Apocalypticism: Manuscripts, Rewriting, and Authority Management
AMRAM is a three year research project at the Faculty of Theology (June 2021-June 2024), funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark. The project investigates the earliest apocalyptic documents, which are found among the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran.
Apocalyptic writings flourished mainly during a period stretching from about 200 BCE to 100 CE. These Jewish and Christian writings share a number of important characteristics. They present revelations of hidden knowledge, often in the form of visions and dreams. They usually depict a catastrophic end of the world. They reveal a divine reality which cannot be seen or perceived directly by humans, but which dominates the experienced world. They often present a sharp dualistic divide between forces of good and evil, light and darkness, and a deterministic view of history, which, according to a divine plan, inevitably leads to the final catastrophe and the ultimate destruction of evil. AMRAM aims at enriching and developing our understanding of ancient apocalyptic literature, its emergence, character, and functions
Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew, but around 15 % of the manuscripts are in Aramaic. Some of these texts seem to be contemporary with, or older than, parts of the Hebrew Bible. AMRAM focuses on Visions of Amram, represented in at least five manuscripts from Cave Four (4Q543-547).
Visions of Amram is a literary composition, with a narrative framework centered around the protagonist, Amram, the father of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Visions of Amram narrates Amrams final actions and words. Knowing death to be approaching, Amram summons his children to his deathbed, and informs them of important events of his life. The composition, in other words, has the character of a testament. The text begins with these lines:
A copy of the words of the visions of Amram, son of Qahat, son of Levi, everything that he told his children, and commanded them on the day of his death, in the year 136, that is the year of his death, in the year 152 of the exile of Israel in Egypt… (4Q543 1 1-4, cf. 4Q545 1a I 1-4)
The scene is set in Egypt prior to the Exodus. Amram tells of a journey he undertook to the land of Canaan, and a vision that he had on this way back to Egypt. The vision involves the appearance of two angelic figures representing light and darkness, and Amram is told to choose between them. He is also given knowledge about the future including the exodus events, God’s covenant with the Israelites, and the fate of his sons, Moses and Aaron. It is not entirely clear whether the vision also comprises a final scene of judgment. This depends largely on whether two further manuscripts (4Q548-549) are included as belonging to Visions of Amram.
Visions of Amram may not qualify as an apocalypse according to the definitions proposed for that genre by various scholars. However, it clearly shares important traits with the broader phenomenon of apocalyptic literature. Hidden knowledge is communicated to Amram in a revelation by supernatural beings. He learns of a sharp dualistic contrast between the realms of light and darkness, and the power of these realms over the human world. From the angel of light he receives – or so it seems – a series of predictions concerning the future. The fact that the revelation is given to a figure of the biblical past is also a feature found in several apocalyptic compositions.
AMRAM will produce a new digital text edition of Visions of Amram. The Qumran manuscripts 4Q543-547 are so similar, and include so many parallel passages that they must be regarded as witnesses to the same composition. However, when their material features are examined closely, these manuscripts cannot have contained exactly the same text. The planned edition will present both the individual manuscripts and the composition as a whole in a transparent and fully searchable format, and include an introduction to, and a running commentary to the text.
Visions of Amram, like most ancient Jewish texts in general and apocalyptic literature in particular, depends on and constantly refers to older written tradition. The composition transforms Moses’ father, Amram, a peripheral figure in the biblical narrative, into an important character, a leader of the Israelites in Egypt who receives divine revelations and passes on essential knowledge to his children. The new text creatively rewrites the traditions, persons, and narrative patterns of earlier texts. In his final address to his children, Amram recounts his visit to Canaan to build the ancestors’ tombs. The narrative links him directly to the stories of Israel’s patriarchs, making Amram the successor of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through his vision, Amram learns of future events that are, from the reader’s point of view, events from the biblical past: the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, and God’s revelation at Mount Sinai. Through these explicit links to biblical traditions and stories, the text borrows the authority of these traditions.
AMRAM explores the phenomenon of “rewriting” from a variety of perspectives. The combination of well-known familiar storylines and new twists and angles to the narratives render the texts capable of managing authority.
AMRAM investigates the way in which Visions of Amram and related texts handle authority. “Authority” is used here in a broad sense, meaning the ability to influence, motivate, modify, and regulate people’s thoughts and actions. The assumption is that a text like Visions of Amram contains a number of features which can be plausibly interpreted as devices to exercise authority in a variety of ways. When apocalyptic texts rewrite earlier narratives, they appropriate their authority. When they reshape already existing traditions, texts, and figures that are associated with authoritative status, they renew their authority. When they predict the future, and describe transcendent realities in the form of visions and dreams, they claim authority for their predictions and descriptions.
Apocalyptic texts manage authority at a variety of levels as they have the potential to influence their audience. AMRAM examines different markers of authority in the text. The method is transdisciplinary, combining paleographical and linguistic methods, literary and rhetorical analyses, theories from cognitive science, and digital humanities.
Beside the text edition of Visions of Amram, AMRAM includes three subprojects, all related to authority management:
- An investigation of Human choice and divine control in Qumran and the Hebrew Bible;
- An investigation of Emerging apocalypticism in biblical texts and Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls;
- An investigation of The Testament Genre as Authority Management.