Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The Pseudo-Apocalypse of Saint Paul
"CH22. And I [Paul] looked around upon that land, and I saw a river flowing with milk and honey [a typical description of the holy land; Ex. 3:8; Deut. 6:3], and there were tress planted by the bank of that river, full of fruit...
"And then he took me up from that place where I saw these things and behold, a river [Acheron, a river of Hades] and its waters were much whiter than milk, and I said to the angel, 'What is this?" And he said to me, 'This is the Acherusian Lake where is the City of Christ, but not every man is permitted to enter that city; for this is the journey which leads to God, and if anyone is a fornicator and impious, and is converted and shall repent and bear fruits worthy of repentance, at first when he has gone out of the body, he is brought and worships God..."
The implication is likely drawn from the eschatological denouement in Revelation 21-22. Apparently salvation is possible post-mortem in this pseudo-apocalyptic writing.
"CH33. When I heard this, I wept and groaned [contrast with John of Patmos, who never weeps over those who suffer in his literature, Meeks/Fitzgerald] over the human race. The angel answered and said to me, 'Why do you weep? Are you more merciful than God? For though God is good, he knows that there are punishments, and he patiently bears with the human race, allowing each one to do his own will in the time in which he dwells on the earth...'"
"Ch37. And I saw another multitude of pits in the same place, and in the midst of it a river full of a multitude of men and women, and worms consumed them [Isaiah 66:24; Sirach 7:17, 10:11, 19:3; Judith 16:17]. But I lamented, and sighing asked the angel and said, 'Sir, who are these?' And he said to me, 'These are those who exacted interest on interest and trusted in their riches [Prov. 11:28; The Book of Tobit; Sir. 5:1; Matt. 25:31-46] and did not hope in God that he was their helper [possibly a reference to Gen. 2:18].'
The punishment of fire and worms and the 'pit' are firmly indebted to the First Testament and even maybe Second Temple Judaism.
"And I saw other men and women covered with dust, and their countenance was like blood, and they were in a pit of pitch [often a reference to final destruction i.e. Isaiah 34:9; 2 Esdras 2:9] and sulfur running in a fiery river, and I asked, 'Sir, who are these?' And he said to me, 'These are they who committed the iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah [interestingly, another post-NT reference in the third century where Sodom is indicted for the sin of homosexuality], the male with the male, for which reason they unceasingly pay the penalties.'
The writer is certainly in turn with various biblical texts involving death and destruction, co-opting them for his own message of taking us through a manifest pit of shame and torture.
"And their infants addressed the Lord God and the angels who were set over the punishments [of the mothers and fathers who defiled the image of God; Gen. 1:26-27], saying, 'Avenge us of our parents, for they defiled the image of God, having the name of God but not observing his precepts; they gave us for food to dogs and to be trodden on by swine; others they threw into the river." But the infants were handed over to the angels of Tartarus who were set over the punishments, that they might lead them to a spacious place of mercy; but their fathers and mothers were tortured in a perpetual punishment."
Interestingly, the infants are not bound by the sin of their parents. In fact, it seems to suggest the opposite. The view of original sin has likely not come about, as Augustine isn't here yet. Very interesting and very different it seems from what the New Testament teaches on this topic.
The finale is God finally coming down to the hellish place at the behest of Paul and the wailing of everyone there. He is moved by their repentance and offers them a "night and a day of refreshment forever."
Apparently Saint Paul has inspired greater fan fiction than Dante.
Translated by J.K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993). Cited in W.A. Meeks and J.F. Fitzgerald, The Writings of St. Paul.