The Genesis Apocryphon was one of the seven major scrolls found at Qumran in Cave 1. It is one of the collection in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which has over 800 documents in fragmentary form. All documents have been found in various states of preservation in eleven caves of the cliffs that parallel the northwest shore the Dead Sea and in the general location of Qumran. The scroll was found in the Spring of 1947 by Bedouin shepherds, after throwing a rock into a cave while looking for their lost sheep.
Along with the Isaiah Scroll, the commentary on Habakkuk, and the Manual of Discipline, this document was sold by the Bedouin who discovered it to Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, the superior at the St. Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem. The four scrolls were transferred from Jerusalem to Syria and to Lebanon under certain political conditions in the area. There were plans made to transfer the scrolls to the United States but permission was later retracted because it was insisted that a high price could be asked for the scrolls if they remained unrolled and unraveled. The four scrolls were then announced for sale in the Wall Street Journal for $250,000,000 and were purchased by Israel on February 13, 1955. The Genesis Apocryphon joined the Isaiah Scrolls, War Scroll and the Thanksgiving Psalms, which had been purchased from Bedouins by Eleazar Sukenik of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The seven main scrolls found in Cave 1 at Qumran, though found in Palestinian territory at the time, came to be housed in the Shrine of the Book in West Jerusalem.
J. Biberkraut was called upon to conduct the unrolling of the Genesis Apocryphon. When it was opened, it was found to lack the beginning and the end of the text. What is called Column 1, the inner most end of the scroll shows traces and signs that another piece of skin had originally been there. Moreover, the last line on Column 22 ends in the middle of a sentence, showing that there is text missing. At certain points, the scroll also displays holes where ink has corroded through the document, creating missing areas within the scroll.
In 1968, The Jerusalem Post reported that a change in the humidity of the Shrine of the Book had affected the condition of the Genesis Apocryphon. The change was allegedly caused by the opening of a wall during construction and renovations. This resulted in the wrinkling of the parchment on some of the Dead Sea Scrolls documents, and the document most affected was the Genesis Apocrypon.
The literary genre of the Genesis Apocryphon lies within the "rewritten bible" category which can be closely compared to the targum, misdrash, and parabliblical or parascriptural genres. The term "parascriptural" can be used as an umbrella term for a broad class of texts that in various ways extend the authority of scripture by imitation and interpretation. The "rewritten bible" category is the result of extending scripture which was a somewhat common practice during the Second Temple period. The Genesis Apocryphon exemplifies that story of Genesis in mostly the same order. Employing additions, omissions, and rearrangements, it produces a problem-free version that presents the Patriarchs as examples to emulate. The main process is effectively substitution, or replacing the text of Genesis with new narrative. Most prominently, the approach extends Scripture by means of supplementation, incorporating traditions from other sources - especially Jubilees and Enochic writings - into the story of Genesis. Written in Aramaic, the new narrative seems not to be intended as a new edition of Genesis, but the work is remarkable for its creative and imaginative freedom with Genesis, even to the point of directly contradicting the plain meaning. Typologically, the Genesis Apocryphon represents a flexible attitude to the scriptural text.
Within the biblical account of Genesis, Abram and Sarai leave for Egypt to "reside there as an alien" due to famine. Before entering the country, since Sarai was so "beautiful in appearance" that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take her for their own, Abram instructed her to say she was Abram's sister, so that "[his] life may be spared on [her] account." Why Abram does this is not immediately clear, nor is there any explicit reason for his paranoia given in the Genesis account. Within the Apocryphon, in column 19 of the document, Abram narrates a dream that he has:
And I, Abram, had a dream in the night of my entering the land of Egypt, and I saw in my dream [that there wa]s a cedar tree and a date-palm ,[very beauti]ful. Some men came, seeking to cut down and uproot the cedar and leave the date-palm by itself. Now the date-palm cried out and said, ‘Do not cut down the cedar, for we are both sprung from one stock!’ So the cedar was spared by the protection of the date-palm, and it was not cut down.
This addition is unique to the Genesis Apocryphon, and seeks to explain the dubious actions of Abram in the original Genesis account. Another effect of the added passage is to paint Abram as a visionary like Noah was. Since there can be no doubt to the reader that the dream is sent by God to foretell of future events, Abram's actions in the subsequent passage appear to be sanctioned by God.
