The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew by Brandon W. Hawk and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong

Tony Burke announced the first two volumes of the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature series are now available. Along with Brent Landau, Burke edited New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). The two serve along with Janet Spittler as the editors of this new series. As Burke points out, these two new volumes are numbered volumes 7 and 8 because NASSCAL is continuing a series, the first six volumes of texts for Polebridge Press. Burke explains the relationship of NASSCAL and the More New Testament Apocrypha series on his blog if you are interested. For a short readable introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha, see Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the Christian Apocrypha (Eerdmans, 2014).

Now available are The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary, by Brandon W. Hawk, and The Protevangelium of James, by Lily C. Vuong. Pseudo-Matthew was ” a bestseller of mainstream medieval Christianity, this Latin apocryphon is a keystone in the explosion of apocryphal literature in the Middle Ages.” Matthew Hawk discusses some of the details of the document on his blog.  The Protevangelium of James is perhaps more well-known; it collects legends and stories in life of the Virgin Mary.

The new volumes are now published by Wipf & Stock and are available as inexpensive paperbacks. Forthcoming Volumes in the Series include:

  • The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, by Tony Burke
  • The Ascension of Isaiah, by Catherine Playoust
  • The Apocryphal Epistles of Paul, by Philip L. Tite
  • The Gospel of Peter and the Preaching of Peter, by Ruben Dupertuis
  • Legends of the Holy Rood Tree, by Stephen C. E. Hopkins

Earlier volumes published by Polebridge Press:

  1. The Acts of Andrew, by Dennis R. MacDonald
  2. The Epistle of the Apostles, by Julian V. Hill
  3. The Acts of Thomas, by Harold W. Attridge
  4. The Acts of Peter, by Robert F. Stoops Jr.
  5. Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, by Clayton N. Jefford
  6. The Acts of John, by Richard I. Pervo with Julian V. Hills

 

The Ladder of Jacob

Like many of the smaller books in the Pseudepigrapha, it is nearly impossible to guess a date the Ladder of Jacob. H. G. Lunt argues for a Jewish origin of the first six chapters based on the otherwise inexplicable reference to “lawless Falkon” as a Satan-figure in 6:13. Observing that Isaiah 27:1 Leviathan is called a crooked or twisted serpent (נָחָ֖שׁ עֲקַלָּת֑וֹן), Lunt suggests this can be taken as a proper name and speculates the Hebrew ʿqltwn was transliterated as καλθον, then through a transposition error, the word became θαλκον. When translated into east Slavonic, the word became φαλκον. Since the only extent copies of this work are Slavonic translations, it is not difficult to change a θ to a φ in the copying process. At best this thin piece of evidence indicates a Jewish origin.

The book expands on the details of the dream of Jacob only briefly described in Genesis 28. After his vision, Jacob worships (chapter 2) and the angel Sariel visits Jacob and explains this dream of the angels going up and down a ladder. This angel is identified as the “leader of the beguiled,” but this term can mean “sweetness, charm” or negatively, “deluded.” He is further described here as the angel who is in charge of dreams. The twelve steps of the ladder are the twelve ages of the earth, each with two kings who will oppress the people of God.

In Jacob’s vision the ladder going up to heaven had twelve steps on each step were two human faces which continually changed their appearance. Chapter five uses the twelve steps of the ladder from Jacob’s Vision as a kind of “timeline” of the future. Like other apocalyptic visions where heads on a beast refer to kings, each step on the ladder are the “kings of ungodly nations.” These wicked kings

“You have seen a ladder with twelve steps, each step having two human faces which kept changing their appearance. The ladder is this age, and the twelve steps are the periods of this age. But the twenty-four faces are the kings of the ungodly nations of this age. Under these kings the children of your children and the generations of your sons will be interrogated. These will rise up against the iniquity of your grandsons.”

In chapter 6 we are told a king will arise in judgment and Israel will go into slavery. This is such a general statement it cannot be used for dating the book since it could refer to 568 B.C., 67 B.C. or A.D. 70. The Mighty One will rise at that time and fight for his people when the land is swarmed by reptiles and all sorts of deadly things, killing the lawless Falkon by the sword. After this seed of Israel will sound a horn and the kingdoms of Edom and Moab will perish.

