The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament/Zechariah

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The Apocalypse of Zacharias (Zacharias the father of John, as two of the texts call him) was 500 lines in length. The question of its character is bound up with the question whether the Minor Prophet or the father of John the Baptist was the putative author. A. Berendts, who wrote a special study on the subject (1895), was decidedly of opinion that the father of John was meant, and that the book contained an expanded form of the narrative of Herod's slaying Zacharias which we now read in the latter chapters of the Protevangelium or Book of James. He thought, moreover, that in a Slavonic writing, which he translated, he had discovered the actual book named in the lists. This narrative is wholly legendary and not apocalyptic. The attention of Berendts had not been called to a passage—a note of Origen on Ephes. iv. 27—which was printed in 1902 in the Journal of Theological Studies (iii. 554). "We give place to the devil, or to the prevailing spirit that comes up upon us, when the guiding principle in us has not been filled with holy learning or saving faith and excellent thoughts which counsel us for the best: for according to Zacharias the father of John, 'Satan tabernacles over (or, we might say, hovers over) the climates (κλίματα, regions?, inclinations?) of the soul,' and such concessions to the worse things . . . challenge the devil to enter into our souls."

This sentence is not of a kind which would fit easily into such a narrative as Berendts has produced: it is rather such as might be looked for in an Apocalypse.

Certainly Origen does seem to have been acquainted with a writing about the father of John which we do not possess. A comment of his on Matt, xxiii. 35 says, "a tradition to this effect has come down to us," that Zacharias allowed Mary to take her place among the virgins in the Temple after the birth of Christ, on the ground that she was still a virgin, and that he was slain by the men of that generation as a transgressor of the Law, between the Temple and the altar. He also says, in the Latin version of his commentary on Matthew, "It is said in apocryphal writings that Isaiah was sawn in sunder, and that Zacharias was slain, and Ezekiel." Jerome on Matthew (xxiii. 35) may be drawing from Origen when he writes, "Others will have it that Zacharias the father of John is meant; they prove from some dream of apocryphal writings (he generally calls them somnia or deliramenta apocryphorum) that he was slain because he prophesied the coming of the Saviour. This, having no Scriptural authority, can be as readily rejected as proved."

Coupled with the evidence of the note on Ephesians, these passages seem to support Berendts's view that the principal Zacharias-apocryph did relate to the father of John. There may very well have been prophetical passages in it.

I find it more difficult to agree with him in his identification of it with the Slavonic document. That, however, is worth summarizing here for the interest of the story.

In the fortieth year of Herod's reign, Joseph was warned by the angel Saphodamuel to flee into Egypt, where the family lived twelve months in the house of Alpheus, a man of God.

The massacre of the Innocents followed. Elizabeth fled with John. Zacharias was questioned about the child, and slain (as in Protev. xxii. ff.). Elizabeth was sheltered within a rock by Uriel, and fed.

After four months Gabriel brought Jesus to the Temple, and Uriel brought John: Michael and Raphael also came; and in the midst appeared God, and the corpse of Zacharias. God breathed life into it. Jesus made a spring of water rise up in the Temple and from it baptized John, and Zacharias.

Thereafter Zacharias fell asleep again and was buried by the angels before the altar. Gabriel and Uriel bore away Jesus and John. The story concludes with the weaning of John, and his life in the wilderness, and the return from Egypt.

That it is an old tale is more than likely, for it seems a sound view that it has been incorporated into the Protevangelium and not extracted from it. But it seems to belong rather to the John Baptist cycle of legend than to that of Zacharias; and in the book we are seeking for, Zacharias ought to be the centre of interest, and not, as here, a rather subordinate figure. To put the matter in another way, this legend strikes me rather as the beginning of a life of John than as the conclusion of a life of his father.

We have thus no clear evidence that there was an apocryphal book of the minor prophet Zechariah.

A story given by Sozomen (lib. ix. Hist. Eccl.) of the finding of the body of Zechariah in his time shall be mentioned, only to be dismissed.

It is to the effect that, with the body, the remains of a child in princely robes and crown were found; and when questions were asked as to the meaning of this, Zacharias Abbot of Gerara produced an uncanonical Hebrew book, in which it was recorded that on the seventh day after King Joash had slain Zechariah (the son of Jehoiada) his favourite child died: he recognized that this blow was a divine judgment, and had the boy buried in the prophet's grave. The story does not concern our Zechariah, and the book, whatever it was, was not supposed to be written by any one of the name.