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Antichrist from the tribe of Dan.

As is well known, there is some lack of consistency among the Church Fathers in the way each tried to synthesize the variegated traditions that formed the Christian expectation of the Antichrist. This is no less true when it came to the question of the Antichrist's origins. The starting point for much of New Testament and later Christian thought, as well as much Jewish apocalyptic thought in this area, was the book of Daniel, particularly the portrayal of the final wicked ruler of Daniel's fourth kingdom in the visions of chapters 2 and 7, and filled in with details from chapters 8 and 11 which were thought to point beyond the past historical appearance of Antiochus Epiphanes. Paul (assuming it was indeed Paul) plainly draws upon this tradition in his description of the 'man of lawlessness' in 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-12. The book of Revelation too is indebted to this tradition in its depiction of the beast from the sea (13: 1-9), who embodies in some sense the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7. This tradition of the fourth kingdom, wedded always in some way in the literature of our period to the Roman empire, lent itself to fears and speculation about the return of Nero as the head of the revived fourth kingdom, as may be seen in the Ascension of Isaiah and in Sibylline Oracles 3, 4, and 5.(2) And Origen can refer to his three main sources for Antichrist teaching, Daniel, the writings of Paul (2 Thess. 2: 1-12), and the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels (Cels. 6. 45), without even mentioning the Johannine writings. But it is precisely in those writings (1 John 2: 18, 22; 4: 3; 2 John 7), written towards the end of the first century AD, that the term 'Antichrist' makes its first known appearance in literature, and there no hint survives of a Roman or even a chiefly political foe. The author shows no trace of the Danielic fourth kingdom tradition at all. Rather, the emphasis is on deception, error, and false teaching, specifically about Jesus. This tradition is easily linked with words of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse about false prophets and false Christs working signs and wonders so as to deceive those who might still be looking for the Christ and, if such were possible, even the elect (Matt. 24: 5, 11, 23-24).

Most patristic authorities,(3) rightly or wrongly, sought in some fashion to accommodate both these emphases in their portrait of the Antichrist. Commodian made two attempts at a resolution, writing first (Instr. I. 41) of a single Neronian Antichrist who will deceive the Jews,(4) but later positing two Antichrists, a Neronian precursor and the final Jewish tyrant who will trick the Jews into thinking he is their Messiah. As Schaff summarizes this later view,

The Goths will conquer Rome and redeem the Christians; but then Nero will appear as the heathen Antichrist, reconquer Rome, and rage against the Christians three years and a half. He will be conquered in turn by the Jewish and real Antichrist from the east, who, after the defeat of Nero and the burning of Rome, will return to Judea, perform false miracles, and be worshiped by the Jews. At last Christ appears, that is, God himself ... with the lost Twelve Tribes [?] as his army, which had lived beyond Persia in happy simplicity and virtue. Under astounding phenomena of nature he will conquer Antichrist and his host, convert all nations, and take possession of the holy city of Jerusalem.(5)

Lactantius seems to follow this bifurcation of the Antichrist, though he is ambiguous as to Roman or Jewish origins, stating only that the second figure will arise out of Syria (Div. Inst. 7. 16-18). More often however, as with Victorinus, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Jerome, if the seductive, false teacher, false Messiah motif was preserved, it was combined with the fourth-kingdom tradition into a single figure who would be both a false Messiah to the Jews and a Roman emperor. For instance, Cyril, though he does not exactly say that Antichrist will be born a Jew, speaks both of the Jews honouring the Antichrist as their Messiah, supposing him to be of the line of David, and of the Antichrist seizing for himself the Roman power (Catech. Lect. 15. 11).(6)

The idea of a Jewish Antichrist in Christian thought may be quite old. Bousset, with others, believed Paul had in view an Antichrist who would deceive the unbelieving Jews into thinking he was their Christ.(7) Bousset goes on to intimate that Paul in 2 Cor. 6: 15 knows a name for the Antichrist, Belial, citing Test. Dan 5, the Sibyls, and Asc. Isa. But G. Jenks has recently shown this to be mistaken. At Qumran, Belial is a Satan figure, not an Antichrist.(8) Jenks has established with some success the view that 'hellenistic Jewish literature was not familiar with an Antichrist figure such as occurs in the later Antichrist literature of early Christianity'.(9) If one has in mind, as Jenks does, centrally important, human, messianic pretenders, and not merely evil 'Endtyrants' (such as show up in Daniel, and possibly in 4Q246 and the Testament of Moses) who may pose a military threat to the people of God, Jenks appears to be correct.(10)

The combination of a Jewish false Christ with a political tyrant is possibly attested in the Didache (16. 4), which knows of a world-deceiver [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] who appears as the Son of God, doing signs and wonders, into whose hands 'the earth shall be delivered'. Barnabas 15. 5 says only that when Christ returns, 'he will destroy the time of the lawless one, and will judge the godless ones, and will change the sun and the moon and the stars ...' without naming the lawless one as Satan or as a human figure. From a comparison with 4. 9 and 18. 1-2, it would appear that the former is meant, though this author is familiar with the four-kingdom/little-horn expectation (4. 1-5).

But our first explicit mention of a Jewish Antichrist comes in the writings of Irenaeus, where it occurs already in tandem with the opinion that he will also spring from the tribe of Dan (AH 5.30.2).(11) In AH 5. 25 Irenaeus details the career of the Antichrist: from 2 Thess. 2, tying the notice of Antichrist's taking his seat in the temple with Christ's 'abomination of desolation' in Matt. 24: 15 (cf. Dan. 9: 27); from Dan. 7, the little horn from the fourth beast; and from Jesus' parable of the unjust judge, Luke 18:2 ff., wherein the judge is the Antichrist and the widow is the earthly Jerusalem: 'he shall remove his kingdom into that [city], and shall sit in the temple of God, leading astray those who worship him, as if he were Christ'. Details are then taken from Dan. 8-9. Antichrist is John's beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth is his 'armour-bearer' (5. 28. 2). In 5.30. 2 Irenaeus notes that Antichrist will be a Danite but that he will claim the Roman power. He might just have the name Teitan, a fitting name, for it 'contains a certain outward appearance of vengeance, and of one inflicting merited punishment because he (Antichrist) pretends that he vindicates the oppressed' (5. 30. 3). The oppressed here are probably the Jews. Somewhat surprisingly, Irenaeus brings forth but two scriptural passages in support of Antichrist's Danite origin. The first is Jer. 8: 16 (LXX) 'We shall hear the voice of his swift horses from Dan; the whole earth shall be moved by the voice of the neighing of his galloping horses: he shall also come and devour the earth, and the fulness thereof, the city also, and they that dwell therein.' He finds further support for this in the omission of Dan from the list of the twelve tribes of the sealed in Rev. 7: 5-7.

