The Antichrist in the Apocalypse of Elijah

Since The Apocalypse of Elijah is strongly influenced by the book of Revelation, especially 11:1-12, it is not surprising to find a great deal in this apocalypse about a future Antichrist. Jewish apocalypses anticipated a coming king who would persecute God’s people as Antiochus IV Epiphanes did prior to the Maccabean revolt, as well as a rescue from that oppression by a representative of God (a messiah). These themes are found in both Revelation and 2 Thessalonians in the New Testament.

MKG78928 Russian icon of the Prophet Elijah in the wilderness and his Fiery Ascent into Heaven

Russian Icon of Elijah in the Wilderness

Chapter 3 concerns the Antichrist. He will appear and claim to be the Christ (1) and he will perform all sorts of miracles (5-13) including the “messianic” signs of healing the blind, deaf and lame. He will not be able to raise the dead, however. The Antichrist is physically described in 14-18. He will be able to transform himself into a child or an old man, but the sign on his head cannot change.

There is a brief “digression” in 2-4 of this chapter describing the coming of the true Christ. He will come like a covey of doves with the sign of the cross leading him. Why doves? Possibly because Jesus gave the “sign of Jonah” as a sign of his return. The name Jonah means “dove” (OTP 1:744 note e). The whole world will see this sign and then he will come with all of his angels (cf., Matt 24:27, the “sign of the son of man” will be seen by all).

Chapter 4 concerns martyrdom at the hands of the Antichrist. Tabitha, the woman raised from the dead by Peter in Acts 10 goes up to Judea and “scolds” the Antichrist. She is killed at sunset, but raised from the dead in the morning and proceeds to continue her tirade (1-6). Elijah and Enoch also preach against the Antichrist, are killed, and raised to life on the fourth day (7-20). The son of lawlessness will then persecute all the believers, many of whom will be killed by these gruesome tortures (21-29). Sixty of these righteous people are put to death in Jerusalem (30-33).

The activities of the Antichrist are further expanded in Chapter 5. While he continues to persecute, the Lord will take pity on the righteous and will send sixty-four thousand angels who will take up those with the seal of God on their heads into heaven, rescuing them from the wrath of the Antichrist (1-6). This is an interesting passage for later developments in eschatology since it appears to teach an escape from the tribulation for those who are righteous well before the end of the period and the return of Christ. If this is a correct reading of the text, then this is an early reference to a sort of “pre-tribulational rapture.”

Apoc. Elijah 5:2 -4 On that day the Christ will pity those who are his own. And he will send from heaven his sixty-four thousand angels, each of whom has six wings. The sound will move heaven and earth when they give praise and glorify. Now those upon whose forehead the name of Christ is written and upon whose hand is the seal, both the small and the great, will be taken up upon their wings and lifted up before his wrath.

These days will be a time of general chaos and disaster (7-14) and the Antichrist will continue to pursue the righteous (15-21). The Lord himself will “take up fiery wings” and go out to fight on behalf of his saints. A cosmic fire will go out from the Lord and the final judgment will begin (22-29). The Antichrist will be specially judged (30-31) and Enoch and Elijah will return in spiritual flesh (32-35). The Antichrist will melt like ice in their presence and he will “perish like a serpent.”

After the judgment Christ the king will come from heaven along with all his saints (36-39). He will remain in the earth one thousand years then create a new heaven and a new earth without a devil or sinners in it. The thousand year kingdom is another adaptation of Revelation.

The Days of Tribulation in the Apocalypse of Elijah

The Apocalypse of Elijah is not strictly speaking an apocalypse. It is strongly influenced by the book of Revelation, especially 11:1-12 (the appearance of two witnesses in Jerusalem). There are dozens of possible ways to interpret the two witnesses, from literal people (Elijah and Moses, Elijah and Enoch) to figurative (the Old and New Testament, two volcanoes, etc.) The book does not contain any of the sorts of things we expect in a true apocalypse: heavenly journeys, thinly veiled reviews of history, revelation of mysterious secret knowledge, or angelic guides. Coptic translations of a Greek original of the Apocalypse date to the fourth century. The book is clearly dependent on Revelation and appears to quote 1 John 2:18. A date of the mid-second century seems probable (OTP 1:730). If the book was a Christian re-working of a Jewish original, then some material may be still older (There is a Hebrew Apocalypse of Elijah which may stand in the background of the book, but no one has systematically studied the possibility of a Hebrew to Greek to Coptic translation). The book may reflect an Egyptian Christianity, but this is far from clear.

