One of the seven scrolls found by bedouin in Cave 1 at Qumran in spring 1947 is the Genesis Apocryphon (1QApGen). Together with three other scrolls from that cave, it was sold to Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, the Syrian Metropolitan attached to St. Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem. Unlike the other scrolls, the Genesis Apocryphon was not opened until it was sold—to the State of Israel, in June 1954. After the sale, authorities turned the scroll over to J. Biberkraut for unrolling. The scroll's beginning and end were missing and, of the twenty-two columns that survived, only the last three—the scroll's innermost portions, as it was rolled—were more or less completely preserved. The opening portions had suffered greatly from exposure to the elements and from the mordant ink with which the scroll was inscribed. The ink had eaten into the leather, so that many of the words are blurred.

Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad published a preliminary edition of the scroll In 1956—only the five columns (2, 19–22) that could readily be deciphered. They never published the other columns, a project that recently was turned over to two Israeli scholars, Jonas Greenfield and Elisha Qimron. They have, to date, published an additional column of the scroll, column 12. In addition, J. T. Milik published fragments belonging to the missing beginning of the scroll as 1Q20. He did not succeed in reading much of the text on what are very badly darkened fragments, but recently new photographs enabled Michael Wise and Bruce Zuckerman to read and reconstruct the 1Q20 fragments as “column o.” Moreover, Zuckerman has brought to light a previously unknown portion of column 1, dubbed the Trever fragment.

The importance of the Genesis Apocryphon lies in two principal spheres: language and interpretation. The scroll is written in Aramaic; as a fair amount of text has been preserved, it constitutes one of the primary witnesses to the literary use of that language in late Second Temple period Palestine (200 BCE–70 CE). The interpretive method of the scroll belongs to the category designated “rewritten Bible,” in which biblical stories are retold with explanatory changes and additions. The Genesis Apocryphon is an early and significant witness to this method of biblical interpretation, with important connections to the pseudepigraphic Jubilees.

Largely following the analysis by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, the contents of the scroll can be broken down as follows: columns 0–2, the birth of Noah; 6–10, Noah and the Flood; 11, Noah's covenant; 12–?, Noah's division of the earth among his sons; 18, Abram in Ur and Haran; 18–19:10, Abram in Canaan; 19:10–20:33, Abram in Egypt; 20:33–21:22, Abram in the Promised Land; 21:23–22:26, Abram defeats the four kings; and 22:27–?, Abram's vision of an heir.

[See also Dead Sea Scrolls.]


  • Avigad, Nahman, and Yigael Yadin. A Genesis Apocryphon. Jerusalem, 1956. Editio princeps; it includes a descriptive narrative, photographs, a transcription, and an English translation of columns 2, 19–22.
  • Barthélemy, Dominique, and J. T. Milik. Qumran Cave I. Oxford, 1955. Includes Milik's treatment of the 1Q20 fragments (pp. 86–87 and pl. 17) which, even under infrared light, were extremely dark and thus difficult to read.
  • Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I. 2d rev. ed. Rome, 1971. Contains the Aramaic text, English translation, and line-by-line commentary, with an introduction to the issues raised by the scroll. Excellent treatment, but rapidly becoming outdated.
  • Greenfield, Jonas C., and Elisha Qimron. “The Genesis Apocryphon Col. XII.” In Studies in Qumran Aramaic, edited by Takamitsu Muraoka, pp. 70–77. Abr-Nahrain, Supplement Series, vol. 3. Leiden, 1992. Includes photograph, transcription, and English translation, with philological analysis. Only about ten new lines are clearly legible.

Michael O. Wise