Antichrist from the tribe of Dan then makes his first known appearance in Irenaeus, but it is in Hippolytus that he find his most scrupulous and eloquent biographer. Hippolytus' copious description proceeds on the principle that 'the deceiver seeks to liken himself in all things to the Son of God'. As Jesus was the lion from the tribe of Judah - referring to Jacob's blessing on Judah in Genesis 49: 9 - Antichrist will be the lion from the tribe of Dan - referring to Moses' blessing on the tribe of Dan in Deut. 33: 22. As Jesus is a king, this Antichrist will also be a king (earthly instead of heavenly); this Lion too will manifest himself as a Lamb (cf. Rev. 13: 11); he will gather the scattered sheep of Israel, as Christ has gathered God's true flock; and as 'The Saviour raised up and showed his holy flesh like a temple', so will this one 'raise a temple of stone [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] ... [GREEK TEXT OMITTED](12) in Jerusalem' (all these from On Christ and Antichrist 6). Again, he will raise up [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] the kingdom and nation of the Jews, in order that he may be worshipped by them as God (Antichr. 54, cf. 25). He will call together the Jewish people from their slavery to the Gentiles and they will worship him as God and think he is their Christ (Commentary on Daniel 4. 49.5 (GCS I. 312, 18 ff.); cf. 4. 55. 1).

Hippolytus fills out his sketch of the Antichrist by citing at length Isa. 10: 12-17 (oracle against the king of Assyria), Isa. 14: 4-21 (oracle against the king of Babylon), and Ezek. 28: 2-10 (oracle against the king of Tyre), as all describing the Antichrist. Nebuchadnezzar's statue (Dan. 2: 31-35) and Daniel's beasts (Dan. 7: 2-8) also prefigure, in their extremities, the Antichrist. The ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image are so many democracies, the ten horns of the fourth beast the same, which 'are yet to arise' (ch. 28); the other little horn from among them is the Antichrist. Hippolytus differs from Irenaeus on the interpretation of the dual beasts of Revelation 13. The first beast is apparently Augustus and the Roman dominion established by him. John's second beast, from the earth, is the Antichrist's own kingdom; its two horns are the Antichrist himself and the false prophet with him (ch. 49). In chapters 56-58 Hippolytus foretells that the Jews will betake themselves to Antichrist in order 'to obtain vengeance by the hand of a mortal man', vengeance against the Christians and against Christ himself - their true heavenly spouse but now become their adversary (quoting as Irenaeus does Jesus' parable about the unjust judge and the importunate widow). Enoch and Elijah will minister during the first half of the last 'week' and then be cut off.

What was it that brought this notion of a Jewish Antichrist into prominence by the end of the second century, and which prompted Christian exegetes even to specify the tribe of Antichrist's origin? The thesis of this paper is that the Christian representation of the Antichrist as a Jewish false Messiah, even a Danite, must be seen in the context of the ongoing debate between Jews and Christians over the Messiah and over the correct interpretation of the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures. It is a more or less direct Christian reaction to the phenomenon of continuing Jewish messianic expectation in the face of the past appearance and rejection of Jesus.

To be noted in Hippolytus' account is not only that the Jews will be deceived by this imposter and receive him as their Christ, but that he will actually accomplish great things on their behalf: he will gather them back into the land, raise up their ruined temple, and restore their kingdom - at least temporarily. It is this factor, this admission, if you will, of a successful enterprise on behalf of the Jewish people which, I think, is crucial to understanding the development of the Jewish Antichrist.

Hippolytus's description of the Antichrist in On Christ and Antichrist compares very favourably with the account of Jewish messianic hopes written just a few decades later in the Refutation of All Heresies, a work often attributed to Hippolytus (the identity or otherwise of the two authors is still debated). In the Refutation 9.25 the Jews are said to be awaiting a Messiah from the stock of David, born not of a virgin but from a woman and a man, who will be a king warlike and powerful, who will gather together all the Jews, defeat the Gentiles, restore Jerusalem, bring the Hebrews back to the ancient regal and sacerdotal customs, and 'dwell in confidence for periods of time of sufficient duration'. After this messianic reign, war would again ensue in which the Messiah himself would fall. Then succeeds the final conflagration, the resurrection, and eternal rewards. Apart from the notice that the Messiah will die in battle, this description of Jewish messianic hope written by a Christian is, in turn, not a bad summary of the Messianism of 4 Ezra, which has the Messiah dying at the end of a successful reign, but not in battle.(13)

This outward similarity between the expected Jewish Messiah and the Christian conception of a Jewish Antichrist suggests that the conception of a specifically Jewish Antichrist has deep roots in the theologically and socially volatile reality of ongoing Jewish Messianism. By this time at least, and we shall soon find reason to believe this goes back to much earlier times, Christians are viewing continued Jewish messianic expectation, held in spite of the coming of Jesus, as a false expectation, as the expectation of a false, an anti-Christ.

