The Apocalypse of Elijah -
Among the Coptic Biblical fragments from Akhmim, acquired for the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris by G. Maspero in the early 1880s, were fourteen papyrus leaves in the Akhmimic dialect and seven in the Sahidic. These proved on examination to be the remains of two distinct codices. The texts were previously unknown, though undoubtedly of an apocryphal work or works. There was a considerable overlap between them so that it was frequently possible to restore gaps in the Akhmimic from the Sahidic and vice versa. The presumption, therefore, was that they were, at least in part, two versions in different dialects of the same original(s).
The first editor (U. Bouriant in 1885 ) took the view that only a single work was involved; and from the fact that Zephaniah appeared as the speaker on one of the Sahidic leaves he concluded that the work was the lost Apocalypse of Zephaniah, known to have existed from its mention in the List of Sixty Books. A similar view was taken by L. Stern in the following year. However, in 1888 a further eight leaves, recently acquired by the Berlin Museum, were identified as belonging to the same codex as the fourteen Akhmimic leaves in the Bibliothèque Nationale; and at the end of the text on one of these leaves (it would seem the last in the codex) was the colophon ‘The Apocalypse of Elijah’. Consequently, the codex must have contained more than one work. The question was (and is), How many?
An answer depends partly upon the order in which the loose leaves from both codices are arranged, and partly upon what is presumed to be the relationship between the two codices. The codices certainly overlapped. But that does not necessarily mean that their contents were precisely the same. And Bouriant and Stern had each arranged the Paris leaves in a different order.
In the Introduction to his edition of the texts in 1899 G. Steindorff examined this question in detail and concluded that three works were involved: (1) an apocalypse of Elijah; (2) an apocalypse of Zephaniah; and (3) an ‘Anonymous’ apocalypse. This interpretation was decisively rejected by Schürer some ten years later, who maintained not only that there were no adequate grounds for distinguishing the ‘Anonymous’ from Zephaniah, but also that there were none for distinguishing a separate Elijah apocalypse either. Elijah, he pointed out, was referred to in the text of the alleged separate apocalypse twice, together with Enoch, in the third person; 1 At iii. 25 and 91. but if Elijah were in fact being represented by the author as the recipient of the revelations and as himself recording them, he might naturally be expected to refer to himself in the first person. Thus, in spite of the colophon at the end of the Akhmimic text, we have to do (so Schürer argued), not with three works, but with one only, and that the Apocalypse of Zephaniah.
Although many subsequent students have been doubtful about Steindorff's ‘Anonymous’, few, if any, have been prepared to treat the final-colophon as cavalierly as did Schürer, especially since the publication in 1912 by E. A. Wallis Budge in his edition of B. L. Or. 7594 (an uncial MS of the mid 4th cent., containing Sahidic texts of Deuteronomy, Jonah, Acts, and Revelation) of what he called ‘the opening part of a short composition’, written in a cursive hand at the end of Acts. This ‘opening part’ of Budge's ‘short composition’ was identified by C. Schmidt in 1925 as the beginning of the Elijah apocalypse isolated by Steindorff; 2 i.e. i. 1–15. and so an additional argument was produced in favour of Steindorff's analysis, at least so far as his isolation of the Elijah apocalypse is concerned and his definition of its contents.
The final vindication of Steindorff's view was provided by the discovery of yet another Sahidic text in the Chester Beatty collection in Dublin (P. Chester Beatty 2018). This text had been known to exist since the 1950s, but no details became generally available until A. Pietersma and S. T. Comstock published their edition of it in the autumn of 1981 .
The manuscript consists of ten leaves, of which the first five are virtually complete, while the remainder are rather more fragmentary. Quite apart from the fragmentary nature of these last leaves, however, the manuscript comes to an abrupt end at iii. 72. On palaeographical grounds the editors argued that this was not due to accidental loss or mutilation, but to the copy that the scribe had before him having ended similarly. Yet, whether or not we are prepared to accept the editors' arguments in their entirety, the fact is that P. Chester Beatty 2018 begins and (for practical purposes) ends with the Elijah apocalypse, and there is no indication that it ever contained anything else: in this respect it differs markedly from the primary Akhmimic and Sahidic texts discovered in the 1880s. It should also be noted that in those texts, complementary as they otherwise were, there was a gap between ii. 13 and ii. 23, caused by the absence of a single leaf of the Akhmimic, where there was no complementary Sahidic: this gap (i.e. ii. 14–22) was covered by the Chester Beatty manuscript, with the result that it at last became possible to read through the text of the apocalypse from beginning to end as a single continuous whole.
