The Apocalypse of Thomas
J. K. Elliott
The Gelasian Decree condemns the Revelation of Thomas, but knowledge of the text in modern times dates only from the beginning of the twentieth century. Wilhelm's edition of the text in a ninth‐century Munich manuscript and Hauler's fragment in a fifth‐century Vienna palimpsest were published in 1907–8. M. R. James published the beginning of this apocalypse from an eighth‐century Verona manuscript. Other texts came to light soon afterwards. The original language seems to have been Latin, but the various Latin manuscripts betray numerous variants among themselves: a definitive critical edition is still wanting.
There are two versions of the Apocalypse: the longer includes matter interpolated from other sources and concerns the signs predicting the End. Historical allusions in that section suggest a date in the second half of the fifth century. The shorter text does not include this material and is likely to have originated prior to the fifth century: it seems to have found favour in Priscillianist circles.
Patristic citation seems to be restricted to a reference to the Apocalypse of Thomas in the Chronicle of Jerome found in an eighth‐ninth century Berlin manuscript and published by C. Frick, ZNW 9 (1908), 172–3.
The translation below follows James for both the longer and shorter texts—Hennecke3 and Hennecke5 give only the shorter text.
F. Wilhelm, Deutsche Legende und Legendare (Leipzig, 1907), 40*–2* (= Munich Clm. 4585).
M. R. James, ‘Notes on Apocrypha, 1: Revelatio Thomae’, JTS 11 (1910), 288–90, 569 (= Verona MS).
E. Hauler, ‘Zu den neuen lateinischen Bruchstücken der Thomasapokalypse und eines apostolischen Sendschreibens in Cod. Vindob. Nr. 16’, Wiener Studien 30 (1908), 308–40 (= Vindob. Palatinus 16 of the fifth century).
P. Bihlmeyer, ‘Un texte non interpolé de l'Apocalypse de Thomas’, Rev. Bén. 28 (1911), 270–82 (= Munich Clm. 4563 of the eleventh‐twelfth century).
Old English Version
Sermon 15 in the Vercelli Anglo‐Saxon version comes from this Apocalypse:
M. Förster, ‘Der Vercelli‐Codex CXVII nebst Abdruck einiger altenglischer Homilien der Handschrift’ (Festgabe Morsbach), Studien zur englischen Philologie 50 (1913), esp. 116–37.
Hennecke3, ii. 798–803.
Hennecke5, ii. 748–52.
Hennecke3, ii. 568–72 (A. de Santos Otero).
Hennecke5, ii. 675–9 (A. de Santos Otero).
Erbetta, iii. 387–95 (longer and shorter texts).
Moraldi, ii. 1939–50 (longer and shorter texts).
M. Dando, ‘L'Apocalypse de Thomas', Cahiers d’études cathares 28/37 (1977), 3–58 (with Italian trans., 13–19).
M. Herbert and M. McNamara, Irish Biblical Apocrypha (Edinburgh, 1989), Section 29 ‘The Signs Before Doomsday’, 153–9 and Notes.
Armenian and Hebrew versions of The Signs of the Judgement (edn. and trans.) in M. E. Stone, Signs of the Judgement, Onomastica Sacra and The Generations from Adam (Chico, Calif., 1981) (= University of Pennsylvania Armenian Texts and Studies 3).
W. W. Heist, The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday (East Lansing: Michigan State College, 1952): important study of the complicated European history of the Apocalypse of Thomas and the Signs of the Judgement, though his conclusions now need modifying in light of the Armenian version and Stone's introduction.