The Genesis Apocryphon is a retelling of the stories of the patriarchs in an embellished fashion. It can be separated into books; the Book of Lamech, the Book of Noah and the Book of Abraham. The Genesis Apocryphon is largely based upon 1 Enoch,the Book of Jubilees and Genesis and therefore was most likely written after them. Most of the stories are told in first person, written in middle Aramaic, and based on biblical narratives but include other subjects and details previously unknown. Although the material is typically a free reworking of biblical material, occasionally there is word-for-word translation or paraphrasing from Genesis.
Two noteworthy passages added to the account of Genesis is the story of Sarai’s extraordinary beauty and Abram’s exploration of the Promised Land through a dream. Sarai’s beauty is praised greatly, using language similar to the Song of Songs, by Egyptian courtiers who have visited Abram, so much so that the Pharaoh abducts Sarai to be his wife. Abram’s exploration of the Promised land describes thoroughly the geographical large extent of the Promised land.
Due to the scrolls close proximity to Qumran, the date of composition and the relationship between 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees scholars believe the Essenes might be the authors of The Genesis Apocryphon. Since there have been no other copies found in the 820 fragments at Qumran, R. de Vaux suggests that it could be the original autograph. Although the scroll does not present any Essene theology or exegetical, doctrinal meditations demonstrating a clear author, the references to Enoch 1 and the Book of Jubilees suggest that it was accepted and used at Qumran.
This passage is very fragmentary, but seems to contain the story of the Watchers (Heb: 'iyryn) or Nephilim found in 1 Enoch 1-36, based on Gen 6:1-4. Columns 2-5 tell the story of the Birth of Noah, using both third person accounts, and first person language from the point of view of Lamech, Noah's father. The text details an exasperated Lamech, who questions whether the child being borne by his wife, Bath-Enosh, is his own, or belongs to one of the Watchers. A portion of column 2 states:
She said to me, "O my master and [brother, recall for yourself] my pregnancy. I swear to you by the Great Holy One, by the Ruler of Hea[ven] that this seed is yours, that this pregnancy is from you, that from you is the planting of [this] fruit [and that it is] not from any alien, or from any of the Watchers, or from any heavenly bein[g.] - trans. by Reeves
The section closes with Lamech appealing to his father Methuselah to go and approach Enoch, who is Lamech's grandfather, for guidance on this dispute. Enoch reassures Lamech on Noah's parentage, and even predicts the oncoming Flood. Columns 3-5 contain Enoch's speech, which overlaps well with the Aramaic text found in 1 Enoch 106-107 from 4QEn. It is this overlap that provides the strongest evidence that the Genesis Apocryphon was using the Book of Enoch as a source, rather than being dependent of common traditions.
This passage opens with the title "[A Copy of] The Book of the Words of Noah", which parallels Persian chancery hand. In addition, the Aramaic word for "copy" parallels the Greek "A Copy of the Testament of X" in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Whatever the case, the framework for this section is established to be a "copy" of an authoritative record of either an edict or a patriarchal discourse. The passages in this section cover the life of Noah himself, featuring Noah narrating in the first person from columns 6-15. These columns cover the events of the Noah narrative from the Biblical Genesis up until the apportionment of the land to Noah's sons and grandsons. The Flood narrative can be found in columns 6-10, with Noah receiving a vision narrated by an angelic emissary (col. 6, lines 13-14), the building of the Ark (col.7, line 19), and the events of the flood itself (col. 8-10), ending with Noah and his sons praising God for, presumably, bringing the Flood to an end (col. 10, lines 8-10). Column 11 contains another passage this is not found in the Biblical Genesis, which has Noah walking and exploring the land to marvel at its beauty, and to symbolically take possession of the land.
