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APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE. The Apocalyptic literature of Judaism and Christianity embraces a considerable period, from the centuries following the exile down to the close of the middle ages. In the present survey we shall limit ourselves to the great formative periods in this literature—in Judaism to 200 B.C. to A.D. 100, and in Christianity to A.D. 50 to 350 or thereabouts.

The transition from prophecy to apocalyptic (ἀποκαλύπτειν, to reveal something hidden) was gradual and already accomplished within the limits of the Old Testament. Beginning in the bosom of prophecy, and steadily differentiating itself from it in its successive developments, it never came to stand in absolute contrast to it. Apocalyptical elements disclose themselves in the prophetical books of Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, while in Isaiah xxiv.-xxvii. and xxxiii. we find well-developed apocalypses; but it is not until we come to Daniel that we have a fully matured and classical example of this class of literature. The way, however, had in an especial degree been prepared for the apocalyptic type of thought and literature by Ezekiel, for with him the word of God had become identical with a written book (ii. 9-iii. 3) by the eating of which he learnt the will of God, just as primitive man conceived that the eating of the tree in Paradise imparted spiritual knowledge. When the divine word is thus conceived as a written message, the sole office of the prophet is to communicate what is written. Thus the human element is reduced to zero, and the conception of prophecy becomes mechanical. And as the personal element disappears in the conception of the prophetic calling, so it tends to disappear in the prophetic view of history, and the future comes to be conceived not as the organic result of the present under the divine guidance, but as mechanically determined from the beginning in the counsels of God, and arranged under artificial categories of time. This is essentially the apocalyptic conception of history, and Ezekiel may be justly represented as in certain essential aspects its founder in Israel.

We shall now consider (I.) Apocalyptic, its origin and general characteristics; (II.) Old Testament Apocalyptic; (III.) New Testament Apocalyptic.

I. Apocalyptic—its Origin and General Characteristics

i. Sources of Apocalyptic.—The origin of Apocalyptic is to be sought in (a) unfulfilled prophecy and in (b) traditional elements drawn from various sources.

(a) The origin of Apocalyptic is to be sought in unfulfilled prophecy. That certain prophecies relating to the coming kingdom of God had clearly not been fulfilled was a matter of religious difficulty to the returned exiles from Babylon. The judgments predicted by the pre-exilic prophets had indeed been executed to the letter, but where were the promised glories of the renewed kingdom and Israel’s unquestioned sovereignty over the nations of the earth? One such unfulfilled prophecy Ezekiel takes up and reinterprets in such a way as to show that its fulfilment is still to come. The prophets Jeremiah (iv.-vi.) and Zephaniah had foretold the invasion of Judah by a mighty people from the north. But as this northern foe had failed to appear Ezekiel re-edited this prophecy in a new form as a final assault of Gog and his hosts on Jerusalem, and thus established a permanent dogma in Jewish apocalyptic, which in due course passed over into Christian.

But the non-fulfilment of prophecies relating to this or that individual event or people served to popularize the methods of apocalyptic in a very slight degree in comparison with the non-fulfilment of the greatest of all prophecies—the advent of the Messianic kingdom. Thus, though Jeremiah had promised that after seventy years (xxv. 11., xxix. 10) Israel should be restored to their own land (xxiv. 5, 6), and then enjoy the blessings of the Messianic kingdom under the Messianic king (xxiii. 5, 6), this period passed by and things remained as of old. Haggai and Zechariah explained the delay by the failure of Judah to rebuild 170 the temple, and so generation after generation the hope of the kingdom persisted, sustained most probably by ever-fresh reinterpretations of ancient prophecy, till in the first half of the 2nd century the delay is explained in the Books of Daniel and Enoch as due not to man’s shortcomings but to the counsels of God. The 70 years of Jeremiah are interpreted by the angel in Daniel (ix. 25-27) as 70 weeks of years, of which 69½ have already expired, while the writer of Enoch (lxxxv.-xc.) interprets the 70 years of Jeremiah as the 70 successive reigns of the 70 angelic patrons of the nations, which are to come to a close in his own generation.

But the above periods came and passed by, and again the expectations of the Jews were disappointed. Presently the Greek empire of the East was overthrown by Rome, and in due course this new phenomenon, so full of meaning for the Jews, called forth a new interpretation of Daniel. The fourth and last empire which, according to Daniel vii. 10-25, was to be Greek, was now declared to be Roman by the Apocalypse of Baruch (xxxvi.-xl.) and 4 Ezra (x. 60-xii. 35). Once more such ideas as those of “the day of Yahweh” and the “new heavens and a new earth” were constantly re-edited with fresh nuances in conformity with their new settings. Thus the inner development of Jewish apocalyptic was always conditioned by the historical experiences of the nation.

(b) Another source of apocalyptic was primitive mythological and cosmological traditions, in which the eye of the seer could see the secrets of the future no less surely than those of the past. Thus the six days of the world’s creation, followed by a seventh of rest, were regarded as at once a history of the past and a forecasting of the future. As the world was made in six days its history would be accomplished in six thousand years, since each day with God was as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day; and as the six days of creation were followed by one of rest, so the six thousand years of the world’s history would be followed by a rest of a thousand years (2 Enoch xxxii. 2-xxxiii. 2). Of primitive mythological traditions we might mention the primeval serpent, leviathan, behemoth, while to ideas native to or familiar in apocalyptic belong those of the seven archangels, the angelic patrons of the nations (Deut. xxxii. 8, in LXX.; Isaiah xxiv. 21; Dan. x. 13, 20, &c.), the mountain of God in the north (Isaiah xiv. 13; Ezek. i. 4, &c.), the garden of Eden.

