21:3–5), the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Adam and Eve (21:6), and the spirits of all men — with certain ones “prepared to be born of [Abraham] and to be called [God’s] people (21:7–22:5).” When Abraham is told again to “Look … at the picture,” he sees Satan inciting the Fall of Adam and Eve (23:1–14), just as Moses saw these events following his own heavenly ascent (Moses 2-4).
A close examination of the details of the account of Moses’ heavenly ascent in the context of its overall structure throws important light on the significance of temple ordinances performed in our day. As we have seen in the evidence assembled in the series of Insights #31–41, parallels with other ancient texts, such as the Apocalypse of Abraham, confirm the basic temple pattern both in its content and sequence, and constitute an impressive witness of the antiquity of the text restored by Joseph Smith’s revelations. Hugh Nibley concluded as a result of his study: “These parallel accounts, separated by centuries, cannot be coincidence. Nor can all the others.”
This article is adapted from Bradshaw, Jeffrey M., David J. Larsen, and Stephen T. Whitlock. "Moses 1 and the Apocalypse of Abraham: Twin sons of different mothers?” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 179-290. https://interpreterfoundation.org/moses-1-and-the-apocalypse-of-abraham-twin-sons-of-different-mothers/.
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Notes on Figures
Figure 1. Translation of caption: “Abraham bowing with an angel before the throne of God in the heavens.” Cf. A. Kulik, Retroverting, 18:3, p. 24.
Photographs of the originals of the illustrations are from Otkrovenie Avraama (Apocalypse of Abraham or ApAb), which comprises pages 328-375 of the Codex Sylvester. The Codex Sylvester, “the oldest and the only independent manuscript containing the full text of ApAb” (A. Kulik, Retroverting, p. 3), is known to scholars as manuscript “S.” It is the only illustrated manuscript of ApAb. Photographs of the illustrations from the original manuscript are published in this article for the first time with the kind permission of the Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv drevnikh aktov (RGADA — Russian State Archive of Early Acts, formerly TsGADA SSSR = Central State Archive of Early Acts) in Moscow. We express our sincere gratitude to Evgeniy Rychalovskiy, Head of the Publication Department and Vladislav Rzheutsky of the German Historical Institute in Moscow, for their assistance on 4 and 6 December 2019. Within the RGADA collection, the Codex Sylvester is catalogued as folder 381, Printer’s Library, no. 53, folios 164v-186. The six illustrations can be found in these folios: 182v, 174, 172v, 170v, 168b v, and 168a.
Photographs of the illustrations from a rare printed copy of the first facsimile edition (1891) were taken on 26 April 2009 and are © Stephen T. Whitlock and Jeffrey M. Bradshaw. We express our special thanks to Carole Menzies and Jennifer Griffiths who facilitated our access to the facsimiles for filming purposes in the Taylor Bodleian Slavonic and Modern Greek Library, Oxford University, Oxford, England. The facsimile edition was originally published as N. Novickij (Novitskii, P. P., Otkrovenie Avraama and later as a reprint. Whitlock’s Image IDs are as follows: ApAb-OX10, ApAb-OX19, ApAb-OX20, ApAb-OX26, ApAb-OX30, ApAb-OX33, ApAb-OX50. For this article, the photos have been enhanced digitally for readability and size consistency, and a colored mask has been added to the backgrounds of all photos except ApAb-OX10.
Figure 2. Copyright Jeffrey M. Bradshaw.
As for contradictions, it is not uncommon for medieval illustrations to differ from the texts they represent. The scribes almost never did their own illustrations, and the communication between scribes and illuminators wasn’t always successful, especially in cases where the illuminator could not (or did not) read the text. …
I’ve also had another thought about your illumination of the face-to-face encounter with God/Christ. It may be that the veil is pulled back for the benefit of the viewer–but not for Abraham. This was a frequent convention in 14th-15th-century illuminations. Here’s an example from one of the Bibles Moralisées that shows Zacharias (father of John the Baptist) serving in the temple. The walls are stripped away so we can see what’s going on, but the other present observers ("multitude de peuples") are certainly not able to see him. Similarly, I think the artist has exposed God’s face to the reader in the ApAb, even though He remains concealed to Abraham.
In the prose poem or hymn of Philippian [2:6], Paul portrays the pre-existent Christ as being “in the form of God.” This phrase does not refer to being God or being divine in the fullest sense. Otherwise, the “hyper-exaltation” after his death on the cross would lose its rhetorical force (Philippians 2:9). Thus “being in the form of God” is best understood as being a heavenly being, probably some sort of angel. The hyper-exalted state of Christ, historically interpreted, is best thought of as being the principal angel. The principal angel in some ancient Jewish texts is the angel who bears the name of God, such as Yahoel in the Apocalypse of Abraham, and is closest to and most like God. That the pre-existent Christ, who became the earthly Jesus, was transformed and became the highest angel is analogous to the transformation of the human Enoch into the exalted angel Metatron, whom God gives the name “The lesser YHWH” (P. S. Alexander, 3 Enoch, 12:5, p. 265). Thus, when the bodies of Paul and the members of his communities are “conformed to his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21) they will become like those of the angels.
Curiously, however, the Christian illustrator of ApAb represents Christ, sitting on the throne of God, separately from Yaho’el, the angelic companion of Abraham, whereas the earliest Christians might have more easily seen a fusion of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ, His earthly manifestation (e.g., M. Barker, Angel).
Christopher Rowland speculated that Yaho’el, “like Wisdom (Wisdom 9:4) was the companion of God’s throne. While there is no explicit evidence that [Yaho’el] was the one whose seat was on the throne of God, it is not impossible that we have a theological description here which reflects that found in Ezekiel 1 and 8, where the human figure on the throne leaves the throne to function as the agent of divine will” (C. Rowland, Open Heaven, p. 103).
Other, more distant possibilities for the identity of this figure might include the “angel of the Holy Ghost” (mentioned in M. A. Knibb, Isaiah, 11:33, p. 176) or the Father, with Christ serving as his Face, in front, and the more invisible/formless Father behind.
The veil marked the division between the visible and the invisible creation. It represented matter, and was woven from red, blue, purple, and white threads, to represent the four elements from which the material world was made: earth (white), air (blue), fire (red), and water (purple). It was embroidered with cherubim, the winged heavenly beings found throughout the temple — in the Holy of Holies, on the walls of the great hall, and on the veil between them. They could move between the two states of creation, and transmitted heavenly knowledge to earth.
Consistent with the emphasis in the first part of ApAb, which condemns idolatry through the story of Terah, the ApAb version of the Fall supposes that Adam, Eve, and Cain also practiced idolatry. Mayerhofer further explains the point of these illustrations for the protagonist of ApAb: “Abraham, who manages to stand up against his father’s ungodly practices, can escape both the crisis and the punishment” (K. Mayerhofer, And They Will Rejoice, p. 15). See also the discussion of idolatry in A. E. Paulsen-Reed, Origins, pp. 108-117.