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Elijah. Apocalypse

Elias. The list of the Sixty Books speaks of the Apocalypse of Elias. The other two have simply "Of Elias the Prophet." The Latin version of the stichometry, by Anastasius Bibliothecarius, renders "Prophecy of Elias." The Armenian has "The Mysteries of Elias." The stichometry gives it 316 lines.

To this book, two passages in St. Paul's Epistles are referred. The first is i Cor. ii. 9: "Eye hath not seen," etc. Origen (on Matt. xxvii. 9) says: "This is found in no canonical book, but in the apocrypha (in secretis) of Elias." Jerome (Ep. 101 to Pammachius), with his eye on Origen, no doubt, writes: "In this place some will follow after the drivellings of apocryphal writings and say that the quotation is taken from the Apocalypse of Elias, whereas we read thus in Isaiah according to the Hebrew, 'From everlasting they have not heard,' etc. (Isa. lxiv. 4)." And again, in his great commentary on Isaiah (lib. xvii.) he fulminates against this view, contorting Ps. x. 3, and making it say "the devil lies in wait in the Apocrypha," after which he adds, "for the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Elias have this quotation."

The truth about the quotation seems to be (as Mr. H. St. J. Thackeray has shown in St. Paul and Contemporary Jewish Thought, p. 240) that it was a blend of passages from Isaiah (lxiv. 4, lxv. 16, 17) in current use in the first century. Pseudo-Philo has it (xxvi. 13), and this makes it easier to believe that Origen was right when he said it occurred in the Apocalypse of Elias. It is also found, as Jerome says, in the Ascension of Isaiah (xi. 34), but in the Latin and Slavonic, not the Ethiopic version.

Resch, in his Agrapha, p. 154 ff., has a long disquisition on the subject, and among the parallels he adduces is one which deserves to be repeated here. Clement of Alexandria (Protrept., § 44, p. 69, Stähelin, 76, Potter) has this passage: "Wherefore the Scripture with reason makes this promise to them that have believed: 'but the Saints of the Lord shall inherit the glory of God and His power.'" "Tell me what glory, O blessed one?" "That which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it come up upon the heart of man: and they shall rejoice at the kingdom (ἐπὶ τῇ βασιλείᾳ)) of their Lord for ever. Amen." This is apparently the conclusion of a book: with it we should compare (as Resch does) a passage in the Apostolical Constitutions (vii. 32, p. 212), which is an amplification of the end of the Didache, and runs thus:

"Then shall the wicked depart into everlasting punishment: but the righteous shall go into life eternal, inheriting those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they come up upon the heart of man, which God hath prepared for them that love Him, and shall rejoice in the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus."

The other Pauline passage referred to this book is Ephesians v. 14: "Awake, thou that sleepest," etc., of which Epiphanius (Hær. xlii. 1) says: "This is contained in Elias." Others derive it from a book of Jeremiah, as we shall see. Hippolytus (on Daniel iv. 56) gives it to Isaiah, where Esaias may be an error for Elias. There is nothing to confirm or invalidate Epiphanius's statement.

Two other fragments definitely attributed to the Apocalypse of Elias have made their appearance in recent years.

One is in a very curious Latin document, itself apocryphal, which is entitled The Epistle of Titus, the disciple of Paul, and is preserved in an eighth-century MS. at Würzburg. It has not been printed as a whole, but Dom. D. de Bruyn, O.S.B., has published in the Revue Bénédictine (1900, pp. 149–160) a number of apocryphal quotations from it. One is this: "The prophet Helias bears witness that he saw: 'The angel of the Lord,' saith he, 'showed me a deep valley which is called Gehenna, burning with sulphur and pitch, and in that place are many souls of sinners, and thus are they tortured with divers torments. Some suffer hanging . . . by their tongues, some by their eyes, others hang head downward; women will be tormented by their breasts, and youths hanging by their hands; certain maidens are burned upon a gridiron and some souls are fixed (? pierced) with perpetual pain. Now by these divers torments is shown the act of every one. . . . They that hang by the tongues are blasphemers and also false witnesses: they that are burned (read hung by) their eyes are they that have [been] offended in regard of sight, because they looked upon things done guiltily in concupiscence: but they that hang head downwards, these are they that hated the righteousness of God, being of evil counsel, neither did any agree with his brother: rightly, therefore, are they burned (? hung) by the decree of punishment (lit. punishment of decree). But whereas women are commanded to be tormented in their breasts, these are they which gave their bodies unto men in lasciviousness, wherefore the men also will be hard by them in torments, hanging by their hands upon this account."

My version tries to give an idea of the obscurity and badness of the Latin. The passage shows that part of the Apocalypse at least dealt with visions of the next world, and that in it hell-torments were described (as they are in the Apocalypse of Peter), as suited to the sin of the sufferer. This fashion rules in a whole series of later Christian Apocalypses; but it is a deduction from the lex talionis and is exemplified in writings undoubtedly Jewish. Thus in the Chronicles of Jerahmeel (tr. M. Gaster, 1899, pp. 34–36) are two revelations which agree most closely with our fragment.