This might be illustrated by the fact that when a Jewish Messiah did appear in the second century (that is, Bar Cochba), he was explained by Christians in terms which they also reserved for the Antichrist. The Jewish-Christian Apocalypse of Peter chapter 2 bases itself upon Jesus' warning in the synoptic eschatological discourse (chiefly in its Matthean form) about the coming of false Christs. But in mid-paragraph it shifts to the singular, and speaks of 'this deceiver' who 'is not the Christ' in such a way as to make most scholars think it is referring to Bar Cochba. Richard Bauckham believes the author was a Palestinian Christian embroiled in the persecution, and writing before Bar Cochba's demise.(14) This false Christ, we are told, 'is the deceiver who must come into the world and do signs and wonders in order to deceive'. Twice it is said of the deceiving Christ that he 'comes into the world'. This wording, however, is not synoptic but Johannine. It belongs in fact to the Antichrist tradition of 1 and 2 John: 'for many false prophets have gone out into the world... This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already' (1 John 4: 1-3); 'For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist' (2 John 7). This False Messiah of Apoc. Pet. 2 persecutes and slays Jewish Christians, just as Justin tells us Bar Cochba did. If indeed he is to be identified with (or even modelled on) the historical Bar Cochba, he is of course a Jew. (He is not, however, a representative of Rome or of Roman pagan religion. There is no evident borrowing in Apoc. Pet. 2 from the Danielic fourth-kingdom tradition.) Bar Cochba did not prove to be the final Antichrist, but he evidently threw up the horrible spectre of an anti-Christian false Messiah, and it is likely that he left his stamp upon subsequent Christian reflection on the matter.(15)

It may not be insignificant, in this regard, that Marcion began his heresy in the immediate aftermath of the failed Bar Cochba revolt. R. M. Grant posits a connection between that famous war and the rise of Marcion's views about the Old Testament and its supposedly war-loving God.(16) It is clear at any rate that Marcion's views presuppose the existence of a virile Jewish Messianism in the second century.

And it may not be mere coincidence that our first explicit and unmistakable evidence for the Jewish Antichrist, wrought into a definite shape, does not appear until after Marcion. It is often forgotten that Marcion not only posited the existence of two gods - the just creator god of the Old Testament and the supreme and wholly good god - he also taught that each of these two gods had, or would have, a Messiah.(17) The Messiah of the good god had already come once, but the Messiah of the just god was yet to come. Marcion allowed that the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament god would have a more or less literal fulfilment - the Jews' Christ would come, and he would do precisely those things which the Jews hoped he would (Adv. Marc. 3. 4).(18) That is, he would bring the Jews back into the land and would restore their nation and kingdom (Adv. Marc. 3.21, 24; 4. 6, etc., and he would not die by crucifixion, 3. 18).(19) But there was more. In Marcion's scheme, according to Tertullian, the Jewish Messiah's kingdom would not be final and enduring. Marcion also taught, somewhat surprisingly, given his distaste for judgement,(20) that after the Creator's Christ had appeared, the heavenly Christ (Jesus) would come once more and would destroy the earthly Christ's earthly kingdom (Adv. Marc 3.4).(21) Marcion's idea of a battle between the son of the Creator and the son of the supreme God was well enough publicized in the second century to have become the target of Celsus' sarcasm (Cels. 6. 74).

The correspondence between Marcion's Jewish Christ and the Jewish Antichrist of orthodox authors(22) is even noted at one point by Tertullian, commenting on Paul's 'man of lawlessness' (2 Thess. 2) in Adv. Marc. 5. 16:

According, however, to Marcion's view, it is really hard to know whether he might not be (after all) the Creator's Christ; because according to him he is not yet come... If, however, he is not the Antichrist, as we suppose (him to be) then he is the Christ of the Creator, as Marcion will have it... But should he after all agree with us, that Antichrist is here meant... [etc.]

Here it seems that Tertullian does not have definite information as to how Marcion actually understood 2 Thess. 2: 1-12; he is merely surmising how Marcion might have understood it in the light of his doctrine of a future Messiah of the Creator. In any case this demonstrates the compatibility, one might almost say interchangeability, of Marcion's Jewish Christ with Paul's man of lawlessness - as the latter was perceived by Christian exegetes. It does not take much to imagine how this scenario would have looked to orthodox Christians. An erstwhile successful Jewish Christ ultimately defeated by a returning heavenly Christ dovetails into the existing Christian concept of the Antichrist. It is all but certain that this was an existing concept taken over by Marcion which served him well in his inversion of Christian theology (Iren. AH 1. 27. 3). Marcion simply would have canonized and set in high relief the notion that this diabolical figure would be Jewish and a deceiver of the Jews. What Marcion did which was so scandalous was to unite this Jewish messianic figure with Old Testament restoration prophecy and declare that he was the legitimate Messiah of the Old Testament god.(23)

Thus there is a suspiciously close resemblance between Marcion's Jewish, demiurgical Christ, the still-to-come Messiah of Jewish expectation, and Hippolytus' final Antichrist. All three are expected to be Jewish and all three are expected to come in a literalistic, nationalistic fulfilment of the Old Testament promises; all three, that is, are expected to regather the scattered of Israel, bring to an end Rome's domination of the Jews, re-establish the nation in the land, and restore temple and cult. Interestingly enough, there is even some agreement as to the final demise of this future Jewish leader. The author of 4 Ezra believes that the deliverer will finally die. In this he departs from 2 Baruch and probably from the Jewish mainstream.(24) Hippolytus in Ref. 9. 25 thus looks as though he is dependent upon 4 Ezra, though he adds that the death of the Messiah comes about through a war in which he is killed. This seems to be his interpretation - possibly affected by the account in Rev. 20: 7-10 of a war at the end of the millennium, and possibly also affected by his own view that this Messiah will actually be the Antimessiah and will be slain by Christ. It thus appears that all three figures are in a profound and paradoxical sense one and the same. The two Christian versions are but reverse images of the Jewish.

That Christian reflection on the future Antichrist was to a significant extent a response to ongoing Jewish Messianism can even be seen in the theory of Antichrist's Danite descent. Bousset, in keeping with his hypothesis that the Christian notion of Antichrist was thoroughly dependent upon Jewish precedents (which in turn were thoroughly dependent upon the Babylonian Sea Dragon myth), thought this element too derived from Jewish exegesis.

