« Prev Apocryphal Apocalypses. Next »

Part III.—Apocryphal Apocalypses.

This portion of the volume, extending from page 565 to page 598, consists of seven documents, four of which are called Apocalypses by their authors.  Of these, the Greek text of the first three is edited for the first time; the fourth, the Apocalypse of John, has appeared before.  The fifth, The Falling Asleep of Mary, appears for the first time in its Greek form, and in the first Latin recension of it.

The mss. of these documents are characterized by extreme variety of readings; and in some of them, especially the earlier portion of the Apocalypse of Esdras, the text is in a very corrupt state.

I.  The Apocalypse of Moses.—This document belongs to the Apocrypha of the Old Testament rather than that of the New.  We have been unable to find in it any reference to any Christian writing.  In its form, too, it appears to be a portion of some larger work.  Parts of it at least are of an ancient date, as it is very likely from this source that the writer of the Gospel of Nicodemus took the celebrated legend of the Tree of Life and the Oil of Mercy.  An account of this legend will be found in Cowper’s Apocryphal Gospels, xcix.–cii.; in Maury, Croyances et Légendes de l’Antiquité, p. 294; in Renan’s commentary to the Syriac text of the Penitence of Adam, edited and translated by Renan in the Journal Asiatique for 1853.  There appeared a poetical rendering of the legend in Blackwood’s Magazine ten or twelve years ago.

Tischendorf’s text is made from four mss.:  A, a Venice ms. of the thirteenth century; B and C, Vienna mss. of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries respectively; and D, a Milan ms. of about the eleventh century.

II.  The Apocalypse of Esdras.—This book is a weak imitation of the apocryphal fourth book of Esdras.  Thilo, in his prolegomena to the Acts of Thomas, p. lxxxii., mentions it, and doubts whether it be the fourth book of Esdras or not.  Portions of it were published by Dr. Hase of the Paris Library, and it was then seen that it was a different production.  The ms. is of about the fifteenth century, and in the earlier portions very difficult to read.

III.  The Apocalypse of Paul.—There are two apocryphal books bearing the name of Paul mentioned by ancient writers:  The Ascension of Paul, adopted by the Cainites and the Gnostics; and the Apocalypse of Paul, spoken of by Augustine and Sozomen.  There seems to be no doubt that the present text, discovered by Tischendorf in 1843, and published by him in 1866, is the book mentioned by Augustine and Sozomen.  It is referred to by numerous authorities, one of whom, however, ascribes it to the heretic Paul of Samosata, the founder of the sect of the Paulicians.

There appear to be versions of it in Coptic, Syriac, and Arabic.  One of the Syriac versions, from an Urumiyeh ms., was translated into English by an American missionary in 1864.  This translation, or the greater portion of it, is printed by Tischendorf along with his edition of the text.

359Tischendorf, upon what seems to be pretty good evidence, ascribes it to the year 380.  It is from a Milan ms. of not earlier than the fifteenth century.  There is another ms. two centuries older; but they both seem to be copied from the same original.  The Syriac seems to be later than the Greek, and, according to Eastern fashion, fuller in details.

IV.  The Apocalypse of John.—In the scholia to the Grammar of Dionysius the Thracian, ascribed to the ninth century, immediately after the ascription of the Apocalypse of Paul to Paul of Samosata, there occurs the following statement:  ‘And there is another called the Apocalypse of John the Theologian.  We do not speak of that in the island of Patmos, God forbid, for it is most true; but of a supposititious and spurious one.’  This is the oldest reference to this Apocalypse.  Asseman says he found the book in Arabic in three mss.

The document was first edited by Birch in 1804, from a Vatican ms., collated with a Vienna ms.  For his edition Tischendorf collated other five mss., two of Paris, three of Vienna, of from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century.

Of other Apocalypses, Tischendorf in his Prolegomena gives an abstract of the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Bartholomew, the Apocalypse of Mary, and the Apocalypse of Daniel.  The Apocalypse of Peter professes to be written by Clement.  There is an Arabic ms. of it in the Bodleian Library.  It is called the Perfect Book, or the Book of Perfection, and consists of eighty-nine chapters, comprising a history of the world as revealed to Peter, from the foundation of the world to the appearing of Antichrist.

The Apocalypse of Bartholomew, from a ms. in the Paris Library, was edited and translated by Dulaurier in 1835.  The translation appears in Tischendorf’s Prolegomena.

The Apocalypse of Mary, containing her descent to the lower world, appears in several Greek mss.  It is of a late date, the work of some monk of the middle ages.

The Apocalypse of Daniel, otherwise called the Revelation of the Prophet Daniel about the consummation of the world, is also of a late date.  About the half of the Greek text is given in the Prolegomena.  We have not thought it necessary to translate it.

V., VI., VII.  The Assumption of Mary.—It is somewhat strange that the Greek text of this book, which has been translated into several languages both of the East and the West, is edited by Tischendorf for the first time.  He assigns it to a date not later than the fourth century.  A book under this title is condemned in the decree of Gelasius.  The author of the Second Latin Form (see p. 595, note), writing under the name of Melito, ascribes the authorship of a treatise on the same subject to Leucius.  This, however, cannot be the book so ascribed to Leucius, as Pseudo-Melito affirms that his book, which is in substance the same as the Greek text, was written to condemn Leucius’ heresies.

There are translations or recensions of our text in Syriac, Sahidic, and Arabic.  The Syriac was edited and translated by Wright in 1865, in his Contributions to the Apocryphal Literature of the New Testament.  Another recension of it was published in the Journal of Sacred Literature for January and April, 1864.  An Arabic version of it, resembling more the Syriac than the Greek or Latin, was edited and translated by Enger in 1854.  The Sahidic recension, published and translated by Zoega and Dulaurier, is considerably different from our present texts.  The numerous Latin recensions also differ considerably from each other, as will be seen from a comparison of the First Latin Form with the Second.  They are all, however, from the same source, and that probably the Greek text which we have translated.  The Greek texts, again, exhibit considerable variations, especially in the latter portions.

In the end of the seventh century, John Archbishop of Thessalonica wrote a discourse on the falling asleep of Mary, mainly derived from the book of Pseudo-John; and in some mss. this treatise of John of Thessalonica is ascribed to John the Apostle.  Epiphanius, however, makes distinctive mention of both treatises.

360For his edition of the Greek text, Tischendorf made use of five mss., the oldest of the eleventh century.

The First Latin Form is edited from three Italian mss., the oldest of the thirteenth century.

The Second Latin Form, which has been previously published elsewhere, is from a Venetian ms. of the fourteenth century.

We have now concluded our notices, compiled chiefly from Tischendorf’s Prolegomena, of the Apocryphal Literature of the New Testament.

While these documents are of considerable interest and value, as giving evidence of a widespread feeling in early times of the importance of the events which form the basis of our belief, and as affording us curious glimpses of the state of the Christian conscience, and of modes of Christian thought, in the first centuries of our era, the predominant impression which they leave on our minds is a profound sense of the immeasurable superiority, the unapproachable simplicity and majesty, of the Canonical Writings.

St. Andrews, 26th March, 1870.

« Prev Apocryphal Apocalypses. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection