Biblioteque Nationale

Apocalypse of Zephaniah

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah (or Apocalypse of Sophonias) is an ancient pseudepigraphic (a text whose claimed authorship is unfounded) of the Old Testament attributed to the Biblical Zephaniah. It is considered to be part of the Apocalyptic literature. It is not regarded as scripture by Jews or any Christian group. It was rediscovered and published at the end of 19th century. In the canonical Book of Zephaniah there is a prominent amount of mystical and apocalyptic imagery, and the Apocalypse takes a similar subject to it.

The narrative consists of Zephaniah being taken to visit Heaven and to Sheol, though it is the account of his vision of Hell that is the more notable of the two. In Sheol Zephaniah witnesses two giant angels, one of which is named Eremiel, and described as the guardian of the souls. The other gives Zephaniah a scroll containing a list of all his sins, but a second scroll is presented and (the text is missing at this point). Zephaniah is judged to be innocent and is transmuted into an angel.

Manuscript Tradition

The existence of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah was known from ancient texts (for example the Stichometry of Nicephorus) but it was considered lost. In 1881 two fragmentary manuscripts, probably coming from the White Monastery in Egypt, were bought by the Biblioteque Nationale of Paris and first published by U. Bouriant in 1885. These fragments, together with others later bought by the Staatliche Museum of Berlin, were published in 1899 by Steindorff who recognized in them fragments of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, of the Apocalypse of Elijah and of an other text he called The Anonymous Apocalypse. Schürer in 1899 showed that the Anonymous Apocalypse is most probably part of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, but there is not unanimous consensus among scholars. The two manuscripts are written in Coptic dialects: the older (early IV century CE) in Akhmimic, the other (early V century CE) in Sahidic and very limited in extension. The original text was probably written in Greek.

To these fragments we could perhaps add a short quotation in a work of Clement of Alexandria (Stromata V, 11:77) of a passage ascribed to Zephaniah that is not present in the canonical Book of Zephaniah.

Date and Origin

Because the Apocalypse of Zephaniah refers to the story of Susanna, it shall be dated after the 1 century BCE. It was also probably known by Clement of Alexandria, so it was written within the last quarter of 2 century CE. In this range Wintermute suggests a date before the 70 CE due to a reference to a pro-Edomite tradition.

About the origin, there are not unequivocally Christian passages but only some apparent New Testament reminiscences that can be anyway explained also in a Jewish context. So the text might be Jewish and perhaps been reworked by a Christian. Egypt is the probable place of origin.

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