Related imageThe Apocalypse of Elijah is of interest to the study of New Testament eschatology since there are various interpretations and extensions of key eschatological vocabulary, such as Antichrist and the kingdom. There is a strong martyrdom theme in the book, especially in the fourth chapter.

The word of the Lord comes to Elijah and confronts him over love of the word (chapters 1-2). This verse is roughly the same and 1 John 2:15, but it is not an exact quote. Since the subject matter is common there is no reason to assume the writer of this Apocalypse knew 1 John.

The God of Glory has had mercy on his people in the past and at the present time he has come as a man to save us from sin (3-7). This text says God did not inform anyone of his plan to become incarnate and says God “changed himself into a man.” This is a fairly underdeveloped Christology and does not seem to be aware of any later Trinitarian thinking. God will preserve his people from the man of lawlessness, the term used by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 for the antichrist of popular apocalypses. The writer may have been aware of Paul, but the term is general enough that it may have been a common way of describing the apocalyptic oppressor.

The sinners will pass on to “thrones of death” because they have “alienated themselves” from God (8-12). In the last days there will be deceivers who teach false doctrine and “make God their belly” (13-14), a very similar description of the last days as found in 2 Tim 4:1-5 and the false teachers Paul addresses in Philippians (3:19 especially.)  Fasting is of importance to our writer – God ordained the fast because it purifies the heart and hands, heals disease and casts out demons (15-22). Related to the fast is double-mindedness in prayer (23-27). The person who is double-minded in prayer is “darkness to himself.”

Chapter 2 concerns the “kings of Assyria and the dissolution of the heaven and the earth (1). From the west a “king of peace” will arise, but he will in fact be a man of injustice and will take vengeance on Egypt with much bloodshed (2-16). While he is never directly called the Antichrist, this king of peace is modeled after the great Antichrist figures of the past (Antiochus IV Epiphanies for example). That an antichrist-like character will arise out of the east is common in the Sibylline Oracles, which play on the Nero-Myth. Note also Revelation 8 describes a demonic army crossing from the east; the river Euphrates is dried up in order to give the east access to the west.

He commands peace but will appoint priests and establish idols, even commanding that the wise be seized.  The writer gives us some “signs” so that we will know who the king of peace is when he comes (17-28). The material in 17-28 only appears in a recently published manuscript from the Chester Beatty library (OTP 1:741, note e2). Elijah weeps for Egypt which will bear the brunt of the attack of this king of peace (29-38). The days will be so bad people will beg the rocks to fall on them and kill them, but they will not die (33-34, cf. Rev 6:16). Nursing women will be forced to suckle snakes and blood will be drawn from their breasts (35-36). Verses 39-41 are fragmentary, but appear to have described the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. The Assyrians and Persians will fight a war in those days (42-50), and the whole land will hail the Persians. At the end of this time there will be peace and prosperity and the dead will rise (51-53). Curiously, no royal matter will be allowed to be brought for three and a half years. Typically the “time, times and half a time” period from Daniel is the duration of persecution, the reign of an antichrist, etc. This is one of the few direct references to this three and a half year period in the pseudepigrapha.

Apocalypse of Adam

The Apocalypse of Adam is a gnostic text found among the Nag Hammadi codices. It is written in Coptic but is likely a translation from Greek. The date is difficult to determine. It may refer to Vesuvius, but the allusion is not certain. McRae concludes a date anywhere from the late first through the fourth century is possible (OTP 1:708). The book is a Jewish-gnostic text with some general parallels to Christian doctrine (the redeemer myth, for example.)

Nag Hammadi, gnostic, codex

Nag Hammadi Codices

Chapter 1:1-3 gives the setting of the apocalypse, and the conclusion to the book calls this secret knowledge given to Seth as a holy baptism.

Apoc.Adam 8:16-17 These are the revelations which Adam made known to Seth his son, and his son taught his seed about them. This is the secret knowledge of Adam which he imparted to Seth, which is the holy baptism of those who know the eternal knowledge through the ones born of the word and the imperishable illuminators, those who came from the holy seed: Jesseus, Mazareus, Jessedekeus, [the living water].