ii. Object and Contents of Apocalyptic.—The object of this literature in general was to solve the difficulties connected with the righteousness of God and the suffering condition of His righteous servants on earth. The righteousness of God postulated according to the law the temporal prosperity of the righteous and the temporal prosperity of necessity; for as yet there was no promise of life or recompense beyond the grave. But this connexion was not found to obtain as a rule in life, and the difficulties arising from this conflict between promise and experience centred round the lot of the righteous as a community and the lot of the righteous man as an individual. Old Testament prophecy had addressed itself to both these problems, though it was hardly conscious of the claims of the latter. It concerned itself essentially with the present, and with the future only as growing organically out of the present. It taught the absolute need of personal and national righteousness, and foretold the ultimate blessedness of the righteous nation on the present earth. But its views were not systematic and comprehensive in regard to the nations in general, while as regards the individual it held that God’s service here was its own and adequate reward, and saw no need of postulating another world to set right the evils of this. But later, with the growing claims of the individual and the acknowledgment of these in the religious and intellectual life, both problems, and especially the latter, pressed themselves irresistibly on the notice of religious thinkers, and made it impossible for any conception of the divine rule and righteousness to gain acceptance, which did not render adequate satisfaction to the claims of both problems. To render such satisfaction was the task undertaken by apocalyptic, as well as to vindicate the righteousness of God alike in respect of the individual and of the nation. To justify their contention they sketched in outline the history of the world and mankind, the origin of evil and its course, and the final consummation of all things. Thus they presented in fact a theodicy, a rudimentary philosophy of religion. The righteous as a nation should yet possess the earth, even in this world the faithful community should attain its rights in an eternal Messianic kingdom on earth, or else in temporary blessedness here and eternal blessedness hereafter. So far as regards the righteous community. It was, however, in regard to the destiny of the individual that apocalyptic rendered its chief service. Though the individual might perish amid the disorders of this world, he would not fail, apocalyptic taught, to attain through resurrection the recompense that was his due in the Messianic kingdom or in heaven itself. Apocalyptic thus forms the indispensable preparation for the religion of the New Testament.

iii. Form of Apocalyptic.—The form of apocalyptic is a literary form; for we cannot suppose that the writers experienced the voluminous and detailed visions we find in their books. On the other hand the reality of the visions is to some extent guaranteed by the writer’s intense earnestness and by his manifest belief in the divine origin of his message. But the difficulty of regarding the visions as actual experiences, or as in any sense actual, is intensified, when full account is taken of the artifices of the writer; for the major part of his visions consists of what is to him really past history dressed up in the guise of prediction. Moreover, the writer no doubt intended that his reader should take the accuracy of the prediction (?) already accomplished to be a guarantee for the accuracy of that which was still unrealized. How, then, it may well be asked, can this be consistent with reality of visionary experience? Are we not here obliged to assume that the visions are a literary invention and nothing more?

However we may explain the inconsistency, we are precluded by the moral earnestness of the writer from assuming the visions to be pure inventions. But the inconsistency has in part been explained by Gunkel, who has rightly emphasized that the writer did not freely invent his materials but derived them in the main from tradition, as he held that these mysterious traditions of his people were, if rightly expounded, forecasts of the time to come. Furthermore, the visionary who is found at most periods of great spiritual excitement was forced by the prejudice of his time, which refused to acknowledge any inspiration in the present, to ascribe his visionary experiences and reinterpretations of the mysterious traditions of his people to some heroic figure of the past. Moreover, there will always be a difficulty in determining what belongs to his actual vision and what to the literary skill or free invention of the author, seeing that the visionary must be dependent on memory and past experience for the forms and much of the matter of the actual vision.

iv. Apocalyptic as distinguished from Prophecy.—We have already dwelt on certain notable differences between apocalyptic and prophecy; but there are certain others that call for attention.

(a) In the Nature of its Message.—The message of the prophets was primarily a preaching of repentance and righteousness if the nation would escape judgment; the message of the apocalyptic writers was of patience and trust for that deliverance and reward were sure to come.

(b) By its dualistic Theology.—Prophecy believes that this world is God’s world and that in this world His goodness and truth will yet be vindicated. Hence the prophet prophesies of a definite future arising out of and organically connected with the present. The apocalyptic writer on the other hand despairs of the present, and directs his hopes absolutely to the future, to a new world standing in essential opposition to the present. (Non fecit Altissimus unum saeculum sed duo, 4 Ezra vii. 50.) Here we have essentially a dualistic principle, which, though it can largely be accounted for by the interaction of certain inner tendencies and outward sorrowful experience on the part of Judaism, may ultimately be derived from Mazdean influences. This principle, which shows itself clearly at first in the conception that the various nations are under angelic rulers, who are in a greater or less degree in rebellion against God, as in Daniel and 171 Enoch, grows in strength with each succeeding age, till at last Satan is conceived as “the ruler of this world” (John xii. 31) or “the god of this age” (2 Cor. iv. 4). Under the guidance of such a principle the writer naturally expected the world’s culmination in evil to be the immediate precursor of God’s intervention on behalf of the righteous, and every fresh growth in evil to be an additional sign that the time was at hand. The natural concomitant in conduct of such a belief is an uncompromising asceticism. He that would live to the next world must shun this. Visions are vouchsafed only to those who to prayer have added fasting.

