This short text is sometimes called the Apocalypse of Zosimus or the Story of Zosimus since it features the visionary travels of the virtuous monk Zosimus. Since a critical edition of the text has yet to be published, Charlesworth suggests it is unwise to state a probable date and provenance for the book. The book appears in Greek, Syriac and Ethiopic but it is possible the text goes back to a Semitic source. More recently, Chris Knights considers chapters 11-12 and 14-16 to be a Jewish Pseudepigrapha written before A.D. 850 originally composed in Greek (Knight, 1998, 92-3).

The book was preserved by Christians and has obvious Christian glosses. While the book has limited value for the study of the New Testament, it is an interesting parallel to the story of St. Brendan, the Irish monk who twice sailed to the Isle of the Blessed in the fifth century A.D. It is impossible to know if History of the Rechabites was influences by the tale of St. Brenden or vice versa. For details, see Witikowski, “Syriac Apocalyptic Literature,” in The Armenian Apocalyptic Tradition: A Comparative Perspective: Essays Presented in Honor of Professor Robert W. Thomson on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday. eds. Kevork B. Bardakjian, Sergio La Porta (Brill, 2014), 670.

History of the Rechabites is an expansion of Jeremiah 35. Jeremiah encounters a nomadic tribe of people known as the Rechabites who drink no wine and live in tents because of a vow their forefather had made. In canonical Jeremiah, this tribe is a model of faithfulness in the last days of the kingdom of Judah. In this apocalypse the tribe now resides on the Island of the Blessed Ones. A holy man by the name of Zosimus spends forty years fasting in the desert asking to see the Island of the Blessed. His prayer is finally heard and an angel escorts him over a gigantic sea. An animal of some kind takes him the rest of the way onto an island where he meets a naked man who claims to be one of the Blessed.

The Blessed Ones take Zosimus in and teach him their background including a few stories about Jeremiah and Josiah’s sons in the last days of Judah. A wicked king attempts to force the Rechabites to break their vow by forcing them to drink wine, but God himself protected them and brought them to this island. The people living on the Blessed Island know all about people in Zosimus’ world. They are aware how wicked they are and they pray for them. The Lord announced to these Blessed Ones the coming of the Word Incarnate through the Holy Virgin.

The Island of the Blessed Ones is like the Garden of Eden. The people are naked, “covered with a stole of glory similar to Adam and Eve before they sinned” (12:3). They eat from the fruits of the trees drink from “the exceedingly good, sweet, and delightful water which comes out to us from the roots of the trees.” These people are aware of the fallen world because “the angels of God dwell with us and they announce to us those things which (happen) among you.” They pray for the “sinners and pagans who are in the world and petition God constantly to restrain his anger” (12:8).

On feast days the Lord rains manna on the Blessed Ones, and they never suffer from sickness or temptation. The Rechabites know when they are going to die, but there is no need to dig graves because the angels conduct them to heaven. The Blessed pray for Zosimus specifically that he could be a guide and refuge. While they pray, a white cloud delivers him back to his home. The text breaks off here, although OTP notes there is an additional four chapters in Greek by a Christian author concerning temptation.

 

Bibliography:

Bosman, H. L. “The Rechabites and ‘Sippenethos’ in Jeremiah 35.” ThEv 16 (1983): 83-86.

Demsky, Aaron. “The Scribal Families of Jabetz”, in M. Garsiel (ed.) Studies in Bible and Exegesis vol. 10 (Shmuel Vargon Vol) (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan Universty Press, 2011), pp. 253-261 (Hebrew).

Frick, Frank. “Rechab, Rechabites” in ABD 5:630-631; “The Rechabites Reconsidered,” JBL 90 (1991): 279-287. Frick suggests the Rechabites were a guild of chariot makers, based on the etymology of their tribal name.

Haelewyck, J-C. (Jean-Claude), et al. “Diverse Perspectives on the Manuscript Tradition of the Story of Zosimus,” Oriens Christianus 99 (2016): 1-44

Keown, G. L. “Excursus: The Identity of the Rechabites” in Jeremiah 26-52 (WBC 27; Dallas: Word, 2002) 194-96.

Knights, Chris “‘The Story of Zosimus’ or ‘The History Of The Rechabites’?” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period (1993): 235–245.

Knights, Chris. “Towards a Critical Introduction to ‘The History of the Rechabite,’” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 26 (1995): 324-342.

Knights, Chris. “The History of the Rechabites-an Initial Commentary,” Journal For The Study Of Judaism In The Persian, Hellenistic And Roman Period 28 (1997): 413-436.

Levenson, J. D. “On the Promise to the Rechabites.” CBQ 38 (1976) 508-514;