In his seven-hundredth year, Adam taught his son Seth about how he and Eve used to walk in the glory of God and knowledge of the eternal. The text is difficult to read because of the esoteric Gnostic content, but also because lines are occasionally missing. The book represents a form of Christian theology which has combined with Judaism and mystery religions to form something entirely different. The value for New Testament backgrounds is limited, although we can see how some New Testament elements mutate into gnostic ideas in a book like the Apocalypse of Adam.

The fall is described in 1:4-12. There is no biblical fall here at all: the ruler of the aeons withdrew from Adam and Eve in wrath. As a result, they lost their knowledge and glory and served the creator God in fear and subjugation. Adam has a vision after this “fall” in which three men (or angels) appear in glory and announce explain to Adam about the aeon from which he and Eve were created (chapter 2).

Adam relates the predication of the flood which was given to him in his vision (chapter 3). The story is only vaguely related to the biblical version and is unlike 1 Enoch as well. Noah is called Deucalion, a son of Prometheus and the hero of the Greek flood myth (OTP 1:713 note e). After the flood, the Earth is divided among the three sons of Noah (chapter 4) with a special emphasis on Seth. The children of Ham and Japheth are judged with fire by the great aeon for going over to another (chapter 5).

In chapter six Adam relates the coming of the Illuminator. He will pass knowledge onto the sons of Noah. He will do miracles, and he appears to pass along secret knowledge of Seth (the text is corrupt here.) The powers of God will ask about this Illuminator since he appears to be more powerful than they are. His origin is given in Chapter 7. This lengthy poetic section lists thirteen kingdoms from which the Illuminator came, each ending with the rather obscure line “and thus he came to water.” Unlike other lists of kingdoms in the pseudepigrapha, this one is not thinly veiled history, but rather gnostic theology. Each kingdom lists some place from which the Illuminator came.

  • The first kingdom has a corrupt line at the critical moment, but it does say he was nourished in the heavens.
  • He came from a great prophet, taken by a bird when he was a child
  • He came from a virgin’s womb and was cast out of the city with his mother
  • Armies were sent to seek the virgin
  • He was cast into the sea and the abyss received him
  • Dragons brought him to caves and he became a child. A spirit came down on him and he received glory and power
  • He came from a cloud and a rock which enveloped the earth
  • One of the nine Muses went to be alone and the angels nourished him.
  • His god begot him in his hand
  • A daughter conceived by her father and she put the child in a tomb in the desert
  • He came from “two luminaries.”
  • Every birth of a ruler is a word and a mandate.

This seed will fight against the “powers” and be victorious (8:1-8) and a voice is heard from heaven promising even more wisdom will be sent by angels in the future (8:9-15). The last two verses are a conclusion describing the book as the secret wisdom of Seth “which is the holy baptism” and knowledge of those born of the world and the imperishable illuminators.

There may be some kind of relationship between the Apocalypse of Adam and Revelation 12. There are numerous points of comparison, although the Apocalypse of Adam was written much later. David Aune, Revelation 6-16 (Dallas: Word, 1998) lists this books as a “possible gnostic source” for Revelation 12, citing the suggestion of J. M. Robinson. See also D. M Parrott, “The 13 Kingdoms of the Apocalypse of Adam: Origin, Meaning and Significance” NovT 31 (1989) 67-87.

 

Apocalypse of Abraham

Dating the Apocalypse of Abraham is difficult due to the lack of concrete historical references in the book. It refers to the destruction of the temple in chapter 30 and possibly Vesuvius in the same context. The fact the book is interested in the fall of the Temple and the fate of the Jews in the time after the fall of the temple argues for a date at the end of the first century, parallel to 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra. There is some external evidence, but even this evidence is not decisive. Origen, for example, refers to an “Apocalypse of Abraham” used by the Sethians, but is probably not the same as the present Apocalypse of Abraham. The original language of the book appears to have been Hebrew, implying an earlier date and Palestinian origin. The book has an interest in the temple and the priesthood in the first sections. Proper worship of God is important (“recite these words, etc.) Near the end of the book the “eschatology” seems very Christian.

