Mark Bregman
"The Aqedah at Qumran: Fire on the Mountain"

a Comparison of 4Q225 Pseudo-Jubileesa and Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 31

Abstract of lecture presented at the Orion Center, May 21, 1998

4Q225 Pseudo-Jubileesa,1 retells the narrative of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). The biblical story tells how Abraham traveled for three days to the mountain in the land of Moriah on which God had told him to offer up Isaac his son. Genesis 22:4 states: "On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place from afar". At this point in the retold narrative, the Qumran text reads: "And Ab[raham] lifted up [his e]yes [....] fire". Despite the short lacuna [space for about 4 letters] in the text,2 it seems most likely that Abraham is here being described as having seen from a distance a fire burning on Mt. Moriah.

As noted briefly by VanderKam, Milik and Vermes, this tradition is found in Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 31, ed. Luria 70a-b), which reads in full:

On the third day they arrived at Tzofim. And when they arrived at Tzofim, he [Abraham] saw the glory of the Shekhinah [the presence of God] standing on top of the mountain, as it is said: On the third day, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place [ha-maqom] from afar (Gen. 22:4). What did he see? He saw a pillar of fire [extending] from the earth to the heavens.3 He said to Isaac his son: "My son, do you see anything in one of these mountains?" He answered: "Yes." He [Abraham] asked him: "What do you see?" He [Isaac] answered him: "I see a pillar of fire extending from the earth to the heavens." And Abraham understood that the boy [Isaac] was desired for the offering. He said to Ishmael and Eliezer: "Do you see anything on one of these mountains?" They replied to him: "No." He said to them: "Stay ye here with the ass" (Gen. 22:5). He said to them: "Just as the ass does not see anything [significant], so you do not see anything [significant]"; as it says: "And Abraham said to his servant boys, stay ye here with the ass [`im he- hamor, which can also be vocalized, `am he-hamor, i.e. "ass- people"].

This text seems to represent the conflation of a number of different rabbinic traditions. Aggadat Bereshit, Chapter 31, states that Abraham saw the "Shekhinah standing on the mountain". Genesis Rabbah 56:2 (and numerous parallels) records Abraham's questioning of Isaac and the two servant boys; while Leviticus Rabbah 20:2 identifies them as Yishmael and Eliezer. However, the tradition that what Abraham saw from afar on Mt. Moriah was a fire seems to be represented most clearly here in rabbinic literature4 (it is repeated in still later rabbinic literature which seems to have used Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer). Though this work is usually dated to the eight or ninth century CE (on the basis of clear references to Islamic culture), previous scholarship has noted other parallels to Second Temple literature, including Jubilees. It is suggested that the recently published fragment of "Pseudo-Jubilees" from Qumran provides another example of the way in which Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer occasionally preserves pre- rabbinic exegetical traditions. Despite the gap of a millenium, it seems that the highly elliptical and somewhat damaged Qumran text is indeed best understood in light of the midrashic text cited in full above, i.e. that the fire that Abraham saw from afar on Mt. Moriah was a divine apparition, which showed Abraham that this was the place that God had designated for the sacrifice.


1 See Wacholder and Abeg, eds., A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave 4 (fascicle 2, 1992), pp. 204-206. The fragment, along with other Jubilees and quasi-Jubilees texts, was published by J. VanderKam and J.T. Milik, in Discovery in the Judean Desert XIII: Qumran Cave 4: VIII Parabiblical Texts, Part I (Oxford, 1994), pp. 141-155; see also Geza Vermes, "New Light on the Sacrifice of Isaac from 4Q225", Journal of Jewish Studies 47 (1996), pp. 140-146. Vermes, relying on the editors of the three Pseudo-Jubilees fragments dates them to the "second half of the 1st century BCE. The actual composition, just as the traditional form of Jubilees, is likely to have originated in the middle of the 2nd century BCE".

2 The editors of the fragment, VanderKam and Milik, followed by Vermes, supply the Hebrew word, ve-hinnei, and translate "[and behold there was] a fire". Prof. Menahem Kister of the Hebrew University, in discussion after the lecture, suggested what may be an even more plausible reconstruction, va-yare', which would yield: "[and he saw] a fire". Prof. Avigdor Shinan, in the discussion, raised the theoretical possibility of supplying va-yiqah, "[and he took] fire" (thus, eliminating Abraham's seeing the fire); but this seems a less plausible reconstuction considering that the biblical text relates at this point what it was that Abraham saw.

3 See Exod. 13:21 for the "pillar of fire" that went before Israel to lead them in the desert, clearly some kind of divine apparition. See above note 11, on "Pillar of Fire and Cloud" in Encyclopedia of Religion. Midrash Sekhel Tov to Gen. 22:4 combines this with the version found in Bereshit Rabbah: "he [Abraham] saw a cloud hovering on the mountain, and a pillar of fire within it".

4 Prof. Kister suggested that an earlier reference, in rabbinic tradition, to Abraham's having seen a fire on Mt. Moriah, may be found in the early [4th century CE] Avodah-Piyyut, entitled 'Az Be-Eyn Kol, recently edited and discussed by Joseph Yahalom, Priestly Palestinian Poetry: A Narrative Liturgy for the Day of Atonement (Jerusalem, 1996), p. 121, line 507: "the crouching of the Lion [revitzat Aryeh], he [Abraham] found on Ariel", reading Ariel as a payyetanic epithet for Mt. Moriah and Aryeh as a payyetanic epithet for sacrificial fire; see B. Yoma 21b (cited by Yahalom, p. 740 in his commentary to ln. 744 as kindly pointed out to me by Prof. Michael Schwartz of Ohio State University who chaired the session), where it is stated that one of the things said about the fire of the sacrificial pyre (esh shel ma`arakhah) in the Temple is "crouching like a lion" (revutzah ke- aryeh). This would suggest that what Abraham saw from afar on Mt. Moriah was not a divine apparition, but an anticipatory vision of the sacrificial altar that was later to be built there. However, it should be noted that Yahalom, in his commentary to line 507 states: "Aryeh is an epithet for the Shekhinah and Ariel is [an epithet for] the Altar". Despite the fact that Yahalom goes on there to cite the passage from Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer (cited infra); it would seem that a better parallel might be Aggadat Bereshit, which, as noted, states only that Abraham saw the Shekhinah standing on the mountain. If the line in 'Az Be-Eyn Kol does preserve a reference to some form of fire that Abraham saw on Mt. Moriah, it may provide a kind of "missing-link" between the exegetical tradition first found in the Qumran fragment and that found in Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer discussed here. For other examples of the use of 'Az Be-Eyn Kol and also its own hypothetical sources in the composition of Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, see Yahalom, Chapter 4 (pp. 46- 54) and particularly his "conjectural stemma for the clarification of the relationships between the texts" on p. 55.