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The Apocryphal Old Testament Collection of the most important non-canonical Old Testament books designed for general use.

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah and an Anonymous Apocalypse - Introduction

The details of the discovery of the Coptic MSS containing the text of these apocalypses, the problems involved in the arrangement of the individual leaves in some sort of intelligible order, and the opinions of the editors and other scholars who have worked on them, have already been treated in the Introduction to The Apocalypse of Elijah. 1 See above, pp. 753–5.

According to Steindorff three distinct works are preserved in these leaves, in varying degrees of completeness: (1) an apocalypse of Zephaniah, of which only a very small portion has been preserved on one side of one of the Sahidic leaves, 2 The text on the other side of this leaf is illegible. and to the text of which there is no parallel in the Akhmimic; (2) an apocalypse of Elijah, contained on the last thirteen Akhmimic leaves in the order in which Steindorff arranged them, and also on the remaining six Sahidic leaves, which offer (with gaps) a parallel text to a considerable portion of the Akhmimic text; and (3) an ‘Anonymous’ apocalypse contained in the first nine of the Akhmimic leaves.

Nearly all subsequent authorities have followed Steindorff to the extent of distinguishing the first two apocalypses – the passage on the single Sahidic leaf where Zephaniah speaks in the first person (‘Truly I, Zephaniah, saw’) has been generally regarded as conclusive evidence that on this leaf, at least, we have before us part of the text of a Zephaniah apocalypse, while the colophon at what appears to be the end of the Akhmimic codex (‘The Apocalypse of Elijah’) was usually taken to be sufficient proof that what immediately precedes it was the text of an Elijah apocalypse, even before the publication of the much fuller Sahidic text of this apocalypse contained in P. Chester Beatty 2018 left no doubt at all about its separate identity.

But beyond this there has been less unanimity. The first nine leaves of the Akhmimic codex (according to Steindorff's arrangement) are so markedly different in subject-matter from the last thirteen (i.e. the Elijah apocalypse) that they must belong to a different work. The question is, Is that ‘different work’ yet a third, independent, apocalypse (for about its being an apocalypse there can be no doubt at all), or is it part (indeed, the major part) of the Zephaniah apocalypse?

As we have seen, Steindorff preferred the former alternative; and he called his third apocalypse ‘The Anonymous Apocalypse’, because in the portion of its text that has been preserved the seer is not named. But this further distinction of Steindorff's has been challenged from more than one angle. It has been pointed out that the fact that there is no Akhmimic parallel to the single Sahidic ‘Zephaniah’ leaf, whereas there are Akhmimic parallels to the remaining six Sahidic leaves, is almost certainly accidental: the majority of the surviving Akhmimic leaves have no Sahidic parallels; and there is no reason to suppose that the coverage is likely to be complete on one side rather than the other. In any case, the Akhmimic text of the presumed ‘Anonymous’ is itself far from complete: we do not know, for instance, how much is missing at the beginning; and the Sahidic ‘Zephaniah’ fragment may well belong there, or in the gap in the middle, or, even, at the end. Moreover, there are some very evident contacts in subject-matter between the ‘Zephaniah’ leaf and the ‘Anonymous’: both are concerned with the torments of Hell; and there are several coincidences of language, the most obvious being concentrated in Apoc. Zeph. 6–7 and ‘Anon.’ Apoc. i. 11–12. All this tells in favour of their not being two independent works, but one and the same.

