Eschatology of the Old Testament Apocrypha

By Rev. Edwin Cone Bissell, D.D.  Formerly Missionary of A. B. C. F. M. at Grate, Austria


The apocryphal books of the Old Testament, which, under cover of a supposed hereditary right, found their way into the English Bible, and vanished so suddenly and noiselessly out of it, still await a hearing before the Christian scholars of England and America. When such a hearing comes it will doubtless have a widely different result from that which, on the fifteenth of February 1516, followed the deliberations of the Council of Trent; but, on the other hand, it will be quite as sure to reverse the unfair verdict of silence and neglect which among us has so long rested on these books. A reaction from the arbitrary decisions of the Tridentine ecclesiastics was to have been expected. But it would have been more just, if it had been less extreme. It would have been wiser if it had taken, as on the continent of Europe, the form of actual protest, of examination, and of a serious effort to separate the false from the true.

The claim to canonical rank may, indeed, be easily disposed of. But as literary productions of great age these works would still be worthy of attention. As contributions to the scanty annals of a most interesting period, for some parts of which they are almost the sole authority, they can never be otherwise than important. As a storehouse of philological and grammatical treasures, the works of Schleusner and Wahl, of Winer and Robinson, of Cremer and Grimm, show to what extent the New Testament exegesis is indebted to them. It is to the theologian, however, that they will ever have the greatest attraction and value. Without becoming a Darwin in theology one may hold that the type of doctrine found in the New Testament is not an opus per saltum, but the crown of a development, every previous step of which it is worth our while seriously to trace. It is a long and eventful interim that lies between Malachi and John the Baptist, although these clarion voices, in the perfectness of their accord, seem almost like call and answering echo across it. During this time the Israelitish folk came in closest contact with every civilized people of the earth; achieved in the most heroic of struggles, and lost again, their national independence; determined the canon of the sacred books; evolved the order of the Scribes and the worship of the synagogues; began the so-called hedge around the law, which still exists in Mishna and Gemara; developed , in bitter strife over points of interpretation and precedent the later parties with their sharp antagonisms—was it likely that in the matter of religious beliefs, in understanding and explaining their own Scriptures, they would remain stationary? On such questions as those concerning providence, the government of the world, and especially individual immortality and its consequences, might it not be expected in these times that tried men’s souls that men’s souls would yearn for greater light, would demand positive statements in place of presentiments and dim intimations? We may well be surprised not only at the doctrinal clearness, but also at the highly developed type of the solutions that in our apocryphal books are given to some of the deepest problems of eschatology. But it is to be remembered in what an interesting and suggestive form these problems were left in the Old Testament Scriptures, and that Providence brought this people into just those circumstances where it was a necessity to wrestle with them. The history, as well as the books, of this singular race, especially the history as it developed itself in connection with their literature, is no unimportant part of the divine preparation for Christianity. And the superior excellence of the Christian system as represented in the teachings of Christ and the apostles consists less in its pure originality and exclusiveness than in its combining and harmonizing within itself the excellences of other systems that had gone before it, in its unrivaled spiritual elevation, in its completeness and its certainty. A really firm resting-place as over against the solemn questions of the hereafter could never be found in the way of mere speculation. It must have its foundation rather in the actual fact that death had been vanquished and captivity led captive by one who appeared as the light and the life of men.

The books included in the present investigation are those usually found under the head of the Apocrypha in the English Bible, with the exception of 2 Esdras, which is of later origin, and more properly belongs to the Jewish apocalyptic literature. They may be classified as follows: Those in which the point of view on questions of eschatology remains much the same as in the canonical books of the Old Testament. The most of the apocryphal books are comprised in this class. Then 2 Maccabees, in which the subject of the the resurrection of the body is particularly emphasized and developed; and finally, the Book of Wisdom, where the idea of the soul’s immortality and the matter of future rewards and punishments, as well as of a final judgment, are made prominent. We have spoken of the point of view of the Old Testament Scriptures with respect to questions of eschatology. Perhaps an effort should be made at the outset to show, in few words, what it is, bearing in mind, meanwhile, that there is scarcely any subject on which opinions are more divided.1