Image result for Abraham terah's idolsThe first seven chapters of the book are a narrative of Abraham’s realization the gods his father Terah crafts are nothing but wood and stone. His father asks him to sell five idols of Marumath, but Abraham loses three in the river. Later, while cooking his father’s dinner he sarcastically asks the god Barisat to watch over the cooking fire while he went to ask his father what he should cook. When he returns, the fire was still going and the god was burning himself. Abraham and Terah argue over this; Abraham says the god is nothing and says the gods are only honored because Terah made them well.

Abraham is pondering the gods when a voice from heaven calls to him and says he is the God of gods and commands him to leave the house of Terah (chapter 8). When he does, it is destroyed with a great thunder and fire. Abraham goes out and prepares a sacrifice, and while he is doing this he has a vision (chapter 9). He falls to the ground without strength and an angel is sent to strengthen him. The angel says he was the one that gave the order to destroy his father’s house and now he will bless Abraham because he was seeking the eternal one (chapter 10). The angel is described in chapter 11 very much like the “man” in Dan 7 or Jesus Christ in Revelation 1.

Abraham and this angel go walked for forty days without eating or drinking and came to the mountain of God. Abraham wants to make a sacrifice, but has nothing. The angel tells him to look behind, and Abraham sees the sacrifice prepared (chapter 12). Abraham performs the sacrifice as commanded, but at the time of the evening sacrifice an unclean bird comes to him and asks what he is doing. This bird, we are told, is Azaz’el. The angel commands Azaz’el to leave (chapter 13). The angel tells Abraham he has been chosen by God and Azaz’el has been sent far from men. At sunset they continue their ascent of the Mountain of God and Abraham sees Gehenna and a great crowd of people running around and prostrating themselves (chapter 15).

Abraham questions the angel as to why he has been brought to this place (chapter 16). The angels tells him to not fear and be strengthened, then fire engulfed them, and the angel knelt with Abraham and worshiped. The angel teaches Abraham a song of worship he is to recite without ceasing (Chapter 17). This song of prayer is filled with repeated attributes and names of God (Eternal One, El, God autocrat), as well as descriptions and titles (light-giver, thunder-voiced, many-eyed). While he is singing this song the fire is rising higher and higher and Abraham sees the cherubim under the throne of fire (chapter 18, cf. Ezek. 1, Rev. 4-5). A voice from the midst of the fire called to him and he is told to look out over the expanse. He sees fire spread out and a multitude of angels and a “host of the invisible glory” (chapter 19).

In the vision Abraham sees all of creation as displayed before him as a huge painting or picture. The vision proceeds as he is told to look at various parts of the image. This is a specialized form of apocalyptic vision known as an ekphrasis, a literary description of a work of art. Any work of art based on another work of art may be described as an ekphrasis, such as music interpreting a painting, for example, but most often ekphrasis is a literary description of a painting or tableaux.  He is told to look up at the stars and is told his seed will be as the stars of heaven (chapter 20).

He is then told to look down at his feet and he sees creation and all the creatures prepared for it (chapter 21). He sees the land giving fruit and the Garden of Eden. He asks about this picture of creation and the Lord tells him this is how it was when he created it (chapter 22). But at the right side of this picture he sees Azazel, the one who seduced Eve (chapter 23). Azaz’el is condemned for ruining creation. As he looks at the picture, Abraham is told to look at the crafty adversary Cain, who killed his brother. Abraham sees an “idol of jealousy” like his father used to make, being worshiped by a man. Boys were being slaughtered to this god, but Abraham does not know the god, the worshiper or the temple it is in. The Lord says this is the temple of The Lord and he is angry with the seed of Abraham for this worship (chapter 25). Abraham asks if God has established this judgment on the council of only one (chapter 26) and the Lord tells him to look again at the picture (chapter 26). As he looks again, Abraham sees the Temple burning with fire and being plundered and destroyed (chapter 27). Abraham prays for this evil never to happen, but the Lord says this destruction is just because the people worshiping did not regard God.

