NON-CANONICAL APOCALYPSES AND REVELATORY TREATISES
Introduction There is only one “Apocalypse” (or “Revelation”—the Latin equivalent for the Greek term) in the New Testament, a vision recounted by a prophet named John concerning what would happen at the end of time when God overthrows the forces of evil in a set of cataclysmic disasters leading up to the establishment of his utopian reign over the earth. But there were other such apocalyptic visions of the end times in early Christianity, and still other kinds of visionary literature that divulged the secrets of the divine realm, the nature of reality, the revelation of how the world came into existence and of how we came to be here. One other apocalypse was widely considered canonical by orthodox Christians—the Apocalypse of Peter (one of three surviving texts that go by that name)—and another is included as Scripture in one of our oldest manuscripts of the New Testament (the Shepherd of Hermas). Other visionary texts were read and revered by various early Christian groups, including Jewish-Christians, Montanists, and Gnostics. While some of these books discuss the end of the world as we know it (e.g., some of the Montanist revelations, which are still lost to us), others narrate prophetic visions of the fate of individual souls rewarded with eternal bliss in heaven or damned to never-ending torments in hell (e.g., the Apocalypse of Peter). Others provide general warnings of future catastro phes on earth for which believers needed to prepare themselves (e.g., the Shepherd of Hermas). And yet others show how this world came into being in the ﬁrst place, along with the supernatural realm and the human race (e.g., the Secret Book of John). As with the other non-canonical books found in this collection, there is a range of perspective found here; some of these books are completely orthodox, but were excluded from the canon because they were known not to have been written by ancient apostles (e.g., the Shepherd); others were suspected of being forged (Apocalypse of Peter); and yet others were widely considered in proto-orthodox circles to contain heretical teachings that were to be attacked rather than afﬁrmed (the Secret Book of John). The com munities that revered such books, of course, thought just the opposite, that they were sacred texts providing divine revelations of the true nature of the world, of how it came into being (often based on an interpretation of the book of Genesis), and how we ourselves came to inhabit it. Not until the decisions determining the shape of orthodoxy were made were these books effectively silenced, and for the most part lost, until their fortuitous discovery in modern times.