It may be said, then, that in the Old Testament a clear distinction is made between the life-principle in animals and the souls of men (Gen. 2:7; 9:3–6; Eccl 12:7). It is evident, moreover, from what is related of man’s creation and fall, that the original destination of the human soul was to immortality (Gen. 2:17; 3:22). With sin came death, the grave, and an indefinite something else that was continued existence, but not life in the higher sense, and not an object of desire. Abraham, as well as Ishmael, died and was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:8, 17). “I shall go to him,” was David’s exclamation over his dead child, “but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). “There is,” said the preacher, “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest” (Eccl 9:10). The word “grave” is here used, as in many other passages in our English version, to translate the Hebrew term Sheol, by which was not meant the resting-place of the body, but of the soul. It was the nether world, to which the grave was indeed the usual entrance, but with which it was in no case confounded in the Hebrew Scriptures. This realm of shadows is distinguished rather by its negative, than its positive, characteristics. It is the land of forgetfulness, of darkness, and of inactivity (Job 17:13; Ps. 88:12; Isa. 38:18). Yet God’s presence and power are to be recognized even here, and self-consciousness and personal identity do not cease (1 Sam. 28:15; Ps. 139:8; Isa. 14:9; Ezek. 32:21; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2). Between this world of the dead and that of the living there is no communication. That this was the prevalent view is proved by the fact that the belief in the contrary was denounced as a superstition, and that the single exceptional instance given was of the nature of a reproof (Deut. 18:14; 1 Sam. 28:7 ff.; cf. Luke 16:26). It was the mystery that enveloped the hereafter that to the Hebrew mind gave it much of its appalling character. It had wrestled in vain with the inquiry how existence would there be passed. It had been unable to distinguish any particular difference between the future lot of the evil and of the good (1 Sam. 28:19; Job 3:17–19; (?) Isa. 14:15, “extremest depths of the pit”). Enoch and Elijah had escaped the pains of dying, but must enter into the cloud-land like the rest. So too Moses, although the later rabbinism taught that his spirit had been softly rapt away by a kiss of God.2 Balaam’s highest wish could compass nothing better than to die the peaceful death of the righteous, that is, to have a life that was rounded and full and blessed of God to its close.

But the covenant-keeping Jehovah lived on, and the souls of the departed were before him. At this point it is likely that the light first began to break in. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob there, as he had been here (Ex. 3:6; cf. Luke 20:38). He could kill, and could also make alive, bring down to Sheol, and bring up again (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6). Death could have no power, then, to dissolve the bonds that united his people to him. It is probable that the resurrection of the covenant-people was first thought of, rather than that of the individual. The contrary has been supposed by some. Hoffmann,3 and especially Klostermann,4 have maintained that there never was a time in the history of the Jewish people when a belief in the resurrection was not held, and that it was based on the conscious, spiritual relation of the individual soul to Jehovah. It was not the fruit of any special divine revelation or old tradition, was not the result of any covenant of the nation with God, but solely the natural consequence of a close individual union and communion of the pious soul, and of any and every pious soul, with a personal God. Klostermann seeks to prove this, in the way of example, by certain Psalms (49; 73; and 139), which he subjects to a critical examination. And while one must admire the earnestness of his spirit, and cannot but wish him success, still it is impossible not to deny that he has failed to make good his position. What is simply exceptional he attempts to give the force of a general principle. And the numerous corrections of the text, the strained and adventurous interpretations to which he is obliged to resort, destroy to a great extent our confidence even in those less sweeping conclusions which otherwise we might have been quite ready to accept. His work, however, has been of material service in calling the attention of the Christian world to a neglected and most important feature of the subject.

The germs of the doctrine of the resurrection were, indeed, never wanting in Israel. “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country” (Heb. 11:14). But these germs needed the fiery spirit of prophecy for their quickening and development. A new stage had already been entered upon when Hosea (13:14) uttered those thrilling words: “I will ransom thee from the power of Sheol; I will redeem thee from death: 0 death, I will be thy plague; O Sheol, I will be thy destruction.” But in general, it is still the people as a whole, and not persons, that are thought of. Hence it is a step in advance when Isaiah (26:12, 19; cf. 25:8) introduces the idea of individual resurrection into his sublime prediction: “Thy dead shall live; with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall bring forth the dead.” So, too, Ezekiel in his vision of the valley of dry bones (xxxvii.). For whether the passage, as some of the best recent commentators maintain, is to be interpreted as referring to a literal resurrection or not, it cannot be denied that it has an important bearing on the subject, as showing that definite ideas respecting the fact and the manner of the resurrection were then current. “De vacuo similitudo lion competit, de nullo parabola non convenit.”5 In the Book of Daniel, at least, the matter is made quite clear, and the additional thought is met with that the resurrection is not to be confined to the godly in Israel. “And many of them [i.e. as we understand it, “a great multitude”] that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2). There is nothing here, however, that appears to indicate that any who were not Israelites would share in the resurrection of the chosen people; as, on the other hand, there is nothing opposed to the later view of a general resurrection. The matter is simply left in abeyance. The Old Testament, in fact, with the exception of a possible intimation here and there (Isa. 24:22. seems to be silent on the subject. It did not belong to this stage of the development of the plan of salvation.