(a) R. Joshua, son of Levi, said, "I was walking on my way when I met the prophet Elijah. He said to me, 'Would you like to be brought to the gate of hell?' I answered, ' Yes.' So he showed me men hanging by their hair, and he said to me, 'These were the men that let their hair grow to adorn themselves for sin' (men is very likely a mistake here for women). The other classes of sinners were these:

Others hanging by their eyes. Followed their eyes to sin.
By their noses. Perfumed themselves to sin.
By their tongues. Had slandered.
By their hands. Had stolen.
By their feet. Led men to sin.
Women hanging by their breasts. Had exposed them to make men sin.
Men fried on fiery coals. Had blasphemed.
Men fed on gall, etc. Had eaten on fast days.

(b) "There are five kinds of punishments in hell, and Isaiah the son of Amoz saw them all. He entered the first compartment and saw there two men carrying pails full of water on their shoulders, and they pour that water into a pit which never fills. Isaiah said to God, 'O thou who unveilest all that is hidden, unveil to me the secret of this.' And the spirit of the Lord answered, 'These are the men who coveted the property of their neighbours, and this is their punishment.' The formula is the same in the next three sections.

Men hanging by their tongues. Slanderers.
Hanging ignominiously.
Women hanging by their breasts. Attracted the gaze of men.

"The fifth section is not of the same form. The compartment is full of smoke and the princes, chiefs and great men are in it, presided over by Pharaoh."

It will be noticed that the former of these visions is actually connected with Elijah and is closer to the Latin fragment than the second.

My other fragment was printed in the Journal Asiatique, 1917, p. 454, by Abbé F. Nau from a Paris MS. (gr. 4) of the thirteenth century. It occurs along with an extract from the Revelation of (pseudo) Methodius, and some descriptions of Antichrist from Chrysostom and from the Bible and elsewhere.

"It is contained in apocryphal writings that Elias the prophet spake concerning Antichrist, of what aspect he is to appear at that time. His head a flame of fire: his right eye mingled with blood, but the left bright (χάροπόσ) having two pupils: his eyebrows (-lashes) white, and his lower lip large: his right thigh thin and his feet broad, and the great toe of his foot hath been broken."

Something nearly identical with this description of Antichrist is to be found in several other places, in the Testament of the Lord (Syriac) xi., in the Testament in Galilee (ed. Guerrier and Grebaut, Ethiopic), 6, and in a Latin fragment from Trèves printed by me in Apocrypha anecdota (i., p. 153). I show them in tabular form.

Test. of the Lord Test. in Galilee Latin Fragment
His head as a burning flame. Head as a flame of fire. His eyes "fellini" like a cat's (?).
Right eye mingled with blood. Right eye mingled with blood. Right eye mingled with blood.
Left eye of a blue-grey or green colour having two pupils. Left eye dead. The two pupils of the eyes are <gap> Left eye joyful (gaudiensχαροπόσ).
Eyelashes white. White in his eyelids. Eyelashes white.
Lower lip large. Lower lip large. Lower lip large.
Right thigh thin. Omitted. † His legs lean.
Feet broad. Omitted. Omitted.
Great toe broken and oblong (or thin). Toes and joints of his feet twisted. Great toe broken.
He is the scythe of desolation. He is the scythe of perdition. He is the scythe of desolation.

The portion of the two Testaments which contains this description is generally taken to be a separate Apocalypse. In each case it is followed by matter of a quite different kind, in the Testament of the Lord by rules of ecclesiastical practice, in the Testament in Galilee by an Epistle of the Apostles. It does occur separately in Syriac in a Cambridge MS. edited by Arendzen (in Jour. Theol. Stud., ii., 1901, p. 401). The only notable variant in the description of Antichrist which this presents is at the end ("his feet broad and his little finger large as a sickle—that is, the sickle of desolation"), and this is probably a mistake.

Cap. XI. of this Apocalypse deals with the misfortunes of individual countries—Syria, Cilicia, and so on (this is omitted in Arendzen's text), and as Arendzen remarks in his preface (see also Bidez in his edition of Philostorgius), the description comes very close to that given by Philostorgius in his Church History of the actual events of the early part of the fifth century. The Apocalypse is not, in any case, as a whole, very early in date, and there is no reason to doubt that it incorporated older material, and that some of this came from the Apocalypse of Elias.

The description of Antichrist which we have here is but one of many. The late Greek Apocalypses of Esdras and of John edited by Tischendorf contain another, or rather two others (one in MSS. of both Esdras and John, the other in a Venice MS. of John), which may as well be given:

Esdras-John John (Venice MS.)
The likeness of his face is dark.
The hairs of his head sharp as arrows. The hairs of his head like sharpened arrows.
His eyebrows like a field. His teeth a span long.
His right eye like the morning star. His legs like a cock's.
The other immovable (or like a lion's). The sole of his feet two spans long.
His mouth about a cubit long. His eyebrows full of all foulness and roughness.
His teeth a span long.
His fingers like sickles. On his forehead a writing: Antichrist.
Holding in his right hand a cup of death.
On his forehead a writing: Antichrist. One eye like the morning star, the other like a lion's (it was "quenched" when he fell, by Christ).
Sometimes he will become a child.
And sometimes an old man.

