Apocalypses, or Revelations, aim to disclose eschatological events and in order to enhance their authority they are often attributed to past authorities; sometimes it is an angel who makes the disclosure. Such works tend to be produced at times of crises in society.
Two Apocalypses are transmitted in the great Milan ms. of the Peshitta OT (7a1), the ‘Revelation of Baruch’ and ‘The Book of Ezra the Scribe who is called Shelathiel’ (usually referred to as IV Esdras); both are edited (by S. Dedering and R. Bidawid) in Vetus Testamentum Syriace IV.3 (1973). Lections from both works are sometimes found, indicating their quasi-canonical authority. Both Apocalypses are of Jewish origin and are usually dated ca. AD 100; their original language was probably Hebrew. The Revelation of Baruch survives complete only in Syriac and an Arabic translation (ed. F. Leemhuis, A. F. J. Klijn, G. J. H. van Gelder, 1986) made from Syriac (a few fragments only are known in Greek); by contrast, IV Esdras (confusingly also called II Esdras in modern translations of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books) is also known in Latin, Armenian, Coptic (a fragment), Ethiopic, and Georgian; the intermediary Greek, however, is lost.
The NT Apocalypse of John is not part of the Peshitta canon, but two later W.-Syr. translations were subsequently made, one in the 6th cent. (ed. J. Gwynn, 1897, repr. 2005), the other ca. 615, by Ṭumo of Ḥarqel (photographic ed., A. Vööbus, CSCO 400, 1978). Older printed editions of the Peshitta NT include the Ḥarqlean version, while more recent ones give the 6th-cent. version. The book only occasionally received a commentary (notably by Dionysios bar Ṣalibi).
The Apocalypse of Paul purports to describe what Paul saw when he was raised to the ‘third heaven’ (2 Cor 12:2), and how he was given a tour of both paradise and the place of punishment. The work, which was originally written in Greek (ed. K. Tischendorff, Apocalypses Apocryphae [1866, repr. 1966], 34–69), proved to be immensely popular, and was translated into many languages, including Syriac (ed. G. Ricciotti, in Orientalia 2 , 1–25, 120–49; ET by J. Perkins, JAOS 8 , 183–212). It has usually been thought that the earliest form of the Apocalypse goes back to the 3rd cent., and that a ‘second edition’ was later issued, claiming that it had been discovered in a house in Tarsus in 388 (or possibly 420). More recently it has been proposed that the supposed ‘second edition’ was in fact the original form of the Apocalypse. The Syriac translation places the Tarsus narrative at the end, and has a preface by the translator at the beginning. The edition of a variant Syriac version is being prepared by A. Desreumaux. The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul, found at Nag Hammadi, is a different work (ed. with FT, J.-M. Rosenthiel, 2005).
The turbulent political events of the 7th cent. gave rise to a number of texts of an apocalyptic nature, this time all composed in Syriac. The Persian invasion of the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, capturing Jerusalem in 614 and the relic of the Cross, followed eventually by Heraclius’s successful compaigns and recovery of the Cross (630), probably provide the scenario for a poem (transmitted in three different forms) on Alexander the Great ‘and the Gates of the North’, attributed to Yaʿqub of Serugh, but evidently composed between 630 and 636 (ed. with GT, G. J. Reinink, CSCO 454–5, 1983; ET in E. A. W. Budge, The History of Alexander the Great [1889, repr. 1976], 163–200). This draws on a christianized form of the Alexander legend from not long before 630 which proved very influential (Budge, History of Alexander, 144–58 [ET], 255–75 [Syr.]).
Another Apocalypse making use of the theme of the ‘Gates of the North’ is the Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel (ed. with ET, M. Henze, 2001; ed. with Esperanto tr., M. Slabczyk, 2000). This work is completely different from the Greek Apocalypses of Daniel; Syriac is clearly its original language and parts of it are parallel with another Syriac apocryphon, the ‘Young Daniel, concerning the End’ (ed. H. Schmold, Ph. D. Diss., Hamburg; 1972). The lack of any indication of contemporary events, prior to ‘the End’, make it difficult to date these works, but the first half of the 7th cent. seems likely.
A memrā ‘On the End’, wrongly attributed to Ephrem (Sermo III.5; ed. E. Beck, CSCO 320–1, 1972), which also makes use of the christianized Alexander legend, has been dated to ca. 640, soon after the Arab conquests, though it could alternatively come from a few decades later in the 7th cent. The unrelated Latin sermon ‘on the End’, also attributed to Ephrem, is probably later than the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius.
The Second Civil War (683–92) and the plague of 686–7 gave rise to the inclusion of a number of apocalyptic features in the final book 15 of Yoḥannan bar Penkaye’s ‘Book of the Main Points’, written ca. 687 in north Mesopotamia. The apocalyptic preface to the Testament of our Lord, translated by Yaʿqub (probably, of Edessa) in 686/7 will also date from that time if the preface was indeed the work of the translator.
The immensely influential Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, attributed to the bp. of that name who was martyred in 312, very probably dates from 691/2, the time of ʿAbd al-Malik’s tax reforms and the building of the Dome of the Rock (ed. with GT G. J. Reinink, CSCO 540–1, 1993; ET in P. J. Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition , 36–51; partial ET in A. Palmer, The seventh century in the West-Syriac chronicles , 230–42). This draws on themes found in the Cave of Treasures, the Julian Romance, and the Alexander legend, and foretells, in eschatological terms, the end of Arab rule. Related to Pseudo-Methodius, but from slightly later, is the ‘Edessene Fragment’ (ed. F. Nau, in JA 11.9 , 415–71; ET in Palmer, The seventh century, 243–50); following the example of Pseudo-Methodius, it draws further on the Julian Romance, and also on the legend of Queen Helena and Judas Quryaqos, for its portrayal of the Last World Emperor on Golgotha. The apocalyptic section in the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles attributed to John ‘the Little’, is thought to date from much the same time.
The extended apocalyptic section in the legend of Bḥira (see Sargis Bḥira) probably dates from about the mid-9th cent. in its present form, but its roots may go back to the end of the reign of Maʾmūn (813–33).
‘The Question asked by Ezra in the desert with his disciple Carpus concerning the end of the times of the Ishmaelites’ (ed. with GT, F. Baethgen, in ZAW 6 , 193–211; ed. with FT, J.-B. Chabot, in Revue sémitique 2 , 242–50, 333–46) has been ascribed to many different dates, ranging from the 7th to 11th/12th cent. An Ethiopic version (unpublished) is also known.
The composition of pseudepigraphical apocalypses could also be for the purpose of personal ambition, as is indicated by a passage in Michael Rabo’s Chronicle (XI.22) where he tells how Quryaqos bp. of Segestan and Bar Salta of Reshʿayna composed an ‘Apocalypse of Enoch’, foretelling the reign of Marwān (II) and his son, which they presented to Marwān in order to win his support in church affairs.
- C. Balzaretti, ‘L’apocalisse del giovane Daniele’, Rivista di Storia e Letteratura Religiosa 42 (2006), 109–29.
- S. P. Brock, ‘Two editions of a new Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel’, JAC 48/49 (2005/6), 7–18.
- J. H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, I (1983), 517–59 (IV Esdras, by B.M. Metzger), 615–52 (Apoc. Baruch, by A.F.J. Klijn).
- M. Debié, ‘Les apocalypses apocryphes syriaques’, in Les apocryphes syriaques (ÉtSyr 2; 2005), 111–46. (with further references)
- A. M. Denis, Introduction à la littérature religieuse judéo-hellénistique, I (2000), 719–47 (Apoc. Baruch), 815–53 (IV Esdras). (with further references)
- A. Desreumaux, ‘La préface à l’Apocalypse de Paul’, Apocrypha 4 (1993), 65–82.
- M. Geerard, Clavis Apocryphorum Novi Testamenti (1992).
- J.-C. Haelewyck, Clavis Apocryphorum Veteris Testamenti (1998).
- Hoyland, Seeing Islam. (a very useful guide to 7th-cent. sources)
- L. Leloir, ‘Interdépendance et “interindépendance” des littératures syriaque, arménienne et géorgienne’, in SymSyr III, 119–34. (on Apocalypse of Paul).
- F. J. Martinez, Eastern Christian Apocalyptic in the Early Muslim Period (Ph. D. Diss., Catholic University of America; 1985).
- F.J. Martinez, ‘The apocalyptic genre in Syriac’, in SymSyr IV, 337–52.
- P. Piovannelli, ‘The miraculous discovery of the hidden manuscript, or the paratextual function of the Prologue to the Apocalypse of Paul’, in The Visio Pauli and the Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul, ed. J. N. Bremmer and I. Czachesz (2007), 23–49. (bibliography for the Apoc. of Paul, 211–36)
- G. J. Reinink, Syriac Christianity under Late Sasanian and Early Islamic Rule (2005) (nine chapters concern the 7th-cent. apocalyptic texts)
- G. Ricciotti, L’Apocalisse di Paolo siriaca (2 vols.; 1932).
- H. Suermann, Die geschichtstheologische Reaktion auf die einfallenden Muslime in der edessenischen Apokalyptik des 7. Jahrhunderts (1985).
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Sebastian P. Brock, “Apocalypses,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Apocalypses.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Brock, Sebastian P. “Apocalypses.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Apocalypses.
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