With all this is associated the notion that the Antichrist was expected to come from the tribe of Dan. This is an indication that the apocalyptic tradition in question originated under the influence of the Jewish hagadic (homiletic) interpretation. For the belief itself arose out of the Rabbinical exposition of such passages as Deuteronomy xxxiii.22, Genesis xlix.17, and Jeremiah viii. 16, and is everywhere in patristic literature supported by reference to these passages.(25)

Bousset failed, however, to produce the evidence that the Antichrist's Jewish and specifically Danite origins were first argued in the Jewish schools, and to my knowledge, no one else has successfully done so. Bousset was right to posit Christian dependence upon Jewish exegesis but apparently wrong in assuming that it was from the rabbinic schools that Christians got a Danite Antichrist. What they got there was instead a Danite Christ, which to them was an Antichrist.

Jewish precedents for a Danite Antichrist cannot be derived merely from the negative comments on the tribe of Dan's association with idolatry which occur in both biblical (Judg. 18: 11-31) and post-biblical (e.g. Gen. Rab. 43.2; Pesikta Rab 46. 3) sources. A striking example of a great scholar's ability to squeeze out evidence for a theory while also admitting that none exists is preserved in Bousset's comments upon the Testament of Dan: 'Nevertheless the opinion that the Antichrist is to come from Dan occurs also in the Testament of the Twelve patriarchs (Dan, chap. vi.), a document probably of Jewish origin. Unfortunately the text is here so corrupt that no definite conclusions can be arrived at.' At length he concedes that: 'Here, however, there is yet no question of the Antichrist's birth in the tribe of Dan.'(26) The dismal predictions for the children of Dan in Test. Dan 5-6 are simply too vague, and are not significantly worse than some of the predictions made in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs for other tribes.(27)

Miguel Perez Fernandez, reiterating the view of R. H. Charles, sees messianic pretensions for the tribe of Dan in the patriarch's 'possession' by the spirit of Belial at the time of the betrayal of Joseph as retold in Test. Dan 1. 7 (151-52).(28) But according to the text this spirit of Beliar which spoke to Dan words of murderous enticement was 'the spirit of anger', not some kind of hypostatization of Beliar. And again, Dan's confession is not significantly worse than Simeon's, who reveals that, 'In the time of my youth I was jealous of Joseph... I determined inwardly to destroy him, because the Prince of Error [other MSS add 'and the spirit of jealousy'] blinded my mind ...' (Test. Sim. 2. 6-7).

The strongest Old Testament footing for a Danite Antichrist would have to be the mention in two passages of a serpent or serpents in close proximity to the mention of the name of Dan (Gen. 49: 17; Jer. 8: 17). Yet the latter passage does not seem to have played any part in rabbinic comment on Dan, and Jewish exegesis of Gen. 49: 16-18, Jacob's blessing of Dan, turns out to be overwhelmingly positive. Gen. 49: 16-18 reads, 'Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that his rider falls backward. I wait for thy salvation, O Lord.' The Jewish interpretation of these verses centred virtually exclusively on the figure of Samson who, with all his faults, was more a Christ than an Antichrist figure. Even the comparison with the serpent is explained in terms of Samson's exploits against the Philistines by Targum Onkelos, glorified by Philo through a linking with Moses' healing brass serpent (Allegoriarum ii),(29) and even when allusion is made to the serpent in Eden in Genesis Rabbah 98. 14 there is no apparent disapproval: 'As the serpent is found among women, so was Samson the son of Manoah found among women. As a serpent is bound by an oath, so was Samson the son of Manoah bound by an oath [citing Judg. 15: 12]. Just as all the serpent's strength resides in his head, so it was with Samson...'.

Samson, as the biblical text in Judges makes abundantly clear, was a Danite. His father, Manoah, was a Danite. But when Jacob says that Dan will judge his people 'like one of the tribes of Israel', the tribe he will judge 'like' is the pre-eminent tribe of Judah (Num. Rabbah 14. 9). And according to R. Joshua b. Nehemiah, although Samson's father was a Danite, Samson's mother was from the tribe of Judah.(30) Thus in Samson were the two tribes united. In Genesis Rabbah Jacob is said to have been so impressed with Samson in his vision that he thought this prodigious warrior was the Messiah! 'But when he saw him dead he exclaimed, "He too is dead! Then I wait for thy Salvation, O God'" (ibid. 98. 14).(31) This assertion that Samson, the one great Danite, had a mother descended from Judah helps explain the saying of R. Hama b. R. Hanina, on Gen. 49: 9, Jacob's blessing of Judah: 'This alludes to Messiah the son of David who was descended from two tribes, his father being from Judah and his mother from Dan, in connection with both of which "lion" is written: Judah is a lion's whelp; Dan is a lion's whelp (Deut. xxxiii,22)',(32) a saying which, however, cannot have been intended to refer to Samson, as the Messiah here is expressly the son of David. Thus in the claim of a royal, Judahite paternal descent and Danite maternal descent we finally have a Jewish exegetical warrant for, not an Antichrist to be sure, but a Christ from the tribe of Dan.(33)

R. Hama b. R. Hanina lived during the third century,(34) too late for his saying to have been known by Irenaeus or Hippolytus. But he may not have originated this exegesis, based as it is on the obvious similarity between Jacob's blessing of Judah and Moses' blessing of Dan. Hippolytus is quite aware, as was Origen (Comm. John 6. 12), of the interpretation of Genesis 49: 16-18 which sees in it a reference to Samson, who was a Danite and a judge. He resists this exegesis, saying that Samson only partially fulfilled the prophecy (Antichr. 15). What is more, Hippolytus knows an exegesis of Deut. 33:22 which confused someone from the tribe of Dan with the Messiah:

But that no one may err by supposing that this is said of the Christ,(35) let him attend carefully to the matter. 'Dan', he says, 'is a lion's whelp', and in naming the tribe of Dan, he declared clearly the tribe from which Antichrist is destined to spring. For as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan (Antichr. 14).

If this does not demonstrate direct acquaintance with Jewish haggada it is yet enough to show that the Sitz im Leben even for the Christian specification of the tribe of Dan is not to be sought apart from the Christian and Jewish debate about the Messiah. It is true that Irenaeus never mentions the patriarchal blessings in his allegation of a Danite origin for Antichrist. But from a look at 3. 23. 7 we may surmise that this interpretation of Deut. 33: 22 was probably known to him as well. At least he matter-of-factly identifies Antichrist as a lion, 'rampant against mankind in the latter days' who will be trampled down by Christ, in accordance with Ps. 91: 13 (LXX), 'Thou shalt tread upon the asp and the basilisk; thou shall trample down the lion and the dragon.'