If, now, we look to the other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, we find in the experience of individual souls the most interesting confirmation of this position relative to the resurrection from the dead and eternal life. The hope may have been first awakened by prophecies in connection with the Messianic kingdom; but, if this were the case, it was far from being wholly dependent on them. There were happy souls, then as now, who through the consciousness of a personal, living fellowship with a personal, eternal God were able to rejoice even in prospect of death and the grave. Not a few had experienced that “in the way of righteousness is life, and in its path immortality.”6 He who could say: “The Lord is the portion of my cup,” could also say: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16.). The poor man whose steps at one time had well nigh slipped when he saw the prosperity of the wicked, took new courage from the thought that he was continually with God; that he would guide him with his counsel, and afterward receive him to glory; that though his heart and his flesh should fail him, God would be the strength of his heart and his portion forever (Ps. 73.). This, then, in brief, seems to be the representation of the canonical books of the Old Testament on this subject: The individual soul continues to exist after the death of the body. This existence, as compared with a happy life on earth, is not to be desired. The lot of the bad and the good in Sheol is much the same; still, the latter are not shut out from communion with God even there, or the former beyond the reach of his displeasure. By virtue of their connection with the theocracy all Israelites, and in an emphatic sense by virtue of a conscious fellowship with God pious Israelites, might look for a resurrection from the dead. To the good this would be a resurrection to everlasting life; to others, a resurrection to shame and everlasting contempt. We are now prepared to consider the subject as it presents itself in the apocryphal books of the Old Testament; and first, in those in which the representation remains essentially the same as in the canonical books.7 In 1 Esdras we find nothing that demands special notice, unless it be the expression “changed his life” (μετήλλαξε τὸν βιόν αὐτοῦ, 1 Esd. 1:31; cf. 4:33; 5:5; 6:31; 7:7, 13, 40; 46, which is used of Josiah’s dying. In the Book of Tobit the phrase “everlasting place “(3:6, εἰς τόν αἰώνιον τόπον. attracts attention. It is not likely, however, that anything more than the abiding-place of the spirit in Hades is meant (cf. Ec150:12:5). But elsewhere the author of this work, in his extraordinary commendation of almsgiving, declares that it saves from death (4:10), purifies from all sin, and imparts the fulness of life (12:9; 14:11). There can be little doubt that the word θάνατος, in the first passage, is employed in its usual scriptural sense as denoting the punitive consequences of sin generally, including not only the death of the body, but whatever of evil follows it. It was already widely current, as we know, in this secondary meaning,8 and the association of thought throughout the book, especially the striking contrast here exhibited between the idea of death, on the one hand, and “purification from all sin” and the “fulness of life,” on the other, seems to require such a meaning in this case.9 Here, then, the belief in a state of future blessedness is, at least, adumbrated.

In the Book of Judith we meet with the common Old Testament view of death, that it is being gathered to one’s people (16:22), and beyond this only an appropriation of the thought contained in the prophecy of Isaiah (66:24; cf. Ecclus. 32:18) where the enemies of Israel are threatened with the punishment of fire and worms (16:17). The expression, however, is changed in our book, and made more emphatic: “Woe to the nations that rise up against my people; the Lord Almighty will punish them in the day of judgment by putting fire and worms in their flesh, and they shall wail with pain forever.” The figure seems to have been one in common use at that period, as also later (cf. 2 Mac. 9:9). Most critics (Oehler, Pritzsche, and Bretschneider with hesitation) hold that simply punishment in this world is meant. But the thought is evidently farther developed than in Isaiah, and seems rather to hold a middle place between it and the teaching of our Saviour in the gospel (Mark 9:44 ff.). The expression κλαύσονται ἐν αἰσθήσει ἕως αἰῶνος is certainly too strong to permit us to suppose that it was used for temporal punishment, especially as following ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως. On the other hand, there is no ground for the grossly literal interpretation of many Roman Catholic commentators. In Baruch (2:17) the thought of the separate existence of spirits (πνεῦμα) in Hades is recognized, as also that there they can render to the Lord “neither praise nor righteousness” (cf. Ps. 6:5; Isa. 38:18). A subsequent text where Jehovah is entreated to “hear now the prayers of the dead Israelites” (3:4) is not in contradiction with it. For either the former prayers of the Israelites then dead are meant (cf. Deut. 30:1 ff.; 1 Kings 8:25–53), or the word “death” is used tropically with reference to ἀπολλύμενοι in the preceding verse. In the Song of the Three Children there is but a single unimportant reference to Hades (vs. 66), and so, likewise, in the Prayer of Manasses (vs. 12). The First Book of Maccabees, also, is surprisingly destitute of allusions to the future world (cf. 2:69; 14:30), and does not by a single word give expression to the hope of immortality. This is the more remarkable from the fact that if desired there was no lack of a favorable opportunity for the introduction of the subject, as, for instance, in the farewell address of the dying Mattathias (2:49–70), as well as from the totally different course of the Second Book of Maccabees. It is probable, as Geiger10 supposes, that the omission was intentional, the work having been written under direct Sadducean influence.