Chapter 7 is a Christian addition giving a few of the signs of the impending apocalypse. Lunt indicates the work is described as a first century A.D. work, but he does not argue in his introduction (OTP 2:404). Lunt states the source for the chapter is the Explanation of the Events in Persia (also known as the Tale of Aphroditanus, known from thirteenth to nineteenth century Russian and Serbian Slavonic texts). This book appears as The Legend of Aphroditanus in New Testament Apocrypha (Burke and Landau (Eerdmans, 2017, p. 3-18), although the translator Katharina Heyden does not reference the Ladder of Jacob. In two manuscripts one of the Magi describe their first encounter with Jesus. The first sees a child, the second sees a thirty year old man and the third as like an old man. This is similar to Ladder of Jacob 7:6-9, but it is far from a clear allusion and cannot be used to determine dependence. Other than the reference to wise men in 7:18, there is less connecting the two books than expected.

In the final chapter of the book, author of the Ladder of Jacob describes several signs the “expected one” will soon arrive: “Such will be the signs at the time of his coming: A tree cut with an ax will bleed; three-month-old babes will speak understanding; a baby in the womb of his mother will speak of his way; a youth will be like an old man” (7:4-8).

As with most of the short expansions of Scripture in the Pseudepigrapha it is difficult to assess the value of the Ladder of Jacob. The activity of the angels in the book certainly is consistent with other apocalyptic books and the series of kings who will oppress Israel until a messiah-like liberator appears is similar to Daniel or 2 Baruch.

Summer Series: (Even More) Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

In the summer of 2016 I began a long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I made about 75 posts that summer but only managed to work through 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. I picked up the series again in the summer of 2017 and worked my way through Joseph and Asenath. Even after 120 posts on this literature, there is still many more the pseudepigraphical books I have yet to cover in Charlesworth. I hope to get to the recent More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (eds. Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, Alexander Panayotov; Eerdmans 2013).

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 this summer beginning with the biblical expansions as they appear in Charlesworth and then move on to the Wisdom and Poetry Literature.

If you missed the series last two summers, 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

The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)

Apocalypse of Abraham

Apocalypse of Adam

Apocalypse of Elijah

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

Testament of Job

Testament of Abraham

Testament of Isaac

Testament of Jacob

Testament of Moses

Testament of Solomon

Jubilees

The Martyrdom of Isaiah

Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah

The Life of Adam and Eve

The Apocalypse of Adam and Eve

Joseph and Aseneth

 

 

 

 

 

A Millennial Kingdom – Revelation 20:4-6

After describing the coming of the Messiah, John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones. These thrones for those who were killed during the time of tribulation described in Revelation. There are other New Testament passages the_lion_and_the_lambpromising thrones to the faithful. In Matt 19:28 Jesus tells the twelve disciples they will sit on “twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Cor 6:2-3, Paul tells the Corinthians that believers will “judge the world” and will “judge angels.” Even in Revelation, the one who overcomes will have sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21).

The souls John sees in these verses are likely those under the altar in Rev 6:9. In that context, the souls were crying out to God asking to be avenged. Likewise, in 20:4 these souls were put to death because of their testimony of Jesus. These souls came to life and reign with Christ for the 1000 years (Rev 20:4). The verb ζάω (“came to life”) is used often in Revelation to describe God as the “living one” (1:18, 10:6) or Jesus as the one who “died and lives again” (2:8). In 13:14 the beast appears to have died and “came to life.” This first resurrection is after the tribulation and the return of Jesus. It is quite specific since only those who were martyred are raised. But they are raised to life on earth, not some ethereal heavenly state.

The function of these souls is that they are “priests of God” and reign with Christ. This reflects Exodus 19:6, God’s promise that Israel would be a nation of priests. This is consistent with the rest of Revelation. In 1:5-6 the people of God are called “a kingdom and priests,” now at the end of the book a kingdom is established and the resurrected martyrs fulfill Israel’s role as priests of God.