Abraham asks what the fate of the people of the time of the destruction of the temple might be and for how long will they suffer (chapter 28). The answer is obscure, “four ascents.” The fourth ascent will be one hundred years, and an hour of that age will be on a hundred years. This seems to have perplexed Abraham too, since he cries out to the Lord and asks how long an hour is in the age (chapter 29). The Lord tells him to count it out himself by looking again at the picture. In 29:9-13 there seems to be evidence Christian influence, since there will come a man at the end of the age who will be trusted by the heathen but the Jews will insult and beat him and many will be offended by him (an obviously Christian element.) Before the age of justice grows the heathen will come upon the seed of Abraham and persecute them. Many righteous of Abraham’s seed will remain.

Chapter 30 lists ten plagues which will happen in the last twelve hours of the earth (these are general cosmological chaos.) Then the trumpet will sound out of the air and the Lord will send his chosen one and he will summon his people from the heathens and the Lord will judge them with fire and deliver them to Azaz’el in Hades. By way of a conclusion, Abraham is asked if he understands what his tribe will encounter in the last days (chapter 31). Abraham acknowledges that he does understand.

Although the book is identified as an apocalypse, it might be fairly descried as an expansion on Genesis 12. Genesis does not really address the question of why God choose Abram, he suddenly appears in Genesis 12 and God simply tells him to go to the land he will show him. Modern theologians discuss whether the Abrahamic covenant was conditional or not, the Apocalypse of Abraham offers a legendary explanation for God’s chose of Abram, he was already a monotheist and well on his way to being a righteous Jew, so God chose to bless him.

Book Review: Richard B. Hays and Stefan Alkier, eds. Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation

Hays, Richard B. and Stefan Alkier, eds. Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2015. 239 pp.; Hb.; $29.95  Link to Baylor

This collection of essays are the result of an interdisciplinary conference hosted by Duke University in October 2010. Hays and Alkier hosted the conference and the papers were revised to include insights from subsequent discussion of the topics at the conference. In the introduction to the volume, Hays lists five important developments which contribute to a shift in hermeneutical thinking on the book of Revelation. First, scholarship has learned a great deal about the diversity in Jewish apocalyptic thought in recent years. Second, the work of Käsemann, Beker and Martyn have highlighted the importance of apocalyptic thinking on the theology of the New Testament. Third, New Testament scholarship is beginning to ask important questions about how the book of Revelation opposes the Roman imperial order. These questions have far-reaching implications for theological and political movements in the modern world. Fourth, the continued development of canonical hermeneutics has raised questions about Revelation as the final book of the New Testament canon. Fifth, biblical studies has continued to develop the practice of intertextual interpretation. As the final book of the canon, Revelation is a “parade example of intertextual text production” (5). Each of the papers in this collection address these issues in various ways.

In a diverse collection such as this, it is important to find points of broad agreement. Hays offers six points of convergence represented by these papers. First, Revelation is to be read as poetic symbolism rather than literal prediction. In fact, a literal prediction method can only lead to disastrous misinterpretations. Second, the symbolism of Revelation is understood best in its intertextual relationship to the Hebrew Bible. Third, the message of Revelation is Christological, depicting Jesus as both crucified and triumphant. Fourth, the book of Revelation calls on its readers to follow Christ’s example through a countercultural, suffering witness to the one God. Fifth, in Revelation there is no separation between the spiritual and political spheres. Finally, points forward to the future hope of God’s triumphant justice. This is the healing of the present world, not its destruction (7-8).

As might be assumed from these points of convergence, the writers in this volume are reacting against overly-literal readings of Revelation which have generated popular fantasy novels and fruitless predictions of impending doom (whether this is the rise of the antichrist or the imminent rapture of the church and the beginning of the tribulation). For the most part these popular interpretations are simply ignored, only Marianne Meye Thompson brings up dispensationalism, and then only in its most lurid form, Hal Lindsey and The Late Great Planet Earth. Her critiques of dispensationalism are fair and she correctly understands dispensationalism as a kind of theological interpretation of Scripture, although one that misunderstands literal interpretation and cut itself off from a cultural understanding of the first century by ignoring the history of interpretation of the book of Revelation (156-7).

She is correct, but she is also engaging with classic dispensationalism rather than the hermeneutical approach progressive dispensationalism. If Hays’s six points of convergence were opened up for discussion at a gathering of academic dispensationalists, all six would be accepted with very little discussion. The challenge would be finding a group of academics willing to self-identify as dispensationalists.

