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Amram

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Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls What is This? Explores the history, relevance, and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Amram

Appearing frequently in genealogical lists of the Hebrew scriptures, Amram is a son of Qahat (Kohath) and father of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam (Ex. 6.18, 6.20; Nm. 26.58–59); his wife was Jochebed, his father's sister. Amram is also prominent in a number of Second Temple writings. In Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities (9.1–10) he is the hero of a significant incident before the birth of Moses. In Jewish Antiquities (1.210–216), Josephus writes of visions vouchsafed to Amram before the birth of Moses. In a later work, Sefer ha-Razim, a Hebrew magical text originating from the first millennium CE, Amram, together with Qahat and Levi, figures in the book's chain of transmission from Noah to Moses. Interestingly, Amram plays no major part in Jubilees, which is generally linked to Aramaic Levi (1Q21, 4Q213–4Q214a) and the Testament of Qahat (4Q542).

Significantly, in view of Josephus's writings, five copies of the Visions of Amram were found in Cave 4 at Qumran. Although this number of copies suffices to show that the work must have had some importance for the Qumran covenanters, no references to it occur in sectarian literature. In 1972, Józef T. Milik published a substantial fragment of the Visions of Amramb (4Q544) and claimed that Origen had alluded to it. Milik recognized six copies (4Q543–548?). Émile Puech thinks that the same scribe copied the Testament of Qahat and the Visions of Amrama. Moreover, he notes that the Testament of Qahat starts on a piece of leather with a join on the right, and he even speculates that this work and the Visions of Amrama might have formed part of the same manuscript. Details about the other manuscripts of the Visions of Amram are not yet known.

Milik dates Visions of Amramb to the second century BCE. His view that it may come from the earlier part of that century has been challenged, however, and the manuscript most probably comes from the latter part of the century. The published text is written in Late Literary Aramaic of the type familiar from the other Aramaic documents found at Qumran.

The beginning of the work has survived, and its superscription reads: “Copy of the Book of the Words of the Visions of Amram.” The word copy may be compared with the term copy used in Ezra 4.11, while “Book of the Words of … Amram” resembles the recently deciphered phrase “Book of the Words of Noah” in the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen, col. v). The book is clearly a testament, recounting Amram's words to his children “on the day of his death, in the 136th year, the year of his death.” Although the title “Testament of Amram” would fit its contents, in fact, the work is known as “The Visions of Amram.”

The full contents of the work remain unknown because part of it is lost; some substantial fragments have been published. Column i, lines 10–15, as reconstructed by Milik (1972) from fragments of three manuscripts, tells of a dream vision in which Amram sees two angels. One is like a serpent, and his garment is multicolored and dark, while the other has a happy visage. They rule over all humans, and the two beings are struggling over Amram. In a second, fragmentary column, Amram is called upon to make a decision between these two beings. Milik thinks that this fragmentary second column is column 2 of the manuscript. It identifies one figure as Melchiresha῾ and associates him with darkness, while the speaker is the angel who rules over light. The name of the ruler of light has been lost, but it is often reconstructed as Melchizedek. Other names found in the text are “ruler of light” and “ruler of darkness” (cf. 1QS iii.16 20, CD v.16 18, etc.). In the next column, apparently, Amram asks the ruler of light a question. Milik calculates that these three columns comprise approximately one-third of the book.

In the Bible, Melchizedek was the mysterious king of Salem encountered by Abraham (Gn. 14.18), as well as the type of a priest (Ps. 110.4), and a type of Christ (Heb. 5.6). In the Melchizedek scroll found in Cave 11 at Qumran (11Q13), Melchizedek appears as a heavenly figure, as he does in Gnostic texts, such as the Nag Hammadi Codex (9.1). He was the object of much (chiefly heretical) speculation in early Christian circles, where his priestly function is combined with his eschatological role.

The dualism of light and darkness in the Visions of Amram is notable. It is, of course, very typical of the sectarian documents. However, the dualism of the two spirits is already present in Aramaic Levi, which clearly antedates the Visions of Amram (and the Qumran sect). This does not necessarily demonstrate that the Visions of Amram was written by the Qumran sect; a pre- or extra-Qumran origin is quite possible. On the other hand, in reference to Aramaic Levi, it is generally accepted that the sectarian community did not compose Aramaic documents, but this factor is not necessarily determinative.

The three sacerdotal writings, Aramaic Levi, the Testament of Qahat, and the Visions of Amram, form a series of priestly instructions. Aramaic Levi is the oldest of the works and the one on which the other two depend, although the exact relationship between them cannot be determined. The Testament of Qahat and the Visions of Amram were composed in addition to the existing Aramaic Levi in order to legitimate the continuity of the priestly line and its teaching. This theme is stressed in Aramaic Levi and particularly in the Testament of Qahat.

Milik (1978) has suggested that the conflict among the angels over Abraham's soul described in Origen (Homily 25 on Luke) derives from the Visions of Amram. That view is based on his emendation (editorial alteration) of Origen's Abraham into Amram. A very similar conflict between Michael and the devil over Moses' body is mentioned in Jude 9, while the theme of two conflicting angels is found elsewhere, for example, in Hermas (The Shepherd, Mandates 6.2.1) and the Armenian pseudepigraphical work, Questions of Ezra. Thus, Origen's acquaintance with the Visions of Amram is not definitely demonstrated.

Milik suggested, moreover, that the works of “the three patriarchs” (Gk. Ton g᾽ patriarchon) mentioned in Apostolic Constitutions 6.16.3, connected with “the apocryphal books,” are Aramaic Levi, the Testament of Qahat, and the Visions of Amram. This view has not been widely accepted, and, unless it is, there is no assured reference to the Testament of Qahat beyond the single manuscript from Qumran. Nonetheless, it seems quite correct to emphasize the relationship between Aramaic Levi, the Testament of Qahat, and the Visions of Amram, works associated with the descendants of Levi, down to Aaron, the direct father of the priestly line of Israel.

[See also Aaron; Levi, Aramaic; Miriam; Moses; Priests; Qahat; Testaments; and Visions

].

Bibliography

  • de Jonge, M. “‘The Testament of Levi’ and ‘Aramaic Levi’.” Revue de Qumrân 13 (1988), 367–385. Discusses textual and literary issues.
  • Milik, J. T. “4Q Visions de ῾Amram et une citation d'Origène.” Revue Biblique 79 (1972), 77–97. Edition and translation of the published fragments.
  • Milik, J. T. “Écrits préesséniens de Qumrân: de Hénoch à ῾Amram.” In Qumrân: Sa piété, sa théologie et son milieu, edited by M. Delcor, pp. 91–106. Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium, 46. Louvain, 1978. Puts the early literature at Qumran into context.
  • Puech, É. “Le testament de Qahat en araméen de la grotte 4 (4QTQah).” Revue de Qumrân 15 (1991), 23–54. Discusses, inter alia, the relationship of the Qahat and Amram documents.

Michael E. Stone

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