TOURS OF HELL: THE DEVELOPMENT AND TRANSMISSION OF AN APOCALYPTIC FORM IN JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE

MARTHA HIMMELFARB, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation is a study of the background and development of Jewish and Christian tours of hell in late antiquity and their transmission into the middle ages. It treats seventeen texts containing tours in which a heavenly revealer guides a hero of Jewish or Christian tradition past the tortures which sinners endure after their deaths. Disparate chronologically, geographically, and linguistically, the tours of hell nevertheless exhibit a certain continuity of form and content. The seventeen texts are the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Thomas, an anonymous Akhmimic apocalypse (sometimes identified as the Apocalypse of Zephaniah), the Apocalypse of Paul, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Mary, the Ethiopic (Falasha) Apocalypse of Baruch, the (Falasha) Apocalypse of Gorgorios, the Greek Apocalypse of Mary, the (Greek) Apocalypse of Ezra, the Vision of Ezra, the Testament of Isaac, the Life of Pachomios, a midrash found in Darkhei Teshuvah (the appendix to Meir of Rothenberg's responsa), an Isaiah fragment, a Joshua b. Levi fragment, Gedulat Moshe, and an Elijah fragment found in the Epistle of Titus. One element central to all of the tours of hell is a form of explanation of sights seen by the visionary which employs the demonstrative pronoun or adjective. This form, it is argued, connects the tours of hell to other tours in apocalyptic literature in which similar explanations appear, the earliest of which is Enoch's tour of the cosmos in 1 Enoch 17-36, which dates to the third century B.C.E. or earlier. Further, the demonstrative explanations are related to a type of exegesis which appears in the Qumran pesharim, in the Bible, in other ancient near eastern literature, and in apocalypses with symbolic visions like Daniel, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. This finding refutes what is probably the reigning theory of the origins of the tours of hell, that of A. Dieterich, who claimed in Nekyia that the Apocalypse of Peter, the earliest of the tours of hell, is "a lightly Christianized Orphic-Pythagorean katabasis." It is now clear that in form at least the tours of hell grow out of early Jewish apocalyptic literature. An examination of the sins and punishments of the tours of hell supports this view. Recent research has emphasized that the dichotomy Jewish/Greek is untenable since early Judaism was so deeply influenced by Greek culture. In the tours of hell, both Jewish and Greek motifs appear, strongly suggesting a Jewish context, rather than a Greek one. The sins and punishments also serve as the main source for a reconstruction of the development of the tours. Shared motifs can be used to trace relationships among the texts. Such relationships only rarely appear to be the result of literary dependence; more often, they seem to be based on common sources or non-literary influence. Thus the history of the tours is not one of linear development. One of the conclusions reached about the history of the tours is that the Apocalypse of Peter was not the first representative of this tradition. Both the Apocalypse of Peter and the medieval Jewish texts seem to have drawn on a Jewish tour or tours of the Second Temple period. This is another piece of evidence for knowledge in medieval Jewish works of traditions from the Second Temple period that were neither preserved in early rabbinic literature nor readily accessible to medieval Jews in Christian sources. Another conclusion is that, contrary to the usual view, the Apocalypse of Paul, the most influential of the tours in medieval Christianity, is not literarily dependent on the Apocalypse of Peter. Rather, the similarities btween the two are probably to be explained as the result of common sources.

Subject Area

Religious history

Recommended Citation

HIMMELFARB, MARTHA, "TOURS OF HELL: THE DEVELOPMENT AND TRANSMISSION OF AN APOCALYPTIC FORM IN JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE" (1981). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8117791.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8117791

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