You may have not noticed, since so much else has been happening on the blog lately (guest posts, a debate, etc.), but I have a very loose thread  going on my book on the guided tours of heaven and hell, a scholarly monograph that deals with the Christian versions of “katabasis” (the technical term for “going down” — that is, someone going down into the underworld and then reporting what he saw) in relation to Greek, Roman, and Jewish versions.  The clear focus will be on the Christian texts, but to make sense of them it helps do see how they are similar to and different from those found in the surrounding cultures.

My first chapter will provide a set of comparisons of several earlier narratives (Odysseus’s encounter with the dead in the Odyssey book 11, Aeneas’s  descent to Hades in Aeneid book 6, and the vision of Enoch in 1 Enoch 21-22) with the most famous and popular Christian account, the Apocalypse of Paul, which probably dates from the early fifth century but may be based on an account already from the third.  This account was influential on Dante himself.

I’ve already described the three other accounts in earlier posts.  Now I’ll summarize the Apocalypse of Paul’s narrative, so that, when I pick up the thread again a bit later, I can do a comparison of the four.   I’ve simply lifted my summary from my book Forgery and Counterforgery (where I obviously focus on the question of authorship: why does the author claim to be Paul?)

(Apologies to those of you with amazing memories: I posted this summary already on the blog, a couple of years ago)


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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