Other coincidences between Jewish messianic expectation and the development of the Christian Antichrist could be enumerated. Ammonius, a presbyter of Alexandria writing in about AD 450, wrote in his commentary on Daniel, 'Vainly do they imagine that they will reign with Antichrist a thousand years: he will not flourish longer than three and a half.'(36) But what Jew would boast of reigning with Antichrist a thousand years? This only shows how natural it had become for some Christian writers to regard a future Jewish Messiah as the Antimessiah.(37)

If we could move this chain of ideas back further, it could have an interesting effect on our understanding of the Antichrist tradition at the time of 1 and 2 John. Could it be that when John mentioned the 'Antichrist', of whose future coming his readers had already heard, he had in mind this very Jewish Messiah who was being heralded even then by unbelieving Jews as the hope of Israel? The vivid expectation by Jews and Samaritans of 'one who is to come' under the guise of either Elijah,(38) 'the prophet', or as Messiah, Son of God is recorded numerous times in the Gospel of John (1: 20-21 [Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet]; 4:25 [Samaritan messianic expectation]; 6: 14 [the Prophet]; 7: 27, 31, 41-42 [Messiah]; 11: 27 [Messiah]; 12:13 [King of Israel]).(39) The Gospel and the first epistle claim that Jesus is the 'one who is coming into the world' and that he has indeed come (1: 9; 11: 27; 1 John 4: 2; 5: 20). But John also is acutely aware that many of the Jewish nation remained unconvinced: 'He came to his own home, and his own people received him not' (John 1: 11). Might it be that when the author of 1 John says 'you have heard that Antichrist is coming' (2: 18) he is echoing a Christian evaluation of the undiminished Jewish expectation of a Messiah still to come? In this light, the patristic interpretation of John 5: 43, 'I have come in my Father's name, and you did not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive', which saw the other who comes in his own name as the Antichrist, is perhaps not surprising.(40)


It has long been apparent that undying Jewish messianic hope continued to be felt within Christian circles in the second century.(41) Jewish messianic expectation that went on undeterred by the actual appearance of Jesus of Nazareth was regarded by many Christians as a false and doomed expectation, an expectation not of Christ but of Antichrist. At one level this is another aspect of the struggle over Jesus, and at another it is an aspect of the struggle over the interpretation of Old Testament Scripture. One [TABULAR DATA FOR OMITTED] could say that the Christian foreboding of a Jewish false Messiah is an adverse evaluation of contemporary Jewish appropriation of messianic prophecy. To Christians it was a scripture misapprehended, a hope tragically misconstrued, which had led once to the crucifixion of the true Messiah(42) and which would again, unless abandoned, deceive God's estranged people into final ruin. The hardships endured by Palestinian Christians under the regime of Bar Cochba would have done nothing but entrench in the minds of Christians the idea of a future, false, Jewish Christ. Marcion's version of Christian eschatology, too, must have been an impulse for further orthodox development of the Antichrist figure into a specifically Jewish persona. But behind both Marcion's disturbing theories about a real Jewish Messiah and the orthodox traditions about the Antichrist lay the ongoing controversy between Christian and Jew over Jesus and the right understanding of the prophetic hope - a controversy not to be resolved in the second or third centuries.


2 In Asc. Isa. 4. 4 ff. the great angel Beliar comes in the form of Nero, who acts and speaks 'like the Beloved'. There is some relationship here with the view of Sib. Or. 3. 63-74, which also knows of Beliar coming 'from the Sebastenoi'. In the latter passage this king deceives even 'faithful, chosen Hebrews'. In Sib. Or. 4. 119-48 a new Nero returns from beyond the Euphrates, but his career is taken up in affairs which do not really affect the Jews. Again in Sib. Or. 5 while Rome and a Nero redivivus are warned of future judgment, they are castigated not for their treatment of the Jews but for being sexually perverse and ignorant of the true God, the Nero figure even finally 'declaring himself equal to God' (5. 33). His animosity towards the Jewish people comes through in 5. 106-10, 'But when he attains a formidable height and unseemly daring, he will also come, wishing to destroy the city of the blessed ones, and then a certain king sent from God against him will destroy all the great kings and noble men. Thus there will be judgment on men by the imperishable one.' This, in turn, compares well to 4 Ezra 12. 31-34, where the Messiah reproves and destroys the eagle of Rome. Here the Messiah 'will denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will cast up before them their contemptuous dealings'.

3 An early exception is Justin, who does not mention Jewishness as an attribute of Antichrist and shows only the definite influence of the Danielic fourth-empire tradition now informed by Paul's 'man of lawlessness' (2 Thess. 2: 1-12) (Dial. 110). Justin seems to think this tyrant is already alive. It is to be noted that Justin never uses the title Antichrist for this figure. Irenaeus seems to be the first to do so (Against Heresies 3. 5. 5; 3. 7. 2; 5. 25. 1, 3).

4 'He himself shall divide the globe into three ruling powers, when, moreover, Nero shall be raised up from hell, Elias shall first come to seal the beloved ones... But Elias shall occupy the half of the time, Nero shall occupy half. Then the whore Babylon, being reduced to ashes, its embers shall thence advance to Jerusalem; and the Latin conqueror shall then say, I am Christ, whom ye always pray to; and indeed, the original ones who were deceived combine to praise him. He does many wonders, since his is the false prophet. Especially that they may believe him, his image shall speak. The Almighty has given it power to appear such. The Jews, recapitulating Scriptures from him, exclaim at the same time to the Highest that they have been deceived' (The Ante-Nicene Fathers iv, 210).

5 ANF iv, 219. For the relevant texts, see Gregory C. Jenks, The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth, BZntW 59 (Berlin/New York, 1991), 103-106.