The author of Ecclesiasticus has given to his work throughout a most marked Old Testament coloring, and develops no new views on eschatology. On the contrary, the book occupies in this respect a less advanced position than some of the canonical of an earlier date. It represents the sombre, pessimistic side of Ecclesiastes, without arriving at or seeking to enforce its deeper lessons. “Death will not be long in coming,” it says; “Give and take, and beguile the soul, for there is no seeking of dainties in Hades” (14:12, 16). There no one will praise the Lord as men do on earth. “Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead as from one that is not” (17:27-28. “There is no inquiry in Hades whether thou hast lived ten or an hundred or a thousand years” (41:4). And since existence in the spirit-world has this purely negative character it is longed for only by the miserable. The thought of death is bitter “to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions,” and even to one that is still “able to receive food.” To the “needy,” however, “to him whose strength faileth,” and “to him that despaireth and hath lost patience,” its sentence is welcome (41:1-2. The hope of reward and the fear of punishment are with him motives that seem to have force principally, if not solely, in the present world. When he speaks of the “wrath that shall be at the end” (18:24), he obviously means the divine punishment in death, not after death. He utters, indeed, the direct warning that if one delight “in the thing that the ungodly have pleasure in,” he will not reach Hades unpunished (9:12). The immortality that he especially emphasizes is to live in the remembrance of men. To be honored in one’s posterity, and to be thought well of after one is gone, is to have his bones sprout again from the grave (46:12; 49:10). The translation of Enoch and Elijah is alluded to (48:12; 49:14), as well as the recalling of Samuel (46:20), and the reawakening of the dead by contact with the lifeless body of Elisha (48:14), but not in such a way that no doubt is left in the mind respecting the author’s views of a future existence. Still, the son of Sirach does not, as some have maintained, deny the soul’s immortality, but by implication, at least, teaches it. And, precisely as in the Old Testament, the hope of it is based on the perpetuity of character and of the divine covenant. “The days of a man’s life may be numbered, but the days of Israel are innumerable “(37:25). “All bribery and injustice shall be blotted out; but true dealing “(πίστις) and the quality of mercy “shall endure forever” (40:12, 17). The almost total absence of allusions to the Messianic kingdom may, perhaps, account in part for the exceedingly limited development of eschatological ideas in this, the largest book of the Old Testament Apocrypha. In one passage alone is there a departure from this course, and it is of so marked a character that some, though without just grounds, have called in question its genuineness. In an invocation addressed to the spirit of Elijah (48:10–12) the writer, with undoubted reference to the prediction of Malachi (4:5-6, says: “Who wast mentioned in reproofs for special times, to pacify wrath before its outbreak. Blessed are they who saw thee [shall see thee] and are adorned [κεκοσμημένοι, not κεκοιμημένοι] with love; for we also shall surely live.”11 By the last clause the author probably meant no more than to express the confident hope that the prophet would reappear before the death of those then on earth.12 If this is not the case, it must be a direct announcement of the resurrection, which nothing else that we find in the work would lead us to expect. With the Second Book of Maccabees we enter upon an entirely new stage in the development of the idea of the resurrection. It is presented with a clearness, fulness, and emphasis that are almost startling, and the inference is scarcely to be avoided that as over against its older and historically more trustworthy namesake already noticed, it represented the Pharisaic party, and was written to some extent in its interest. Where it was composed cannot with certainty be determined; but there are more reasons in favor of a Syrian, than of an Alexandrian origin.13 Its legendary character, which renders it almost worthless as a history, detracts comparatively little from its value as reflecting the popular religious belief current when it appeared, that is, as it would seem, sometime during the first century before Christ. Our interest centres at present chiefly in a narrative of the martyrdom of a widow and her sons, as found in the seventh chapter. It is represented that under orders from Antiochus Epiphanes an attempt was made to compel them to eat swine’s flesh, and that on their refusal they were put to death with the most cruel tortures. It was at this time that they gave utterance to sentiments on the resurrection in whose perusal one might suppose that he was reading of the persecutions of Christians under a Nero or Caligula, were it not for a certain bitterness of spirit that betrays another age and origin. One, at the moment of death, addresses the king with the words: “Thou, O wretch, dost take us out of this present life; but the King of the world will raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life.” Another expresses the confident hope that he shall receive the very hands again which are now ruthlessly hewn off. A third declares: “It is good, being put to death by men, to be permitted of God to cherish the hope of being raised up again by him; but as for thee (O king), thou shalt have no resurrection to life (ἀνάστασις εἰς ζωήν)” Some14 have maintained that by the last clause it is meant to be denied that Antiochus would rise at all. But why, then, are the last two words added? The word ζωή seems rather to be used in an emphatic sense, as denoting eternal life. The author has already, in the previous chapter, shown that he does not hold the theory of the annihilation of the wicked at death. “For though for the present time,” says there another martyr, “I be delivered from the punishment of men, yet shall I not escape the hands of the Almighty, neither alive nor dead.”15 Still, it is worthy of remark, in this connection, that if Josephus (Antiq. 18. (1), 3) represents the belief of the Pharisees of his time correctly, they held that only the righteous would rise again and be clothed with new bodies, while the wicked would be punished forever in Hades (Cf. also Bel. Jud. 2. (8), 14). But we are not yet at the end of the revelations of the seventh chapter. Not only is the resurrection of the identical body with all its individual members taught, but the hope of the reunion of friends is expressed at the same time. “Pear not this tormentor,” says the mother to the youngest of her sons who is led out to be tormented, “but being worthy of thy brethren suffer death, that I may get thee back again, in mercy, with thy brethren.” Keil, Nicolas (p. 353), and some others would render τῷ ἐλέει by “in the time of mercy,” that is, in the time of the Messiah. But this is to insert an idea in the text that is foreign to it. The heroic youth himself enlarges upon the thought introduced by his mother: “For our brethren,” he says, “after that they had suffered a short pain, died under God’s covenant of everlasting life (ἀεννάου ζωῆς ὑπό διαθήκην θεοῦ πεπτώκασι). This seems to be the right rendering, although it is disputed by Grimm, and is contrary to the pointing of the text by Fritzsche, who would translate: “For our brethren, who have endured the short pain which is unto eternal life, have died (as being) under the promise of God.” The unusual position of the second genitive, which is the principal objection to the former translation, may be explained on the ground that the words were meant thereby to be especially emphasized.

