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The Apocalypse of Paul

In a well-known passage from 2 Corinthians 12, Paul claims that he had once been caught up into heaven to behold a vision of things that could not be uttered. A later Christian nonetheless decided to give utterance to these things, and the present apocalypse is the result. The book describes Paul’s ascent into heaven to receive a revelation concerning the fate of individual souls after death. He observes souls that leave their bodies to appear before God, who knows every detail about their lives and metes out rewards or punishments accordingly. The vision continues with a narrative description of Paradise and a graphic portrayal of the torments of the damned. These parallel in many ways those found in the Apocalypse of Peter (p. 280), which the pseudonymous author—claiming to be Paul—appears to have used as a source. In its present form, the Apocalypse of Paul dates from the end of the fourth century, but it contains materials that were composed earlier, as they are alluded to by the proto-orthodox church father Origen in the early third century. The book became quite popular in Western Christianity, and was responsible for propagating many of the wide-spread notions of heaven and hell that have come down even till today. The excerpts here are often thought to be among the older portions of the book.

In the consulship of Theodosius Augustus the Younger and Cynegius, a certain nobleman was then living in Tarsus, in the house which was that of Saint Paul; an angel appeared in the night and revealed it to him, saying that he should open the foundations of the house and

should publish what he found, but he thought that these things were dreams.


But the angel coming for the third time beat him and forced him to open the foundation. And digging he found a marble box, inscribed on the

Translation by J. K. Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 620; 624–27; 629; 631; 633–35; used with permission.


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