How should we understand the “1000 years?” A 1000 year rule by the messiah is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Even though a kingdom is described frequently in both the Old and New Testaments, the duration of 1000 years is not found. In fact, the kingdom is usually described as eternal: it never ends. But the idea of a Millennium (Latin, mille, a thousand; anum, years) is not based on this single passage since even here the kingdom continues forever, even if an event occurs after 1000 years.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah to come and establish a kingdom, a real physical rule on earth. This Messiah would be God’s personal representative, and like the kings of Israel, would be called a “son of God.” Beyond this, they speculated about how long human history would last, and how much of that history would be the kingdom. Ranges for the duration of the kingdom in Jewish apocalyptic ranged from 40 years to 7000 years. In the Apocalypse of Weeks human history is portrayed as a series of ten “weeks,” the first seven weeks lead up to the time of the writer but the eighth through tenth weeks are still future. 1 Enoch describes this “eighth week” after the judgment as a “week of righteousness.” During this period a house will be built for the great king “in glory forevermore” (91:12-13). The (Christian) letter of Barnabas described the history of the world in seven creational days of 1000 years each, with the seventh being the idealized age (i.e., the kingdom).

John clearly intends for us to understand a particular period of time in human history when Christ will rule with the martyred on earth. This was the understanding of the early church as well, Justin Martyr taught in the second century that the dead in Christ would be raised, followed by 1000 years in Jerusalem. Irenaeus, also in the second century, taught that there would be an earthly millennium where saints and martyrs would be rewarded. But by the fifth century, Augustine tried to interpret the kingdom in a non-literal way. The 1000 years, he taught, were the interval between the first and second coming. Satan was bound in Jesus earthly ministry, the first resurrection is the moment of salvation.

Revelation 20 follows the glorious return of the Lord and represents the final vindication of those who have died for their testimony of Jesus—they are raised to life to reign with Jesus. This reign is the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Jews and Christians in the first century. God will act decisively and send his anointed one to deal with the empires of man. The point of the Millennium is not to reward martyrs in some sensual paradise, but to demonstrate that God’s Kingdom has finally overcome the kingdoms of man.

The Rider and the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

AragornVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ.  But as Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The various descriptions in this paragraph of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of Second Temple literature. In fact, this Rider is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The Rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12).   In the Greco Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has “many” crowns, perhaps so many that they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13).  Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3. Finally, a sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a).  This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21).

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named “Faithful and True,” titles used for Jesus in Rev 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b).  Divine beings sometimes have a “secret name” or are not willing to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked.  Third, His name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word.  Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: “King of kings and Lord of lords” (16).   There are a number of ancient references to names being inscribed on the thigh of statues,

The Rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b).  That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.

 

 

 

Revelation 14:8 – The Message of the Second Angel

Revelation 14:8 A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

This verse is interesting because John finally names the kingdom of the beast:  “Babylon the Great.” As with the coming of the judgment, the fall of Babylon is described as an event that has already taken place (two aorist verbs, ἔπεσεν, ἔπεσεν). Sometimes an aorist verb can be used for a future event in order to highlight the certainty of the prophetic prediction. Wallace calls the use a “rhetorical transfer” of a future event to the past because it is so certain (GGBB 564). This proleptic aorist is rare, but it is possible here depending on how the interpreter understands Babylon in verse 8. The arrogant empire of Babylon had already fallen hundreds of years before this, but John predicts another arrogant empire was about to fall.

AngelFor most readers of Revelation, “Babylon the Great” is a clear allusion to Rome. Writing from Rome, Peter greets his readers by implying he is in Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). After the first century, the identification of Rome and Babylon is four in other apocalypses (2 Baruch and 4 Ezra). The parallels are obvious, both are huge world empires that are completely anti-God, both quite arrogant, and both destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70). Babylon as the final enemy of God appears several times in Revelation (16:19, 17:5-6, 18: 2, 10, 21).

The prediction that Rome had fallen would have been laughable in the first century. Rome had endured for centuries by the time John wrote Revelation, and would last in glory until the 400’s A. D. when the Germanic tribes looted Rome. The Empire still hung together, although in a far less glorious form, well into the middle ages. There were predictions of the fall of Rome in the first century, such as the Oracles of Hystaspes, which predicted Rome would fall to powers from the east, but 6,000 years in the future!

This will be the cause of the destruction and confusion, that the Roman name, by which the world is now ruled … will be taken from the earth, and power will be returned to Asia, and again the Orient will dominate and the West will serve.

