Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Two Witnesses in Apocalypse of Elijah and the Gospel of Nicodemus

Yesterday, I talked about the topic of the evil side doing miracles, as it is discussed in two ancient religious sources: the Apocalypse of Elijah and the Gospel of Nicodemus.  Today, I will briefly talk about what these two sources have to say about the two witnesses.

The two witnesses are two prophets who appear in Revelation 11.  They prophesy, clothed in sackcloth.  God has given them power, and they can cause drought and plagues and turn the water into blood.  If anyone tries to hurt them, fire will come out of their mouth and consume that person.  When they finish their testimony, the Beast (often called the Antichrist by Christians) will kill the two witnesses.  People on earth will celebrate.  But the two witnesses will rise from the dead three-and-a-half days later and will ascend to heaven.

The two witnesses were widely discussed in my circles when I was growing up, since I grew up in a church that took the end times very seriously.  People speculated about who the two witnesses would be; some even claimed to be one of the two witnesses.

Within Christendom, there are various interpretations of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, ranging from literal to spiritualized interpretations.  Here are some posts that I wrote about the topic:

Catholic Eschatology
Zechariah and the Two Witnesses
The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11
The Temple and the Two Witnesses
Lee Harmon on the Two Witnesses

In terms of the two witnesses in the Apocalypse of Elijah and the Gospel of Nicodemus, both works identify the two witnesses as Enoch and Elijah.  Enoch was the person who walked with God, and God took him (Genesis 5:19-24).  Elijah was the prophet taken up to heaven in a whirlwind in II Kings 2.

Let’s start with the Gospel of Nicodemus 20.  Jesus is taking the first man, Adam, from hell to Paradise, and waiting for them in Paradise are Enoch and Elijah.  The saints going to Paradise ask these two men who they are, since these two men had not been with them in hell.  Enoch responds that they are Enoch and Elijah, both of whom were translated by God to Paradise.  Enoch then says:

“Here we have hitherto been and have not tasted death, but are now about to return at the coming of Antichrist, being armed with divine signs and miracles, to engage with him in battle, and to be slain by him at Jerusalem, and to be taken up alive again into the clouds, after three days and a half” (translation from The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden).

Those are things that the two witnesses do in Revelation 11.

In Apocalypse of Elijah 4, Enoch and Elijah come down and challenge the Antichrist after he has manifested himself at the Temple.  They call him a stranger who is acting against heaven and earth.  They say that he fell from heaven and they call him a devil.  The Antichrist fights them in the marketplace for seven days and kills them.  They rise again, and they challenge the Antichrist for deceiving the people of God, for whom the Antichrist did not suffer (whereas Jesus had suffered for them).

In volume 1 of James Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, O.S. Wintermute, who introduced and translated the Apocalypse of Elijah, comments about the two witnesses.  He says on page 725: “Most interpreters of Revelation identify the two witnesses described there as Elijah and Moses, but from the time of Hippolytus onward a number of Church Fathers reinterpreted the passage in Revelation to apply to Enoch and Elijah, the two men who had never died.”  The reason that Wintermute believes that Enoch replaced Moses in ancient Christian speculation about the identity of the two witnesses is that it was clearer that Enoch did not die.  With Moses, it was less clear: Deuteronomy 34:5f. simply says that Moses’ grave was not found.

Why many ancient Christians insisted on the two witnesses being people who had not died (prior to their witnessing on earth during the end times, that is) is not apparent to me.  I can understand why a person would identify one of the two witnesses as Elijah, though, since the two witnesses, like Elijah, prevent rain (cp. I Kings 17:1).  Plus, Malachi 4:5 affirms that God will send Elijah before the Day of the Lord.  Perhaps ancient Christians concluded that, since God will send Elijah, and Elijah did not die, the other witness, too, must be someone who did not die.

Within Armstrongism, the religious movement in which I grew up, there was denial that Enoch and Elijah were even taken into the heaven of heavens.  I talk some about this belief here, here, and here.  That may have precluded Armstrongites from identifying the two witnesses as Moses and Elijah, or Enoch and Elijah.  I vaguely recall that Ron Dart was somewhat open to the idea of the two witnesses being Moses and Elijah on his radio program, but he may have envisioned God resurrecting Moses and Elijah from the dead to serve as the two witnesses, not God sending them to earth from heaven.

(See also this post on Dustin Martyr’s blog.  Dustin does not mention the Armstrongites, but he does briefly discuss John 3:13, where Jesus says that no one but him ascended to heaven.  Armstrongites appealed to that verse to argue that Enoch and Elijah did not go to the heaven of heavens.  Dustin Martyr, in discussing a book by James Dunn, refers to the idea that John 3:13 was a rebuttal of Jewish apocalyptic visions and heavenly journeys.  That would probably include literature about Enoch going to heaven.)

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