The supposition, now, that this remarkable chapter is a later addition to the Second Book of Maccabees by a Christian hand is excluded by the fact that a similar history is to be found in the fourth book of the same name, based on the present one, and that other parts of our work amply confirm the views here expressed. The perpetuity of the Jewish theocracy is presupposed (14:15, 14:36), the matter of a future judgment at least hinted at (12:43 ff.; 6:26), and a previous separation between the righteous and the wicked in Hades apparently held (15:12–16; 6:23, προπέμπειν εἰς τὸν ἅ.δην). Moreover, in a detailed account of one Razis, an elder of Jerusalem who was persecuted by Nicanor, it is said that with suicidal intent he plucked out his own bowels, and “taking them in both his hands, he cast them upon the troops, and calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to restore him these again, he thus died “(14:46). In another place (12:43 ff.) a singular story is told of Judas Maccabeus, to the following effect: After a successful battle with the Syrian general, Gorgias, while the Israelites were burying their countrymen who had fallen, they discovered on their persons “things consecrated to the idols of the Jamnites,” which had probably been used as charms. And this was regarded as the reason why they had been slain. “And when he [Judas] had made a collection among the men to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin-offering, acting nobly and properly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection. For if he had not expected that they who were slain would rise again, it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.”

For our purpose it does not matter that this passage is wholly without historic worth. Its polemic cast is also evident at a glance, and it serves to confirm the position that the work was meant to have a dogmatic value from the point of view of the Pharisees. That Roman Catholic writers, as well as some Protestants, use it to defend the dogma that prayer may be properly offered for the dead, is little to their credit.16 If Judas Maccabeus really did what is here related, it is impossible to suppose that he did it with any such intention as is imputed to him. To offer a sin-offering in order to remove a ban from Israel would have been the sole object of his sending money under those circumstances to Jerusalem; and that was something which was fully justified by the Mosaic law (Ex. 32; Josh, 7.). Still, as showing that it was believed by some at the time the present book was written that prayers for the dead were of value, not as securing to them a resurrection, but with reference to the forgiveness of sins and the attainment of eternal life, the passage is of considerable importance. To sum up, then, the various representations of 2 Maccabees on the subject of the resurrection: With the Book of Daniel it is held that there will be a resurrection of the good and the evil — of the one to life, of the other to punishment. The certainty of the resurrection is inferred from the circumstance alleged that Judas Maccabeus offered prayers for the dead. In the resurrection the same bodies will be received again, and if members fail they will be restored, or others supplied. Then, too, those who were friends on earth will be reunited.

We now proceed, finally, to the examination of a work which in all respects is the most important of the Old Testament Apocrypha — the Book of Wisdom. And if the way in which the subject of the resurrection of the body presents itself in 2 Maccabees was a surprise, such surprise will be greatly heightened by the manner and degree in which — that matter being quite ignored — other features of our subject are here represented and developed. The book indisputably had its origin in Alexandria some time during the second or third century before Christ, and subsequent to the rise of the Septuagint. It is a singular combination of Jewish ideas with Greek philosophy, and offers one of the most signal examples of the sort of literature that sprang up in the Jewish colony at the great world-capital of the Ptolemies, and was farther represented by such works as those of Aristobulus, and especially of Philo.

And first, it is not without an important bearing on the questions of eschatology as treated in the Book of Wisdom, that it teaches the pre-existence of the soul: “I was a clever child, and received a good soul; or rather, being good, I came into a body undefiled (8:20).”17 The soul was predestined to immortality, and death came into the world not from God, but through the envy of the devil (1:18; 2:23). The body is regarded as a clog upon the higher nature: “For the corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind that pondereth much” (9:15). It is with reason, therefore, that in the system of the pseudo-Solomon no place is found for the resurrection of the flesh. The sufferings of the righteous in the present world are for their purification; and when they die early it is not to be regarded as a punishment, but rather as a boon; and a long life, which has hitherto appeared as the greatest of blessings, holds here, in view of the sublime future destiny of the people of God, a subordinate place (4:8–10). In this thought we find definitely formulated what was only dimly foreshadowed in the previous canonical books (cf. Isa. 57:1-2. “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; and their departure is taken for a misfortune, and their going from us for annihilation. But they are in peace. For though according to the judgment of men they shall have experienced punishment, yet is their hope full of immortality. The righteous live forevermore; their reward also is in the Lord, and the care of them is with the Most High” (3:1–4; 4:10; 5:15; 6:19.