Michael J. Gorman’s introductory chapter (“What Has the Spirit Been Saying? Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Reception/Impact History of the Book of Revelation”). He begins with a classification system plotting interpretations on Revelation along a temporal axis (past, present, future) and a textual strategy (text as code, text as lens). This helps explain the wide variety of interpretations found in Revelation studies (one cannot plot interpretations of Proverbs or Romans on a similar chart). In addition, the highly intertextual nature of Revelation creates a “perfect storm for polyvalence” (20). Gorman then offers seven theses for reading Revelation which emphasize theological interpretation of Scripture, intertextuality and reception history as safeguards from an over-literal, fantastic interpretations. I am not persuaded that Revelation implies the “necessity of something like the fourfold sense of Scripture” (28), but it is true interpretation of any text requires multiple reading strategies (hermeneutical methods, etc.)

Picking up on the thread of intertextuality, Steve Moyise contributes an essay on “Models for Intertextual Interpretation of Revelation.” Moyise has written extensively on the issue of intertextuality in Revelation and provides a “state of the question” in this article. He surveys suggestions for John’s rhetorical purposes from George Caird, Jeff Vogelsesang, Alison Jack, and Robert Royalty as well as suggestions focusing on John’s intertexts from Greg Beale and Richard Bauckham among others. As he concludes, the use of intertextual methods are “permissive rather than prescriptive,” calling for humility when approaching the complexity of the text of Revelation (44-5).

As a specific example, Thomas Hieke discusses “The Reception of Daniel 7 in the Revelation of John.” This detailed study surveys how Daniel 7 was used in early Jewish literature and in the some twenty-one examples in the book of Revelation. He concludes that an intensive knowledge of the text of Daniel 7 leads directly to a better understanding of Revelation (65).

Richard Hays examines the Christology of Revelation in his essay “Faithful Witness, Alpha and Omega: The Identity of Jesus in the Apocalypse of John.” After surveying somem of the data in the book, he suggests a Christological study of Revelation shows the necessity of an intertextual interpretation which demands a canonical approach to the book. Many of Revelation’s Christological assertions are allusions to the Hebrew Bible, so that the whole canon is in view. As an example Hays points to Isaiah 53:7, like a lamb led to slaughter.

Joseph L. Mangina’s contribution (“God, Israel, and Ecclesia in the Apocalypse”) takes the stars and lampstands in Revelation 1 as a starting point to discuss the church as a messianic Israel shaped by God’s and the Lamb’s victory (94). He observes the curious problem that the word ecclesia is absent from Revelation 4-22, and solves the problem by arguing John reserves the term for the audience of the book (the churches of Asia or subsequent generations of the church). The image of the 144.000 “trade on images from the exodus” and display the destiny of Israel in the messianic era (96), but this too is part of Revelation’s vision for the nations.

N. T. Wright discusses “Political Implications of the Revelation to John.” He begins with the observation that Revelation tells the same story as all four gospels tell, that “Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah, conquered the power of evil through his death and became the lord of this world” (122). In order to hear this story clearly, Wright reads Revelation 12-14 as a symbolic challenge to Rome. Wright argues Nero is the beast in Revelation 13, but “the real problem is not Nero but that which Nero, for the moment, embodies and expresses” (115). This evil “empire” will emerge in different guises at different times, and what must be opposed by the church at all times. Remarkably, Wright states clearly this anti-empire reading of Revelation does not support either left-wing liberalism or right-wing conservatism. The ground of Christian hope is not in politics, but in our responsibility to bear witness to the world’s true Lord, Jesus (124).

Stefan Alkier also addresses the politics of Revelation in his “Witness or Warrior? How the Book of Revelation Can Help Christians Live Their Political Lives.” Alkier argues against unnamed “violent fundamentalists” who want to take the book of Revelation as an “exhortation to battle” (126). These remain nebulous in the essay, perhaps this is an unnecessary straw man which distracts from an otherwise well-made point. For Alkier, argues Revelation enables its readers to become and stay witnesses, not warriors (127). He supports this by careful attention to the rhetoric of the book and exploring the intertextual relationships within the text. For example, there are clear allusions in Revelation to the book of Joel as well as similarities in macrostructure. As in Joel, Revelation sees God as the destroyer of enemies, not the people of God. Rather than violent response to the empire, vengeance should be left to God (140).

