The two earliest manuscripts of the Jewish-Christian tradition of the Testament of Abraham (TestAbr) have survived from Egypt in Coptic. Both texts will be prepared for publication (P.Köln Inv. 3221b) and republication (Biblioteca Vaticana Copto 61, fol. 148v–163v) respectively. In addition to editing these texts with translations and commentaries, the project is dedicated to the festive traditions of a cult of Abraham, as well as to the religious and political implications behind the transmission of such a text.
The project will examine to what extent death and the expectation of a rigorous judgment of the deceased directly impacts daily religious, political and social behaviour. In this context, the manuscripts of the TestAbr
are studied in further detail. The text survives in a 4th-century papyrus codex as well as a 10th-century parchment codex. While the story relates the personal friendship between God and the patriarch, granting Abraham stability and security, God permits his good friend Abraham to travel to heaven prior to his own death in order to witness the judgment of all souls. Abraham observes the deceased confronted in court with their lifetime achievements. Based on a transcript of all actions performed, the souls are evaluated and receive a verdict, either to enter the heavenly realm or the darkness of the underworld. The judge himself relies on meticulous transcripts provided by Enoch, the scribe of justice, who records all deeds, both good and bad.
Abraham then makes this eyewitness report available to mankind as a warning. The patriarch’s special relationship with God may account for the popularity of this story adapted by various religious groups in different languages from the time of the Roman Empire to the 19th century. Its oldest surviving textual witness, the papyrus codex of the 4th century, has thus far remained unpublished and will now be made accessible for further research.