It is only the godless that are really visited with the punishment of death (1:12, 16; 2:24); they have no hope (3:1, 18; 5:14; 15:6, 10); thick darkness will cover them (17:21); they will consume to nought (2:16); in fact, be utterly destroyed by God (4:19); and their souls perish (1:11, ἀναιρεῖ ψυχήν). It would seem that the writer meant to teach the annihilation of the wicked; but it is obviously not the case, since he elsewhere represents them as suffering conscious pain after death (4:19, ἔσονται ἐν ὀδύνῃ), while having a knowledge of the blessed condition of the good. “When they see it they shall be thrown into confusion with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the unexpectedness of the deliverance. And repenting and groaning, for anguish of spirit they shall say among themselves: ‘This is he whom we once had in derision, and as a proverb of reproach. We, fools, accounted his life madness, and his end without honor. How is he numbered among the children of God, and (how is) his lot among the saints (5:2-3,?’ “It is evident, therefore, as the best critics suppose, that pseudo-Solomon employs the idea of θάνατος (1:12, 16 et passim), not as denoting total annihilation, but as used very commonly by Philo18 and in the Apocalypse (2:11; 21:8) to mean the second death.

The Book of Wisdom, moreover, makes mention of a place other than Hades where the souls of the righteous will be gathered; and has given to it, quite in the spirit of the Old Testament, the attractive title of the “temple of the Lord” (3:14; cf. Isa. 56:4, 5; Ps. 11:4). The idea of a future judgment, also, at which the fate of men will be irretrievably fixed, is set forth with extraordinary emphasis and power. It is the “day of decision,” a “time of visitation,” when sins are reckoned up,” and an inquisition “is made into the “counsels of the ungodly,” the day of the “visitation of souls” (1:9; 3:7, 13, 18; 4:20). It is an event which seems to be plainly distinguished from that of death, and introduces the soul into a different condition. At chap. 3:1 it is represented that the righteous enter at once, when they die, into peace; but afterward, as it would seem (vs. 7-8, in the time of their visitation, they “shine like sparks among the stubble.” “They shall judge nations, and have dominion over the people.” So in 4:18–20; 5:1, a distinction appears to be made between the condition of the godless immediately after death and that subsequent to the judgment, when they “come with fear “to the “reckoning up of their sins,” and their own iniquities “convince them to their face.”

Still, it is not to be denied that there is a want of clearness in this respect that makes it difficult to decide with certainty that the author held to the idea of a general judgment at the end of the world. We are inclined to think, with Frisch, Bruch, Oehler, and others, that he did. The divine retribution is represented as fully meted out only in the future state, and, “indeed, in two great judicial acts, of which one comes immediately after death; the other, however, lies in a still more distant future, and is invested with a mysterious veil. It is only concerning the first that the views of pseudo-Solomon have perfect clearness; respecting the other, he expresses himself in indefinite terms.”19 But it is not to be forgotten that, aside from all other considerations, there might be a reason for this in the nature of the subject itself. In an important respect, to the incorrigible, every act of God might be regarded as an act of judgment, without, however, excluding, but rather demanding, a final summing up at the last day.20 Besides, the latter might be regarded as so near as to make the interval that separated from it a minor consideration. As one has beautifully said of the doctrine of the second coming of Christ: “It looks in upon the whole life of his church, as a lofty mountain peak looks in upon every little valley and sequestered home around its base, and belongs to them all alike. Every generation lies under the shadow of it; for whatever is transcendently great is constantly near, and in moments of high conviction it absorbs petty interests and annihilates intervals.”21

The manner in which the future state of the godly is further characterized in our book is worthy of consideration. We have before noticed what seems to be a reminiscence of a figure used in the Book of Daniel (12:3), though in a less pleasing form, where it is said of the righteous that they “shall shine and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble “(3:7). It is also declared that they “shall judge nations and have dominion over peoples, and their king shall be the Lord forever” (3:8). And again, it is said of virtue that she “strides on for ever, wearing a crown, having conquered in the combat for undefiled rewards.” The righteous shall receive the kingdom of glory and the crown of beauty from the Lord’s hand.” “If your delight then be in thrones and sceptres, O ye kings of the people, honor wisdom, that ye may reign forevermore” (6:20-21. In all these passages the state of everlasting blessedness seems by a subtile thread of association to be connected in the author’s mind with the thought of the future earthly glory of Israel, and his New Jerusalem, in which men are to be kings and priests unto God, appears, as in the Apocalypse, as one that cometh down from God out of heaven.22 This, then, in substance, is the teaching of pseudo-Solomon concerning the last things: Both good and bad continue to have a conscious existence after death, and will exist forever — the former in happiness with God (6:19, ἀφθαρσία δὲ ἐγγὺς εἶναι ποιεῖ θεοῦ); the latter in misery. The last day hastens on, when the wicked, both the dead and the living, will be judged and cast into hell (4:19, ῥήξει αὐτοὺς ἀφώνους πρηνεῖς), while the righteous shall descend to reign in the everlasting kingdom which God will set up.