(c) By pseudonymous Authorship.—We have already touched on this characteristic of apocalyptic. The prophet stood in direct relations with his people; his prophecy was first spoken and afterwards written. The apocalyptic writer could obtain no hearing from his contemporaries, who held that, though God spoke in the past, “there was no more any prophet.” This pessimism and want of faith limited and defined the form in which religious enthusiasm should manifest itself, and prescribed as a condition of successful effort the adoption of pseudonymous authorship. The apocalyptic writer, therefore, professedly addressed his book to future generations. Generally directions as to the hiding and sealing of the book (Dan. xii. 4, 9; 1 Enoch i. 4; Ass. Mos. i. 16-18) were given in the text in order to explain its publication so long after the date of its professed period. Moreover, there was a sense in which such books were not wholly pseudonymous. Their writers were students of ancient prophecy and apocalyptical tradition, and, though they might recast and reinterpret them, they could not regard them as their own inventions. Each fresh apocalypse would in the eyes of its writer be in some degree but a fresh edition of the traditions naturally attaching themselves to great names in Israel’s past, and thus the books named respectively Enoch, Noah, Ezra would to some slight extent be not pseudonymous.

(d) By its comprehensive and deterministic Conception of History.—Apocalyptic took an indefinitely wider view of the world’s history than prophecy. Thus, whereas prophecy had to deal with temporary reverses at the hands of some heathen power, apocalyptic arose at a time when Israel had been subject for generations to the sway of one or other of the great world-powers. Hence to harmonize such difficulties with belief in God’s righteousness, it had to take account of the rôle of such empires in the counsels of God, the rise, duration and downfall of each in turn, till finally the lordship of the world passed into the hands of Israel, or the final judgment arrived. These events belonged in the main to the past, but the writer represented them as still in the future, arranged under certain artificial categories of time definitely determined from the beginning in the counsels of God and revealed by Him to His servants the prophets. Determinism thus became a leading characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic, and its conception of history became severely mechanical.

II. Old Testament Apocalyptic

i. Canonical:—

Isaiah xxiv.-xxvii.; xxxiii.; xxxiv.-xxxv.

(Jeremiah xxxiii. 14-26?)

Ezekiel ii. 8; xxxviii.-xxxix.

Joel iii. 9-17.

Zech. xii—xiv.


We cannot enter here into a discussion of the above passages and books.1 All are probably pseudepigraphic except the passages from Ezekiel and Joel. Of the remaining passages and books Daniel belongs unquestionably to the Maccabean period, and the rest possibly to the same period. Isaiah xxxiii. was probably written about 163 B.C. (Duhm and Marti); Zech. xii.-xiv. about 160 B.C., Isaiah xxiv.-xxvii. about 128 B.C., and xxxiv.-xxxv. sometime in the reign of John Hyrcanus. Jeremiah xxxiii. 14-26 is assigned by Marti to Maccabean times, but this is highly questionable.

ii. Extra-canonical:—

(a) Palestinian:—

(200-100 B.C.)

Book of Noah.

1 Enoch vi.-xxxvi.; lxxii.-xc.

Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs.

(100 B.C. to 1 B.C.)

1 Enoch i.-v.; xxxvii.-lxxi.; xci.-civ.

Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs, i.e. T. Lev. x., xiv.-xvi., T. Jud. xxi. 6-xxiii, T. Zeb. ix., T. Dan. v. 6, 7.

Psalms of Solomon.

(A.D. 1-100 and later.)

Assumption of Moses.

Apocalypse of Baruch.

4 Ezra.

Greek Apocalypse of Baruch.

Apocalypse of Zephaniah.

Apocalypse of Abraham.

Prayer of Joseph.

Book of Eldad and Modad.

Apocalypse of Elijah.

(b) Hellenistic:—

2 Enoch.

Oracles of Hystaspes.

Testament of Job.

Testaments of the III. Patriarchs.

Sibylline Oracles (excluding Christian portions).

Book of Noah.—Though this book has not come down to us independently, it has in large measure been incorporated in the Ethiopic Book of Enoch, and can in part be reconstructed from it. The Book of Noah is mentioned in Jubilees x. 13, xxi. 10. Chapters lx., lxv.-lxix. 25 of the Ethiopic Enoch are without question derived from it. Thus lx. 1 runs: “In the year 500, in the seventh month ... in the life of Enoch.” Here the editor simply changed the name Noah in the context before him into Enoch, for the statement is based on Gen. v. 32, and Enoch lived only 365 years. Chapters vi.-xi. are clearly from the same source; for they make no reference to Enoch, but bring forward Noah (x. 1) and treat of the sin of the angels that led to the flood, and of their temporal and eternal punishment. This section is compounded of the Semjaza and Azazel myths, and in its present composite form is already presupposed by 1 Enoch lxxxviii.-xc. Hence these chapters are earlier than 166 B.C. Chapters cvi.-cvii. of the same book are probably from the same source; likewise liv. 7-lv. 2, and Jubilees vii. 20-39, x. 1-15. In the former passage of Jubilees the subject-matter leads to this identification, as well as the fact that Noah is represented as speaking in the first person, although throughout Jubilees it is the angel that speaks. Possibly Eth. En. xli. 3-8, xliii.-xliv., lix. are from the same work. The book may have opened with Eth. En. cvi.-cvii. On these chapters may have followed Eth. En. vi.-xi., lxv.-lxix. 25, lx., xli. 3-8, xliii.-xliv., liv. 7-lv. 2; Jubilees vii. 26-39, x. 1-15.

The Hebrew Book of Noah, a later work, is printed in Jellinek’s Bet ha-Midrasch, iii. 155-156, and translated into German in Rönsch, Das Buch der Jubiläen, 385-387. It is based on the part of the above Book of Noah which is preserved in the Book of Jubilees. The portion of this Hebrew work which is derived from the older work is reprinted in Charles’s Ethiopic Version of the Hebrew Book of Jubilees, p. 179.