In these circumstances no excuse is needed for treating ‘Elijah’ as a separate entity here, and for leaving ‘Zephaniah’ and the ‘Anonymous’ for independent treatment later.
There can be no doubt that the early Church knew of at least one apocryphal work bearing Elijah's name. Origen, in his Commentary on Matthew (according to the Latin translation) attributes St. Paul's quotation at 1 Cor. ii. 9 to ‘the Secrets of Elijah the Prophet’. 3 Orig. (Matt. com. ser. 117): ‘in nullo enim regulari libro hoc positum invenitur, nisi in secretis Eliae prophetae’. The Gk. original is, of course, no longer extant. Ambrosiaster refers it to ‘the Apocalypse of Elijah’. 4 Ambrosiast. ( in I Cor. ii. 9 ): ‘hoc scriptum est in Esaia profeta aliis verbis (est in apocalypsi Heliae in apocryfis)’. Jerome, in denying this and explaining the quotation as a free paraphrase of Isa. lxiv. 4 , nevertheless admits the existence of an ‘Apocalypse of Elijah’, from which some said St. Paul was quoting. 5 Hieron. (Ep. lvii. 9; in Esai. lxiv. 4–5). Similarly, Epiphanius explains Eph. v. 14 as a quotation from ‘Elijah’. 6 Epiph. (Haer XLII. xii. 3); ‘του̂το δὲ ἐμφέϱεται παϱὰ τῳ̂ Ἠλίᾳ’. An apocryphal ‘Elijah’ (without further definition) is mentioned in The Apostolic Constitutions; 7 Const. Apost. VI. xvi. 3. a work ‘Of Elijah the prophet’ is listed in the pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis and the Stichometry of Nicephorus; and an ‘Apocalypse of Elijah’ occurs in the List of Sixty Books. But the only ancient reference, which gives any serious indication of contents, is a passage in the apocryphal Epistle of Titus, published from an 8th cent. Würzburg MS by Dom Donatien de Bruyne in 1925. 8 D. de Bruyne, ‘Epistula Titi, discipuli Pauli, De Dispositione Sanctimonii’ in R Bén xxxvii (1925), pp. 47–72. A useful discussion of the epistle, especially of its quotations of Biblical and apocryphal texts, was almost immediately afterwards published by A. von Harnack, ‘Der apokryphe Brief des Paulusschülers Titus “De dispositione sanctimonii”’ in Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jahrg. 1925: phil.-hist. Kl. (Berlin, 1925 ), pp. 180–213. Harnack assigned the Epistle to the 5th cent. and argued that it was Priscillianist. The passage, which presumably comes from the Elijah apocryplon mentioned previously in the Epistle, 9 de Bruyne, op. cit., pp. 54–55:…‘O divina dei meditacio ut ante praevideret de futuro saeculo, ut Enoch iustus de primo populo reputato constituitur scribere gesta hominum priora, et Helias sanctus huius plebis serotinae novae conscriberet acta…’. runs as follows:
‘And then the prophet Elijah witnesses to what he saw: “The angel of the Lord”, he says, “showed me a deep valley, which is called Gehenna, burning with sulphur and pitch. And in that place are many souls of sinners, and they are tortured there with torments of different kinds. Some suffer through hanging by their genitals, others by their tongues, some by their eyes, and yet others hanging upside down; and women will be tortured through hanging by their breasts, and young men by their hands: some girls are roasted on the gridiron, and some souls are impaled and in perpetual pain. By these different punishments is proclaimed what each one has done: those that suffer through their genitals are the adulterers and pederasts: those that are suspended by their tongues are the blasphemers and false witnesses: those that are hung up by their eyes are those who have caused their own fall through what they see, gazing in concupiscence on the guilty deeds of others: those that were hanging upside down, these are those who hated the righteousness of God, men of evil counsel (no one of them is in agreement with his brother) – rightly, therefore, do they endure the punishment decreed for them. And as for the women that are ordered to be tormented in their breasts, these are those who gave their bodies to men in wantonness; and the men also will be close by them in their torments, hanging by their hands for this very reason.”’ 10 de Bruyne, op. cit., p. 58.