The question, now, whether these eschatological ideas of the later canonical and of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament were, under God, an independent development in and through the Israelitish people themselves, deserves here, perhaps, in conclusion, a brief consideration. It is at least clear, even on chronological grounds, that the Israelites owed little or nothing to the Egyptians in this respect. But did they not owe a great deal to the Assyrians or the Persians? So it is affirmed by many.23 Mr. Fox Talbot, for instance, shows from tabular records that the belief in the immortality of the soul and a state of future rewards and punishments was held by the Assyrians; and he infers, accordingly, that the Jews brought the same with them on their return from the captivity. He says: “When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity they brought with them a multitude of new opinions and superstitions which had not been known in former times, and also some much purer doctrines, among which was pre-eminent a belief in the immortality of the soul, which after the captivity was universally received, except by the sect of the Sadducees, who rejected it.”24 It is also asserted in the Speaker’s Commentary,25 in the interests of an argument for the early origin of the Book of Daniel, that a belief in the resurrection was held by the Assyrians. The latter theory, however, as based on the fables of Ishtar’s and Heabani’s exceptional return from Hades, is too venturesome to be accepted with safety; while Mr. Talbot’s inference is wholly gratuitous; it being falsely assumed that previous to the captivity the Jews had no notions respecting immortality and eternal life. It is far more probable, if the Jews borrowed ideas on the subject of eschatology from any other people whatever, it was rather from the Persians than from the Assyrians. That the Persians held not only to the notion of a future judgment, to be followed by corresponding rewards and punishments, but also in a resurrection of the body, is now pretty generally conceded, as well as that these views found expression in the original teachings of Zoroaster, and hence at a time when they might have become known to Daniel and other wise men of Babylon.26 But whence, then, come such ideas into the prophecy of Isaiah (25:8), written two centuries earlier? They are to be accounted for as little on the supposition of a Persian as of a Babylonian origin. They show indisputably that already during the reign of king Ahaz men’s thoughts had begun to busy themselves with the subject of the resurrection of the body. And if, therefore, it is to be assumed that the origin and transmission, of this belief was a matter of borrowing on the part of one nation from another, it is evident that it was not the Israelites who were the chief borrowers.

But why resort to such a theory of borrowing, which is as uncritical as it is unhistorical? Might not these great truths, even though late discovered, have been a common original inheritance of many peoples, and have been simultaneously developed? It need not be denied — indeed, it is to be accepted as probable — that the Jews were stimulated to the investigation of what their own Scriptures taught concerning the last things by coming in contact with other peoples whose beliefs differed from their own.27 Moreover, in spite of the forbidding exterior of national and moral exclusiveness, a kind of exogenous and endogenous appropriation of earnest religious ideas that were not out of harmony with the inner life of Judaism was not excluded, but rather to be expected — was, in fact, almost inevitable. Still, in the matter of the resurrection there is nothing in the Book of Daniel that we do not find in germ in the canonical books that had a much earlier origin. And, on the other hand, there is nothing in the Second Book of Maccabees, or in the Book of Wisdom touching questions of eschatology, that demands that any intermediary links between them and the canonical books should be sought in the inscriptions of the Assyrian monuments or in the teachings of the Zendavesta. Pseudo-Solomon, for instance, nowhere pretends that he is teaching anything new. He merely reads, as it were, what he finds written between the lines of the sacred books of his people.

The circumstances of the Jewish people, particularly during and subsequent to the Maccabean wars, were in themselves a sort of moral forcing process, by means of which latent or partially developed ideas were brought to premature ripeness. And being premature, these growths were also to a certain extent abnormal and misshapen, making at once the more necessary and the more acceptable the divine order and method of development found in the New Testament. And this was, perhaps, the chief providential purpose which they served — to prepare the way for the true Seer, whose footfalls were even then at the door. His eye would penetrate the veil which to all others still shrouded the future with its thrilling problems. And the timid utterance of human love and longing at the graves of buried friends: “I know that they shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” he would meet with the sublime and grateful assurance: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”