A. Verona Fragment (Eighth Century), and Wilhelm's Text (Munich 4585, Ninth Century)
Hear, Thomas, the things which must come to pass in the last times: there shall be famine and war and earthquakes in divers places, snow and ice and great drought and many dissensions among the peoples, blasphemy, iniquity, envy and villainy, indolence, pride, and intemperance, so that every man shall speak that which pleases him. And my priests shall not have peace among themselves, but shall sacrifice to me with deceitful mind; therefore I will not look on them. Then shall the priests behold the people departing from the house of the Lord and turning to the world and setting up landmarks in the house of God. And they shall claim for themselves many things and places that were lost and that shall be subject to Caesar as they were before, exacting poll‐taxes of the cities, gold and silver; and the chief men of the cities shall be condemned, 1 Verona fragment ends here. and their substance brought into the treasury of the kings, and they shall be filled.
For there shall be great disturbance throughout all the people, and death. The house of the Lord shall be desolate, and their altars shall be abhorred, so that spiders weave their webs therein.
The place of holiness shall be corrupted, the priesthood polluted, distress shall increase, virtue shall be overcome, joy perish, and gladness depart. In those days evil shall abound; there shall be respect for no one, hymns shall cease in the house of the Lord, truth shall be no more, covetousness shall abound among the priests, an upright man shall not be found.
Suddenly there shall arise near the last time a king, a lover of the law, who shall not rule for long; he shall leave two sons. The first is named after the first letter, the second after the eighth. The first shall die before the second. 2 Theodosius had two sons: Arcadius († 408), Honorius († 423).
Thereafter shall arise two princes to oppress the nations, under whose hands there shall be a very great famine in the right‐hand part of the east, so that nation shall rise up against nation and be driven out from their own borders.
Again another king shall arise, an astute man, and shall command a golden image of Caesar to be made, and martyrdoms shall abound. Then shall faith return to the servants of the Lord, and holiness shall be multiplied and distress increase. The mountains shall be comforted and shall drop down sweetness of fire from the face, that the number of the saints may be accomplished. 3 Text obscure.
After a little space there shall arise a king out of the east, a lover of the law, who shall cause all necessary and good things to abound in the house of the Lord; he shall show mercy to widows and to the needy and command a royal gift to be given to the priests. In his days there shall be abundance of all things.
And after that again a king shall arise in the south part of the world and shall hold rule a little space. In his days the treasury shall fail because of the wages of the Roman soldiers, so that the patrimony of all the aged shall be commanded to be taken and given to the king to distribute.
Thereafter there shall be plenty of corn and wine and oil, but great inflation, so that gold and silver shall be given for corn, and there shall be great dearth.
At that time there shall be a very great rising of the sea, so that no man shall tell news to any man. The kings of the earth and the princes and the captains shall be troubled, and no man shall speak freely. Grey hairs shall be seen upon boys, and the young shall not give place to the aged.
After that shall arise another king, an astute man, who shall rule for a short space: in his days there shall be all manner of evils, even the death of the race of men from the east up to Babylon. And thereafter death and famine and sword in the land of Canaan as far as Rome. 4 The MS has ‘nona’, ninth. Then shall all the fountains of waters and wells boil over and be turned into blood. The heaven shall be moved, the stars shall fall upon the earth, the sun shall be cut in half like the moon, and the moon shall not give her light. There shall be great signs and wonders in those days when Antichrist draws near. These are the signs to those who dwell on earth. In those days the pains of great travail shall come upon them. Woe to those who build, for they shall not inhabit. Woe to those who break up the fallow, for they shall labour without cause. Woe to those who make marriages, for to famine and need shall they beget sons. Woe to those who join house to house or field to field, for all things shall be consumed with fire. Woe to those who do not look to themselves while there is time, for hereafter shall they be condemned for ever. Woe to those who turn away from the poor man when he asks. 5 Here is a break. The text goes on: ‘For I am 〈the Son〉 of the high and powerful: I am the Father of all.’ Cf. the beginning of the older (?) and shorter text.
These are the seven signs before the ending of this world. There shall be in all the earth famine and great pestilence and much distress: then shall all men be led captive among all nations and shall fall by the edge of the sword.