Such descriptions of the torments of Hell are not uncommon in apocalyptic literature, especially in the later literature (cp., for example, Apoc. Esdras iv. 7–v. 6 –below, pp. 935–7 ). But nothing like it is to be found in our Coptic apocalypse. 11 The nearest approach is the very general statement at iii. 86–87 (cp. also ‘Anon.’ Apoc. i. 6, ii. 4, iii. 12–16 – below, pp. 920, 922, 924). Nor are St. Paul's alleged quotations at 1 Cor. ii. 9 and Eph. v. 14 to be found there either, although it is possibly not without significance that the first of them does occur at the very beginning of the apocryphal Titus, where it appears to be cited as if it were a well-known ‘word of the Lord’. From the evidence available, therefore, it looks as if there were several apocrypha, bearing the name of Elijah, circulating in the early centuries. They may have been different recensions of the same basic material: they may have been completely independent. We have no means of knowing.
But about our Coptic apocalypse two things may be said with little fear of contradiction: (1) it is of some respectable antiquity; and (2) if not entirely Christian in origin, whatever Jewish sources it may have had have been so thoroughly Christianized as to be virtually unrecognizable.
To take the first point first. The two main MSS containing the Sahidic text (i.e. Steindorff's and the Chester Beatty) are dated either in the late 4th cent. or in the early 5th, and that containing the Akhmimic in the 4th. The cursive hand which made the addition corresponding to the opening verses of the Akhmimic text at the end of Acts in B. L. Or. 7594 is dated to c. AD 350; so that this text must have come into existence in the earlier half of the 4th cent. at the latest. Most Coptic texts of this kind are translations from Greek; and that our apocalypse is no exception was made as certain as can be by the publication by E. Pistelli in 1912 of a small 4th cent. papyrus fragment, the verso of which contains (though in a very mutilated state) the Greek text of iii. 90–92. If we are to allow time for the Greek text to become generally known, to be translated into Coptic, and then to become known in Coptic, it would seem that we must push back the date of composition into the 3rd cent. or even earlier.
The Christian elements in the apocalypse are undeniable, especially the many apparent reminiscences of the New Testament. It is possible to discount some of the contacts with Revelation (such as ‘they shall neither hunger, nor shall they thirst’ at i. 10–cp. iii. 61, or ‘they will give them the right to eat from the tree of life and to wear white garments’ at iii. 60) 12 Cp. Rev. ii. 7, vii. 9, 16 . as no more than part of the common stock-in-trade of apocalyptic literature, whether Jewish or Christian. But it is not so easy to apply this explanation to the description of the Antichrist as ‘the Son of Perdition’ and ‘the Lawless One’ at ii. 33–34: 13 Cp. 2 Thess. ii. 3, 8 . the warning against believing in the Antichrist's claims at iii. 1–2 looks very much as if it derived from Our Lord's words as recorded at Matt. xxiv. 5, 23; and the injunction ‘Love not the world nor the things in the world’ at i. 2 seems to be an exact quotation of 1 John ii. 15 . Furthermore, according to iii. 3, when the Christ comes, he will be preceded by ‘the sign of the cross’; and at i. 6–7 there is an unmistakeable statement of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (‘That is why the God of glory took pity on us: he sent his Son into the world to deliver us from our slavery. When he came to us, he told neither angel nor archangel nor any power; but he assumed the form of a man when he came to us to save us’). 14 Cp. Ep. ad Diognetum, vii. 2–4. What is uncertain is whether these Christian elements are an original part of the apocalypse or were superimposed by a Christian editor who re-wrote and expanded a Jewish source (as has been argued by several scholars, notably by Steindorff himself, Bousset, and Rosenstiehl).
In 1897 M. Buttenwieser published from a Munich MS a Jewish Apocalypse of Elijah, which records a revelation made by the archangel Michael to Elijah on Mount Carmel concerning the times of the End. From the historical references in it Buttenwieser thought that the original apocalypse had been written soon after AD 260 and that it had been edited and expanded in the 6th and 7th cents. There are indubitably contacts between this Jewish apocalypse and our Coptic apocalypse, particularly in the historical section in chap. ii of our apocalypse, though none of them are very close. According to Rosenstiehl, our apocalypse, as it now stands, dates from the 3rd cent. of our era; and it is the work of an author who refashioned material composed in the 1st cent. BC by a Jew with Essene learnings, who lived in Egypt.
