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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 Sedrach - Introduction

This work is extant only in Greek and was edited by M. R. James from a single MS in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Bodl. Cod. Misc. gr. 56; 15th cent.), in which it occurs as the final item. The text, even more than the text of the Apocalypse of Esdras, is in many places very corrupt, with the result that the sense is often far from clear: particularly is this so in chap. xi, where Sedrach utters a lamentation over the various members of his body. Moreover, the original opening of the work seems at some stage to have been lost. The text as it now stands in the MS begins with a three-and-a-half page homily on love, which is obviously a separate piece and in all probability to be attributed to Ephraem Syrus. James printed only the opening and closing sections of this homily, and an abbreviated version of these sections has been included in our translation (chap. i).

The title ‘The Apocalypse of Sedrach’ is due to James. The title in the MS is ‘The Word of … Sedrach’, though whether or not this was the author's own title it is impossible to say – it may well be due to a later editor or scribe. But in any case the work is not an apocalypse as the term ‘apocalypse’ is usually understood; for, although Sedrach, like St. Paul, is caught up into ‘the third heaven’ (ii. 4: cp. 2 Cor. xii. 2 ), no revelation in the strict sense is made to him. 1 It is also worth noting that, although the title explicitly states that the work is about ‘the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ as well as ‘love and repentance and orthodox Christians’, there is no mention of the Second Coming in it anywhere. Instead, there follows a dialogue between Sedrach and God in which Sedrach questions God about His purposes in Creation and God defends himself against any charges of injustice and cruelty in His treatment of man.

The name ‘Sedrach’ also present a problem. ‘Sedrach’ appears in the Greek versions of the Book of Daniel as the equivalent of the Hebrew and Aramaic ‘Shadrach’ – i.e. it is the recognised Greek form of the name given to Daniel's friend Hananiah by the chief of the eunuchs at the Babylonian court (Dan. i. 7 , etc.); and it may well be that our author had Shadrach-Hananiah in mind when he wrote. On the other hand, it is much more probable that James's conjecture is correct and that ‘Sedrach’ represents the corruption of an original ‘Esdras’.

The main reason for thinking this is that the work is undoubtedly related both to 2 Esdras and to The Apocalypse of Esdras – it stands firmly, that is, within the apocryphal Esdras tradition. Not only is the theme of the justification of God's ways to man, so prominent in Sedrach, treated at length in both these other works: there are also a number of often very close parallels between Sedrach and one or other of them, or both. As examples of such parallels may be given: (1) God's particular choices – ‘among animals the sheep, … among rivers the Jordan, among cities Jerusalem’ (Sedr. viii. 3: cp. 2 Esdras v. 23–27 ); (2) Sedrach's reluctance to surrender his soul immediately he is asked to do so and, when he finally agrees, his question about what limb it would be taken out through (Sedr. ix–x: cp. Apoc. Esdras vi. 3–vii. 3); and (3) Sedrach's observation that ‘it were better for man if he had not been born’, his fundamental question why did God make man in the first instance if He would not have mercy on him, and God's reply that man's present condition is due to his disobedience in Paradise (Sedr. iv: cp. 2 Esdras iv. 12 and Apoc. Esdras i. 6, 21, v. 9, 14; 2 Esdras vii. 116–126 and Apoc. Esdras iii. 9; 2 Esdras iii. 5–7 and Apoc. Esdras ii. 10–17).

By way of contrast, there is little obvious contact between Sedrach and The Vision of Esdras. What parallelisms there are are few and insubstantial: they are confined to the section at the very end of the Vision; 2 They are: (1) the prophet's reluctance to surrender his soul (Sedr. ix–x: cp. Vision 56–57); (2) his questioning of God about the reasons for man's present evil lot (Sedr. iv: cp. Vision 62–63); and (3) his final entry into heaven (Sedr. xvi. 9: cp. Vision 60). and each of them is shared with the other Esdras books. All in all, the general impression created is that the author of the Vision selected for amplification from the elements in the tradition that found a place in the Apocalypse the details about the torments of the damned (i.e. Apoc. Esdras iv–v), while the author of Sedrach chose to concentrate on the more fundamental theme of the justice of God's dealings with His creatures. If the question be asked why it should be thought that Sedrach represents a later stage in the tradition than the Apocalypse rather than vice versa, the answer is that a close study of the parallels suggests it. For instance, at Sedr. ix. 1 God's ‘only-begotten Son’ is very awkwardly introduced without warning as the agent chosen to demand Sedrach's surrender of his soul, whereas at Apoc. Esdras vi. 1–17 a band of angels is selected for this task and the only-begotten is only commissioned to lead them on a second attempt after their first attempt on their own had failed; and, in the same context, the argument with the angels that follows Esdras's question about which limb his soul should be taken out through at Apoc. Esdras vi. 5–14 makes much better sense than God's distinctly obscure reply to Sedrach's similar question at Sedr. x. 1–4. There should be no difficulty here in deciding which version is primary and which secondary.

If James's date for the Apocalypse of Esdras in the 9th cent. be acceptable, then the likelihood is that Sedrach will be 10th or 11th cent., though both may be very much earlier. 3 See above p. 930 In favour of a late date is the fact that the language of Sedrach abounds in neo-Greek forms and constructions and not infrequently (as James rather unfortunately put it) ‘degenerates into modern Greek’. Nor is Sedrach mentioned in any of the lists of apocryphal books. Some scholars have claimed to be able to detect at various points evidence for the use of Jewish sources, which, it seems, were not used by the authors of the other Esdras books; 4 e.g. R. Meyer, art. ‘Sedrach-Apokalypse’ in Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart,3 v (1961), col. 1631. but whatever justification there may, or may not, be for this claim, there is no gainsaying the evidence of such incontrovertibly Christian features as the introduction of Christ himself as the speaker at xii. 1, the references to ‘apostles’, ‘gospels’, ‘services’, and ‘my holy churches’ at xiv. 10–12, and the knowledge of books of the New Testament displayed at vi. 5, vii. 7–8, xiv. 5–6, and xv. 3, 6–7.

Notes:

1 It is also worth noting that, although the title explicitly states that the work is about ‘the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ as well as ‘love and repentance and orthodox Christians’, there is no mention of the Second Coming in it anywhere.

2 They are: (1) the prophet's reluctance to surrender his soul (Sedr. ix–x: cp. Vision 56–57); (2) his questioning of God about the reasons for man's present evil lot (Sedr. iv: cp. Vision 62–63); and (3) his final entry into heaven (Sedr. xvi. 9: cp. Vision 60).

3 See above p. 930

4 e.g. R. Meyer, art. ‘Sedrach-Apokalypse’ in Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart,3 v (1961), col. 1631.

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