6 See also Catech. Lect. 15. 15 (c. 347-48), 'For if he comes to the Jews as Christ, and desires to be worshipped by the Jews, he will make great account of the Temple, that he may more completely beguile them; making it supposed that he is the man of the race of David, who shall build up the Temple which was erected by Solomon. And Antichrist will come at the time when there shall not be left one stone upon another in the Temple of the Jews... I mean not merely of the outer circuit, but of the inner shrine also, where the Cherubim were...'. Charles Maitland, The Apostles' School of Prophetic Interpretation with its History Down to the Present Time (London, 1849), 230-31, quotes Jerome (Commentary on Daniel) as indicating that Antichrist will be a Jew who obtains the kingdom even over the Romans 'by stratagem and fraud'. 'And this he will do, under pretence of being the leader of the covenant...for no Jew besides Antichrist will have reigned over the whole world.' Bousset, The Antichrist Legend. A Chapter in Christian and Jewish Folklore, tr. A. H. Keane (ET London, 1896), 168, cites Jerome's comment on Dan. 11: 23, 'But our [expositors] interpret both better and more correctly, that at the end of the world these things shall be done by the Antichrist, who is to spring of a "small people", that is, from the Jewish nation' and (172) on Dan. 11: 37 'But our [expositors] interpret in the above sense everything concerning the Antichrist, who is to be born of the Jewish people and to come from Babylon.' Victorinus, though he believes Antichrist will be Nero raised from hell, says God will raise him up and 'send as a worthy king, but worthy in such a way as the Jews merited. And since he is to have another name, He shall also appoint another name, that so the Jews may receive him as if he were the Christ. Says Daniel: "He shall not know the lust of women...and he shall know no God of his fathers"; for he will not be able to seduce the people of the circumcision, unless he is a judge of the law. Finally, also, he will recall the saints, not to the worship of idols, but to undertake circumcision, and, if he is able, to seduce any; for he shall so conduct himself as to be called Christ by them' (Comm. XII.3 CSEL, 49, 121 [ANF vii, 358]).

7 Bousset, Antichrist Legend, 133, 134, 166, etc.

8 Jenks, Antichrist Myth, 139-49.

9 Antichrist Myth, 183. See my review in JTS, NS, 43 (1992), 652-57.

10 See Jenks 175-83, who thinks that Daniel 7-12 provides the only unambiguous instance of such an expectation before the Christian era. The fragmentary 4Q246 has been variously restored and interpreted. D. Flusser, 'The Hubris of the Antichrist in a Fragment from Qumran', Immanuel 10 (1980), 31-37, has claimed an Antichrist in the text but his restoration is contested. Vermes suggests that the one designated 'son of God' and 'son of the Most High' in the text, 'is the last ruler of the final world empire, and as such perhaps not Flusser's Antichrist, but a usurper of the "son of God" title. His reign is characterized by warfare among the nations' ('Qumran Forum Miscellanea I', JJS xliii (1992), 299-305 at 303). More plausible, in my opinion, is the view of Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramaean. Collected Essays SBLMS 25 (Missoula, 1979), 85-113, and Eisenman and Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (Shaftesbury, 1992) 68-71, who consider the 'son of God' a legitimate, militaristic, messianic figure, not a usurper. Jenks admits the possibility of an Endtyrant in Test. Mos. 8, though the text is unclear as to a historical framework.

11 Bousset, Antichrist Legend, 171-72 n., lists as supporting the Danite identity of Antichrist: 'Irenaeus, V. 30, 2 (on Jeremiah viii. 16); Hippolytus, chaps. xiv, xv, and after him pseudo-Hippolytus, chaps. xviii, xix; Ambrosius, de Benedict. Patriarcharum, 7 (on Psalm xl); Eucherius, on Genesis, III, p. 188; Austin, in Josuam, Quaestio XXII.; Jacob of Edessa (in Ephrem, I. 192 et seq.); pseudo-Ephrem, chap. vi.; Theodoretus, on Genesis, Quaest. CX.; Prosper Aquitanicus, Dimid. Temp., 9; Gregory, Moralia, XXXI. 24; pseudo-Methodius; Anastasius Sinaita, in Hexaemeron, Lib. X, 1018 B; Adso, 1292 B; Bede's Sibyl; Hugo Eterianus; Primasius and Ambros. Ansbertus, Commentaries (on Revelation xi. 7)'. In addition, he cites (172) Andreas on Rev. 16: 12, 'It is probable also that the Antichrist shall come from the eastern parts of the land of Persia, where is the tribe of Dan of the Hebrew race.' Also, B. E. Daley, The Hope of the Early Church (Cambridge, 1991), 198-99, says of Andreas's exegesis of Revelation, 'Andrew presents the traditional terms: he will come from the tribe of Dan, from Bashan in the region of the Euphrates (35.7, 102.6ff.), he will have a precursor, parallel to John the Baptist, who will make him seem divine (142.5-10); he will pose as a Roman Emperor, and will attempt to reestablish the dominance of Rome (137.1; 189.18-21; 202.5f.). Yet the kingdom that longs for his coming is not simply Rome, but "the earthly kingdom in general", the body of those who, in all times and places, have resisted the Word of God (181.6-9; 202.8-13).'

12 Cyril, Catech. Leer. 15. 15, says that Antichrist himself builds the temple for himself in great haste; as does Andreas 45. 42, Adso 1293 C, Elucidarium, Lactantius Div. Inst. 7-16 (Bousset, Antichrist Legend, 162-63). Bousset was wont to attribute this element in the Antichrist tradition to a relic from the Babylonian Dragon myth, according to which the Dragon is supposed to cast God out of his own temple (163-66). Such a remote source could hardly have been known to, let alone claimed by, the writers just cited.

13 4 Ezra 12. 31-32 portrays the Messiah as a lion from the posterity of David who destroys the Roman power and delivers the people and the land of Israel; 13. 12, 39-47 records the belief in the return of the ten tribes, a multitude 'gathered' to the Messiah; 7. 28 predicts a temporary earthly reign for the Messiah. See M. Stone, 'The Concept of the Messiah in IV Ezra', in J. Neusner (ed.), Religions in Antiquity. Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough (Leiden, 1968), 295-312.