1 Enoch, or the Ethiopic Book of Enoch.—This is the most important of all the apocryphal writings for the history of religious thought. Like the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Megilloth and the Pirke Aboth, this work was divided into five parts, which, as we shall notice presently, spring from five different sources. Originally written partly in Aramaic (i.e. vi.-xxxvi.) and partly in Hebrew (i.-vi., xxxvii.-cviii.), it was translated into Greek, and from Greek into Ethiopic and possibly Latin. Only one-fifth of the Greek version in two forms survives. The various elements of the book were written by different authors at different dates, vi.-xxxvi. was written before 166 B.C., lxxii.-lxxxii. before the Book of Jubilees, i.e. before 120 B.C. or thereabouts, lxxxiii.-xc. about 166 B.C., i.-v., xci.-civ. before 95 B.C., and xxxvii.-lxxi. before 64 B.C. There are many interpolations drawn mainly from the Book of Noah.

Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs.—This book, in some respects 172 the most important of Old Testament apocryphs, has only recently come into its own. Till a few years ago, owing to Christian interpolations, it was taken to be a Christian apocryph, written originally in Greek in the 2nd century A.D. Now it is acknowledged by Christian and Jewish scholars alike to have been written in Hebrew in the 2nd century B.C. From Hebrew it was translated into Greek and from Greek into Armenian and Slavonic. The versions have come down in their entirety, and small portions of the Hebrew text have been recovered from later Jewish writings. The Testaments were written about the same date as the Book of Jubilees. These two books form the only Apology in Jewish literature for the religious and civil hegemony of the Maccabees from the Pharisaic standpoint. To the Jewish interpolation of the 1st century B.C. (about 60-40), i.e. T. Lev. x., xiv.-xvi.; T. Jud. xxii.-xxiii., &c., a large interest attaches; for these, like I Enoch xci.-civ. and the Psalms of Solomon, constitute an unmeasured attack on every office— prophetic, priestly and kingly—administered by the Maccabees. The ethical character of the book is of the highest type, and its profound influence on the writers of the New Testament is yet to be appreciated. (See Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs.)

Psalms of Solomon.—These psalms, in all eighteen, enjoyed but small consideration in early times, for only six direct references to them are found in early literature. Their ascription to Solomon is due solely to the copyists or translators, for no such claim is made in any of the psalms. On the whole, Ryle and James are no doubt right in assigning 70-40 B.C. as the limits within which the psalms were written. The authors were Pharisees. They divide their countrymen into two classes— “the righteous,” ii. 38-39, iii. 3-5, 7, 8, &c., and “the sinners,” ii. 38, iii. 13, iv. 9, &c.; “the saints,” iii. 10, &c., and “the transgressors,” iv. II, &c. The former are the Pharisees; the latter the Sadducees. They protest against the Asmonaean house for usurping the throne of David, and laying violent hands on the high priesthood (xvii. 5, 6, 8), and proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the Son of David, who is to set all things right and establish the supremacy of Israel. Pss. xvii.-xviii. and i.-xvi. cannot be assigned to the same authorship. The hopes of the Messiah are confined to the former, and a somewhat different eschatology underlies the two works. Since the Psalms were written in Hebrew, and intended for public worship in the synagogues, it is most probable that they were composed in Palestine. (See Solomon, The Psalms of.)

The Assumption of Moses.—This book was lost for many centuries till a large fragment of it was discovered by Ceriani in 1861 (Monumenta Sacra, I. i. 55-64) from a palimpsest of the 6th century. Very little was known about the contents of this book prior to this discovery. The present book is possibly the long-lost Διαθήκη Μωυσέως mentioned in some ancient lists, for it never speaks of the assumption of Moses, but always of his natural death. About a half of the original Testament is preserved in the Latin version. The latter half probably dealt with questions about the creation. With this “Testament” the “Assumption,” to which almost all the patristic references and that of Jude are made, was subsequently edited. The book was written between 4 B.C. and A.D. 7. As for the author, he was no Essene, for he recognizes animal sacrifices and cherishes the Messianic hope; he was not a Sadducee, for he looks forward to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom (x.); nor a Zealot, for the quietistic ideal is upheld (ix.), and the kingdom is established by God Himself (x.). He is therefore a Chasid of the ancient type, and glorifies the ideals which were cherished by the old Pharisaic party, but which were now being fast disowned in favour of a more active role in the political life of the nation. He pours his most scathing invectives on the Sadducees, who are described in vii. in terms that recall the anti-Sadducean Psalms of Solomon. His object, therefore, is to protest against the growing secularization of the Pharisaic party through its adoption of popular Messianic beliefs and political ideals. (See also Moses, Assumption of.)

Apocalypse of Baruch—The Syriac.—This apocalypse has survived only in the Syriac version. The Syriac is a translation from the Greek, and the Greek in turn from the Hebrew. The book treats of the Messiah and the Messianic kingdom, the woes of Israel in the past and the destruction of Jerusalem in the present, as well as of theological questions relating to original sin, free will, works, &c. The views expressed on several of these subjects are often conflicting. We must, therefore, assume a number of independent sources put together by an editor or else that the book is on the whole the work of one author who made use of independent writings but failed to blend them into one harmonious whole. In its present form the book was written soon after A.D. 70. For fuller treatment see Baruch.

4 Ezra.—This apocryph is variously named. In the first Arabic and Ethiopic versions it is called I Ezra; in some Latin MSS. and in the English authorized version it is 2 Ezra, and in the Armenian 3 Ezra. With the majority of the Latin MSS. we designate the book 4 Ezra. In its fullest form this apocryph consists of sixteen chapters, but i.-ii. and xv.-xvi. are of different authorship from each other and from the main work iii.-xiv. The book was written originally in Hebrew. There are Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic (two), and Armenian versions. The Greek version is lost. This apocalypse is of very great importance, on account of its very full treatment of the theological questions rife in the latter half of the 1st century of the Christian era. The book, even if written by one author, was based on a variety of already existing works. It springs from the same school of thought as the Apocalypse of Baruch, and its affinities with the latter are so numerous and profound that scholars have not yet come to any consensus as to the relative priority of either. In its present form it was composed A.D. 80-100. For fuller treatment see Ezra.