The Armenian Seventh Vision of Daniel (tr. Issaverdens, p. 345) says:

"The joints of his knees are stiff, he is crippled in body, smooth-browed, crooked-fingered, long-headed, charming, boastful, intelligent, etc., etc."

A Latin text, a prophecy of our Lord addressed to St. Matthew, which I have only found in one MS. (Corpus Chr. Coll. Camb., 404, f. 7 (fourteenth century); see my Catalogue, ii. 270), says: "His appearance (positio) will be, a thin and tall man, with thin feet, having long hair and a long face and a long nose, with cat's eyes: † in the lower parts † having lost one tooth, in the upper marked with leprosy, having a white part in the hair on his forehead. These his marks will be unchangeable, but in the others he will be able to change himself." This shows interesting coincidences with the Latin fragment and with the Coptic and Hebrew Elias (below). It is corrupt, some words having apparently dropped out.

Similar descriptions also occur in late Hebrew Apocalypses such as the Book of Zerubbabel (see Bossuet, Antichrist, p. 102): the Midrash Vajoscha says, "He will be bald, and have one eye large and one small, his right arm will be a span long and his left two and a half ells: on his forehead will be leprosy, his right ear will be stopped up and his left open."

But to come nearer to the point again. We have two Apocalypses of Elias, and in each of them is a description of Antichrist: only neither agrees with that which we have read in the Greek fragment.

The first, which is almost complete, is in Coptic, existing in imperfect MSS. in two dialects, Achmimic and Sahidic, edited by Steindorff (1899). A very small bit of it (corresponding to 11. 6–13 of p. 169) has been found in a Greek papyrus (Papiri greci e latini, Florence, 1912, No. 7). It consists of two parts: the beginning is moral and didactic, and speaks of fasting and so on; then there is an abrupt change, and the text continues: "Concerning the King of the Assyrians and the dissolution of the Heaven and Earth: My people shall not be overpowered, saith the Lord, and shall not need to be afraid in war." And the rest is wholly eschatological: rise and fall of kings, appearances of Antichrist: his conflict with Tabitha, death of Elias (!) and Enoch, the end of the world, are treated in detail. The introduction of Elias is, to say the least, inartistic.

The description of Antichrist is this: "He is little . . . young, thin-legged, on his forehead is a place of white hair . . . his eyebrows stretch to his ears, he has marks of leprosy in his hands. He will change himself before them that look on him, will become a child and an old man . . . will change in all his marks; but the marks on his head . . . will not be able to be changed." There are more coincidences here with the Esdras-John descriptions than with the Greek fragment.

The other Apocalypse of Elias is a late Hebrew one edited by Buttenwieser (1897), who believes that events of about A.D. 260 are described in it: I should be surprised if it were really so ancient, in its present rather incoherent form, but it probably has some connexion with the older Apocalypse. Especially, I think, does this apply to the opening, the substance of which is this:

"The Spirit took me up and bore me to the South: I saw a high place burning with fire, which none could enter.

"It bore me to the East: there I saw stars fighting with each other unceasingly.

"It bore me to the West: there I saw how souls suffered judgment in great torments, each one according to his deeds.

"Then Michael revealed to me the End."

Then we plunge into prophecy, with names of kings and cities, days of the month, and large hosts, whose numbers are given. Near the beginning is the description of Antichrist. "These will be his signs, as Daniel beheld him: his face is long, on his forehead he has baldness (?), and he is of very high stature, and his feet are high, and his legs are thin."

The first sentence reads like a summary of a longer writing, and the words I have italicized show where something like our Latin fragment might have come in.

It is quite probable, I think, that the original Apocalypse contained all the ingredients that the fragments show us, descriptions of hell-torments, eschatological prophecy, descriptions of Antichrist and didactic matter. But neither of the extant Apocalypses can be supposed to represent the old book faithfully. The Coptic has been Christianized, the Hebrew abridged, and additions made to both.


In the Lives of the Prophets, attributed to Epiphanius, there is a bit of legend about Elijah which reads as if it might have originally stood in an apocryphal book. That apocryphal literature was to some extent employed by the writer of these Lives is considered probable or even certain by their latest editor, Schermann, on the evidence of the sections relating to Isaiah and Jeremiah, though, for much of the non-Biblical detail, current Jewish tradition may be responsible.

The life of Elias begins: "He was of Thesbis, of the land of the Arabs, of the tribe of Aaron, dwelling in Galaad; for Thesbis was a gift, given to the priests. And when his mother bore him, Sobac his father saw a vision, that men shining in white spoke to him (the child), and that they swaddled him in fire and gave him a flame of fire to eat. And he went to Jerusalem and told the priests and the oracle said: Fear not, for the habitation of this child shall be light, and his word a decree, and he shall judge Israel in the sword and in fire."

Another legend, common to Chrysostom (in Petrum et Eliam) and the Armenian Life of Elias (tr. Issaverdens), may well be only an embellishment of the Bible narrative. It is that at the sacrifice on Carmel the priests of Baal secreted a man under their altar with orders to light the fire at the proper moment, but that he was either suffocated or died at the word of Elias, who divined his presence.