Tobias Nicklas contributes a canonical study of Revelation (“The Apocalypse in the Framework of the Canon”). He begins by arguing Revelation is a third-generation Christian text which stands at the end of the canon and in many ways draws themes from virtually the whole canon. For example, Revelation’s attitude toward state/society questions are a foil to Romans 13 and other passage which led to Tertullian’s prayer for the Empire or Jesus’s somewhat ambiguous view of the empire in Mark 12:13-17. By describing the empire as a satanically empowered dragon the book of Revelation highlights the danger of compromise (147).

Finally, Marianne Meye Thompson presents a study using a theological interpretation model in order to tease out implications for church life today (“Reading What Is Written in the Book of Life: Theological Interpretation of the Book of Revelation Today”). In addition to my comments above on Thompson’s article, she contributes an excellent series of theses on the theology of the book. For example, she says “if Revelation were a sermon, then the biblical text it expounds would not be a prophetic prediction, but the first commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’” (167).  Revelation is a book about worship which Thompson suggestions could be read as a graphic apocalyptic version of Romans 12 (169).

Conclusion. The nine essays in this book do not all address the topic promised by the title of the volume. The title implies the collection is on anti-imperial readings of Revelation, but only two essays directly address that topic. The volume is nevertheless a valuable collection of essays on Revelation.

NB: Thanks to Baylor University Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)

3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch3 Baruch was originally a Greek work but is also known in Slavonic translation. It is possible the book is mentioned in Origen’s De principiis 2.3.6. If this is so, then the book can be dated before A.D. 231. This citation is, however, far from certain, since it does not conform to the present text of 3 Baruch and may relate to some other unknown pseudepigraphical work under Baruch’s name. That the book is dependent on 2 Baruch is possible, but many of these motifs from 2 Baruch are also found in 4 Ezra and 2 Enoch (heavenly journey, the fate of the giants, the Phoenix, etc.) The book may have had some influence on the Apocalypse of Paul a third century Egyptian work describing Paul’s tour of heaven and hell. Himmelfarb points out several parallels between the two words, such as the defilement of the sun by human sin (91).

Although Gaylord concludes it is impossible to be certain of the date and provenance of the book (OTP 1:656), Himmelfarb considers the “fall of Jerusalem” motif as evidence a date soon after A.D. 70. 3 Baruch may be a Christian work which has reworked a Jewish source or a Jewish work which re-worked a Christian source. Either way, there is a blending of theological sources in the book which make use of the book for New Testament context and the development of theology difficult. OTP prints the Greek version alongside of the Slavonic for comparison.

Similar to 2 Baruch, the book begins with Baruch weeping by the Kidron after the destruction of Jerusalem. The book reads more like an Enoch text than 2 Baruch since there is a heavenly journey with an accompanying angel to answer questions. The Angel is angry with Baruch, more like the later Enochian visions than the earlier ones.

While Baruch weeps, he cries out to the Lord, asking why Nebuchadnezzar was allowed to destroy the vine of the Lord. Israel as a vine is drawn from Isaiah 5 and is an important feature of the teaching of Jesus (the Parable of the Vineyard in Mark 12:1-12 cf. Luke 20:9-19, for example). The metaphor describes the nation of Israel as a vineyard which did not recognize its owner at the appropriate time. George Nickelsburg suggested the vine was transformed into the tree of life in the original Jewish version of the book (300).

An angel responds and tells Baruch to stop irritating God with his prayers because the angel is about to reveal great mysteries to Baruch. The revelation takes the form of a heavenly journey to the first heaven, “across a river no one can pass about thirty days’ journey.” He sees strange men with the faces of cattle and deer who are the people who “built the tower of war against God” (an allusion to the Tower of Babel). The angel takes Baruch into the second heaven, a further sixty days’ journey. He sees more strange animal-men who are the people who plotted to build the tower.