1) From the exceedingly rich literature of the subject we select the following works and articles as worthy of special notice: Süsskind, Hatte Moses Glauben an Unsterblichkeit. Theolog. Stud, und Krit., 1830. 884 ff.; Kiesselbach, Dogma de rebus post mortem futuris, e. V. T. scriptis, etc. Heidelberg, 1832; Hahn, De spe immortalitatis sub V. T. gradatim exculta. Vratisl. 1845; Oehler, Veteris Testamenti sententia de rebus post mortem futuris illustrata. Stuttg. 1848, and by the same author, Theologie des A. T. Tübingen, 1873, passim, and an interesting article in Herzog’s Encyc. xxi. 409–428; Boettcher, De inferis rebusque post mortem futuris ex Hebraeorum et Graecorum opinionibus libri duo. Dresd., 1846; Beck, Zur Würdigung der Alttestamentlichen Vorstellungen von der Unsterblichkeit, in Zeller’s Theolog. Jahrbb., 1851, 469–480; Himpel, Die Unsterblichkeitslehre des Alten Testaments. Chingen. 1857; Nicolas. Des doctrines religieuses des Juifs. Deuxième édition. Paris, 1867; Schultz, Die Voraussetzungen der christlichen Lehre von der Unsterblichkeit. Götting., 1861; and by the same author, Alttestamentliche Theologie. Frankfurt, 1869, passim; Klostermaim, Die Hoffnung kunftiger Erlosung aus dem Todeszustande bei den Frommen des Alten Testaments. Gotha, 1868; and a review of the same by Riehm in the Theolog. Stud, und Krit. for 1870, 164ff.; Kahle, Eschatologie des Alten Testaments. Gotha, 1870; Spiess, Entwickelungsgeschichte dei Vorstellungen vom Zustandenach dem Tcde. Jena, 1877.

2) A false interpretation of al. pi. Jahveh in Deut. 34:5.

3) Schriftbeweis, 2 Aufl. 3:490.

4) As above cited.

5) Tertullian, De resurrectione carnis, c. 30.

6) Prov. 12:28. The last word is literally, “not-death.”

7) In addition to the works already mentioned the following are worthy of consideration: Frisch, in Eichhorn’s Allgemeine Bibliothek der biblischen Literatur. 1792, iv. 653–718; Bretschneider, Systematische Darstellung der Dogmatik und Moral der apokryphischen Schriften des A. T., Leipz., 1805; Gfrörer, Kritische Geschichte des Urchristenthums, Stuttg., 1831, ii. 18-61,200-272; Fritzsche and Grimm, Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokry-phen des A. T. Leipz , 1851–1860; Fritzsche, Libri Apocryphi Veteris Testamenti Graece, Lipz., 1871.

8) See Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon, ad loc., Sengelmann, Das Bach Tobit erklärt, Hamburg, 1857, p. 33, and Gfrörer, I.e. ii. 259.

9) Cf. Reusch, Das Buch Tobias, p. 46. Freiburg, 1857.

10) Urschrift und Uebersetzung der Bibel, etc., pp. 206-219. Breslau, 1857.

11) Cf. Fritzsche’s Com., ad loc.

12) See Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, p. 197. Lond., 1877.

13) See Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, ii. note 16. Leipz., 1875.

14) Bretsehneider, Gfrörer, Oehler, Schultz, ad loc., and Käufler, De biblica ζωῆς αἰωνίου notione, p. 30 sqq. Dresden, 1838.

15) Cf. Keil, Commentar über die Bücher der Makkabäer, ad loc, Leipz., 1875, and Nicolas, as above, p. 352.

16) Cf. Stud, und Krit. 396–406. 1866; Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie, pp. 278-308, 522–554. 1861; Das Gebet für die Verstorbenen, amtliche Erklärung des Consistoriums der ev. Kirchenprovinz Schlesien. Breslau, 1862; and Lei-brand, Das Gebet für die Tod ten, etc. Stuttgart. 1864.

17) Cf. in addition to the commentaries, Bruch, Die Lehre von der Präexistenz der menschlichen Seelen, 75 ff. Strassburg, 1859; and Delitzsch Bib. Psychologic, p 36. 2te Aufl.

18) Cf. Gfrörer, 2:259.

19) Bruch. Weisheits-Lehre der Hebräer, p. 372. Strassburg, 1851.

20) Cf. John 3:18, and the commingled narrative of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world in Matt. 24.

21) Ker’s Sermons, p. 176. New York. 1869.

22) Cf. Gfrörer, 2:256 ff.

23) See articles in Transactions for Bib. Archaeology, 1:106–115; 2:29–79; 346–352; 4:267–301; cf. Movers, Die Phönizier, i. p. 60. Bonn. 1841.

24) Idem. ii. p. 50.

25) Excursus to Daniel, p. 396. New York. 1870.

26) See Spiess as above, pp. 261 ff., and the authorities there quoted.

27) “Il est probable qu’à un certain moment, les docteurs Juifs, frappés de la croyance mazdéenne de la résurrection des corps, furent conduits à la comparer avec la croyance juive du scheol, et que, la trouvant supérieure et plus satisfaisante, ils eurent l’idée, non sans doute de l’incorporer telle quelle dans les doctrines de leur nation, mais de rechercher plus exactment ce que leurs livres saints enseignent sur ce point.” So Nicolas, I.e. p. 372.