Unfortunately this text dates to the early fourth century and may not reflect first century views of the fall of Rome. (The text was quoted by Lactantius Div. Inst. 7.15.11, Aune, Revelation, 2:830–831.)

In Rev 14:8 Rome is described as giving the world “maddening wine of her adulteries.” The noun θυμός refers to “an intense, passionate desire of an overwhelming and possibly destructive character” (LN 25.19). This is probably a reference to the imposition of Roman worship on Christians. In the Hebrew Bible, adultery is a common metaphor for idolatry, and the spiritual adultery of Judah resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and the long Exile.

So what, or perhaps “when,” is John talking about? In the first century Rome did not fall and Babylon is long gone. The empire described as a “beast” in Revelation 13 is a conglomeration of all the previous kingdoms predicted by Daniel 2 and 7. The message of this verse is that arrogant empires of humanity will fall to the coming kingdom of God. For a preterist, this is a prediction of the actual fall of Rome, even if that prediction was not realized quite as John imagined it (with the return of the Messiah). For a futurist this is a prediction of the ultimate enemy of God in the future, an empire that styles itself as a “new Rome” by bringing peace to the world.

There is no need to fret over what empire this will be since John’s point in Rev 14 is that the kingdoms of mankind will finally be judged at the return of the Messiah.

The Name of the Beast (Part 1) – Revelation 13:17-18

W is the 6th Hebrew Letter

If there is a single element of the book of Revelation which is universally known in contemporary culture it is the mark of the Beast, 666. Virtually everyone in western culture thinks that 666 is the “devil’s number” or that the triple-six is a pernicious sign to be avoided. Several times I have bought something and the price came up $6.66, and the clerk wanted to know if I wanted to buy a pack of gum so I could avoid that particular price. I used to buy a particular combination of coffee and snack at one of my favorite coffee shops which always rang up to $6.66. (I referred to it as the “Devil’s breakfast” and tasty it was!)

But there is nothing in Revelation that says this number is the devil’s number, or Satan’s address in Hell. It is not an unlucky number nor is someone cursed if they somehow accidentally ring up $6.66 at the local Taco Bell. (Actually, you might be cursed if you eat the food at Taco Bell, but that is another issue altogether!) The number does not refer to Satan at all, verse 18 says that 6 is the “number of man,” presumably because man was created on the sixth day. 666 refers to the name of the beast, either a person (the anti-Christ) or the kingdom of the beast described in the rest chapter 13.

What does is mean to “calculate the name”? There are no numbers in many ancient languages, so letters sometimes substituted as numbers. A=1, B=2, etc. There is a bit of graffiti found in Pompeii that reads “I love her whose number is 545.” Potentially one might convert their name to numbers in Greek, Hebrew or Latin and come up with a number. That number could be used as a cipher, or perhaps one might have a “lucky” number for a name. For example, my “number” in Latin is 152 (using just the letters which have values in Roman numerals). In Greek, I get 908. Neither is particularly interesting, but I suppose if I paid money to a numerologist, they could come up with something profound.

John invites the reader to figure this out, in fact, he almost baits us into trying to figure it out! Knowing that the name adds up to 666, to what might the name refer? In the early church there were several suggested names, including a Greek word meaning “to deny”, meaning that the name of the Beast was denial of the Lord.  It is possible to use the initials of the Roman emperors from Julius to Vespasian one gets 666, but you have to skip the minor emperors to make this work. The full Latin title used on coins of Domitian, the emperor at the time of John, allegedly adds up to 666. The most common suggestion is that the number 666 refers to Nero Caesar, but in a the Hebrew spelling of the name. Some writers see the number more generally, showing that it is one short of the perfect number, three times. “Failure upon failure upon failure.”

It may be best to conclude that John and his readers knew the clue that unlocked the mystery of the number and who it referred to, and that we are unable to figure it out with any certainty today.  Despite this, people are still fascinated with the name of the beast and try to figure out who he might be.  I will have more to say about this in part two of this post.

What does the number prophesy? Whatever the mark is, it represents a final declaration of loyalty, whether for God or against him. By accepting this name, you are declaring your loyalty to the beast and the empire of the beast.