Apocalypse of Baruch—The Greek.—This work is referred to by Origen (de Princip. II. iii. 6): “Denique etiam Baruch prophetae librum in assertionis hujus’ testimonium vocant, quod ibi de septem mundis vel caelis evidentius indicatur.” This book survives in two forms in Slavonic and Greek. The former was translated by Bonwetsch in 1896, in the Nachrichten von der königl. Ges. der Wiss. zu, Gött. pp. 91-101; the latter by James in 1897 in Anecdota, ii. 84-94, with an elaborate introduction (pp. li.-lxxi.). The Slavonic is only of secondary value, as it is merely an abbreviated form of the Greek. Even the Greek cannot claim to be the original work, but only to be a recension of it; for, whereas Origen states that this apocalypse contained an account of the seven heavens, the existing Greek work describes only five, and the Slavonic only two. As the original, work presupposes 2 Enoch and the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch and was known to Origen, it was written between A.D. 80 and 200, and nearer the earlier date than the later, as it would otherwise be hard to understand how it came to circulate among Christians. The superscription shows points of connexion with the Rest of the Words of Baruch, but little weight can be attached to the fact, since titles and superscriptions were so frequently transformed and expanded in ancient times. As James and Kohler have pointed out, part of section 4 on the Vine is a Christian addition. A German translation of the Greek appears in Kautzsch’s Apok. u. Pseud, ii. 448-457, and a strong article by Kohler on the Jewish authorship of the book in the Jewish Encyclopedia, ii. 549-551. (See Baruch.)

Apocalypse of Abraham.—This book is found only in the Slavonic (edited by Bonwetsch, Studien zur Geschichte d. Theologie und Kirche, 1897), a translation from the Greek. It is of Jewish origin, but in part worked over by a Christian reviser. The first part treats of Abraham’s conversion, and the second forms an apocalyptic expansion of Gen. xv. This book was possibly known to the author of the Clem. Recognitions, i. 32, a passage, however, which may refer to Jubilees. It is most probably distinct from the Άποκάλυψις Άβραάμ used by the gnostic Sethites (Epiphanius, Haer. xxxix. 5), which was very heretical. On the other hand, it is probably identical with the apocryphal book Άβραάμ mentioned in the Stichometry of Nicephorus, and the Synopsis Athanasii, together with the Apocalypses of Enoch, &c.


Lost Apocalypses: Prayer of Joseph.—The Prayer of Joseph is quoted by Origen [In Joann. II. xxv, (Lommatzsch, i. 147, 148); in Gen. III. ix. (Lommatzsch, viii. 30-31)]. The fragments in Origen represent Jacob as speaking and claiming to be “the first servant in God’s presence,” “the first-begotten of every creature animated by God,” and declaring that the angel who wrestled with Jacob (and was identified by Christians with Christ) was only eighth in rank. The work was obviously anti-Christian. (See Schürer3, iii. 265-266.)

Book of Eldad and Modad.—This book was written in the name of the two prophets mentioned in Num. xi. 26-29. It consisted, according to the Targ. Jon. on Num. xi. 26-20, mainly of prophecies on Magog’s last attack on Israel. The Shepherd of Hermas quotes it Vis. ii. 3. (See Marshall in Hastings’ Bible Dictionary, i. 677.)

Apocalypse of Elijah.—This apocalypse is mentioned in two of the lists of books. Origen, Ambrosiaster, and Euthalius ascribe to it I Cor. ii. 9. If they are right, the apocalypse is pre-Pauline. The peculiar form in which I Cor. ii. 9 appears in Clemens Alex. Protrept. x. 94, and the Const. Apost. vii. 32, shows that both have the same source, probably this apocalypse. Epiphanius (Haer. xlii., ed. Oehler, vol. ii. 678) ascribes to this work Eph. v. 14. Isr. Lévi (Revue des études juives, 1880, i. 108 sqq.) argues for the existence of a Hebrew apocalypse of Elijah from two Talmudic passages. A late work of this name has been published by Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, 1855, iii. 65-68, and Buttenwieser in 1897. Zahn, Gesch. des N.T. Kanons, ii. 801-810, assigns this apocalypse to the 2nd century A.D. (See Schürer3, iii. 267-271.)

Apocalypse of Zephaniah.—Apart from two of the lists this work is known to us in its original form only through a citation in Clem. Alex. Strom. v. II, 77. A Christian revision of it is probably preserved in the two dialects of Coptic. Of these the Akhmim text is the original of the Sahidic. These texts and their translations have been edited by Steindorff, Die Apokalypse des Elias, eine unbekannte Apokalypse und Bruchstucke der Sophonias-Apokalypse (1809). As Schürer (Theol. Literaturzeitung, 1899, No. I. 4-8) has shown, these fragments belong most probably to the Zephaniah apocalypse. They give descriptions of heaven and hell, and predictions of the Antichrist. In their present form these Christianized fragments are not earlier than the 3rd century. (See Schürer, Gesch. des jüd. Volkes3, iii. 271-273.)

2 Enoch, or the Slavonic Enoch, or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch.—This new fragment of the Enochic literature was recently brought to light through five MSS. discovered in Russia and Servia. The book in its present form was written before A.D. 70 in Greek by an orthodox Hellenistic Jew, who lived in Egypt. For a fuller account see Enoch.

Oracles of Hystaspes.—See under N. T. Apocalypses, below.

Testament of Job.—This book was first printed from one MS. by Mai, Script. Vet. Nov. Coll. (1833), VII. i. 180, and translated into French in Migne’s Dict. des Apocryphes, ii. 403. An excellent edition from two MSS. is given by M.R. James, Apocrypha Anecdota, ii. pp. lxxii.-cii., 104-137, who holds that the book in its present form was written by a Christian Jew in Egypt on the basis of a Hebrew Midrash on Job in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Kohler (Kohut Memorial Volume, 1897, pp. 264-338) has given good grounds for regarding the whole work, with the exception of some interpolations, as “one of the most remarkable productions of the pre-Christian era, explicable only when viewed in the light of Hasidean practice.” See Jewish Encycl. vii. 200-202.

Testaments of the III. Patriarchs.—For an account of these three Testaments (referred to in the Apost. Const. vi. 16), the first of which only is preserved in the Greek and is assigned by James to the 2nd century A.D., see that scholar’s “Testament of Abraham,” Texts and Studies, ii. 2 (1892), which appears in two recensions from six and three MSS. respectively, and Vassiliev’s Anecdota Graeco-Byzantina, (1893), pp. 292-308, from one MS. already used by James. This work was written in Egypt, according to James, and survives also in Slavonic, Rumanian, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions. It deals with Abraham’s reluctance to die and the means by which his death was brought about. James holds that this book is referred to by Origen (Hom. in Luc. xxxv.), but this is denied by Schürer, who also questions its Jewish origin. With the exception of chaps. x.-xi., it is really a legend and not an apocalypse. An English translation of James’s texts will be found in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (Clark, 1897), pp. 185-201. The Testaments of Isaac and Jacob are still preserved in Arabic and Ethiopic (see James, op. cit. 140-161). See Testaments of the III. Patriarchs.

Sibylline Oracles.—Of the books which have come down to us the main part is Jewish, and was written at various dates, iii. 97-829, iv.-v. are decidedly of Jewish authorship, and probably xi.-xii., xiv. and parts of i.-ii. The oldest portions are in iii., and belong to the 2nd century B.C.

III. New Testament Apocalyptic

When we pass from Jewish literature to that of the New Testament, we enter into a new and larger atmosphere at once recalling and transcending what had been best in the prophetic periods of the past. Again the heavens had opened and the divine teaching come to mankind, no longer merely in books bearing the names of ancient patriarchs, but on the lips of living men, who had taken courage to appear in person as God’s messengers before His people. But though Christianity was in spirit the descendant of ancient Jewish prophecy, it was no less truly the child of that Judaism which had expressed its highest aspirations and ideals in pseudepigraphic and apocalyptic literature. Hence we shall not be surprised to find that the two tendencies are fully represented in primitive Christianity, and, still more strange as it may appear, that New Testament apocalyptic found a more ready hearing amid the stress and storm of the 1st century than the prophetic side of Christianity, and that the type of the forerunner on the side of its declared asceticism appealed more readily to primitive Christianity than that of Him who came “eating and drinking,” declaring both worlds good and both God’s.

Early Christianity had thus naturally a special fondness for this class of literature. It was Christianity that preserved Jewish apocalyptic, when it was abandoned by Judaism as it sank into Rabbinism, and gave it a Christian character either by a forcible exegesis or by a systematic process of interpolation. Moreover, it cultivated this form of literature and made it the vehicle of its own ideas. Though apocalyptic served its purpose in the opening centuries of the Christian era, it must be confessed that in many of its aspects its office is transitory, as they belong not to the essence of Christian thought. When once it had taught men that the next world was God’s world, though it did so at the cost of relinquishing the present to Satan, it had achieved its real task, and the time had come for it to quit the stage of history, when Christianity appeared as the heir of this true spiritual achievement. But Christianity was no less assuredly the heir of ancient prophecy, and thus as spiritual representative of what was true in prophecy and apocalyptic; its essential teaching was as that of its Founder that both worlds were of God and that both should be made God’s.

(i.) Canonical:—

Apocalypse in Mark xiii. (Matthew xxiv., Luke xxi.).

2 Thessalonians ii.


(ii.) Extra-Canonical:—

Apocalypse of Peter.

Testament of Hezekiah.

Testament of Abraham.

Oracles of Hystaspes.

Vision of Isaiah.

Shepherd of Hermas.

5 Ezra.

6 Ezra.

Christian Sibyllines.

Apocalypses of Paul, Thomas and Stephen.

Apocalypses of Esdras, Paul, John, Peter, The Virgin, Sedrach, Daniel.

Revelations of Bartholomew.

Questions of Bartholomew.


Apocalypse in Mark xiii.—According to the teaching of the Gospels the second advent was to take the world by surprise. Only one passage (Mark xiii. = Matt. xxiv. = Luke xxi.) conflicts with this view, and is therefore suspicious. This represents the second advent as heralded by a succession of signs which are unmistakable precursors of its appearance, such as wars, earthquakes, famines, the destruction of Jerusalem and the like. Our suspicion is justified by a further examination of Mark xiii. For the words “let him that readeth understand” (ver. 14) indicate that the prediction referred to appeared first not in a spoken address but in a written form, as was characteristic of apocalypses. Again, in ver. 30, it is declared that this generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled, whereas in 32 we have an undoubted declaration of Christ “Of that day or of that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” On these and other grounds verses 7, 8, 14-20, 24-27, 30, 31 should be removed from their present context. Taken together they constitute a Christian adaptation of an originally Jewish work, written A.D. 67-68, during the troubles preceding the fall of Jerusalem. The apocalypse consists of three Acts: Act i. consisting of verses 7, 8, enumerating the woes heralding the parusia, Act ii. describing the actual tribulation, and Act iii. the parusia itself. (See Wendt, Lehre Jesu, i. 12-21; Charles, Eschatology, 325 sqq.; H.S. Holtzmann, N. T. Theol. 1-325 sqq. with literature there given.)

2 Thessalonians ii.—The earliest form of Pauline eschatology is essentially Jewish. He starts from the fundamental thought of Jewish apocalyptic that the end of the world will be brought about by the direct intervention of God when evil has reached its climax. The manifestation of evil culminates in the Antichrist whose parusia (2 Thess. ii. 9) is the Satanic counterfeit of that of the true Messiah. But the climax of evil is the immediate herald of its destruction; for thereupon Christ will descend from heaven and destroy the Antichrist (ii. 8). Nowhere in his later epistles does this forecast of the future reappear. Rather under the influence of the great formative Christian conceptions he parted gradually with the eschatology he had inherited from Judaism, and entered on a progressive development, in the course of which the heterogeneous elements were for the most part silently dropped.

Revelation.—Since this book is discussed separately we shall content ourselves here with indicating a few of the conclusions now generally accepted. The apocalypse was written about A.D. 96. Its object, like other Jewish apocalypses, was to encourage faith under persecution; its burden is not a call to repentance but a promise of deliverance. It is derived from one author, who has made free use of a variety of elements, some of which are Jewish and consort but ill with their new context. The question of the pseudonymity of the book is still an open one.

Apocalypse of Peter.—Till 1892 only some five or more fragments of this book were known to exist. These are preserved in Clem. Alex. and in Macarius Magnes (see Hilgenfeld, N.T. extra Can. iv. 74 sqq.; Zahn, Gesch. Kanons ii. 818-819). It is mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, and according to Eusebius (H.E. vi. 14. i) was commented on by Clement of Alexandria. In the fragment found at Akhmim there is a prediction of the last things, and a vision of the abode and blessedness of the righteous, and of the abode and torments of the wicked.

Testament of Hezekiah.—This writing is fragmentary, and has been preserved merely as a constituent of the Ascension of Isaiah. To it belongs iii. 13b-iv. 18 of that book. It is found under the above name, Διαθήκη Έζεκίου, only in Cedrenus i. 120-121, who quotes partially iv. 12. 14 and refers to iv. 15-18. For a full account see Isaiah, Ascension of.

Testament of Abraham.—This work in two recensions was first published by James, Texts and Studies, ii. 2. Its editor is of opinion that it was written by a Jewish Christian in Egypt in the 2nd century A.D., but that it embodies legends of an earlier date, and that it received its present form in the 9th or 10th century. It treats of Michael being sent to announce to Abraham his death: of the tree speaking with a human voice (iii.), Michael’s sojourn with Abraham (iv.-v.) and Sarah’s recognition of him as one of the three angels, Abraham’s refusal to die (vii.), and the vision of judgment (x.-xx.).

Oracles of Hystaspes.—This eschatological work (Χρήσεις Ύστάσπου: so named by the anonymous 5th-century writer in Buresch, Klaros, 1889, p. 95) is mentioned in conjunction with the Sibyllines by Justin (Apol. i. 20), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. vi. 5), and Lactantius (Inst. VII. xv. 19; xviii. 2-3). According to Lactantius, it prophesied the overthrow of Rome and the advent of Zeus to help the godly and destroy the wicked, but omitted all reference to the sending of the Son of God. According to Justin, it prophesied the destruction of the world by fire. According to the Apocryph of Paul, cited by Clement, Hystaspes foretold the conflict of the Messiah with many kings and His advent. Finally, an unknown 5th-century writer (see Buresch, Klaros, 1889, pp. 87-126) says that the Oracles of Hystaspes dealt with the incarnation of the Saviour. The work referred to in the last two writers has Christian elements, which were absent from it in Lactantius’s copy. The lost oracles were therefore in all probability originally Jewish, and subsequently re-edited by a Christian.

Vision of Isaiah.—This writing has been preserved in its entirety in the Ascension of Isaiah, of which it constitutes chaps, vi.-xi. Before its incorporation in the latter work it circulated independently in Greek. There are independent versions of these chapters in Latin and Slavonic. (See Isaiah, Ascension of.)

Shepherd of Hermas.—In the latter half of the 2nd century this book enjoyed a respect bordering on that paid to the writings of the New Testament. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen quote it as Scripture, though in Africa it was not held in such high consideration, as Tertullian speaks slightingly of it. The writer belongs really to the prophetic and not to the apocalyptic school. His book is divided into three parts containing visions, commands, similitudes. In incidental allusions he lets us know that he had been engaged in trade, that his wife was a termagant, and that his children were ill brought up. Various views have been held as to the identity of the author. Thus some have made him out to be the Hermas to whom salutation is sent at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, others that he was the brother of Pius, bishop of Rome in the middle of the 2nd century, and others that he was a contemporary of Clement, bishop of Rome at the close of the ist century. Zahn fixes the date at 97, Salmon a few years later, Lipsius 142. The literature of this book (see Hermas, Shepherd of) is very extensive. Among the chief editions are those of Zahn, Der Hirt des Hermas (1868); Gebhardt and Harnack, Patres Apostolici (1877, with full bibliographical material); Funk, Patres Apost. (1878). Further see Harnack, Gesch. d. altchristl. Literatur, i. 49-58; II. i. 257-267, 437 f.

5 Ezra.—This book, which constitutes in the later MSS. the first two chapters to 4 Ezra, falls obviously into two parts. The first (i. 5-ii. 9) contains a strong attack on the Jews whom it regards as the people of God; the second (ii. 10-47) addresses itself to the Christians as God’s people and promises them the heavenly kingdom. It is not improbable that these chapters are based on an earlier Jewish writing. In its present form it may have been written before A.D. 200, though James and other scholars assign it to the 3rd century. Its tone is strongly anti-Jewish. The style is very vigorous and the materials of a strongly apocalyptic character. See Hilgenfeld, Messias Judaeorum (1869); James in Bensly’s edition of 4 Ezra, pp. xxxviii.-lxxx.; Weinel in Hennecke’s N.T. Apokryphen, 331-336.