A further complication was introduced into the debate by the publication in 1940 by L. Th. Lefort 3 L. Th. Lefort, Les manuscrits coptes de l'Université de Louvain i (= Textes Littéraires; Louvain 1940 ), pp. 79–80. of a very small, and for the most part illegible, fragment, which may have some bearing on the problem. As reconstructed by Lefort, the text of the fragment ends with the words ‘〈Truly I Ze〉phaniah saw 〈these things〉’, followed by the colophon ‘〈The Apocalypse of Ze〉phan〈iah〉’. If we are to trust Lefort's reconstruction, and if there is any relationship at all between the new fragment and the previously known ‘Zephaniah’ leaf, it would seem that the first lines on the ‘Zephaniah’ leaf, as far as ‘Truly I, Zephaniah, saw and took note of these things’, are the conclusion of the Zephaniah apocalypse, and that what follows (from ‘And the angel of the Lord …’) belongs to something else – unless, of course, ‘Truly I, Zephaniah, saw these things’ was a kind of refrain, occurring regularly throughout the apocalypse at the end of each section, and then, finally, at the very end. However, in view of the fact that on Lefort's fragment only very few complete words are legible, it would be unwise to pursue the possibilities here.

For these reasons it has been thought best to treat the whole of the ‘Zephaniah’-‘Anonymous’ material together and print the translations of the Sahidic and Akhmimic texts one after the other. Those who follow Steindorff can then read them, as he did, as fragments of two separate works. Those who do not can either read them as fragments of the same work (i.e. as all belonging to the Apocalypse of Zephaniah), or alternatively indulge in whatever re-ordering of the individual leaves and identification of their contents they please.

A Zephaniah apocalypse was certainly known in the early Church, since one is mentioned in the List of Sixty Books; and this apocalypse is in all probability the same work as ‘The Book of the Prophet Zephaniah’ mentioned by pseudo-Athanasius and the Stichometry of Nicephorus. An indication of contents may perhaps be found in a solitary quotation in Clement of Alexandria. The passage in Clement runs as follows:

‘Are not these statements like those of Zephaniah the prophet? “And the spirit took me, and brought me up to the fifth heaven, and I beheld angels called lords; and their diadem had been set upon them by the Holy Spirit; and each of them had a throne seven times brighter than the light of the rising sun; and they dwelt in temples of salvation, and they hymned the ineffable Most High God.”’ 4 Clem.-Alex. Strom. V. xi. 77.

But Clement's quotation has no parallel, either in the Sahidic ‘Zephaniah’ fragment or in what remains of Steindorff's ‘Anonymous’; nor is there any obvious gap anywhere into which it might suitably be fitted.

The Sahidic ‘Zephaniah’ fragment affords no clue as to the origin of its text: that text might be Jewish in origin: it might be Christian; and it might equally well be a re-working by a Christian of an originally Jewish source. On the other hand, most agree that the ‘Anonymous’ was in origin Jewish, but that the Jewish original has been reworked by a Christian, though far less drastically than the associated Apocalypse of Elijah: there are in the ‘Anonymous’ no unequivocally Christian passages or phrases, but there are several apparent reminiscences of the New Testament. 5 e.g., with i. 3 cp. Matt. xxiv. 40–41 ǁ Luke xvii. 34–35; with ii. 10–12 cp. Rev. i. 13, 15, ii. 18, xix. 10, xxii. 8–9; and with iii. 18 cp. 1 Cor. xv. 38 .

As in the Apocalypse of Elijah, the translation is based on the texts as edited by Steindorff and his page numeration has been inserted in brackets where applicable, in order to facilitate reference. 6 See above p. 759. ‘Sa’ = ‘Sahidic’ and ‘A’ = ‘Akhmimic’.

Notes:

1 See above, pp. 753–5.

2 The text on the other side of this leaf is illegible.

3 L. Th. Lefort, Les manuscrits coptes de l'Université de Louvain i (= Textes Littéraires; Louvain 1940 ), pp. 79–80.

4 Clem.-Alex. Strom. V. xi. 77.

5 e.g., with i. 3 cp. Matt. xxiv. 40–41 ǁ Luke xvii. 34–35; with ii. 10–12 cp. Rev. i. 13, 15, ii. 18, xix. 10, xxii. 8–9; and with iii. 18 cp. 1 Cor. xv. 38 .

6 See above p. 759.

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