On the first day of the judgement there will be a great marvel. At the third hour of the day there shall be a great and mighty voice in the firmament of the heaven, and a great cloud of blood coming down out of the north, and great peals of thunder and mighty flashes of lightning shall follow that cloud, and there shall be a rain of blood upon all the earth. These are the signs of the first day.
And on the second day there shall be a great voice in the firmament of the heaven, and the earth shall be moved out of its place, and the gates of heaven shall be opened in the firmament of heaven toward the east, and a great power shall be belched forth by the gates of heaven and shall cover all the heaven until evening. These are the signs of the second day.
And on the third day, about the second hour, there shall be a voice in heaven, and the abysses of the earth shall utter their voice from the four corners of the world. The first heaven shall be rolled up like a book and shall straightway vanish. And because of the smoke and stench of the brimstone of the abyss the days shall be darkened unto the tenth hour. Then shall all men say, ‘I think that the end draws near, that we shall perish.’ These are the signs of the third day.
And on the fourth day, at the first hour, the earth in the east shall speak, the abyss shall roar, then shall all the earth be moved by the strength of an earthquake. In that day shall all the idols of the heathen fall and all the buildings of the earth. These are the signs of the fourth day.
And on the fifth day, at the sixth hour, there shall suddenly be great thunderings in the heaven, and the power of light and the wheel of the sun shall be caught away, and there shall be great darkness over the world until evening, and the stars shall be turned away from their ministry. In that day all nations shall hate the world and despise the life of this world. These are the signs of the fifth day.
And on the sixth day there shall be signs in heaven. At the fourth hour the firmament of heaven shall be split from the east unto the west. And the angels of the heavens shall be looking forth upon the earth through the opening of the heavens. And all men shall see above the earth the host of the angels looking forth out of heaven. Then shall all men flee. 6 Here Wilhelm's text ends abruptly.
B. Bihlmeyer's Text, from Munich 4563 (Eleventh to Twelfth Century, from Benediktbeuern); and the Vienna Fragment
Hear, O Thomas, for I am the Son of God the Father, and I am the father of all spirits. Hear from me the signs which shall come to pass at the end of this world, when the end of the world shall be fulfilled before my elect depart out of the world. I will tell you that which shall come to pass openly (or, will tell you openly, etc.): but when these things shall be the princes of the angels do not know, for they are now hidden from them.
Then shall there be in the world sharings between king and king, and in all the earth there shall be great famine, great pestilences, and much distress, and the sons of men shall be led captive in every nation and shall fall by the edge of the sword and there shall be great commotion in the world. 7 Vienna fragment omits this last clause. Then after that, when the hour of the end draws near, there shall be for seven days great signs in heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be moved.
Then shall there be on the first day the beginning: at the third hour of the day a great and mighty voice in the firmament of heaven and a cloud of blood coming up out of the north, and great peals of thunder and mighty flashes of lightning shall follow it, and it shall cover the whole heaven, and it will rain blood upon all the earth. These are the signs of the first day.
And on the second day there shall be a great voice in the firmament of heaven, and the earth shall be moved out of its place, and the gates of heaven shall be opened in the firmament of heaven toward the east, and the smoke of a great fire shall break forth through the gates of heaven and shall cover all the heaven until evening. In that day there shall be fear and great terror in the world. These are the signs of the second day.
But on the third day, about the third hour, there shall be a great voice in heaven, and the depths of the earth 8 Vienna fragment ends. shall roar from the four corners of the world; the pinnacles of the firmament of heaven shall be opened, and all the air shall be filled with pillars of smoke. There shall be an exceedingly evil stench of brimstone, until the tenth hour, and men shall say, ‘We think the time draws near that we perish.’ These are the signs of the third day.
And on the fourth day, at the first hour, from the land of the east the abyss shall melt and roar. Then shall all the earth be shaken by the might of an earthquake. In that day shall the ornaments of the heathen fall, and all the buildings of the earth, before the might of the earthquake. These are the signs of the fourth day.
