The Genesis Apocryphon, also known as the Tales of the Patriarchs or the Apocalypse of Lamech, is a Jewish retelling (parabiblical) of several more ancient Jewish books, expanding on the lives of several patriarchs. The book, written in Hasmonaean Aramaic, is estimated to have been written around 200 BCE to 100 CE, and was lost for nearly 2,000 years until it was recovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s.
I decided to read this book in order to better familiarize myself with non-canonical Jewish writings. I read John C. Reeves's English translation on 2021-06-08.
Like most ancient works, the book is untitled. The "Genesis Apocryphon," "Tales of the Patriarchs," "Apocalypse of Lamech," and any other titles associated with the book are designations used by historians to easily identify it. The one and only scroll is designated 1QapGen.
Authorship and Dating
Historians guess that the book was written by Essene Jews, not because of any Essene-specific theology — there isn't any — but because it was included among the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls which are thought to have been compiled by the Essenes. Estimates of the manuscript's age, based on the writing style and carbon-14 dating, place the document between 200 BCE and 100 CE. Scroll 1QapGen is partially extent and the only know manuscript in existence.
The book is a retelling of several of the stories found in the Book of Jubilees, the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Genesis. Additional content is added and confusing points in the source material are reinterpreted most likely to clarify confusing passages and make them fit with the Jewish philosophy of the time. In particular, it focuses on the lives of four main patriarchs: Lamech, Methuselah, Noah, and Abraham. adding new stories to their lives, describing their families in greater detail and assigning names to characters only hinted at in Genesis. Unfortunately, much of the scroll has deteriorated, so a lot of the book has been lost. The story also ends abruptly with Abram begging Elohim for children, indicating there was at least one additional, as of yet undiscovered, scroll.
- The book acts as additional historical evidence against the belief that Jewish scripture has been perfectly preserved. Like with other re-tellings, this book reminds us that the Jews were constantly reworking their scripture to better fit their changing cultural beliefs.
- The book further demonstrates just how bizarre Jewish sexual fantasies were. Heavenly beings (Watchers and Nephilim) impregnate women, close family incest is approved of, etc.
- The work also demonstrates the Jewish belief that dreams were portents of the future, despite all the scripture condemning divination and the interpretation of dreams.
- The priestly sources show their influence with reminders on how to slaughter animals and what not to do if you want to keep Elohim from getting angry at you.
- Just like with Genesis, there are boring genealogies and detailed descriptions of land ownership.
- The story of Abram and Sarai jumps back and forth between first and third person which is awfully annoying.
- The book ends with a lot of pious warmongering, but, at least Abram doesn't commit genocide as Yahweh so cheerfully demands in the Torah (maybe he does in the missing scroll?).
- Sadly, so much of the scroll has deteriorated, it's difficult to understand the bulk of the book. Some of the more interesting parts, like Noah getting drunk and naked and being "seen" by one of his sons, is missing, so we don't know how the later Jews tried to make sense of the confusing scene from Genesis.
- The fact that this book was written by men, for men is made clear when Sarai's beauty is described. The author details the perfection of her breasts and thighs, but describes her wisdom and work ethic merely afterthoughts.
- The retelling of Abram and Sarai lying to Pharaoh is also horrible in this book. Abram has a dream where is told by Elohim to lie about being Sarai being his sister, and, after Pharaoh Zoan marries her and prepares to have sex with her, Abram prays to Elohim that he would stop his property from being defiled, so Elohim punishes the pharaoh with a pestilence that infects his entire house. For two years, the pharaoh becomes violently ill each time he tries to have sex with her, and his magicians are unable to help him. Finally, when Abram's lie is revealed, the pharaoh pays massive riches for Arbram if he will remove the curse and take Sarai out of Egypt.