Yesterday I discussed the first surviving Christian account of a tour of heaven and hell, an apocalypse allegedly, but not really, written by Jesus’ disciple Peter. Here is one other, this time allegedly, but not really, written by the Apostle Paul. I have taken this description from my book Forgery and Counterforgery (which I have revised a bit to get rid of some of the scholarly jargon).
Far more influential on the history of Christian thought than the Apocalypse of Peter, though clearly dependent on it for many of its traditions, the Apocalypse of Paul was originally composed in Greek but came to be translated into a number of languages: Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Slavonic, and Ethiopic. The text as we have it is dated at the outset: “In the consulate of Theodosius Augustus the Younger and of Cynegius, a certain respected man was living in Tarsus….” Commonly this is taken to indicate that the book was composed, in its final form, around 388 CE, but scholars today think that it may derive from the fifth century, with parts of it going back at least a century and a half earlier.
Despite its widespread popularity – down at least to Dante – the work was roundly condemned in orthodox circles, including in the Gelasian Decree. Augustine had nothing good to say about it:
There have been some vain individuals, who, with a presumption that betrays the grossest folly, have forged a Revelation of Paul, crammed with all manner of fables, which has been rejected by the orthodox Church; affirming it to be that whereof he had said that he was caught up into the third heavens, and there heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Nevertheless, the audacity of such might be tolerable, had he said that he heard words which it is not as yet lawful for a man to utter; but when he said, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, who are they that dare to utter them with such impudence and non-success.
The account itself begins with …
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