But on the fifth day, at the sixth hour, suddenly there shall be a great thunder in heaven, and the powers of light and the wheel of the sun shall be caught away, 9 Reading ‘aperietur’ as ‘operietur’. and there shall be great darkness in the world until evening, and the air shall be sorrowful without sun or moon, and the stars shall cease from their ministry. In that day shall all nations behold as in a sack 10 Text obscure. Possibly ‘speculo’ (mirror) is intended, not ‘sacculo’. and shall despise the life of this world. These are the signs of the fifth day.
And on the sixth day, at the fourth hour, there shall be a great voice in heaven, and the firmament of the heaven shall be split from the east to the west, and the angels of the heavens shall be looking out upon the earth through the gaps in the heavens, and all those on the earth shall behold the host of the angels looking forth out of heaven. Then shall all men flee to the tombs and hide themselves from the face of the righteous angels and say, ‘Would that the earth would open and swallow us up!’ And such things shall happen as never happened since this world was created.
Then shall they behold me coming from above in the light of my Father with the power and honour of the holy angels. 11 Cf. Matt. 24: 30; Mark 13: 26 f.; Luke 21: 27; Dan. 7: 13 . Then at my coming shall the fence of fire of paradise be loosed—because paradise is girt round about with fire. And this is the perpetual fire that shall consume the earth and all the elements of the world.
Then shall the spirits and souls of all men come forth from paradise and shall come upon all the earth, and every one of them shall go to his own body, where it is laid up, and every one of them shall say, ‘Here lies my body.’ And when the great voice of those spirits shall be heard, then shall there be a great earthquake over all the world, and by its force the mountains shall be shattered above and the rocks beneath. Then shall every spirit return to his own vessel, and the bodies of the saints who have fallen asleep shall arise.
Then shall their bodies be changed into the image and likeness and the honour of the holy angels, and into the power of the image of my holy Father. Then shall they be clothed with the garment of life eternal, out of the cloud of light which has never been seen in this world; for that cloud comes down out of the highest realm of the heaven from the power of my Father. And that cloud shall invest with its beauty all the spirits who have believed in me.
Then shall they be clothed and shall be borne by the hands of the holy angels as I have told you before. Then they shall be lifted up into the air upon a cloud of light, and shall go with me rejoicing into heaven, and then shall they remain in the light and honour of my Father. Then shall there be great gladness for them with my Father and the holy angels. These are the signs of the sixth day.
And on the seventh day, at the eighth hour, there shall be voices in the four corners of the heaven. And all the air shall be shaken, and filled with holy angels, and they shall make war among themselves all the day long. And in that day shall my elect be sought out by the holy angels from the destruction of the world. Then shall all men see that the hour of their destruction draws near. These are the signs of the seventh day.
And when the seven days are passed by, on the eighth day, at the sixth hour, there shall be a sweet and tender voice in heaven from the east. Then shall that angel be revealed which has power over the holy angels, and all the angels shall go forth with him, sitting upon chariots of the clouds of my holy Father, rejoicing and flying in the air beneath the heaven to deliver the elect who have believed in me. And they shall rejoice that the destruction of this world has come.
The words of the Saviour to Thomas are ended, concerning the end of this world.
1 Verona fragment ends here.
2 Theodosius had two sons: Arcadius († 408), Honorius († 423).
3 Text obscure.
4 The MS has ‘nona’, ninth.
5 Here is a break. The text goes on: ‘For I am 〈the Son〉 of the high and powerful: I am the Father of all.’ Cf. the beginning of the older (?) and shorter text.
6 Here Wilhelm's text ends abruptly.
7 Vienna fragment omits this last clause.
8 Vienna fragment ends.
9 Reading ‘aperietur’ as ‘operietur’.
10 Text obscure. Possibly ‘speculo’ (mirror) is intended, not ‘sacculo’.