Apocalypse of Zephaniah

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah (or Apocalypse of Sophonias) is an ancient pseudepigraphic text (one whose claimed authorship is unfounded) attributed to the Biblical Zephaniah and so associated with the Old Testament, but not regarded as scripture by Jews or any Christian group. It was rediscovered and published at the end of 19th century. The canonical Book of Zephaniah has much mystical and apocalyptic imagery, and this apocalyptic-style text deals with a similar subject.

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 Bibliothèque 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[1] who recognized in them fragments of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, of the Apocalypse of Elijah and of another text he called The Anonymous Apocalypse. Schürer in 1899[2] showed that the Anonymous Apocalypse is most probably part of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, but there is not unanimous consensus among scholars.[3] The two manuscripts are written in Coptic dialects: the older[4] (early fourth century CE) in Akhmimic, the other[5] (early fifth 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 in the canonical Book of Zephaniah.

Date and Origin

Because the Apocalypse of Zephaniah refers to the story of Susanna, it must be later than 100 BCE. It was also probably known to Clement of Alexandria, and so was written before the last quarter of second century CE.[6] Within this range Wintermute[7] suggests a date before 70 CE, because of a reference to a pro-Edomite tradition.

The text contains no unequivocally Christian passages, and the few that recall the New Testament can be explained as arising also in a Jewish context. It may therefore be Jewish in origin, but may perhaps have been reworked by a Christian.[3] Egypt is the probable place of origin.


The narrative tells of Zephaniah being taken to see the destiny of souls after death.


The Apocalypse of Zephaniah, in accordance with the Book of Enoch, presents souls as surviving beyond death. It clearly distinguishes between the personal judgment occurring immediately after death and the final judgment by the Lord. After death the soul is sought by the fallen angels of Satan and by the angels of the Lord. Judgment is based only on the balance between good deeds and sins during the whole of life, indicating that the book was influenced by Pharisaism. Souls enter bliss or punishment immediately after the first judgment, while waiting for the Lord's coming, but the intercession of the saints makes it possible that, for some, punishment may not be definitive. This view differs from that of other contemporary texts such as 2 Enoch.

See also


  1. G. Steindorff Die Apokalypse des Elias, eine unbekannte Apokalypse und Bruchstucke der Sophonias-Apokalypse Leipzig 1899
  2. E. Shürer Dei Apokalypse des Elias in Theol. Literaturzeitung, 1899, No. I. 4-8
  3. 1 2 Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks The Apocryphal Old Testament: edited by H.F.D. Sparks ISBN 0-19-826177-2 (1984)
  4. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Copte 135, Berlin, Staatliche Museum P. 1862
  5. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Copte 135
  6. Ian K. Smith Heavenly Perspective ISBN 0-567-03107-1 (2006), pag. 61
  7. O. S. Wintermute in ed. James Charlesworth The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 1 pp. 500-501 ISBN 0-385-09630-5 (1983)
  8. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Devil

External links

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