The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament/Zephaniah

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For Zephaniah we are better off. In the first place we have a definite title, Apocalypse of Sophonias, and a stichometry—600 lines. We also have an express quotation. Clement of Alexandria (Str., v. 11, 77) says: Is not this (a passage from an Epistle of Plato) like what is said by Sophonias the prophet? "And the spirit took me up and carried me into the fifth heaven, and I beheld angels that are called Lords (and their diadem was set upon them in the holy spirit, and the throne of each of them seven times brighter than the light of the sun as it shineth), dwelling in temples of salvation and singing hymns to God unspeakable, Most High." This must, one would say, be an extract from an account of a progress through the seven heavens, such as we have in the Ascension of Isaiah, the Testament of Levi, the Greek Baruch Apocalypse, and the Secrets of Enoch. Each heaven, it is indicated, is inhabited by a different order of angels: the Lords (κυριότητεσ, dominations, of St. Paul) are in the fifth. The passage does not exactly coincide with any other description: there is, indeed, nothing very distinctive about it except the mention of the Lords. Yet it does tell us something of the nature of the book whence it is taken.

We have also an Apocalypse of Zephaniah in a fragmentary state in two Egyptian dialects, Achmimic and Sahidic. The larger piece is in Achmimic: of the Sahidic there is but one leaf. The editor, Steindorff, calls the Achmimic an "anonymous Apocalypse"; it is true that the name of Zephaniah does not occur in it (as it does in the Sahidic), but the coincidences of language between the two are numerous, and I believe it is the settled conviction of most who have studied the book (it is certainly my own) that the Achmimic is part of the same text as the Sahidic.

In neither of them does Clement's extract occur. But the text is very strangely dislocated and incoherent, and one is tempted to believe that the pages of the Greek manuscript which the translator was using were not in the right order. Whether that is so or not, the Egyptian version cannot represent the original very faithfully.

The main points of the longer fragment are these. It begins with a badly mutilated passage which I interpret as a vision of a deathbed of a righteous man (like that in the Apocalypse of Paul). Then, in company with an angel, the seer goes through a city and beholds two men walking together, two women grinding together, and one on a bed (cf. Lc. xvii. 34–36: what happens to them we do not learn). The whole earth is seen like a single drop of water. Something is then said of a vision of torment. Next he is taken to Mount Seir, and sees the three wicked sons of the priest Joatham, and the recording angels weeping over them. Then there is a vision of angels of torment, followed by a very obscure passage in which gates of brass and a lake of fire figure. A great and monstrous spirit—the Accuser—is seen, and the seer in terror prays to be delivered, as Israel, and Susanna, and the Three Children were delivered. The chief recording angel, Eremiel, appears and shows the prophet a roll in which all his sins—failures to visit the widow and orphan, or to admonish the children of Israel—are recorded, and another in which probably were his good deeds. But here is a gap of two pages, and we next find him escorted by angels in a ship to a heavenly land. (This feature is in the Apocalypse of Paul.) He meets the righteous, and also sees various forms of torment. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob intercede (daily) for the sinners. The text ends in a speech of an angel who is describing what will happen at the last day.

The single leaf, or rather page, of the Sahidic MS. (one side is almost wholly illegible) contains only a vision of angels tormenting a soul. There is also the line: "Verily I Sophonias beheld this in the vision." On the perished verso of the leaf a few words can be read, among which is "drop of water," a hint that we have here the text (see above) in which the whole earth is seen like a single drop of water. A good deal of the Coptic book is Christian or Christianized. Unless other pieces turn up, we shall not be able to say for certain whether it is identical with the book which Clement had read; but the chances are much in favour of an affirmative answer.