In the next chapter, the angel takes him 185 days’ journey and shows Baruch Hades and the great serpent which eats the bodies in the place. He sees the vine planted by Samael in the garden which Adam was not supposed to touch. This removes God from the responsibility of placing the “forbidden fruit” in the garden. God cannot be blamed for the fall since he did not put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil there in the first place. The vine was removed at the time of the flood, which also killed 409,000 giants from before the flood (the Slavonic texts reduces this number to 104,000).

dune, sandworm, spiceBaruch continues his heavenly tour in chapters 6-9. The angel then takes Baruch to where the sun goes forth and there he sees the Phoenix. This legendary bird has a wingspan of 24,000 feet which eats only manna. Baruch asks what this fantastic bird excretes, “He excretes a worm, and from the excretion, this worm, cinnamon comes into existence, which kings and princes use” (8:12, shades of Frank Herbert’s Dune?)

Baruch asks where the sun goes after the cock’s crow so the angel takes him to the place of the setting sun where it is renewed after having to spend the whole day looking upon the sins of the earth. The angel then visits the place of the moon and the stars. The moon grows large and small because, after Adam’s first sin, the moon tried to give Adam light to wear. God was angry with her and judged her by making her wax and wane.

Baruch’s journey then proceeds to the third heaven. He sees a large plain with a lake in the center with many birds. These are the souls of the righteous. Baruch is taken into the fifth heaven but he cannot enter the gate until Michael comes with the keys. Michael appears with a very deep bowl filled with the virtues of the righteous which he holds before the Lord.

Chapters 12-16 describe the fate of the righteous and the evil. Given the context of the recent destruction of Jerusalem, the writer of this apocalypse is interested in the fate of the righteous who survive and the punishment of the wicked. Angels come carrying baskets filled with flowers, the virtues of the righteous. Some angels come lamenting because they are blackened. They have been handed over to evil men who never enter a church or go to their spiritual fathers (and a sin list follows). Michael opens the gate and delivers the virtues so that men may be rewarded. Those angels who have nothing are told not to weep, but they appear to be sent to torment the ones who did not have any virtues. The Slavonic version makes this clearer by adding a question from Baruch about these people. Finally Michael closes the door and there is a great noise like thunder, which is the noise of the virtues being brought to God.

Describing the theology of 3 Baruch is difficult because the book is incomplete and may have a number of Christian insertions. In addition, the book has not been as extensively studied as other apocalypses (Kulik calls the book an “underdog”). Nevertheless, the book is interested in two things, punishment/reward and the incredible glory of God. Kulik considers the message of the book as consolation for those who endured the fate of Jerusalem (34). Like 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, the author of 3 Baruch argues God is in control of the universe and will (eventually) render justice.

 

Bibliography:

Gaylord, H. E. “3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch” in OTP 1:653-679.

Harlow, Daniel. The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch) in Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity.  Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1996.

Himmelfarb, Martha Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Oxford: OUP, 1993).

Kulik, Alexander. 3 Baruch: Greek-Slavonic Apocalypse of Baruch (Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010).

Nickelsburg, George. Jewish Literature (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981).

 

Summer Series: (More) Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

In the summer of 2016 I began a long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I made about 75 points from May 18 through September 6 (when my fall teaching responsibilities required most of my attention). As it turned out, I only managed to post on the Enoch literature, the Sibylline Oracles, Fourth Ezra and 2 Baruch, and short posts on Treatise of Shem, The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, and Apocalypse of Zephaniah.

My original motivation for the series was preparation for teaching an intertestamental literature class in Spring 2017. I enjoyed teaching the class and I think most of the students liked the class and learned a great deal about the literature of the Second Temple Period. Evangelicals tend to shy away from this material, but I think it is essential to have a firm grasp on what was in the air in the Second Temple period in order to understand the New Testament, especially as more scholars recognized the apocalyptic nature of both Jesus and Paul.

Another benefit of an open publication like this blog is the feedback I get from readers. There were a number of comments which interacted with what I had posted and often gave me new insights or links to other material to supplement my posts. Most of the posts in the original series still generate hits every day, so I hope people are finding some value in this series.

I plan to pick up this series again, beginning with 3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch. I will finish off the apocalypses as they appear in Charlesworth and then move on the Testament literature. If you missed the series last summer, here is an index for the previous posts on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

Introduction

1 Enoch

 

2 Enoch

 

3 Enoch

 

Sibylline Oracles

 

The Treatise of Shem

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragment 1

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragments 2-5

What is the Apocalypse of Zephaniah?

 

Fourth Ezra

 

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch