(This is a different question than 'Was Jesus a Failed Messiah?')
Hi Glen(sic) Miller,
I recently discovered your excellent site when I was looking up arguments to go against an atheist with, and I was and am impressed with the high level of research and time that you put into each of the hard questions you tackle. So when I came across a blog post on a forum that really bothered me, I felt that you may do the best job of refuting it.
My apologetics question is basically, "Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?" This is not just asking about a few verses, but about the purpose of Jesus' ministry and its "apparent" unfulfillment. Numerous references by Jesus (and other New Testament writers) to a nearing of the end times have always bothered me in the back of my mind, but this blog post (which I will copy in its entirety here) really shakes my faith. It basically tries to show that the thrust of Jesus' message was that His end-times kingdom was coming very soon, and all his followers like Paul and John believed this. Then when this didn't come true, the church distanced itself from the end times, such as in the last Gospel, John, where its message focuses more on eternal life than the apocalypse. I had originally came across this post in a forum because I was bothered with Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64 that the high priest would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. Yet this post I found was much broader in its attacks on Jesus and the New Testament message.
By the way, I did search your topics list to see if you addressed this issue, and your article to a Finland reader (https://Christianthinktank.com/qaim.html) was very helpful. I do not ask that you repeat your responses from that article, but only I wish that you would answer some of the other arguments mentioned in the blog post that has been bothering me, which is below (I apologize for the length of this post -- but I'm truly troubled by it):
PART NINE (A) ==================== (see Part One for series header and TOC)
This takes the question discussed in Part 7 and Part 8: "Is there a clear pattern of successive watering down of Jesus' prediction of the Eschaton AFTER the NT documents?" and extends that question into the non-canonical and (often) non-orthodox or less-orthodox post-NT literature.
So, the revised version of the question here is:
Do the NT apocrypha seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus?
Of course, by now the reader has seen that there IS no 'backpedaling' or watering-down of the apocalyptic language or eschatological hope of the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels to be 'continued'. Instead, we have seen all three eschatological frameworks (realized eschatology, futurist/apocalyptic eschatology, and inaugurated eschatology) present throughout the NT literature and Church fathers.
These have shown up in all strata, all genres, and all authors. They have shown up in direct teachings, as grounding bases for ethical injunctions, and as causes for praise, hope, celebration, and endurance.
Okay, now to move on to the Apocryphal writings...
Let's start with repeating the summary by Daley in HOEC, in which Christian apocrypha are considered within the context of pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic traditions:
"Early biblical apocrypha. Although it is usually difficult to specify the original home of the many apocryphal gospels, apocalypses, and pseudo-apostolic letters and narratives composed by Christian groups in the second century, most of them represent a style of symbolic, dramatic theological thinking that belongs to the world of Jewish apocalyptic. Their pseudepigraphic identification with central figures of the Old or New Testament, the urgent, moralizing tone of their exhortations, the cosmic judgment and salvation they usually announce, and their sense of rapidly approaching doom for Greco-Roman civilization all link them in spirit and literary technique with the Jewish apocalyptic literature of the period. Like Jewish apocalyptic works, these Christian writings reflect not only the hopes of biblical faith, but the sense of frustration and insecurity shared by a people living without political or religious freedom, a people for whom persecution was always a real possibility. In some cases, in fact (e.g., IV Ezra, the Ascension of Isaiah or the first five books of the Sibylline Oracles), originally Jewish works have been rewritten to convey a Christian message. Some of these Christian apocrypha may be the work of marginal, syncretisticaliy Jewish Christian communities such as the so-called "Ebionites," but even apocalyptic works of unambiguously Christian origin represent, in the second century, what we have referred to as "Judaeo-Christian" features.
"The most important early Christian apocrypha for our understanding of Judaeo-Christian eschatology are the following: The Apocalypse of Peter (Apoc Pet), probably composed about 135 in Syria but well known also in Egypt during the second century - a work especially notable for its detailed and graphic description of the kinds of eternal punishment reserved for sinners; the Ascension of Isaiah (Asc Is), a work probably of Syrian origin from the mid second century, incorporating an older Jewish account of the martyrdom of the prophet Isaiah into an apocalyptic Christian account of the origin, death and second coming of Jesus; the Epistula Apostolorum (Ep Ap), a "letter" purportedly from all twelve apostles addressed to the universal Church, reporting a long revelatory discourse of the risen Lord on Easter night - a work that seems to have been composed in a Jewish Christian community in Asia Minor about 160; and the so-called Fifth and Sixth Books of Ezra, chapters 1-2 and 15-16 of the Latin translation of the Jewish apocryphon IV Ezra, which seem to have been written in Asia Minor or Syria at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, and which portray in remarkable detail the future rewards of the just (V Ezra 2) and the tribulations that will accompany the end of the world (VI Ezra). To these works - some of which may include material from older Hebrew or Aramaic apocalypses - must be added books VII and VIII of the Sibylline Oracles (Or Sib): Christian, probably Alexandrian, compositions in Greek hexameters from the latter half of the second century - as well as the Christian interpolations in book II, which may come from the mid third century. Though not biblical apocrypha in the strict sense, the Christian Sibylline poems make wide use of biblical and apocalyptic themes and continue the style of cosmic Wisdom-theology found in the earlier, purely Jewish sections of the same collection.
"Although these works differ widely in the details of their eschatological hope, the picture of impending deliverance and retribution that they paint is fairly consistent in its broad outlines. --
"In all of these documents, then, the dramatic sense of crisis and the powerfully imaginative expectation of a wholly new order of space and time, a world of justice and judgment and powerfully restored relationships between God and creation, bear close resemblance to the Jewish apocalyptic literature current since the Book of Daniel. The distinctive element is the role of the glorified Christ as executor of the judgment of God and divinely sent inaugurator of the new age. Though the imaginative tools of the authors of these works were known from a sectarian tradition within Jewish religious thought, the grounds of their hope were decidedly Christian, and grew out of the gospel kerygma of Jesus' resurrection and Lordship. [HI:HOEC, 7-8,9]
Daley's summary points out the continuity of the early Christian apocrypha with pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic hopes. But his comments also show that the apocryphal literature as a whole is not very 'eschatological' at all. By this I mean that out of the 99+ non-Gnostic works listed by Evans (in Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation, chapter 8; and in [NT:ATNTS, chapter 8]), Daley has only mentioned five or so texts (not all classified as 'apocalyptic texts' btw) as being 'most important'.
With this in mind, let's look at the texts that are considered in this category.
We have two basic reference works to work with, both collections of NT Apocrypha. We have the two-volume collection by Schneemelcher [NTA] and the collection in Elliott's The Apocryphal New Testament [TANT], based on M.R. James' earlier collection.
We will need to take a couple of different approaches to this investigation.
Our first/main approach here is to check the indices of the works for references to the main (alleged) timing passages in MR/MT:
· Mark 13:30 (this generation shall not pass...)
· Matt 10.23 (you will not have gone through the towns... until the Son of Man comes)
· Matt 24.14 (end will not come until the gospel is preached to the whole world)
· Matt 24.34 (this generation shall not pass...)
· Matt 26.64 (from now on you will see the Son of Man seated...and coming on clouds...)
Any 're-interpretation' of the timing elements would (presumably?) have to at least allude to these texts. [Of course, the 'return' could be re-interpreted itself (as in Gnosticism) without reference to these texts, but we will examine this later]
Ok, what NT apocryphal texts reference the timing passages?
Mark 13:30ff is (only) seen in the Ethiopic Apoc Peter. Here's the passage (from [NTA]):
1. And when he was seated on the Mount of Olives, his own came unto him, and we entreated and implored him severally and besought him, saying unto him,' Make known unto us what are the signs of thy Parousia and of the end of the world, that we may perceive and mark the time of thy Parousia and instruct those who come after us, to whom we preach the word of thy Gospel and whom we install in thy Church, in order that they, when they hear it, may take heed to themselves that they mark the time of thy coming.' And our Lord answered and said unto us, 'Take heed that men deceive you not and that ye do not become doubters and serve other gods. Many will come in my name saying "I am Christ." Believe them not and draw not near unto them' For the coming of the Son of God will not be manifest, but like the lightning which shineth from the east to the west so shall I come on the clouds of heaven with a great host in my glory; with my cross going before my face will I come in my glory, shining seven times as bright as the sun will I come in my glory, with all my saints, my angels, when my Father will place a crown upon my head, that I may judge the living and the dead and recompense every man according to his work.
2. And ye, receive ye the parable of the fig-tree thereon: as soon as its shoots have gone forth and its boughs have sprouted, the end of the world will come.' And I, Peter, answered and said unto him, 'Explain to me concerning the fig-tree, and how we shall perceive it, for throughout all its days does the fig-tree sprout and every year it brings forth its fruit [and] for its master. What (then) meaneth the parable of the fig-tree? We know it not.' - And the Master answered and said unto me, 'Dost thou not understand that the fig-tree is the house of Israel? Even as a man hath planted a fig-tree in his garden and it brought forth no fruit, and he sought its fruit for many years. When he found it not, he said to the keeper of his garden, "Uproot the fig-tree that our land may not be unfruitful for us." And the gardener said to God, "We thy servants (?) wish to clear it (of weeds) and to dig the ground around it and to water it. If it does not then bear fruit, we will immediately remove its roots from the garden and plant another one in its place." Hast thou not grasped that the fig-tree is the house of Israel? Verily, I say to you, when its boughs have sprouted at the end, then shall deceiving Christs come, and awaken hope (with the words): "l am the Christ, who am (now) come into the world." And when they shall see the wickedness of his (the false Messiah's) deeds, they shall turn away after them and deny him to whom our fathers gave praise (?), who crucified the first Christ and thereby sinned exceedingly. But this deceiver is not the Christ. And when they reject him, he will kill with the sword (dagger) and there shall be many martyrs. Then shall the boughs of the fig-tree, i.e. the house of Israel, sprout, and there shall be many martyrs by his hand: they shall be killed and become martyrs. Enoch and Elias will be sent to instruct them that this is the deceiver who must come into the world and do signs and wonders in order to deceive. And therefore shall they that are slain by his hand be martyrs and shall be reckoned among the good and righteous martyrs who have pleased God in their life.'
This is a fascinating passage and one that has a quasi-timing prediction. But--contrary to the hypothesis--the timing is connected with the rejection of the Anti-Messiah and not with the 'Jesus generation'. The timing prediction makes no mention of 'this generation shall not pass' or any of the OTHER passages commonly alleged to be timing-predictions! The end of the world occurs after Israel has 'sprouted'--not when they reject the true Messiah. As such it still portrays the eschaton as 'in the future' (without a real heavy emphasis on 'imminence' btw).
It is dated in the first half of the 2nd century, around the time of the 2nd Jewish war / Bar Kokhba revolt.
Thus, its timing prediction (which is NOT based on the 'this generation shall not pass' passage!) does not constitute evidence that something is being 're-interpreted'.
Matthew 10.23 (you will not have gone through the towns... until the Son of Man comes) does not show up in the indices of either collection.
Matt 24.14 (end will not come until the gospel is preached to the whole world) does not show up in the indices of either collection.
Matthew 24.34 (this generation shall not pass...)--a parallel to the Marcan passage above--does not show up either.
Matt 26.64 (from now on you will see the Son of Man seated...and coming on clouds...) shows up in a couple of places, but only in reference to 'the clouds' image--there is no timing element associated with it.
We saw the "cloud'' image in the Apoc Peter passage (above) and the 'sitting at the right hand of the Father' shows up in numerous places (eg. Epistle of the Apostles). The Apoc Peter also refers to the 'seeing' aspect in 5 and 6, but places the 'seeing' after the dissolution of the creation:
'And as soon as the whole creation dissolves, the men who are in the east shall flee to the west, (and those who are in the west) to the east; those in the south shall flee to the north, and those who are in the north to the south. And in all places shall the wrath of a fearful fire overtake them; and an unquenchable flame driving them shall bring them to the judgement of wrath, to the stream of unquenchable fire which flows, flaming with fire, and when the waves thereof part themselves one from another, burning, there shall be a great gnashing of teeth among the children of men.
6. 'Then shall they all behold me coming upon an eternal cloud of brightness; and the angels of God who are with me shall sit upon the throne of my glory at the right hand of my heavenly Father; and he shall set a crown upon my head. And when the nations behold it, they shall weep, every nation for itself. 'Then shall he command them to enter into the river of fire while the works of every one of them shall stand before them. (Rewards shall be given) to every man according to his deeds. As for the elect who have done good, they shall come to me and not see death by the devouring fire. But the unrighteous, the sinners, and the hypocrites shall stand in the depths of darkness that shall not pass away, and their chastisement is the fire, and angels bring forward their sins and prepare for them a place wherein they shall be punished for ever, every one according to his transgression."(Elliott)
This, of course, still places the event in the future and does not give any signs of embarrassment or ''adjusting the expectations''.
Approach two: We will look at the works ‘most likely to have timing re-interpretations’ in them—the apocalyptic works/passages.
[The NT apocrypha, of course, contains many different genres—infancy gospels, Acts of XYZ, epistles—but the apocalyptic genre (and passages) will have the highest ‘density’ of eschatological language, and therefore the greatest relevance for us.]
The last third of Volume Two of [NTA] deals with apocalypses and 'related subjects'. It contains the following entries:
· Apocalyptic in Early Christianity
o The Ascension of Isaiah
o Apocalypse of Peter (Ethiopic, discussed above)
· Apocalyptic Prophecy in the Early Church
o The Fifth and Six Books of Esra
o Christian Sibyllines
o The Book of Elchasai
· Later Apocalypses
o The Coptic Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul [will discuss under “Gnosticism”]
o The Coptic Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter [will discuss under “Gnosticim”]
o Apocalypse of Paul
o Apocalypse of Thomas
This list is close to that of Daley (above), so let's look through these works.
One: Apocalypse: The Ascension of Isaiah. [from Knight, J. (1995). The Ascension of Isaiah. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.]
"The Ascension of Isaiah is a second-century apocalypse which reacts to the threat of Roman oppression and expresses concern that the experience of visionary contact with heaven was declining in early Christian communities. The author boldly expresses his hope for the Beloved One’s return from heaven; but he also constructs a theory about what Jesus achieved on the cross which suggests that the need was felt to create a more detailed soteriology than is found in the New Testament literature." (p7).
"The Ascension of Isaiah falls into two halves. Chapters 1–5 contain a Christian eschatological prophecy of the last things (3.13–4.22) set within a narrative context which describes the prophet Isaiah’s death (1.1–3.12, 5.1–16). The hope for the parousia, or return of Christ from heaven (4.14–18), and criticism of both the church leaders (3.21–31) and the Roman administration (4.1–13), are important features of this section." (p10)
The Ascension of Isaiah offers an insight into this period but its evidence has often been neglected. The text has much in common with the New Testament writings, some of which its author apparently knew, and it represents a development of their ideas. An important area in which this is so is eschatology. The Ascension of Isaiah preserves the hope that the returning Christ would reign on earth (4.14–18) which is found in 1 Cor. 15:24–25 and Rev. 20:4 and is often called the ‘millenarian’ hope; but the apocalypse adds to this the Second Vision which offers a more theoretical or systematic account of what the Beloved One had already achieved." (p12)
The First Vision represents a response to the difficulties described in this way. The author’s historical review culminates in the hope that the Beloved’s expected return from heaven would inaugurate his reign on earth. The returning Beloved One was expected to drag Beliar and his hosts to Gehenna (4.14) and provide ‘rest’ for those who had shown themselves faithful under conflict (4.15). Even the departed would ‘descend from heaven with the Lord’ (4.16) so that death was not a barrier to participation in the kingdom. Following an unspecified period on earth all the faithful would ascend to a glorious heavenly immortality (4.17). This would be followed by a judgment in which the Beloved ‘rebuked’ everything that had supported Beliar’s tyranny (4.18)." (p18)
The First Vision embodies the hope for an imminent divine intervention through which the existing order would be transformed. Its eschatology has a strong future orientation. The author’s interest in this section lies in contrasting the state of the present with the new situation which he expected to emerge at the parousia. The Ascension of Isaiah embodies a ‘millenarian’ hope, by which is meant that its author expected the returning Christ to establish an earthly kingdom from which Beliar and his hosts would be excluded and where the pious would enjoy a form of life that they had not experienced before. This kingdom would not be an end in itself but it was to be the prelude to a heavenly immortality when the human body would be shaken off to yield an incorporeal life in the heavenly world (4.17). Such millenarianism had been a prominent feature of earlier Christian eschatology (see Bietenhard 1953). The author of the Ascension of Isaiah confidently asserts that what had been promised in the past but not fulfilled would now shortly come to completion (4.14–18). His hope for the Beloved’s earthly kingdom formed one of the ways in which this author encouraged his readers." (p44)
4.12 sets a precise limit on Beliar’s reign. The author states that he would rule for ‘three years, seven months and twenty-seven days’, that is the 1335 days of Dan. 12:12 reckoned according to the Julian calendar. The author of the Ascension of Isaiah evidently knew the book of Daniel and used it extensively because Daniel had described a similar situation of conflict with an occupying power that involved what were regarded as inappropriate religious demands. 4.13 is a difficult verse to interpret. Some have taken it as an indication that a few of the original eyewitnesses of Jesus were still alive. This conclusion must be qualified through observing that the focus of the verse is not so much on the survival of the original generation as on the assertion that few would be left as the Beloved’s servants in view of the apostasy anticipated by 4.9. These faithful ones would ‘flee from desert to desert’ as they awaited the millenarian kingdom (4.13). The statement that they were ‘few’ recalls the description of Isaiah’s wilderness community in 2:7–11 and the reference to ‘one here and there in different places’ (3:27). It also recalls the Old Testament idea of the faithful remnant in Israel (see e.g. Isa. 37:32) and it shows the author’s view that the prophets alone remained faithful at the time. While the desert might be seen as a place of safety (1 Kgs 17:2; 1 Macc. 2:28–30; Rev. 12:6, 14) it was also the place where messianic movements were formed (see Mt. 3:1–12; Acts 21:38). According to Asc. Isa. 2.9 it was moreover the place where apocalyptic revelation occurred, so that the phrase as used here is a suggestive one --- The thought of 4.13 is thus that the faithful few should retreat to the desert until the Beloved One returned to introduce his kingdom. This seems to be a way of advocating caution towards too ready an engagement with the Romans (cf. 5.13) and it also affirms the importance of continuing apocalyptic activity and eschatological hope. The date for the Ascension of Isaiah suggested in this Guide makes it unlikely that any of the original disciples would have been alive at the time of writing. (pp61-62)
4.14–18 represents the climax of the First Vision. Here the author expresses his hope that the Beloved One would return from heaven to introduce a completely different situation. This new situation was to be the temporary earthly kingdom which would precede a permanent life in the seventh heaven. 4.14, which exists only in the Ethiopic version, states that the Beloved would return after ‘three hundred and thirty two days’; the figure of a thousand has clearly dropped out here and is rightly restored by commentators. It has been argued that the ‘thirty-two’ is a mistake for ‘thirty-five’; the figure then agrees with 4.12 as we should expect. This hope for the parousia is expressed in language that was derived ultimately from Zech. 14:5 (‘the Lord my God will come with all the holy ones’), but Paul in 1 Thess. 3:13 and 2 Thess. 1:7 (especially the latter) was probably a mediating source for this passage. Asc. Isa. 4.14 attributes to the Beloved One activity which the Old Testament text had assigned to God. Such use of the Old Testament, particularly of its theophanic passages, was one of the ways in which early Christianity confirmed its beliefs about the divinity and parousia of Jesus." (p62).
Here is the main passage from the work dealing with the return of Christ (4.14ff):
"And after [one thousand] three hundred and thirty-two days the LORD will come with his angels and with the hosts of the saints from the seventh heaven, with the glory of the seventh heaven, and will drag Beliar, and his hosts also, into Gehenna. And he will give rest to the pious whom he finds in the body in this world, but the sun will be ashamed. and (to) all who because of their faith in him have cursed Beliar and his kings. But the saints will come with the LORD with their robes which are stored up in the seventh heaven above; with the LORD will come those whose spirits are clothed, they will descend and be present in the world, and the LORD will strengthen those who are found in the body, together with the saints in the robes of the saints, and will serve those who have kept watch in this world. And after this they will be turned in their robes upwards, and their body will be left in the world. Then the voice of the Beloved will reprove in anger this heaven, and this earth, and the mountains, and the hills, and the cities, and the desert, and the trees, and the angel of the sun, and that of the moon, and everywhere that Beliar has appeared and acted openly in this world. There will be a resurrection and a judgment in their midst in those days, and the Beloved will cause fire to rise from him, and it will consume all the impious, and they will become as if they had not been created." [Charlesworth, J. H. (1985). Vol. 2: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, Volume 2: Expansions of the "Old Testament" and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (162). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]
Knight summarizes the eschatological vision of the work, in terms that seem to fit our understanding of 'mixed frameworks' and/or inaugurated ('both/and') viewpoints:
"The work’s eschatology also calls for comment. The Ascension of Isaiah includes more than one eschatological view. The early chapters (1–5) contain the hope that the Beloved would return from heaven to establish his earthly kingdom. Chapters 6–11 lack any formal articulation of this future hope and concentrate instead on the Beloved’s victory over Beliar and his heavenly enthronement as evidence that salvation had been fully provided. It is difficult now to decide how far these views were intended by their author to cohere with each other. The eschatology of the early chapters is a millenarian one. The term ‘millenarianism’ is generally defined by citing Rev. 20:4, a passage which expects that Christian martyrs would reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years. The author of Revelation was at one with other first-century writers in this future hope even if his timescale for the future reign is more precise than is found elsewhere. Paul also expected that the living and dead would reign with the messiah on earth (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–18; 1 Cor. 6:2–3; 15:24–28). Many second- and third-century writers developed this view, often by exegesis of the book of Revelation (see Bietenhard 1953). The author of the Ascension of Isaiah thus stood within a tradition of Christian eschatology when he wrote 4.14–18. His distinctive contribution to that tradition was to introduce the timescale from Dan. 12:12 in 4:12, 14. This represents an attempt to specify the time when the parousia would occur with a precision that other Christian writers generally avoided.
"The progress of thought in the apocalypse suggests that chs. 6–11 were written with the intention of supplementing rather than criticizing the eschatology of 4.14–18. The second half of the Ascension of Isaiah gives no sign that a different situation was addressed and indeed are reasons for supposing that the apocalypse was written with a consistent purpose in mind. The two halves of the work evidently offer different perspectives on the same situation. The Second Vision, like the First, was written to create hope. The author does this by constructing an ideal state at variance with reality in which his apocalyptic interest allowed the disclosure that the Beloved One had defeated Beliar on the cross. This assured readers that their heavenly patron was more powerful than the demon who inspired the Romans and that Beliar had been defeated despite what Rome was doing in the world, so that a new perspective was possible.
The author’s purpose in the Second Vision was to change readers’ response to their situation by constructing a picture of how salvation had emerged from cosmic disorder. We might call this a ‘utopian’ perspective. Utopianism denotes the construction of an ideal state that is intended to bring about a change in present conditions (see Mannheim 1991: 173). Both the description of the cross as the moment of salvation and the image of the Beloved’s enthronement offered readers a new way of looking at their situation which supplied hope by insisting that their patron reigned supreme. In a world in which people believed in gods and demons, and in which Christians found themselves at the mercy of the Roman government, this author claimed that the Beloved One had decisively defeated the inferior powers who stood behind the Roman adversaries. Readers were thereby encouraged to trust the Beloved One at this time of difficulty in their lives. This material does not however mask the actual nature of the situation, which is described in ch. 4." (pp86-87)
Notice a couple of things here:
· Asc of Isaiah was unique in being 'more precise' on dating--the implication being that Jesus et. al. were NOT this precise.
· Asc of Isaiah based this precise dating on the book of Daniel and NOT on the interpretation of the Synoptic 'timing' passages of Jesus (contra the hypothesis)
· With a commonly accepted date of 112-138, it is in continuity with the mixed eschatology framework we have noted elsewhere.
No watering down, no re-interpretation here.
Two: Apocalypse: Apocalypse of Peter (non-Gnostic version). [We have already examined this one above.]
Three: Apocalyptic Prophecy: The Fifth and Six Books of Esra/Ezra.
Although the terminology can be confusing, these two ‘books’ refer to parts of the work known as ‘2 Esdras’ or ‘4 Ezra’, and are generally considered to have circulated independently of 4 Ezra originally.
“5 Ezra and 6 Ezra. These terms are used for, respectively, chapters 1–2 and chapters 15–16 of the composite work known as 2 Esdras or 4 Ezra, whose core (chaps. 3–14) is a Jewish apocalypse. 5 Ezra, a series of prophecies and visions attributed to Ezra, is a Christian work of the second century, portraying the church as the true people of God who replace disobedient and faithless Israel. Prefaced to the Jewish apocalypse of Ezra, it provides a Christian perspective for the reading of the latter. 6 Ezra is a prophecy usually regarded as Christian and of a later date.” [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.’
“5 Ezra is normally dated somewhere between 130 and 250 CE. This is an important issue, especially if it was composed towards the earlier of these two dates, near the time of the Bar Kochba revolt in 132–35 CE in Judaea. G. Stanton and T.A. Bergren argue for precisely this early dating. Stanton, for instance, suggests that several considerations all converge on a date in the mid-second century, including the following points: (1) the apologetic strategy of 5 Ezra is typical of earlier Christian style, emphasizing the church’s inheritance of Israel’s privileges, whereas later Christian polemic is more oppositional, portraying Christianity and Judaism as two distinct and diametrically opposed entities (cf. the late second-century Adversus Judaeos, and Melito’s ‘Paschal Homily’); (2) 5 Ezra seems to be related to and prior to the late second-century text Apocalypse of Peter; (3) 5 Ezra’s apocalyptic interests are more to do with the imminent end of time (e.g., 2:34, 41) than with the Anti-Christ and with elaborate portraits of heaven and hell, which are prominent marks of later Christian apocalypses (e.g., Apocalypse of Peter); (4) several passages in 5 Ezra depict a consciousness of the destruction of Jerusalem (135 CE) as a relatively recent phenomenon (e.g. 2:2–7), and are indicative of a conscious need to define the Christian church in relation to its Jewish parentage and contemporaries in ways which resemble earlier rather than later patterns. If these suggestions are correct, they support a mid-second century date for 5 Ezra, making it one of the few literary products of the Christianity of that time known to us.” [Longenecker, B. W. (1995). 2 Esdras. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (115). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.]
“Although 6 Ezra (2 Esdras 15–16) survives only in the Latin text of 2 Esdras, it appears to have been written in Greek, perhaps as an appendix to a Greek translation of 4 Ezra, although it may have originally been an independent text which was appended only later to 4 Ezra. It is likely to have been composed late in the third century CE, since some historical allusions are evident in the text. This is especially true of 15:28–33, which seems to allude in cryptic fashion to the invasions of the Persian army into Roman Syria in 259 CE under King Shapur I (240–73). By 260 CE, the Persian invasion looked secure (cf. 15:30), but this was only temporarily the case, and victory soon turned into defeat (cf. 15:31–32). Suggested allusions at other points in the text all correspond relatively closely to this dating of 6 Ezra late in the third century, and also help to locate the author somewhere within the eastern region of the Roman empire. --- As it currently stands, 6 Ezra is linked to 4 Ezra in the first two verses. The command to ‘proclaim to my people the words of prophecy which I give you to speak’ (15:1) introduces no new character, and is intended to be addressed to the Ezra whom we see in 4 Ezra 14. Similarly, the command to write down the words of God (15:2) also links up with the instructions given to Ezra in 4 Ezra 14.” [Longenecker, B. W. (1995). 2 Esdras. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (112). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.]
Schneemelcher classifies these Christian pieces as “Apocalyptic Prophecy in the Early Church” and Longnecker puts the composite book into the genre of “crisis of faith” literature.
We should note that the core of the ‘composite’ 4 Ezra (chapters 3-14) is a Jewish apocalypse itself. It shows (as discussed in the Intermission) that the heart of apocalyptic is not ‘predictions’ but theodicy—the problem of justice:
“It is here that the particular pathos of the book emerges as the author wrestles with the question: Why has God delivered his people into the hands of their enemies? What puzzles the author is that God should permit Israel’s oppressors to be in prosperity, while his own people, who are at least no worse than these, he leaves to perish (3:30, 32). It is with this question bearing on divine justice that the seer agonizes, seeking “to justify the ways of God to man.” In the end, however, the author concludes that God’s ways are inscrutable.” [Metzger, B. M. (1983). A New Translation and Introduction. In The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (4 Ezr). New York; London: Yale University Press.]
Even so, the eschatological content of the Jewish core should be very familiar to us by now (smile):
“The eschatological speculations of the book are extensive and somewhat involved. The author’s consideration of the traditional belief in a messianic kingdom set up on earth, a kingdom which in his view will endure for four hundred years (7:28f.), is overshadowed by concern to penetrate the mystery of the world to come and the conditions of the afterlife. The dawn of the end of the age will be heralded by wonderful and terrible signs—physical, moral, and political (4:52–5:13a; 6:11–29; 7:26–; 8:63–9:12). After the resurrection (5:45; 7:32, ) and the judgment (7:33–35; 7:[105–115]) the wicked will go to the furnace of Hell and the righteous to the Paradise of delight (7:36, [78–101]). --- In addition to these otherworldly speculations, 4 Ezra also contains, in other sections of the book, quite different eschatological teachings. In the Eagle Vision (ch. 12) a purely political eschatology is concerned with release from the tyranny of Rome, secured by the Messiah, who will then set up the Kingdom of God upon earth (12:32–34; cf. 11:44–46). Different again is the eschatology of the Vision of the Man rising from the Sea (ch. 13); in this vision the pre-existent Messiah, after annihilating all his enemies, gathers a peaceful multitude (the ten “lost” tribes of Israel) to himself.” [Metzger, B. M. (1983). A New Translation and Introduction. In The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (4 Ezr). New York; London: Yale University Press.]
The content of these books is apocalyptic in their details but without any specific predictions of timing (as we noted was characteristic of the genre). We highlighted Longnecker’s observation about the imminent expectation in 5 Ezra (written after both the Temple and Jerusalem had been destroyed), but no indication of a ‘problem of delay’.
Passages which illustrate this assessment can be found in 5 Ezra (from Charlesworth, [OTP1]):
Ask and you will receive; pray that your days may be few, that they may be shortened. The kingdom is already prepared for you; watch! 14 Call, O call heaven and earth to witness, for I left out evil and created good, because I live, says the Lord. (4 Ezr 2:13–14).
Rejoice, O mother, with your sons, because I will deliver you, says the Lord. 31 Remember your sons that sleep, because I will bring them out of the hiding places of the earth, and will show mercy to them; for I am merciful, says the Lord Almighty. 32 Embrace your children until I come, and proclaim mercy to them; because my springs run over, and my grace will not fail. (4 Ezr 2:30–32).
I, Ezra, received a command from the Lord on Mount Horeb to go to Israel. When I came to them they rejected me and refused the Lord’s commandment. 34 Therefore I say to you, O nations that hear and understand, “Await your shepherd; he will give you everlasting rest, because he who will come at the end of the age is close at hand. 35 Be ready for the rewards of the kingdom, because the eternal light will shine upon you forevermore. (4 Ezr 2:33–35).
6 Ezra does use the ‘delay’ word (it is a 3rd century document), but still emphasizes ‘near’ and ‘at hand’. And the Christian ‘delay’ passages/references are basically a continuation of the Jewish ‘delay’ passages in the core of 4 Ezra.
6 Ezra is even less predictive—and barely Christian at that:
“Although the content of 6 Ezra is not specifically Christian for the most part, it is nonetheless most likely to be a Christian document rather than a Jewish document that has been lightly revised with a few Christian touches. Its real import is not theological or doctrinal, but pragmatic, calling its addressees to persevere in the face of extreme persecution. --- In all this, then, 6 Ezra addresses a situation of persecution and places the anxiety of the community within the context of confidence in God as the one who has not abandoned them, and who will eradicate sin and oppression along with sinners and oppressors, to the benefit of those who remain faithful to him. The present situation of the anguished community is placed within the spectrum of God’s eternal plan and control, and the addressees are encouraged to stand firm despite their distress. Persecution is not a sign of divine disfavour, as they might have thought, nor are the disordered currents of history indicative of a world out of control. Instead, all this is a part of the process of the beginning of the end, when all will be set right and God will reign supreme in communion with those who have obeyed him in full confidence and surrender throughout it all. --- 6 Ezra bears some obvious resemblances to 4 Ezra. Each is written at a time of crisis as an explanation of the way in which recent tragic events do not undermine faith in a sovereign and just God. Moreover, each looks to the eschatological triumph of God as the moment when all will be set right for those who are deserving, despite their present suffering.” [Longenecker, B. W. (1995). 2 Esdras. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (114). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.]
Here are the apocalyptic-timing related references in 6 Esra/Ezra:
Alas for the world and for those who live in it! 15 For the sword and misery draw near them, and nation shall rise up to fight against nation, with swords in their hands (4 Ezr 15:14–15).
Woe to you, Babylon and Asia! Woe to you, Egypt and Syria! 2 Gird yourselves with sackcloth and haircloth, and wail for your children, and lament for them; for your destruction is at hand. (4 Ezr 16:1–2).
Listen now to these things, and understand them, O servants of the Lord. 36 Behold the word of the Lord, receive it; do not disbelieve what the Lord says. 37 Behold, the calamities draw near, and are not delayed. 38 Just as a woman with child, in the ninth month, when the time of her delivery draws near, has great pains about her womb for two or three hours beforehand, and when the child comes forth from the womb, there will not be a moment’s delay, 39 so the calamities will not delay in coming forth upon the earth, and the world will groan, and pains will seize it on every side. (4 Ezr 16:35–39).
For behold, just a little while, and iniquity will be removed from the earth, and righteousness will reign over us. (4 Ezr 16:52).
And these passages are in basic continuity with the Jewish part, showing that ‘delay’ is not connected to some ‘failed prediction of the failed apocalyptic prophet Jesus’:
Then I answered and said, “How long? When will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” 34 He answered me and said, “Do not be in a greater hurry than the Most High. You, indeed, are in a hurry for yourself, but the Highest is in a hurry on behalf of many. 35 Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here? And when will the harvest of our reward come?’ 36 And the archangel Jeremiel answered and said, ‘When the number of those like yourselves is completed; for he has weighed the age in the balance, 37 and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled.’ ” [NRSV,
(2 Esd 4:33–37).
I answered and said, “If I have found favor in your sight, and if it is possible, and if I am worthy, 45 show me this also: whether more time is to come than has passed, or whether for us the greater part has gone by. 46 For I know what has gone by, but I do not know what is to come.” 47 And he said to me, “Stand at my right side, and I will show you the interpretation of a parable.” 48 So I stood and looked, and lo, a flaming furnace passed by before me, and when the flame had gone by I looked, and lo, the smoke remained. 49 And after this a cloud full of water passed before me and poured down a heavy and violent rain, and when the violent rainstorm had passed, drops still remained in the cloud. 50 He said to me, “Consider it for yourself; for just as the rain is more than the drops, and the fire is greater than the smoke, so the quantity that passed was far greater; but drops and smoke remained.” 51 Then I prayed and said, “Do you think that I shall live until those days? Or who will be alive in those days?” 52 He answered me and said, “Concerning the signs about which you ask me, I can tell you in part; but I was not sent to tell you concerning your life, for I do not know. (2 Esd 4:44–52).
Longnecker describes the exchange between Ezra and the angel Uriel:
“The eschatological focus is introduced by Uriel at 5:40b, and Ezra immediately picks up on it by postulating three ways in which God’s dealings prior to the eschaton might have been improved, all of which are ruled out by Uriel (5:41–55). The discussion continues, as Ezra learns more: first, that God himself will bring about the end of the present age, the rightness of his ways thereby being proven on the other side of the eschatological boundary (5:56–6:6); second, that there will be no interval between the ages (6:7–10), a claim that runs against the eschatological depiction given by Uriel in (for instance) 7:26–44, and reminds us that the apocalyptic genre does not demand consistency in this regard; and third, that the horrific events at the end of this age (6:18–24) will be followed by an age of God’s salvation (6:25–28), when evil will be overthrown, truth will be revealed, and ‘the heart of the earth’s inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit’ (6:26). All that Ezra pleads for in the present will become manifest only in this period in the unfolding of the ages.” [Longenecker, B. W. (1995). 2 Esdras. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (43–44). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.]
So, we do not have any evidence whatsoever of WD-ing or of reinterpretation. 5 Esra is very confident in its imminent expectations (even with the awareness of the destruction of Temple/Town), and 6 Ezra balances that imminent expectation with the Jewish languages of ‘non-delay’ in the prophets-- the ‘calamities draw near and are not delayed’ language in 6 Ezra is matched by that in Ezekiel and Habakkuk:
None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the word that I speak will be fulfilled (Eze 12:28).
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. (Hab 2:3)
Four: Apocalyptic Prophecy: Christian Sibyllines
The Sibylline Oracles were originally a purely pagan religious source, but were later infused with Jewish content, and later still, with Christian content.
A quick overview of the contents is given by JJ Collins in NIB:
“SIBYLLINE ORACLES. The Sibyl was a legendary prophetess in Greek lore. She was associated with shrines in Asia Minor and at Cumae in Italy. The Cumaean Sibyl was immortalized by Virgil (Aeneid 6.63-173). An official collection of Sibylline oracles in Rome was consulted by the Senate in times of crisis. Only a few pagan Sibylline oracles survive. These oracles were written in epic hexameters in archaic Homeric Greek. Beginning in the 2nd cent. B.C.E., Jews appropriated the genre in order to suggest that the Sibyl was praising Judaism. Later, Christians appropriated the genre. The Jewish and Christian oracles are longer and more coherent than the extant pagan ones. Use of the genre continued into the Middle Ages.
“ The standard collection of Sibylline oracles is a combination of two collections, one of which contains books 1-8, the other books 9-14. Since books 9 and 10 repeat material from the first collection, they are omitted from modern printed editions. The Prologue to the collection is dated about 500 C.E.. There are many citations of the Sibylline Oracles in writing of the church fathers prior to that date (e.g., Lactantius).
“The oldest Jewish Sibylline oracles are found in book 3 and date to the 2nd cent. B.C.E. (Sib. Or. 3:97-294; 545-808). Several passages in that book (vv. 193, 318, 608-609) predict a great change in the reign of “the seventh king of Egypt from the line of the Greeks,” suggesting a date in the middle of the 2nd cent. B.C.E.. The Sibyl praises the Jews for refraining from idolatry, homosexuality, and abortion and urges the Greeks to send gifts to the Jewish Temple. These oracles are supplemented in book 3 by others of diverse provenance. The most striking of these is a denunciation of Rome from the 1st cent. B.C.E. in vv. 350-800, which predicts the vengeance of Asia on Rome.
“Sibylline Oracles 4 and 5 contain Jewish oracles from the 1st and early 2nd cent. C.E. The fourth book is structured by a sequence of four kingdoms, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, and Macedonians. Then follows the rise of Rome, which is not assigned a number in the sequence. It would seem that this passage was inserted to update an older oracle, which was originally written to predict the downfall of the Greek Empire. The oracle in its present form predicts the eruption of Vesuvius and the return of Nero, and so should be dated after 79 C.E. It ends with a call to repentance and a prediction of conflagration and the resurrection of the dead.
“The fifth book also presupposes the destruction of Jerusalem and is bitterly anti-Roman. This book also predicts the return of Nero as a virtual antichrist, but also the coming of a savior figure from heaven (Sib. Or. 5:108, 256, 414). It ends, however, with a conflagration that leaves the sky starless. At least parts of this book seem to presuppose the revolt against Rome in the Jewish Diaspora in 115-17 C.E.
“ There is also considerable Jewish material in Sib. Or. 1-2. These books originally constituted a unified oracle, structured by a prediction of ten kingdoms. The first seven generations are preserved in Sib. Or. 1:1-323. There is no mention of eighth or ninth generations. Instead we find a passage on the incarnation and career of Christ, followed by the climactic tenth generation. In its present form, this oracle is Christian, probably from the 2nd cent. C.E. The underlying Jewish oracle may date to the 1st cent. C.E. It is thought to derive from Phrygia, which is said to be the first land to emerge after the flood. Further Christian oracles are found in books 6, 7, and 8. Book 8 falls into two quite different sections. Verses 1-216 are mainly concerned with political prophecies and may well be Jewish. Verses 217-500 are largely taken up with Christology. The first part seems to derive from the reign of Marcus Aurelius (d. 180 C.E.). The latest possible date for the second part of the book is supplied by Lactantius, who cites it extensively, around C.E. (Inst. 1.6). Books 11-14 have no evident Christian material and are of little theological interest. They are concerned with political prophecies. The latest of these oracles presuppose the Arab conquest of Egypt and are no earlier than 700 C.E.”
The oracles are largely eschatological and are almost dominated by oracles of future apocalyptic destruction:
“The most characteristic feature of Sibylline oracles is the prediction of woes and disasters to come upon mankind. In the words of the Erythrean Sibyl, the Sibyl was “foreseeing on behalf of men hardships difficult to bear.”” [Collins, J. J. (1983). A New Translation and Introduction. In . Vol. 1: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (318). New York; London: Yale University Press.
This ‘most characteristic feature’ might suggest that we are not going to find much ‘watering down’ (LOL) in this work (in either the pagan, Jewish, or Christian sections)… maybe a little intensification, but not dilution!
Ford gives this summary of the content of the Christian sections in the Anchor Yale Bible commentary volume on Revelation:
“THE CHRISTIAN SIBYLLINES. The Jewish part of the Sibylline Oracles arose as propaganda, probably in the second century. In the same way, the Christian Sibyllines appear to have resulted from Christianity’s fight against paganism. They give a clear indication of Christian doctrine. In 1:323 there is a reference to a maid who will give birth to the logos of God, 1:324 predicts the son of the Great God who shall come to men, and 1:331 mentions Christ, “the son of the immortal, most high God.” These allusions are followed by indirect references, in the form of prophecies which clearly allude to events recorded in the Gospels but in an oblique way (i.e. no names are inserted) to the wise men offering gold and myrrh and frankincense, to the voice of the Baptist in the desert, to baptism, to Christ’s miracles and exorcisms, to his walking on the water and multiplication of the loaves, to the abuse of the Son of God, to the descent into hell, and to the resurrection and the ascension. Book 1 ends with a reference to the fall of the temple in A.D. 70 and the dispersion of Israel.
“Book 2 speaks of the triumphal entry into the heavenly city where Christ shall give rewards to the just and crown the victors, and makes special reference to the martyrs and the virgins. Then the end of the world is described. Elijah (the Tishbite) will come from heaven and show three signs. The world will be dissolved, especially by fire, and the universal judgment before the seat of God will take place. Uriel will open the gates of hell. Christ will come on a cloud with his angels, sit on the right hand of God, and judge the pious and the impious. Moses and some of the patriarchs and prophets will also be present. Book 2 lists some of the sins for which the wicked are punished and refers to the punishment of presbyters and deacons. It shows the influence of the OT, apocalyptic literature, the NT, and patristic works.
“Book 4 [sic, Book 6 is obviously intended] is a hymn to Christ greeting him as the “Son of the Most High.” It refers to his baptism, teachings, walking on the waves, healing, and raising of the dead. It mentions his passion and alludes to his second coming. Book 8 inveighs against Rome, probably because of persecution; Nero is called antichrist. It ends with a description of the last judgment and the desolation of the world. Once again the sign and seal for all men is the cross, and at this point the work shows notable references to both the OT and the NT including Revelation.” [Ford, J. M. (2008). Vol. 38: Revelation: Introduction, translation, and commentary. Anchor Yale Bible (10–11). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]
At first blush, this does not sound like something ‘watered down’, but let’s look at just a couple of passages [OTP1] which clearly suggest non-WD:
O blessed servants, as many as the master, when he comes, finds awake; for they have all stayed awake all the time looking expectantly with sleepless eyes. For he will come, at dawn, or evening, or midday. He will certainly come, and it will be as I say. (2.179-183, cf. parable of watchful servant)
When Sabaoth Adonai, who thunders on high, dissolves fate and raises the dead, and takes his seat on a heavenly throne, and establishes a great pillar, Christ, imperishable himself, will come in glory on a cloud toward the imperishable one with the blameless angels. He will sit on the right of the Great One, judging at the tribunal the life of pious men and the way of impious men. (2.238-244, cf. Matthew 25 judgment scene).
The last half of Book 8 (vv217-500) is purely Christian and is structured in this way [OTP1, 416]:
· 217–50: an acrostic poem that spells out with the initials of each line the words Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr Stauros, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, Cross.”
· 251–336: a long poem on Christ, including a sketch of his earthly career.
· 337–58: a description of eschatological disturbances.
· 359–428: a speech of God that concentrates on denunciation of idolatry.
· 429–55: a hymn in praise of God.
· 456–79: the incarnation.
· 480–500 conclude the book with ethical and ritual exhortation.
The Parousia is described in the beginning of the acrostic poem:
(I) The earth will sweat when there will be a sign of judgment.
(E) A king will come from heaven who is to judge
(S) all flesh and the whole world forever when he comes.
(O) Both faithful and faithless men will see God
(U) the Most High with the holy ones at the end of time.
(S) He will judge the souls of flesh-bearing men on the tribunal
(X) when the whole world becomes barren land and thorns. (8.217-223)
The pivotal point of the Cross –as that which inaugurated the new age—can be seen in this passage:
The veil of the Temple will be rent, and in midday
there will be dark monstrous night for three hours.
For no longer with secret law and temple must one serve
the phantoms of the world. That which had been hidden was again made manifest
when the eternal sovereign came down to earth.
He will come to Hades announcing hope for all
the holy ones, the end of ages and last day,
and he will complete the fate of death when he has slept the third day.
And then, returning from the dead, he will come to light,
first of the resurrection, showing a beginning to the elect… (8.305-314)
So, even though these fragments are scattered through time, they still militate against the WD-hypothesis.
Five: Apocalyptic Prophecy: The Book of Elchasai
This refers to an ancient document which no longer exists, and is manifested on in quotations from early church figures. It was the sacred book of an early Jewish-Christian group (with gnostic traits). Here’s the overview of the putative document:
“The Elchasaites derived their doctrine from a sacred book that has not survived. Its contents are in large part discernible in the quotations transmitted by Hippolytus and Epiphanius, although the organization and scope of the work as a whole can no longer be reconstructed. The book was presumably available to these Church Fathers in Greek; only the secret phrase included by Epiphanius (Epiphanius haer. 19.4.3) and the personal names Elchasai and Sobiai, not the work as a whole, might hint at the existence of an Aramaic original.
“The source of the teaching, according to the sacred book, was a revelation to Elchasai in the form of a masculine being (called “Son of God”; “Christus”) and his feminine companion (referred to as the “Holy Spirit”), both assuming gigantic proportions (Hippolytus Haer. 9.13.2–3; Epiphanius haer. 19.4.1–2; 30.17.6–7; 53.1.9). Presumably this is an example of the metamorphosis motif, according to which Christ was repeatedly born and, in the process, exchanged births and bodies (Hippolytus Haer. 9.14.1; cf. 10.29.2). Revealed to Elchasai was the possibility of a new forgiveness of sins through a second baptism in the name of the highest and greatest God and in the name of his Son, the great king (Hippolytus Haer. 9.13.1; 9.15.1–2). Besides baptism, frequent ritual ablutions to bring healing from diseases were encouraged (Hippolytus Haer. 9.15.5–6). In general, Jewish law was valued. Prayer offered in the direction of Jerusalem (Epiphanius haer. 19.3.5–6) and circumcision (Hippolytus Haer. 9.14.1) were expressly required, and vows and Sabbath observance were encouraged. On the other hand, sacrifices were rejected (Epiphanius haer. 19.3.7). Indeed, the book warned against fire in general. Recantation under persecution was to be viewed as an indifferent matter, when it occurred “with the mouth rather than with the heart” (Epiphanius, haer. 19.1.8; Eusebius Hist. Eccl., 6.38). Moreover, an imminent war of apocalyptic dimensions between the godless Angels of the North was predicted; one could escape this endtime event only with the aid of a secret phrase. Transliterated from the Aramaic original into Greek (all but the last word), Selam, must be translated from the middle backwards in both directions) it reads: abar anid mōib nōchile daasim anē daasim nōchile mōib anid abar selam (Epiphanius haer. 19.4.3), meaning, “I shall be a witness over you on this great (judgment) day” (Levy 1858: 712). The book was not to be read to everyone. Further instructions, e.g., abstinence from eating meat and praise for marriage, are, to be sure, not found explicitly in Hippolytus’ and Epiphanius’ literal quotations, but may have been taken by them from the sacred book.” [Strecker, G. (1992). Elchasaites D. Martin, Trans.). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 2: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (430–431). New York: Doubleday.]
There is not much to work with here, but what does exist is certainly not a case of WD:
“Conclusions about the eschatological pattern must be tentative because of the fragmentary nature of the sources. There is a reference to persecution in fragment 8, but apparently as a repeatable phenomenon and not as the eschatological crisis. In fragment 7, a war between the godless angels of the north is predicted; this war is referred to in language reminiscent of the typical eschatological upheavals; because of this all kingdoms of godlessness are in disorder.
“The cryptogram of fragment 9 refers to the day of the great judgment; the expectation of such a day presupposes the judgment of the wicked as well as personal afterlife. The promise of a share with the righteous (fr. 3) also implies belief in personal afterlife.
“The astrological ideas of fragment 7 express interest in heavenly beings (the stars) and belief in their power over humanity. The reference to the war of angels in the same fragment expresses another kind of interest in heavenly beings and their activity. Like Daniel 10, this fragment apparently links angelic battles to earthly ones, since Trajan and the Parthians are mentioned in the context. [“The Early Christian Apocalypses”, Adela Yarbro Collins, Semeia, 14, 75–76.]
The only fragment of relevance to our study is Fragment 7 in Hippolytus:
“But since we have stated that they also bring into requisition astrological deceit, we shall prove this from their own formularies; for Elchasai speaks thus: “There exist wicked stars of impiety. This declaration has been now made by us, O ye pious ones and disciples: beware of the power of the days of the sovereignty of these stars, and engage not in the commencement of any undertaking during the ruling days of these. And baptize not man or woman during the days of the power of these stars, when the moon, (emerging) from among them, courses the sky, and travels along with them. Beware of the very day up to that on which the moon passes out from these stars, and then baptize and enter on every beginning of your works. But, moreover, honour the day of the Sabbath, since that day is one of those during which prevails (the power) of these stars. Take care, however, not to commence your works the third day from a Sabbath, since when three years of the reign of the emperor Trajan are again completed from the time that he subjected the Parthians to his own sway,—when, I say, three years have been completed, war rages between the impious angels of the northern constellations; and on this account all kingdoms of impiety are in a state of confusion.” [Hippolytus of Rome. (1886). The Refutation of All Heresies, Book 9, Chapter XI, Precepts of Elchasai; J. H. MacMahon, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (133). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. ]
This passage looks like it has a timing element in it (3 years relative to Trajan), but this obviously has nothing to do with any sayings of Jesus and has no relationship to the ‘watering down’ issue whatsoever.
So, this source provides no evidence for the WD-hypothesis either.
Six: Later Apocalypses: The Apocalypse of Paul
This document was a very popular apocalypse of the early church, and basically is an account of what Paul ‘saw’ during his out-of-the-body experience(?) mentioned in 2 Cor 12.2-4. It might be a little late for our study, but let’s look at it anyway.
There were two documents that circulated under this title—one gnostic and one ‘regular’. We will be concerned in this section with the non-gnostic one.
“Paul, Apocalypse of. The title given to two distinct apocryphal works. PAUL wrote of being caught up into PARADISE in the third heaven, and hearing “things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:1–4). Such passages offered a clear opportunity for the writing of apocrypha, in this case to narrate Paul’s vision; in due course the opportunity was taken. AUGUSTINE mentions an Apocalypse of Paul, and a book of that name is condemned by the Decretum Gelasianum. It was probably the first of the two works now known under this title.
“(1) The first is a document extant in abridged form in Greek and more completely in other versions, of which the Latin and Coptic are the most important. It purports to have been discovered in Paul’s house in TARSUS, in consequence of a vision given to the tenant in the reign of Theodosius. This puts its date at the end of the 4th cent. or the beginning of the 5th. It begins with the complaint of creation against the sins of men, and goes on to describe the reports of the angels, night and morning, about the actions of mankind. Then Paul is caught up to the third heaven and witnesses the judgment of two souls as they depart this life, the one righteous, the other wicked. He is led through paradise, where he meets ENOCH, crosses the Acherusian Lake, and visits the city of Christ, girt about with twelve walls, with twelve towers and twelve gates of great beauty; then through hell, where he sees the tortures of the wicked and obtains for them relief for the day and night of the Lord’s Day. A further visit to paradise follows, during which Paul meets and is greeted by Mary; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the patriarchs; Moses and the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel); other OT figures, ending with Zechariah and John the Baptist; and last of all, Adam. Several of these already had been met on the first visit.
“The ending varies with the different versions. The Latin, Greek, and Syriac break off after the meeting with Elijah and Elisha (omitting Zechariah, John, and Adam), although the Syriac transfers the story of the discovery to this point, relating how Paul wrote down his vision and hid it (for which he was to be rebuked by the Lord on his release from this life: “Have I shown you everything that you should put it under the wall of a house?”). The Coptic continues with a fresh visit to the third heaven, with many doublets. M. R. James (Apocryphal New Testament , 555) thinks that nothing after the appearance of Adam is original, and indeed raises the question whether the original text did not end with the granting of the Sabbath day of rest. “Everything after ch. 44 is an otiose appendix.” H. Duensing, however, notes the possibility that Paul’s return to his fellow apostles on the Mount of Olives contains the original conclusion, which would lead one to assume that the rapture also took place on the Mount (NTAp [1963–65], 2:795–96).
“At all events the work is carelessly compiled, and the numerous doublets show the author’s use of older material. He knew the Apocalypse of Peter, and has also borrowed from the Apocalypse of Elijah and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah. This again points to a fairly late date. In his description of Paradise he drew upon Rev. 21 and Gen. 2, but also on Greek mythology (Acherusia, Tartarus, the boat journey). The importance of the book lies in the fact that through it these ideas were transmitted to the later church, and influenced medieval descriptions of the world beyond. There is a clear allusion in Dante’s Inferno. (English trans. in NTAp, rev. ed. [1991–92], 2:712–48.)
“(2) The second work bearing the title Apocalypse of Paul is one of four Gnostic apocalypses preserved in Coptic in Codex V of the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY (NHC V, 2). It begins with a vision on “the mount of Jericho” (a purely artificial setting), where Paul sees and is greeted by the twelve apostles. Then he is raised to the third heaven and passes immediately into the fourth, where a soul is under examination. Convicted at the mouth of three witnesses (Deut. 19:15), it is cast down into a body. In the seventh heaven Paul meets an old man, who allows him to proceed only on the presentation of a sign. The ascent continues as far as the tenth heaven, but in most cases there is little description.
“This document is not connected with the first, although there are links: the old man (in the first document identified as Enoch, but here apparently a “guardian”), and the fact that Paul in the fourth heaven is told to look down on the earth. There are also the judgment scenes, here only briefly sketched, but in the other text more fully elaborated. Any attempt to trace a connection or development must be highly speculative. (English trans. in NHL, 256–59, and in NTAp, rev. ed. [1991–92], 2:695–700.)” [Silva, M., & Tenney, M. C. (2009). The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 4, M-P (Revised, Full-Color Edition) (734–735). Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation.]
Here’s one synopsis of the non-Gnostic one:
“The Apoc Paul seems to have been the most popular and widespread of the Christian apocryphal apocalypses. --- At the beginning of the work (in the Syriac version at the end), the story of its own discovery is given in the third person. This account mentions the names of the current consuls and James’ calculation of the date is 388 CE. The present form of the book thus can be dated to the period immediately following that date. The many doublets show that the author made use of earlier, overlapping materials. Origen apparently knew an Apocalypse of Paul and it may have been an earlier form of this work (Duensing: 755). Casey (28) argued that the work, apart from the secondary story of its discovery, dates to 240–250. His arguments are the mention of an Apoc Paul by Origen and the fact that the work does not reflect the great persecutions of Decius, Valerian and Diocletian nor the doctrinal controversies of the fourth century. He also noted that the type of monastic life reflected in the work was already common in Origen’s time.
“The incipit of the work characterizes it as “the revelation of the holy apostle Paul” and alludes to 2 Cor 12:2–4. The result is that the entire work is designated as the revelation Paul received on his journey to the third heaven.
“The overall framework of chapters 3–10 is an address of Paul to “this people,” which he is instructed by the Lord to deliver. Chapters 4–6 comprise a series of dialogues between God and the various natural elements who complain about human sin. Chapters 8–10 contain two dialogues. One is between God and the angels from those who have renounced the world; the other between God and the angels from sinners.
“The greater portion of the work (chaps. 11–51) is an account of Paul’s otherworldly journey. On this journey, an angel served as his guide and interpreter (11, 19, 21, 22 and passim).
“Apoc Paul contains no systematic review of history, but there is a prominent interest in retelling the stories of certain figures of the past, probably for a hortatory purpose. The story of Jesus’ passion is retold in such a way as to exhort to repentance (44). The brief reference to the sufferings of the prophets and others has the same function (44). The story of Adam and Eve’s sin (45), the legendary deaths of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the stories of Lot, Job and others (49–51) have similar functions.
“Personal afterlife is presupposed in the Apoc Paul, which means judgment and punishment immediately after death for sinners (15–18, 31–42). The great day of judgment is still expected (end of 16, end of 18) and the destruction of the world (21). Salvation will include a new earth, the land of promise which will come down from heaven to replace the old (21–22). A general resurrection is expected (14, 15). Until the general resurrection, the righteous will rejoice in Paradise (14) or in the city of Christ (22–30).” . [“The Early Christian Apocalypses”, Adela Yarbro Collins, Semeia, 14, 85–86.]
This work has little to contribute to our study, since it is mostly a description of the other-world, heaven and hell. It mixes pagan, Jewish, and Christian apocalyptic images and the popular ‘extensions’ to those which grew up after the NT (eg, it borrowed some of the imagery from the Apocalypse of Peter). Yet it still provides some evidence of a non-WD expectation.
A couple of points:
· In the first part of the book, the various cosmic elements (sun, moon+stars, sea, etc) appeal to God to let them ‘deal with sinners with their powers’ (ie, punish them for their treachery, destructiveness, and anti-God behavior), but God gives each of them a similar reply: “my patience bears with them until they are converted and repent. But if they do not return to me I will judge them all” (eg. 4, 5, 6). This indicates the theme of theodicy, instead of ‘missed predictions’….
· In 14, the reality of a bodily resurrection (of the righteous) is affirmed: “Soul, take knowledge of your body which you have left, for in the day of resurrection you must return to that same body to receive what is promised to all the righteous.”
· In 16, the reality of a bodily resurrection (of the unrighteous) and future ‘day of judgment’ is affirmed: “Let him (the soul of the recently departed unrighteous) therefore be handed over to the angel Tartaruchus, who is appointed over punishments, and let him send him into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, and let him remain there until the great day of judgment.” (also in 18 et al).
· Most importantly, in 21, the Parousia, the millennial kingdom, and heaven-upon-earth rewards are described this way: “And suddenly I came out of heaven and perceived that it is the light of heaven which gives light to the whole land there. That land, however, was seven times brighter than silver. And I (Paul) said: Sir, what is this place? And he said to me: This is the land of promise. Have you not yet heard what is written, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’? The souls of the righteous, however, when they have come out of the body are sent for a while to this place. And I said to the angel: Will then this land come to be seen after a time? The angel answered and said to me: When Christ whom you preach comes to reign, then by the fiat of God the first earth will be dissolved and this land of promise will then be shown and it will be like dew or a cloud; and then the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal king, will be revealed and he will come with all his saints to dwell in it and he will reign over them for a thousand years and they will eat of the good things which I shall now show you.” Notice that this is very standard apocalyptic hope, without any re-interpretation or WDing…
This is fairly strong evidence that the basic message of the Synoptic Christ (as also complemented by other NT documents) was embraced and proclaimed. Not reinterpreted, not watered-down, but trusted in.
Seven: Later Apocalypses: The Apocalypse of Thomas
First, a quick snapshot:
“THOMAS, APOCALYPSE OF. A 5th-century apocryphal apocalypse that describes the events that are to occur before the end of the world. It is unlike other apocalypses, such as those of Peter and Paul, which provide visions of a future world. --- The shorter version is the oldest known witness to the original text of the Apocalypse of Thomas. However, it has also been subjected to numerous revisions, especially as it was influenced by Manichaeism and Priscillianism (Otero 1965: 799). --- The shorter version of the Apocalypse of Thomas begins with a revelation to Thomas from the Lord, who identifies himself as “the Son of God the Father” and “the father of all spirits,” about the “signs which will be at the end of the world” (Otero 1965: 799–800). These signs will take place over seven days. On the first day it will rain blood on the earth; on the second day smoke will cover the whole earth; on the third day pillars of smoke and the stench of sulfur will fill the earth; an earthquake will topple the idols of the heathens on the fourth day; darkness will cover the earth on the fifth day; on the sixth day people will hide from the righteous angels and the “bodies of the saints will rise”; on the seventh day angels will fill the air and make war among themselves and deliver the elect. On the eighth day the elect who believe in Jesus will be delivered, and they will rejoice over the destruction of the world.” [Thomason, D. A. (1992). Thomas, Apocalypse of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 6: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (534). New York: Doubleday.]
“Apocalypse of Thomas. This revelation of Christ to the apostle Thomas predicts the signs that over the course of seven days will precede the end of this world. Though difficult to date, it may well be relatively early; it certainly depends closely on Jewish apocalyptic tradition.” [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]
Obviously, the dating of this is questionable—the gap between “may well be relatively early” and “5th-century” could be huge. So, it might be out of our date-range.
But in any event, it really does not bear on our question directly. To the extent it does, it generally supports ‘traditional’ eschatological hope.
It is only two pages in [NTA2, the shorter version], but here are a couple of possibly-relevant passages:
· “Hear from me the signs which will be at the end of this world…the end of the world will be fulfilled before my elect come forth from the world” [Is this a ‘rapture’ of the saints AFTER the end of the world as described by the speaker Jesus?]
· “When these (signs) are to take place the princes of the angels do not know, for they are now hidden from them” [An allusion to the ‘no one—including the angels—know the day nor hour’ words of Jesus?]
· “Thereafter (after famines/pestilences/etc) when the hour of the end draws near there will be great signs in the sky for seven days and the powers of the heavens will be set in motion.” [This fits the words of Jesus that the Eschaton would be preceded by those forms of distress.]
· “And at the fourth hour of the sixth day …. The firmament of heaven will be split from east to west and the angels of heaven will look out on the earth through the rents in the heavens and all men who are on earth will see the angelic hosts looking out from heaven…Then they will see me (Jesus) as I come down from above in the light of my Father with the power and honor of the holy angels. Then at my arrival the restraint on the fire of paradise will be loosed… And this is the eternal fire which devours the earthly globe and all the elements of the world” [This puts the visible-to-all Return between the destruction of the sun/moon/stars and the conflagration spoken of in 2 Peter/etc. This also echoes the Matthew 25 passage at points.]
· “Then the spirits and souls of the saints will come forth from paradise and come into all the earth, and each go to its own body where it is laid up… The each spirit will return to its own vessel and the bodies of the saints who sleep will rise. Then their bodies will be changed into the image and likeness and honor of the holy angels and into the power of the image of my holy Father.” [Bodily resurrection of the righteous dead, after the ‘arrival’ of Christ on the earth…?]
· “Then they will be carried off in a cloud of light into the air, and rejoicing go with me into the heavens and remain in the light and honor of my Father” [This looks like the ‘rapture’ of only dead saints, but has Jesus returning to heaven—perhaps like one interpretation of the image in 1 Thess 4.17?]
· “And at the eight hour of the seventh day…In that day the elect will be delivered by the holy angels from the destruction of the world. Then all men will see that the hour of their destruction is come near.” [Apparently the eternal fire let loose on day 6 is still doing its work.]
· “And when the seven days are finished…(good angels are flying around) to deliver the elect who believed in me; and they will rejoice that the destruction of the world has come.” [Again, the destruction is apparently still at work at this point, but perhaps finished?]
Ok, what are we to make of this?
The passage in its entirety is a patchwork of texts from the Synoptics and various other apocalyptic sources. It obviously contains a partial-Parousia, but on the 6th day of 7. The sequence is odd and (to me) confused:
· The Woes (famine, pestilence, etc) hit
· Jesus returns in glory, in full view of everybody, with angels
· He raises only the righteous dead into the air
· He then returns with them to heaven on Day 6
· He does NOT return to deliver the living saints (elect) on Day 7—they are rescued by angels;
· Then the world is destroyed by a fire that was let loose when Jesus ‘came for the dead’ on Day 6.
This does not really look like a ‘response to delay of the Parousia’ at all. I am not sure WHAT it might be a response to, but the simple fact that the Parousia / Eschaton is preceded by the ‘unknown in timing’ Woes (in the ‘beginning of birth pangs’ image), still puts this in the category of ‘normal imprecise expectations’.
There is no reinterpretation going on here, no ‘realized eschatology’, no ‘rescheduling this’ into the distant future.
Okay—that’s the end of Approach Two. The ‘usual suspects’ of apocalyptic works and passages do not evidence any WDing. They do not manifest any concern over ‘delay’. And the only writings which tried to ‘reschedule the Return’ differently were exceptions to the mainstream beliefs.
Approach three: Now we will broaden our search to look at eschatological passages in (seemingly) non-apocalyptic apocrypha.
Here we are trying to find things like ‘sermons’ in the midst of “Acts of XYZ” or apocalyptic discourses (typically of a ‘Jesus’) in epistles or other narratives (e.g. “Dialogues of the Savior” genre).
Many of these latter “Dialogue” pieces are Gnostic or “less-orthodox” and so the words of Jesus in them are propaganda / apologetic in nature (in support of the theological ‘cause’). We will look at some of these when we discuss ‘Gnostic eschatologies’. There is only one clearly non-Gnostic representative of this genre—the Epistle of the Apostles:
“The Epistula Apostolorum shows that there were also non-gnostic works of this kind. ‘This in church circles is singular, and is evidently a conscious taking over of one of the most typical gnostic forms for substantiating authoritative teaching; it is thus a case of an attempt to combat the gnostic opponents with their own weapons’ (Vielhauer, p. 687).” [NTA1, p229]
We will look at this work first, then look at a later work (Questions of Bartholomew).
The Epistula Apostolorum (the Epistle of the Apostles).
“A mid-2nd century C.E. text, probably of Egyptian origin, that represents an attempt by the “orthodox” Church to use the revelation dialogue, a genre typically used by Gnostics, to combat gnosticism. Written as a letter from the disciples to the universal Church, the text includes a miracle catena (Ep. Apost. 5), a detailed resurrection appearance (9–12), and passages addressing various points of Christian theology. The text came to light in 1895 with the discovery of major portions of a Coptic translation. Latin fragments and a complete Ethiopic translation were found later.” [Molinari, A. L. (2000). Apostles, Epistle of the. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck, Ed.) (79). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]
“Apostles, Epistle of the. An apocryphal letter addressed by the eleven apostles (including NATHANAEL, and with Cephas distinguished from PETER) to the churches of the four regions of the world. The work is also known as Testament of Our Lord in Galilee. Nowhere mentioned in early Christian literature, it was completely unknown before the discovery in 1895 of a badly mutilated Coptic MS (the primary version where available). We also now have an Ethiopic version complete, as well as fragments in Latin. --- Following an introduction, the document makes an emphatic affirmation of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, then gives a summary account of several incidents from the Gospels, including the story of Jesus and the teacher recorded in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The report of the resurrection appearance to the disciples develops into an extended discourse by Jesus, interrupted by questions from the disciples to which he replies. This discourse includes a prophecy of the conversion and missionary work of Paul (chs. 31ff.) and a curious interpretation of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (chs. 43ff.), with admonitions regarding Christian conduct. For example, a man should admonish his neighbor without respect of persons if he sees him sin, or he is himself liable to judgment. --- The revelation conveyed in the form of a postresurrection discourse is similar in type to some Gnostic documents, which present the same pattern of a dialogue between the risen Jesus and one or more disciples. Despite affinities with GNOSTICISM, however, this is not a Gnostic document; it expressly warns against the “false apostles,” Simon and Cerinthus, “the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ” (chs. 1, 7), and emphasizes the reality of Christ’s body, in particular of his risen body (chs. 11–12). … All this points to a 2nd-cent. date. C. Schmidt (Gespräche Jesu ) thought it was composed in Asia Minor between A.D. 160 and 170, but others argue for Egypt. M. Hornschuh (Studien zur Epistula Apostolorum ) notes parallels with the Qumran literature, and dates it to the first half of the 2nd cent. (English trans. and introduction in NTAp, 1:249–84.)” [R. MCL. WILSON, in Silva, M., & Tenney, M. C. (2009). The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 1, A-C (Revised, Full-Color Edition) (256–257). Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation.]
Julian Hills summarizes the content in this way:
“The principal topics of the dialogue are the Lord’s heavenly descent and incarnation (chaps. 13–14); the remembrance of his death and his second coming (15–18); resurrection and judgment (19–29; 38–39); the mission of Paul (31–33); the signs of the end (34–37, adapted from an apocalypse; cf. the 5th-century Testament of the Lord 1–11, where the same apocalypse has been used); the commission of the disciples to preach, teach, and baptize (40–42); and orthodoxy and discipline (43–50). These diverse topics are unified by the author’s concern to define the community in terms of keeping the Lord’s commandments, to summarize the “faith” of the apostles (see esp. 5.21–22), and to offer a “revelation” that has present and ethical, as well as future and heavenly, content.” [Hills, J. V. (1992). Apostles, Epistle of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (311–312). New York: Doubleday.]
Here are all the relevant passages I can find in the work:
16. And we said to him, “…In what kind of power and form are you about to come?’ And he said to us, ‘Truly I say to you, I will come as the sun which bursts forth; thus will I, shining seven times brighter than it in glory., While I am carried on the wings of the clouds in splendor with my cross going on before me, come to the earth to judge the living and the dead’” [Looks like the standard Matthew 25 passage and the other synoptic ‘with/on clouds’ images]
17. [Ethiopic] And we said to him, ‘O Lord, how many years yet?’ And he said to us, ‘When the hundred and fiftieth year is completed, between Pentecost and Passover will the coming of my father take place’ [Coptic: “When the hundredth part and the twentieth part is completed, between Pentecost and the fest of unleavened bread, will the coming of the Father take place’” [This is unexpected—it matches nothing in the gospels or antecedent writings. It is not a re-interpretation of anything, since there is no allusion to any of the Synoptic pronouncements of Jesus.]