14 R. J. Bauckham, 'The Two Fig Tree Parables in the Apocalypse of Peter', JBL 104 (1985), 287, 'It is almost impossible, on our interpretation, to imagine its being written outside the immediate context of Bar Kokhba's persecution of Christians.'

15 There are some notable coincidences between Irenaeus' description of the Antichrist (AH 5. 25. 1) and Eusebius' description of Bar Cochba. Eusebius (HE 4. 6. 1-2) describes Bar Cochba as 'murderous and a bandit' [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] but as having 'relied on his name, as if dealing with slaves [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], and claimed to be a luminary who had come down to them from heaven and was magically enlightening those who were in misery' [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Irenaeus (5. 25. 1) says the Antichrist will wish himself 'to be proclaimed as a king', though being 'a mere slave'. For he shall come, not as righteous or legitimate as in subjection to God, 'but an impious, unjust, and lawless one; as an apostate, iniquitous and murderous; as a robber, concentrating in himself [all] satanic apostasy...'. Irenaeus adds both that he will deceive by magic (1. 13. 1, cf. 1. 15. 6; 5. 25. 3; 28. 2) and that he 'pretends that he vindicates the oppressed' (5. 30. 3). The impostor's traits of being murderous and a robber, the characterization of him or his followers as slave(s), his use of magic, and his deliverance of the downtrodden are common to both descriptions. Eusebius tells us he derived information about Bar Cochba from Aristo of Pella (4. 6. 3), a source which just might have been available to Irenaeus as well. It may also be worth mentioning that the Bar Cochba revolt lasted none other than three and a half years (Y. Taanit 4. 5). Could Bar Cochba have been a Danite? There is no evidence to ground such an idea, though it is known that there were doubts about his claim to Davidic ancestry.

16 'Presumably in reaction against Bar Kokhba's revolt, Marcion rejected the Old Testament as inspired by a warlike and merely just god who was not the good Father of Jesus', Greek Apologists of the Second Century (Philadelphia, 1988), 43. See also his Augustus to Constantine. The Thrust of the Christian Movement into the Roman World (New York, 1970) 84-85.

17 Adv. Marc. 1. 15, etc. Seen already perhaps in Justin, 1 Apol. 58, 'Marcion of Pontus, who is even now teaching men to deny that God is the maker of all things in heaven and on earth, and that the Christ predicted by the prophets is his Son, and preaches another god besides the Creator of all, and likewise another son.'

18 R. Joseph Hoffmann, Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity. An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century (Chico, Calif., 1984), 234, thinks 'his opponents detected in his theology and soteriology a more positive attitude toward the Jews than they themselves were inclined to exhibit.' Stephen G. Wilson ('Marcion and the Jews', in Stephen G. Wilson (ed.), Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, vol. 2: Separation and Polemic (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986), 45-58, at 57-8', says, 'The Marcionite position left Judaism intact, decidedly inferior though it was considered to be. There was a point, as Marcion seems to have noted, in Jews continuing to be Jews, keeping their law, and awaiting their Messiah.' True enough, though I fear the point for Marcion was not what Wilson seems to have in mind. Wilson has neglected to mention that Marcion has this Messiah being destroyed by the superior Christ at the latter's second coming.

19 'Marcion has laid down the position, that Christ who in the days of Tiberius was, by a previously unknown god, revealed for the salvation of all nations, is a different being from him who was ordained by God the Creator for the restoration of the Jewish state, and who is yet to come' (Adv. Marc. 4. 6); 'So you cannot get out of this notion of yours a basis for your difference between the two Christs, as if the Jewish Christ were ordained by the Creator for the restoration of the people alone from its dispersion, whilst yours was appointed by the supremely good God for the liberation of the whole human race' (Adv. Marc. 3.21); '...your Christ [i.e. the Christ of Marcion's Demiurge] promises to the Jews their primitive condition, with the recovery of their country; and after this life's course is over, repose in Hades in Abraham's bosom' (Adv. Marc. 3. 24).

20 Though see H. J. W. Drijvers, 'Christ as Warrior and Merchant. Aspects of Marcion's Christology', in E. A. Livingstone (ed.), Sudia Patristica XXI (Leuven, 1989), 73-85. The image of Christ as warrior was a popular theme in Marcionite soteriology.

21 As Tertullian summarizes: 'There is another consideration: since he will at his second advent come after he may, to be sure, at his second coming proceed in opposition to Christ upsetting (redarguens) his kingdom' (Adv. Marc 3. 4).

22 Evidently Marcion even taught that the Creator's Christ 'was to come fortified by signs and prophets of his own, in order that he might shine forth as the rival of Christ' (3.3).

23 Irenaeus of course was quite familiar with the views of Marcion and so it is strange that the heretic's doctrine of a Jewish Messiah is not reproduced in his refutation of Marcion - unless it has appeared only in the form of solidifying Irenaeus's idea that the Antichrist would be Jewish and a panderer to the Jews.

24 Stone, 296 n., 'IV Ezra's reference to the death of the Messiah remains unparalleled.'

25 Bousset, Antichrist Legend, 171. K. Kohler, 'Dan' in The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1901-06), agrees that the Christian Danite Antichrist 'can not but be of Jewish origin'. Yet the texts he cites can only establish the association of Dan with idolatry.

26 Bousset, Antichrist Legend, 174.

27 See H. W. Hollander and M. De Jonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. A Commentary (Leiden, 1985), 287. Richard Bauckham, 'The List of the Tribes in Revelation Again', JSNT 42 (1991), 99-115, at 100n. 1, suggests that the Danite tradition 'may have originated as an anti-Jewish interpretation of the common expectation of an Antichrist from the East, beyond the Euphrates, which was where the ten tribes were believed to be'. But this is hardly sufficient to account for the choice of Dan; the rest of the ten tribes were supposed to be beyond the Euphrates as well.

28 M. Perez Fernandez, Tradiciones mesianicas en el Targum Palestinense (Valencia/Jerusalem, 1981), 151-52.

29 Maitland, 155. Cf. Targum Onkelos, 'A man shall be chosen, and shall arise from the house of Dan, whose fear shall be upon the people. He shall smite the Philistines strongly, like a snake...' (cited from Maitland, 156).

30 'Had he not been coupled with the most distinguished of the tribes, he would not have produced even the one judge that he did produce' (Gen. Rabbah 98. cf. Num. Rab. 10. 5; 13.9). Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 42. 1 relates that Samson's mother was named Eluma, the daughter of Remac, but does not state her tribe.

31 I cannot agree with Perez Fernandez, 151, who detects here and in Targum Ps. Jonathan on Gen. 49: 9 messianic pretensions in the tribe of Dan opposed to a Judahite Messiah.

32 Midrash Rabbah. Genesis, 2 vols. (London, 1939), vol II, ch. 97 (NV), 906.

33 L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1925; repr. Philadelphia, 1968) v. 368 n. 392, already recognized that there must be a relationship between this rabbinic opinion and the Christian view of the Antichrist's Danite descent, though he did not explain what that relationship was.

34 See Encyclopedia Judaica, sv.

35 The tenth-century MS Hierosolymitanus S. Sepulchri reads [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; Ebroicensis and Remensis, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century respectively, read [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; the Slavonic has 'our Redeemer'.

36 Maitland's translation, 138. The text from PG 85 1376 is: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. For more on this Ammonius see T. Zahn, 'Der Exeget Ammonius und andere Ammonii', Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte 38 (1920), 1-22.

37 We should view as related to this Cyril of Jerusalem's remark (Catech. Lect. 15. 11, 16), in emphasizing that the Antichrist will reign for three years and six months only, that, 'We speak not from apocryphal books, but from Daniel; for he says, "And they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time."' He may have in mind, as apocryphal and erroneous, 4 Ezra 7. 28, which predicts a period of 400 years (the Syriac version has 30 years, and one Arabic version has 1,000 years) for its Messiah. Again, in the context of 4 Ezra, the period is the Messiah's reign, which Cyril would thus interpret as that of the Antimessiah. This may also explain the otherwise puzzling fact that the Apocalypse of Daniel (a ninth-century work) has its description of earth's fantastic burst of productivity, which in chiliastic texts is reserved for the Messiah's reign, in the midst of its description of the time of Antichrist, before Christ's second coming (ch. 10). This apocalypse has two Jewish Antichrist figures, the first an eschatological leader from the tribe of Dan who will restore the Jews to the land, the second, the only one called Antichrist, will be crowned by the Jewish nation as their king and will reign three years.

38 It is not clear to what extent Tertullian may be relied upon when he states (Adv. Marc. 3. 16) that the Jews, up to his day, 'interpret Elias to be Christ rather than Jesus'. Elijah's eschatological function was more usually regarded as preparatory for the advent of the Messiah. But a messianic Elijah may well be related to the rabbinic tradition that the conqueror of Edom (Rome) would spring from Joseph's line (Gen. Rab. 99. 2). Elijah was thought by some to be from that tribe, based on 1 Chron. 8: 27 (see Tanna Debe Eliyyahu. The Love of the School of Elijah, tr. W. G. Braude and I. J. Kapstein (Philadelphia, 1981), 256 n. 56). Compare Origen's statement (Comm. John 6.7) that some Hebrews think Phinehas, son of Eleazar, came back as Elijah, a belief recorded in Pseudo-Philo, Bib. Ant. 48. 1.

39 John 7: 31 portrays the Jews as expecting the Messiah to do signs (cf. 2: 18, 'what sign have you to show us...?'). This is corroborated by the other Gospels, Matt. 12: 38 (cf. Matt. 24: 24 on the deceptive force of signs by false Christs or false prophets). This is despite the fact that many have concluded from the Jewish evidence that 'the Messiah is not expected to perform miracles' (M. De Jonge, 'Jewish Expectations about the "Messiah" According to the Fourth Gospel', NTS 19 (1972), 246-70 at 257-58). But confirming the New Testament evidence is 4 Ezra 13.49-50, 'Therefore when he destroys the multitude of the nations that are gathered together, he will defend the people who remain. And then he will show them very many wonders.'

40 'On this point primitive writers were unanimous, though the modern translations of the Gospel leave it doubtful whether the case is not purely hypothetical. But there are three declarations of our Lord, all expressed in the same form: If I be lifted up - If I go and prepare a place - If another shall come in his own name. In all these places, the primitive Greek Christians (who must be supposed to know best the meaning of their own language) understood the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as when; making what follows, not doubtful, but merely indefinite in time: as if it were said, When I shall be lifted up - When I go to prepare a place - When another shall come in his own name' (Maitland, 153-54). See Bousset, Antichrist Legend, 166, for a list of patristic witnesses to this exegesis, beginning with that conserver of Asian eschatology, Irenaeus, 5. 25. 3.

41 See W. Horbury, 'Messianism Among Jews and Christians in the Second Century', Augustinianum 28 (1987), 71-88.

42 Acts 13: 27, 'For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him'; Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 3. 6, 'When, therefore, our heretics in their phrenzy presumed to say that Christ was come who had never been fore-announced, it followed that, on their assumption, that Christ had not yet appeared who had always been predicted; and thus they are obliged to make common cause with Jewish error, and construct their arguments with its assistance, on the pretence that the Jews were themselves quite certain that it was some other who came: so they not only rejected him as a stranger, but slew him as an enemy ...'; Hippolytus, Ref. 9. 25, 'Inasmuch, however, as the Jews were not cognizant of the period of his advent, there remains the supposition that the declarations (of Scripture) concerning his coming have not been fulfilled. And so it is, that up to this day they continue in anticipation of the future coming of the Christ...'; Origen, DePrinc. 4. 2. 1 (4. 1. 8 in ANF iv, 356), 'seeing none of these things visibly accomplished during the advent of him who is believed by us to be Christ, they did not accept our Lord Jesus; but, as having called himself Christ improperly, they crucified him'; Cyril, Catech. Lect. 12. 2, 'But the sons of the Jews by setting at nought him that came, and looking for him who cometh in wickedness, rejected the true Messiah, and wait for the deceiver, themselves deceived; herein also the Saviour being found true, who said, "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: but if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive"' (John 5: 43).
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Author:Hill, C.E.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Date:Apr 1, 1995
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