The possibility of a Jewish base must consequently be left open. However, it is worth noting that if that base was in its essentials the same as the nucleus that Buttenwieser discerned in his apocalypse, and he was right in dating that nucleus after AD 260 (a date with which Bousset concurred), then our apocalypse cannot have been the ‘Secrets of Elijah’ known to Origen (since Origen died c. 250). Likewise, Rosenstiehl's 3rd cent. date for the apocalypse as it now stands would seem to suggest the same conclusion. But, as was remarked previously, there were probably several ‘Elijahs’ circulating in the early centuries in various languages, some of which were only distantly related to one another, if related at all.
The translation which follows is based on the Akhmimic text as printed in Steindorff's edition, the Sahidic texts, when available, being used to fill the gaps in the Akhmimic, whether these gaps be of only a word or two, or more extensive (the minor gaps are indicated by the sign ‘ 〈 〉 ’, others by ‘…’). Occasionally, too, a Sahidic reading has been preferred to the Akhmimic as representing a better text. But in any case, all significant textual variants, or any that might be thought of any special interest, have attention drawn to them in the notes.
The chapter and verse divisions are those adopted by Rosenstiehl; but for convenience Steindorff's page-numeration, according to his ordering of the individual leaves, has been inserted in brackets in the translation where applicable – thus, ‘(A 19)’ indicates page 19 in the Akhmimic codex as reconstructed by Steindorff, to be found on pp. 66–67 of his edition, and ‘(SaSt 6)’ indicates page 6 of his Sahidic text, to be found in his edition on pp. 120–125 . Similarly in the notes, ‘A’ and ‘SaSt’ indicate Steindorff's Akhmimic and Sahidic respectively, ‘Sa CB ’ indicates the Chester Beatty Sahidic, and ‘SaSch’ indicates the Sahidic fragment from the beginning of the apocalypse as edited by Schmidt.
Thus, apart from the Greek fragment from iii. 90–92, the texts available are:
A: i. 1–ii. 13 (‘…saying’); ii. 23 (‘The cities … ’)–iii. 19 (‘… all the saints’); iii. 33 (‘Shameless One…’) – iii. 69 (‘… perish in’); iii. 84 (‘A righteous judgement …’) –iii. 99.
SaCB: i. 1–iii. 72 (‘… passed me by’).
SaSt: i. 23 (‘because …’)–ii. 13 (‘… saying’); iii. 7 (‘the sky …’) –iii. 84 (‘… give tongue’.)
SaSch: i. 1–9 (‘…for you thrones’); i. 12 (‘of the earth…’)–15 (‘…the Evil One’).
1 At iii. 25 and 91.
2 i.e. i. 1–15.
3 Orig. (Matt. com. ser. 117): ‘in nullo enim regulari libro hoc positum invenitur, nisi in secretis Eliae prophetae’. The Gk. original is, of course, no longer extant.
5 Hieron. (Ep. lvii. 9; in Esai. lxiv. 4–5).
6 Epiph. (Haer XLII. xii. 3); ‘του̂το δὲ ἐμφέϱεται παϱὰ τῳ̂ Ἠλίᾳ’.
7 Const. Apost. VI. xvi. 3.
8 D. de Bruyne, ‘Epistula Titi, discipuli Pauli, De Dispositione Sanctimonii’ in R Bén xxxvii (1925), pp. 47–72. A useful discussion of the epistle, especially of its quotations of Biblical and apocryphal texts, was almost immediately afterwards published by A. von Harnack, ‘Der apokryphe Brief des Paulusschülers Titus “De dispositione sanctimonii”’ in Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jahrg. 1925: phil.-hist. Kl. (Berlin, 1925 ), pp. 180–213. Harnack assigned the Epistle to the 5th cent. and argued that it was Priscillianist.
9 de Bruyne, op. cit., pp. 54–55:…‘O divina dei meditacio ut ante praevideret de futuro saeculo, ut Enoch iustus de primo populo reputato constituitur scribere gesta hominum priora, et Helias sanctus huius plebis serotinae novae conscriberet acta…’.
10 de Bruyne, op. cit., p. 58.
11 The nearest approach is the very general statement at iii. 86–87 (cp. also ‘Anon.’ Apoc. i. 6, ii. 4, iii. 12–16 – below, pp. 920, 922, 924).
14 Cp. Ep. ad Diognetum, vii. 2–4.