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.

7 thoughts on “The Days of Tribulation in the Apocalypse of Elijah

  1. I had not come across “the two” being referenced as the OT, figuratively. Interesting.

    • If you check Aune’s commentary on Revelation, there are about thirty suggestions for who the two witnesses are…it is bewildering!

  2. I think the two witnesses represent Elijah and Simeon because Jacob gave a blessing/prophecy to his 12 sons in Genesis. I think if not some, all of the Bible was symbolic. Jacob was probably not a real man but all Jews were symbols of the sons of God. The people that lived in the beginning supposedly lived for around 1000 years but I believe that symbolized the 1000 year reign of Christ. Snakes have 200-400 ribs, the exact amount required for each male and female pair to have their own language and land or ‘country’. So I can’t get too detailed right now but the sons of Jacob represented the 1000 year reign divided among themselves. He stated Reuben would be last and lose his birthright, and I know why but because the ‘sons of God’ looked to the end of this world for redemption the sons order was reversed and Simeon and Levi were last. The Tribes they belonged to (all tribes may very well have been made up symbols) were important. Because they were last there would be no more sons and the end would be near. The 3 1/2 years is the time of the prophets testifying (app 1200 days). Jesus symbolized the tribe of Judah and also was called the son of God not because he was God but because he symbolized the last of the sons of God. “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.” The scepter was given in good faith by Judah to the prostitute who continued his bloodline. Now Elijah belonged to the tribe of Levi as did John, and since neither of them were real people but more of a ‘vision’ they were basically the same. And he was beheaded and raised again in the form of the author of Revelation who was also of the tribe of Levi. So it was all symbolic. And Simeon was the other brother who would represent Enoch who was the other person to never die from the tribe of Simeon. And Elishah was from the tribe of Simeon who was also symbolic of the chosen. But Judas Iscariot “Judas son of Simon”, meaning Simeon, betrayed Jesus for silver. And ‘Simon Peter’, Simeon’ also denied Jesus 3 times. But since Jesus wasn’t a real person and Christians actually looked towards the end for deliverance it wasn’t bad. They were all Revelations. Jesus told Simon (Simeon tribe) Peter ‘get thee behind me Satan’ and the Bible also said ‘Satan entered Judas’ linking the two but maybe it was Jesus who was doing some kind of inside joke because most people considered them evil. So it was a message of how people were viewing them. And Judas throwing the money back was a symbol linking him to Jesus because Jesus overturned the tables of the merchants in the synagogue. And when Judas hung himself (not really) he was raised again in the formation of Simon Peter who also witnessed. So they couldn’t be killed because they were symbolic. And it would take too long to explain it but there’s a lot more. And the mark of the beast has been happening since the beginning, it’s those people who believe they can be saved or believe they are saved and aren’t afraid to die. 0.666 goes on forever towards the number 1 (symbolizing God or salvation) but it doesn’t even matter because the 1000 year reign of Christ had actually ended probably 1000 after creation. But it’s quite likely because Jesus was only symbolic of the fact that God is spirit and only spirit and man is flesh and only flesh, that the sons of God could not even get our DNA on them because, to get back to Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve was likely due to the fact that people were created (not in the likeness of God(which is spirit) , but in the manner of God (a very complicated process). So when there were no more people who would choose the right path and had all died God probably sealed the family or families whoever they were with volcano lava or something since people are flesh and when our bodies die that’s all we are. So the devil being cast into the bottomless represents we the evil (devil) dying and ‘time doesn’t exist, we cease to exist as did the chosen. So now we’re waiting for the day when all the accursed have been born and no one else will ever be born and God will probably chop the chosen out with lightning (when the Bible says approximately 1/3 will be killed, then another portion, then another because once he gets them away he can burn the matter and reform them probably improved made of precious stones from all the planets in the solar system that the sun’s have been very recently or will be sucking everything up around them and the whole physical universe (maybe a planet for every person ever born will come crashing down on earth creating fire lava and brimstone into a lake of fire forever, and all the precious jewels from the planets will have went to make a new Earth for the chosen.

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