This series of columns is a retelling of the story of Abram, though with much closer adherence to the Biblical Genesis than the Noah account, sometimes even translating portions of the Genesis text verbatim. Unfortunately, column 18 has been lost, but is purported to have contained the beginning of the Abram story from Genesis 11-12, as column 19 begins with Abram already in Canaan. As close as the Apocryphon is to Genesis, there are many sections that have been added. Prior to Abram's journey to Egypt, there is mention of him in Hebron, which is not mentioned in Genesis. However, it is recorded in Jubilees that he passes through Hebron, and in fact the remaining timeline of the Abram story in the Apocryphon follows the timeline in Jubilees rather than the considerably different chronologies of Josephus and the rabbis. Before entering Egypt, Abram receives revelation in the form of a dream, which prompts him to instruct Sarai to say she is his sister for his own protection. Additionally, while Genesis suggests that Sarai is immediately noticed by the Egyptians to be a beautiful woman, the Apocryphon includes a 5-year gap between Abram's entering into Egypt and Sairai being taken from him. Column 20's beginning contains another addition, with the Egyptian Hyrcanus' describing Sarai's beauty in detail, and Sarai's abduction prompts another significant addition in the Genesis Apocryphon. Lines 10-15 were prompted by Abram's apparent lack of reaction to Sarai's perilous situation in Genesis, which now shows Abram, along with Lot, weeping and crying out to God to prevent her from being defiled. The last large addition in the Genesis Apocryphon comes with the story of the Separation of Lot, emphasizing Abram's generousity towards his nephew (col. 21, line 6) and his grief at their parting (line 7).
After this day Lot parted from me because of the conduct of our shepherds. He went and settled in the valley of the Jordan, and all his flocks with him, and I too added much to what he had. He kept pasturing his flocks and came to Sodom. He bought himself a house in Sodom and dwelt in it. I was dwelling on the mountain of Bethel, and it grieved me that Lot, the son of my brother, had parted from me. (col. 21, lines 5-7)
The Genesis Apocryphon was the most damaged out of the first four scrolls found in Cave 1 making the publication history difficult, lengthy yet interesting. The scrolls is dated palaeographical to 25 BCE through 50 BC but has not been subjected to radiocarbon dating. Due to its fragile condition the Genesis Apocryphon was the last to be identified. The extent of the damage included missing fragments, faded lettering, and patches of ink that had leaked through the parchment, requiring infrared imaging technology to render some passages legible. In April 1949 New Jersey, the scroll was partially unrolled for the scroll to be identified by John C. Trever. The portion read was identified as the previously lost "Book of Lamech". June 1, 1954, due to the growing controversy over the Scrolls Samuel Marr placed the famous Wall Street Journal ad to sell the four Dead Sea Scrolls. The State of Israel bought the four scrolls and brought them to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to be translated. In time, (1955), eight small fragments were excavated from Cave 1 believed to be apart of the fourth scroll. J. T. Milik edited the fragments and published them under the name Apocalypse de Lamech based on Trever’s previous identification; the fragments were given the publication number 20. All other texts related were added to this number 1Q20.
Avigad and Yadin led the initial major publication of the Genesis Apocryphon in 1956. It dealt mostly with the last three columns that were very well preserved. The publication included very meticulous transcriptions and translations that stood well against later re-readings and photographic technology. The Genesis Apocryphon was renamed at this time due to the additional reading about other patriarchs. Greenfield, Qimron, Morgenstern and Sivan published the rest of the unpublished columns in 1995. In between this time a German translation by Beyer and a two commentaries by Fitzmyer was also published. Also, in 1991, Wise and Zuckerman arranged the eight fragments of 1Q20 and the Trever Fragment into a more coherent order. More recently a 3rd Edition of Fitzmyer’s commentary was published containing the newly publish columns. Martin Abegg and Michael Wise collaborated in 2005 to create an English translation of the Genesis Apocryphon and this is the most recent completed edition of the text. These publications and commentaries are not a complete list of translations and commentaries related to the Genesis Apocryphon but are the most significant.
The Genesis Apocryphon is in poor condition and thus there are limited amounts of public photographs and videos released showing exactly what the scroll contains. Machiela describes the scroll in this way: "almost completely unreadable", "Unfortunately, the continued corrosion of the scroll –especially its script—makes it unlikely that future technological advances in photography will help salvage more of the Genesis Apocryphon’ text. Consequently, we must rely primarily on the sets of photographs that have already been taken."
An online translation of the Genesis Apocryphon has been made available by the University of North Carolina, Charlotte Blumenthal Professor of Judaic Studies John C. Reeves.