Those Who Burn

Why is their name called seraphim? Because they burn the tablets of Satan. Every day Satan sits with Sammael, Prince of Rome, and with Dubbiel, Prince of Persia, and they write down the sins of Israel on tablets and give them to the seraphim to bring before the Holy One, blessed be He, so that He should destroy Israel from the world. But the seraphim know the secrets of the Holy One, blessed be He, that He does not desire that this nation of Israel should fall. What, then, do the seraphim do? Every day they take the tablets from Satan’s hand and burn them in the blazing fire that stands opposite the high and exalted throne, so that they should not come into the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, when He sites upon the throne of judgment and judges the whole world in truth.

–Third Enoch 26.12

For those who don’t know Hebrew, the above may not make much sense. The Hebrew word seraphim, שׂרפים, is derived from the Hebrew root saraph, שׂרף, to burn, somehow describing the character of these great beings as burning. I found this passage to be a beautiful explanation for the reason they are called seraphim.

It is also unfortunately timely, as there are still many in the world who desire the destruction of Israel, once again including Persia, and even perhaps, in a way, Rome, if we remember that in ancient midrashim Rome was referred to as Edom, and also know that in certain circles today the Palestinians are now also referred to as Edom. That’s kind of an odd connection, of course, but the point is there….

Angelic Philology

Each one of the Watchers and the holy ones has seventy names corresponding to the seventy languages that are in the world, and all of them are based on the name of the Holy One, blessed be He. Every single name is written with a pen of flame upon the terrible crown that is on the head of the high and exalted King. From each of them sparks and lightnings shoot forth, from each of them rays of splendor stream out, and from each of them lights flash. Pavillions and tents of brilliance surround them, for even the seraphim and the creatures, who are greater than all the celestials, cannot look on them.

–Third Enoch 29

The Oracle of Hystaspes

For a project I’m working on, I needed to look up the Joseph Bidez and Franz Cumont classic Les Mages Hellénisés: Zoroastre Ostanès et Hystaspe d’après la tradition grecque (2 vols. Paris: Société d’Édition “Les Belles Letters”, 1938), specifically for the fragments of the lost Oracle of Hystaspes, which are typically referenced according to their arrangement in this very work. Those interested in apocalyptic writings should find interest in these selections, as they are often referred to, but generally inacessible.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Oracle of Hystaspes is a lost pseudepigraphal book, with only one direct quote surviving, but with (perhaps extensive) allusions to it found in several ancient writers, primarily Lactantius. While some would argue the Oracle comes from an authentic Persian and Zoroastrian background, others hold that it was not an authentic work of Persian origin, but one of numerous similar syncretistic Hellenistic texts, which seems most likely, or perhaps even a Jewish-adapted pseudepigraph. The book as a whole is unfortunately lost, so speculation on the details of the character of the original is fruitless. Suffice it to say, the work of Bidez and Cumont has been accepted as indicating all the most likely remnants of the Oracle of Hystaspes, and theirs is the standard numeration of the fragments, all of which are found below in English translation, my own and others’. The numeration of fragments begins with number 6 because numbers 1 through 5 were dedicated to ancient testimonies of the author alone, with no reference to the work itself. The English translations below follow precisely the ellipses given in the Greek and Latin texts. I would’ve translated everything from scratch, but I was feeling lazy. Enjoy!

Continue reading “The Oracle of Hystaspes”

An Enochian memorial?

The following prayer occurs in the Litany for the Departed, an Eastern Orthodox memorial service:

O God of spirits and of all flesh, who hast trampled down death and made powerless the devil and given life to thy world: Do thou, thyself O Lord, give rest to the souls of thy departed servants, NN, in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.
Translation: The Liturgikon (Antakya Press, 1994)

Two things in this short passage of the litany bring to mind the book of First Enoch, and I wonder if there’s any direct (or indirect) connection.

The first is the phrase “God of spirits and of all flesh.” This is similar to the title “Lord of Spirits” which is very common in First Enoch, particularly in the Book of Similitudes (or Parables) section, chapters 37 through 71.

The second is the requested place of rest for the departed: “a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.” This brings to my mind First Enoch 22.9: “And this has been separated for the spirits of the righteous, where the bright fountain of water is” (from the Nickelsburg/VanderKam translation).

Neither of the parallels are particularly close, but I find the combination of these two somewhat distant allusions suggestive, indeed I found them striking when I first heard them. Whether the writing of the litany, the origin of which is lost to the mists of time, was influenced by First Enoch or not, there is another, more interesting and striking parallel. This is the shared understanding of the author of First Enoch and the author(s) of the litany (and hence also of Eastern Orthodox Christian believers for whom this litany is a canonical statement of beliefs) concerning the intermediate state, between death and resurrection, as a state in which one receives a foretaste of one’s eternal reward, whether good or bad, based upon one’s life.

Slavonic Pseudepigrapha Project

Andrei Orlov of Marquette University, author of From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Brill, 2007), has published an extremely helpful, interesting and well-done website, The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha Project. I’ll give you three guesses as to what it’s about….

He provides numerous bibliographies (from his book), texts, translations, articles, and links to grammars and other resources related to the Slavonic pseudepigrapha. It’s fascinating and well done, and I can’t wait to lose myself in it.

It’ll be particularly interesting also religiously, as, being Eastern Orthdox myself and with Slavonic being one of the Church languages, the ties of these pseudepigrapha to Russian Orthodoxy will no doubt be fascinating to investigate and learn of, as well as any connections to particularly the Bogomil heresy, links to background material on which Andrei provides, indicating something very interesting in store in that regard.

A side project I’ve been interested in starting for some time is investigating the potential relationship of the post-NT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha to various theological controversies in the history of the Church, with the working hypothesis that the various apocrypha and pseudepigrapha were written by either side in order to support a particular position through the convenient validation of pseudepigraphy. This sometimes comes up briefly in discussions on the origins of various individual works, but I have yet to see all such information on all such pseudepigrapha collected into one convenient source for all the Greek, Syriac, Slavic, etc, pseudepigrapha in conjunction with detailed discussions of the theological controversies. It’s a potentially extremely fruitful approach not only for narrowing down the dates of the creation of the works, but also their locations, as many individual theological controversies were in fact quite localized.

In any case, my regards and thanks to Andrei Orlov for his magnificent new website.

Pseudepigraphic Music

The Hillard Ensemble recording of the Orlando de Lassus works Missa pro defunctis and Prophetiae Sibyllarum is in print again.

The Prophetiae Sibyllarum includes selections from the oracles of the Sibyls of Persia, Libya, Delphi, Cimmeria, Samos, Cumae, the Hellespont, Phrygia, Europe, Tibur, Erythraea, and Agrippa. It is de Lassus’ only experiment in extreme chromaticism, a quite striking and rather esoteric work, an oddly haunting blend “of pagan hysteria and Christian epigram,” as the booklet says. The Latin text of the oracles used by de Lassus first appeared in a Venetian printing of 1481, so their relation to the OT Pseudepigrapha Greek Sibylline Oracles is tenuous at best. Still, it’s fun to have a recording of such an unusual subject!

The Missa pro defunctis is, of course, another fine example of the polyphony for which de Lassus is so justly renowned.

If anyone knows of other recordings of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, let me know. It would be fun to put together a collection of such.