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In the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abraham receives a divine command to offer sacrifice1:

IX. Then a voice came to me speaking twice: “Abraham, Abraham!” And I said: “Here am I!” And He said: “Behold, it is I; fear not, for I am before the worlds, and a mighty God who hath created the light of the world. I am a shield over thee, and I am thy helper. Go, take me a young heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove and a pigeon, and bring me a pure sacrifice. And in this sacrifice I will lay before thee the ages (to come), and make known to thee what is reserved, and thou shalt see great things which thou hast not seen (hitherto); because thou hast loved to search me out, and I have named thee my Friend. But abstain from every form of food that proceedeth out of the fire, and from the drinking of wine, and from anointing (thyself) with oil, forty days,” and then set forth for me the sacrifice which I have commanded thee, in the place which I will shew thee, on a high mountain, and there I will shew thee the ages which have been created and established, made and renewed, by my Word, and I will make known to thee what shall come to pass in them on those who have done evil and (practised) righteousness in the generation of men.

What is the reason for the specificity of the command? Why these animals, and why do their ages matter? Why fast for forty days?


1 The Apocalypse of Abraham. Edited, With a Translation From the Slavonic Text and Notes by George Herbert Box.

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  • Interesting question! I was unaware of this text. (Note: The Wiki on this needs to be treated as fairly unreliable imo. Suggesting this work derives from the time of Abraham in textual form seems quite absurd, and I doubt any serious scholars would suggest such a thing.)
    – DukeZhou
    Sep 14 '17 at 19:24
  • Thank you! Here's another one: Who is the man in the Apocalypse of Abraham? ;) Sep 15 '17 at 10:43
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This answer will only address the choices from the standpoint of precedent. (There are likely mystical reasons for the precise numbers, but that would be the subject of an answer all it's own, and constitutes a bit of a rabbit hole.)

And He said unto him: 'Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.'
Source: Genesis 15:9

The Apocalypse of Abraham is apocrypha, with origin unknown, but clearly it is using pre-existing elements in the accepted forms of the Bibles. The intent may be to establish legitimacy of this text, or simply because it it quite old, or because it was written by a scholar of the Torah and these are the norms.


NOTE: "40 days and 40 nights" is generally taken as a euphemism for "a reasonably long time", sufficient for purification. By contrast, 3-year old victims likely has a very specific, ritual significance.

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  • This raises more questions than it answers ;) Do you think I should post a new question about the significance of ages of the animals in Genesis? Sep 15 '17 at 10:34
  • @GirsanVirlee It might not be a bad idea, but probably you'd get an answer much sooner on the Mi Yodeya Stack, so I'd recommend posting it over there.
    – DukeZhou
    Sep 15 '17 at 23:40
  • I tried one of the religion stacks once - it was not for me. Didn't know about Mi Yodeya though, I will check it out. Sep 16 '17 at 15:52
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Adding to @DukeZhou's answer, why these specific animals - these are the same animals that Abraham used in the earlier Book of Genesis, 15:9:

"He answered, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young bird.”"

The Jewish commentator Rashi explains the significance of each sacrifice as such:

"Three-year-old heifer - THREE HEIFERS: symbolical of three sacrifices of bullocks, viz., the bullock offered on the Day of Atonement, the bullock offered when the correct interpretation of a precept was unknown (העלם) to leaders of the nation (see Leviticus 4:13), and the heifer whose neck had to be broken (see Deuteronomy 21:4) (Genesis Rabbah 44:14). Three-year-old she-goat - THREE GOATS — symbolical of the goat the blood of which was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, of the goats of the additional sacrifices on Festivals, and of the goat brought as a sin-offering by an individual (Genesis Rabbah 44:11). Three-year-old ram - AND THREE RAMS—symbolical of the trespass offering brought by a man who knows for certain that he has committed certain offences, the offering brought by a man who is in doubt whether he has committed such offence, and the ewe brought by an individual as a sin-offering."

As for the turtle-dove and pidgeon, the Hebrew is תור וגוזל, which Rashi explains to mean תור ובן יונה, which translates to turtle-dove and pidgeon. Though he doesn't say it explicitly, it's clear that the continuous theme here is that all of these animals were eventually commanded by God for usage in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

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Perhaps the age of three years in these cloven-hoofed animals is a reflection of the fact that at this age they are past puberty, yet not fully grown. Capable of bearing young, but not completely mature. Close to a certain "purity", but valuable for their birthing properties as well. And it would not be a sacrifice if it were not valuable. And the days of fasting are 40, about six weeks, as no human would be able to endure more than that. (Jesus also fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.)

The story of Abraham, whom God wanted out of Sumeria for practical as well as moral reasons, and Isaac, is the story of God's desire that human sacrifices cease. It cannot be interpretated any other way.

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