26. Truly I say to you, the flesh will rise alive with the soul, that they may confess and be judged with the work they have done, whether it is good or bad, in order that there may be a selection and exhibition for those who have believed and have done the commandment of my Father who sent me. Then will the righteous judgment take place…But to those who have loved me and do love me and who have done my commandment I will grant rest in life in the kingdom of my heavenly Father. [There is a general resurrection followed by judgment. There is a kingdom involving physical bodies of the saints.]
28. … And he said to us, ‘Truly I say to you, you and all who believe and also they who yet will believe in him who sent me I will cause to rise up into heaven, to the place which the Father has prepared for the elect and most elect, (the Father) who will give the rest that he has promised, and eternal life’[Cannot tell whether this is a bodily ‘rise up to heaven’ or simple the post-mortem intermediate state of the soul.]
29. … (Ethiopic) But much more blessed will they be who do not see me and (yet) believe in me, for they will be called children of the kingdom and (will be) perfect in the perfect one; to these I will become eternal life in the kingdom of my Father.’ (Coptic: ‘I will be life (to them) in the kingdom of my Father’ [Here, the Kingdom is linked with eternal life, but the terms are obviously not synonymous. No reinterpretation.]
34. … But you told us only that signs and wonders would happen in heaven and upon earth before the end of the world comes. Teach us, that we thus may recognize it.' And he said to us, 'I will teach you, and not only what will happen to you, but (also) to those whom you shall teach and who shall believe, and there are such as will hear this man and will believe in me. In those years and in those days this will happen.' And we said to him again, 'O Lord, what is it then that will happen?' And he said to us, 'Then will the believers and also they who do not believe see a trumpet in heaven, and the sight of great stars that are visible while it is day, and a dragon (…) reaching from heaven to earth, and stars that are like fire falling down and great hailstones of severe fire, and how sun and moon fight against each other, and constantly the frightening of thunder and lightning, thunderclaps and earthquakes, how cities fall down and in their ruin men die, constant drought from the failing of the rain, a great plague and an extensive and often quick death, so that those who die will lack a grave… Everything is hatred and affliction and jealousy, and they will take from the one and give to another; and what comes after this will be worse than this. [Standard apocalyptic imagery.]
37. And we said to him, 'O Lord, teach us what will happen after this.' And he said to us, 'In those years and days there shall be war upon war, and the four corners of the world will be shaken and will make war upon each other. And then a disturbance of the clouds (will cause?) darkness and drought and persecution of those who believe in me, and of the elect. Then dissension, conflict, and evil of action against each other. Among them there are some who believe in my name and (yet) follow evil and teach vain teaching. [Standard apocalyptic imagery.]
42. … but you kept the commandment of the Father and did it. And you have a reward with my heavenly Father, and they shall have forgiveness of sins and eternal life and a share of the kingdom. [Rewards, eternal life, and a ‘share’ of the kingdom are obviously not understood as synonyms. No reinterpretation.
Okay, what can we see from/in this data?
The two main take-aways from this would be:
One: Imminence is very much a hot topic for this group—they keep asking ‘when’ and ‘how long’ and ‘how will we know’ questions about the Parousia. This leads scholars to date this early:
“An origin about the middle of the 2nd century may be postulated for the document, in agreement with the date of the parousia mentioned in it.” [NTA1, 251, Muller]
“An early dating is also encouraged by the document’s concern with the imminence of the Parousia.” [TANT, 555, Elliott]
That means that nobody has really ‘given up’ on an imminent return at this point at all—no ‘delay’ or ‘reinterpretation’ going on.
Two: The descriptions of the end-times are not novel—they are ‘stock images’ of un-re-interpreted apocalyptic:
“The further revelations regarding the terrors of the end-time and the deliverance of the apostles and the faithful won by them conform with the usual apocalyptic framework.” [NTA1, 250f, Muller]
So, in the one clearly non-Gnostic example of the “Dialogues of the Redeemer” category, there is no indication of WDing or re-interpretation. Indeed, the timing seems to have been even a bit intensified—judging by the questions.
The other representative of this is the less-Gnostic and less-orthodox Questions of Bartholomew.
Questions of Bartholomew. This is too late for our study and contains only one oblique timing reference (16/17), but it shows that the ‘six thousand years’ eschatology still involves a literal re-appearance of Elijah (or Enoch?) as in the Synoptics.
Here’s a summary of the contents:
“Questions of Bartholomew. This work, perhaps a 5th-century composition of Egyptian provenance, is a collection of revelatory dialogues. Bartholomew is featured as the bold main questioner, seeking knowledge from the risen Jesus, from Mary, and from Beliar, particularly about heaven and the underworld. The contents of the book may be described according to the five chapters into which it has been divided. (1) At the request of Bartholomew, the risen Jesus recounts how he vanished from the cross in order to descend into the underworld. He reports a conversation there between a fearful Hades and Beliar (the devil) and briefly describes how he bound Hades and brought up the patriarchs and especially Adam. The dialogue ends with a brief exchange about the sacrifices and the souls that Jesus receives in paradise. (2) At the behest of the other apostles, Bartholomew asks Mary how she “conceived the incomprehensible,” or how she “carried him who cannot be carried.” After a prayer, she directs the apostles to restrain her while she reveals that she was visited in the temple by an angelic figure. She receives a baptism from heavenly dew and partakes in a Eucharist when the angelic figure miraculously produces a loaf and cup. She is then promised that after three years she will conceive his son. But her tale is interrupted: fire comes from her mouth and the world is about to be consumed when Jesus silences her. An account of the conception itself, about which Bartholomew had inquired, is therefore prevented. (3) Seven days before his ascension the risen Jesus grants the apostles a brief glimpse of the abyss. They are overwhelmed at the sight, but it is not described. (4) Peter entreats Mary to ask for a revelation of “all that is in the heavens.” In a brief exchange Mary declines, but reveals that in her the Lord restored “the dignity of women.” Jesus then grants Bartholomew’s request to see and to question Beliar, whose dreadful appearance is described. Bartholomew, with his foot upon Beliar’s neck, then learns about numerous angels and punishments for the wicked. The devil also recounts how he and his angels had refused Michael’s command to worship Adam, the image of God, and how he made Eve susceptible to disobedience by defiling her drinking water with sweat from his body. The dialogue is interspersed with three reverent prayers by Bartholomew. In the end Jesus admonishes Bartholomew that the revelations should be kept secret, and Bartholomew concludes with a doxology. (5) When Bartholomew asks Jesus to name the worst of sins, he names hypocrisy, slander, “the sin against the holy spirit,” i.e., speaking ill of any one who serves the Father, and swearing an oath by the head of God. Bartholomew then receives a commission to preach and raises a final question about the consequences of sins of lust. Jesus’ reply praises celibacy and also allows for the validity of marriage. But he adds that “he who sins after the third marriage is unworthy of God.” [Daniels, J. B. (1992). Bartholomew, Gospel (Questions) of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (616). New York: Doubleday.]
The only semi-relevant passage I can find is this one:
10. Then Bartholomew said, 'Lord, what was the voice which was heard?'
11. Jesus said to him, 'Hades said to Beliar, "As I perceive, a God comes hither."' (Slavonic and Latin) . 'And the angels cried to the powers saying, "Remove your gates, you princes, remove the everlasting doors for behold the King of Glory comes down."
12. Hades said, "Who is the King of Glory, who comes down from heaven to us?"
13. 'And when I had descended five hundred steps, Hades was troubled saying, "I hear the breathing of the Most High, and I cannot endure it." [Lat. 2: He comes with great fragrance and I cannot bear it.]
14. But the devil answered and said, "Submit not yourself, O Hades, but be strong, for God himself has not descended upon the earth."
15. But when I had descended five hundred steps, the angels and the powers cried out, "Take hold, remove the doors, for behold the King of Glory comes down." And Hades said, "O, woe unto me, for I hear the breath of God."
16-17 (Greek). 'And Beliar said unto Hades, "Look carefully who it is who comes, for it is Elijah, or Enoch, or one of the prophets that this man seems to me to be." But Hades answered Death and said, "Not yet are six thousand years accomplished. And whence are these, O Beliar, for the sum of the number is in my hands?"
16-17 (Slavonic). 'And the devil said unto Hades, "Why do you frighten me, Hades? It is a prophet, and he has made himself like God. This prophet will we take and bring him hither to those who think to ascend into heaven." And Hades said, "Which of the prophets is it? Show me. Is it Enoch the scribe of righteousness? But God has not suffered him to come down upon the earth before the end of the six thousand years. Do you say that it is Elijah, the avenger? But before the end he does not come down. What shall I do, for the destruction is from God, for surely our end is at hand? For I have the number of the years in my hands."]
Here’s what is going on in the scene:
· Jesus has descended to hell, in the time period between His death and His resurrection.
· He is allowing Bartholomew to accompany Him.
· As they approach the gates of hell, Bartholomew hears a thunderous voice
· Jesus explains that it was the voice of Hades telling Beliar that God Himself is descending to hell.
· (There are angels who also are proclaiming things from Scripture in the background of the scene.)
· Beliar (the devil) assures Hades that it is not God—that God has not descended upon the earth (denying the Incarnation).
· Hades then asks Beliar to ‘look and see who it is, then’—because of his perception of power.
· Hades asks Beliar if it is Elijah (or Enoch, or a prophet)
· Beliar assures Hades that it cannot be Elijah (or others) because they can only reappear at the end of 6,000 years—and Beliar has been counting the years (has the number of years ‘in hand’!).
We have encountered the ‘six days – six thousand years’ eschatology motif earlier, and discussed it in an Excursus. [Does a belief in a ‘world-week’ of 6,000 years imply a denial of apocalyptic imminence?, worldweek.html]
Now, to continue on with Approach Three, we have to look at non-apocalyptic apocrypha.
By my count, there are 71 such entries in NTA1 and NTA2, of which 25-28 of which are “mostly” Gnostic in content. We will have to go through most of these entries in part B of this piece.
On to Part 9 (B)...