6 Ezra.—This work consists of chapters xv.-xvi. of 4 Ezra. It may have been written as an appendix to 4 Ezra, as it has no proper introduction. Its contents relate to the destruction of the world through war and natural catastrophes—for the heathen a source of menace and fear, but for the persecuted people of God one of admonition and comfort. There is nothing specifically Christian in the book, which represents a persecution which extends over the whole eastern part of the Empire. Moreover, the idiom is particularly Semitic. Thus we have xv. 8 nec 175 sustinebo in his quae inique exercent, that is ב אשנ: in 9 vindicans vindicabo: in 22 non parcet dextera mea super peccatores = φείσεται ... ἐπί = לע ... לומחי. In verses 9, 19 the manifest corruptions may be explicable from a Semitic background. There are other Hebraisms in the text. It is true that these might have been due to the writer’s borrowings from earlier Greek works ultimately of Hebrew origin. The date of the book is also quite uncertain, though several scholars have ascribed it to the 3rd century.

Christian Sibyllines.—Critics are still at variance as to the extent of the Christian Sibyllines. It is practically agreed that vi.-viii. are of Christian origin. As for i.-ii., xi.-xiv. most writers are in favour of Christian authorship; but not so Geffcken (ed. Sibyll., 1902), who strongly insists on the Jewish origin of large sections of these books.

Apocalypses of Paul, Thomas and Stephen.—These are mentioned in the Gelasian decree. The first may possibly be the Άναβατικὸν Παύλου mentioned by Epiphanius (Haer. xxxviii. 2) as current among the Cainites. It is not to be confounded with the apocalypse mentioned two sections later.

Apocalypse of Esdras.—This Greek production resembles the more ancient fourth book of Esdras in some respects. The prophet is perplexed about the mysteries of life, and questions God respecting them. The punishment of the wicked especially occupies his thoughts. Since they have sinned in consequence of Adam’s fall, their fate is considered worse than that of the irrational creation. The description of the tortures suffered in the infernal regions is tolerably minute. At last the prophet consents to give up his spirit to God, who has prepared for him a crown of immortality. The book is a poor imitation of the ancient Jewish one. It may belong, however, to the 2nd or 3rd centuries of the Christian era. See Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocryphae, pp. 24-33.

Apocalypse of Paul.—This work (referred to by Augustine, Tractat. in Joan. 98) contains a description of the things which the apostle saw in heaven and hell. The text, as first published in the original Greek by Tischendorf (Apocalypses Apocr. 34-69), consists of fifty-one chapters, but is imperfect. Internal evidence assigns it to the time of Theodosius, i.e. about A.D. 388. Where the author lived is uncertain. Dr Perkins found a Syriac MS. of this apocalypse, which he translated into English, and printed in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1864, vol. viii. This was republished by Tischendorf below the Greek version in the above work. In 1893 the Latin version from one MS. was edited by M.R. James, Texts and Studies, ii. 1-42, who shows that the Latin version is the completest of the three, and that the Greek in its present form is abbreviated.

Apocalypse of John (Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocr. 70 sqq.) contains a description of the future state, the general resurrection and judgment, with an account of the punishment of the wicked, as well as the bliss of the righteous. It appears to be the work of a Jewish Christian. The date is late, for the writer speaks of the “venerable and holy images,” as well as “the glorious and precious crosses and the sacred things of the churches” (xiv.), which points to the 5th century, when such things were first introduced into churches. It is a feeble imitation of the canonical apocalypse.

Arabic Apocalypse of Peter contains a narrative of events from the foundation of the world till the second advent of Christ. The book is said to have been written by Clement, Peter’s disciple. This Arabic work has not been printed, but a summary of the contents is given by Nicoll in his catalogue of the Oriental MSS. belonging to the Bodleian (p. 49, xlviii.). There are eighty-eight chapters. It is a late production; for Ishmaelites are spoken of, the Crusades, and the taking of Jerusalem. See Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocr. pp. xx.-xxiv.

The Apocalypse of the Virgin, containing her descent into hell, is not published entire, but only several portions of it from Greek MSS. in different libraries, by Tischendorf in his Apocalypses Apocryphae, pp. 95 sqq.; James, Texts and Studies, ii. 3. 109-126.

Apocalypse of Sedrach.—This late apocalypse, which M.R. James assigns to the 10th or 11th century, deals with the subject of intercession for sinners and Sedrach’s unwillingness to die. See James, Texts and Studies, ii. 3. 127-137.

Apocalypse of Daniel.—See Vassiliev’s Anecdota Graeco-Byzantina (Moscow, 1893), pp. 38-44; Uncanonical Books of the Old Testament (Venice, 1901), pp. 237 sqq., 387 sqq.

The Revelations of Bartholomew.—Dulaurier published from a Parisian Sahidic MS., subjoining a French translation, what is termed a fragment of the apocryphal revelations of St Bartholomew (Fragment des révélations apocryphes de Saint Barthélemy, &c., Paris, 1835), and of the history of the religious communities founded by St Pachomius. After narrating the pardon obtained by Adam, it is said that the Son ascending from Olivet prays the Father on behalf of His apostles; who consequently receive consecration from the Father, together with the Son and Holy Spirit—Peter being made archbishop of the universe. The late date of the production is obvious.

Questions of St Bartholomew.—See Vassiliev, Anec. Graeco-Byzantina (1893), pp. 10-22. The introduction, which is wanting in the Greek MS., has been supplied by a Latin translation from the Slavonic version (see pp. vii.-ix.). The book contains disclosures by Christ, the Virgin and Beliar and much of the subject-matter is ancient.

(R. H. C.)

1 See the separate headings for the various apocalyptic books mentioned in this article.

Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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