August 15, 2023

The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius

The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius PDF.


Written in Syriac in the late seventh century, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius shaped and influenced Christian eschatological thinking in the Middle Ages. Falsely attributed to Methodius of Olympus, a fourth century Church Father, the work attempts to make sense of the Islamic conquest of the Near East.

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The Apocalypse begins with a history of the world, starting with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, through to the Muslim conquests, and into the end-times. One notable feature of the work is the presence of sexuality with regards to Christian behavior in the end days—specifically discussing swinging, homosexuality, and cross-dressing as indicators of a sinful society. It is only then that the text says the "sons of Ishmael", that is Muslims, will emerge from the desert of Ethribus to inflict God's punishment upon the Christians who "slipped into depravity". The Apocalypse also recounts the events that took place at the hands of Muslims in the previous decades. In invoking figures in other Christian eschatological literature, such as Gog and Magog, Pseudo-Methodius attempts to legitimize his place as a fourth century Church Father. The manuscript also notes the rise of an Emperor-Saviour figure, echoing the fourth century AD prophecy attributed to the legendary Tiburtine Sibyl. This Roman emperor will save the Christian lands from "the sons of Ishmael", place his crown upon the cross "for the sake of the common salvation of all", thereby saving Christendom as a whole.

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The Apocalypse marks the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. The document was frequently copied and readapted, in order to fit the cataclysmic events that occurred in a particular area and at a particular time.

The spread and influence of the Apocalypse was so far reaching that, during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, Russian Christians invoked the work of Pseudo-Methodius in order to explain the onslaught by using the historical and geographical explanations found within the text. . . .The Apocalypse was invoked by Christians throughout the centuries in order to explain the turmoil they faced in their respective time and place. As well, it shaped Western Christendom's view of Islam through the Middle Ages, through various re-adaptions and translations. With the fall of more Christian cities from the fourteenth century onwards, along with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius was invoked once again.

Dr. Benjamin Garstad, translator of The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius:

Dr. Garstad completed his PhD at the University of St Andrews in 2001 and began teaching at his alma mater, the University of Calgary, in 2000. He came to MacEwan University (then College) in 2006 from Brooklyn College. In New York he was also a visiting scholar at Columbia University. His research is centred on the literature and historiography of Late Antiquity, but he also has broader teaching interests ranging throughout the Classical and Hellenistic periods and over the field of mythology.

An excerpt from Dr. Garstad's introduction to the text (available via a free PDF):

The original Apocalypse, or Revelations, wrongly attributed to Saint Methodius of Olympus (a Christian bishop and author martyred ca. 311), was composed in Syriac by an unknown author in response to the first Arab invasions and the establishment of the caliphate. Internal evidence has recently allowed scholars to fix the date of composition very close to 692. According to the Syriac text, the dominion of the Ishmaelites -the term referring to the descendants of Ishmael (the elder son of Abraham), which Pseudo-Methodius consistently uses for the Arabs-will last for ten "weeks of years," or seventy years (the Greek and Latin versions have seven "weeks"). If this period is taken to begin with the date of the Hejira in 622, the last "week of years" would be the span of time from 685 to 692. It has been proposed that the Apocalypse was written at some time during these seven years, and probably toward their end, because these seven years saw the introduction of tax reforms by the caliphate that substantially increased the tax burden on Christians, and as a consequence increased the incentive for Christians to avoid the poll tax by committing apostasy and converting to Islam. Pseudo-Methodius sees this as the "falling away" from the Church foreseen by the apostle Paul and clearly considers it to be the most detrimental result of the Ishmaelite invasion. Reinink refines this date by linking the focus in the Apocalypse on Jerusalem to the building of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount by the caliph 'Abd alMalik in 691. This construction was supposed to supplant the Christian presence in the Holy City by appropriating a shrine for Islam and to indicate the stability and permanence of Muslim rule. Considering the prominence in Pseudo-Methodius's composition of the themes of the immanent demise of Arab rule and the redemption of Jerusalem by the Roman emperor, he may well have written in response to the building of the Dome of the Rock and the message it was intended to convey. At any rate, the Apocalypse could not have been written later than 694, when its influence is first to be seen in other Syriac works. 

 Not much can be said about the identity of the author. Even his theological affiliation is difficult to discern. The preface to the Syriac Apocalypse says that Methodius received his vision on "the mountain of Senegar," Mount Singara (or Sinjar) northwest of Mosul, and the real author of the Apocalypse probably came from this same place. Singara was a stronghold of the Monophysite community in Mesopotamia. This, along with the prominent place accorded to Ethiopia, the most powerful Monophysite kingdom of his day; in the author's eschatology suggests that he was himself a Monophysite. But his belief in the supremacy of the Roman Empire and his fervent expectation of deliverance from the Ishmaelites and restoration of the Church through the activity of the Roman emperor indicate that he belonged to the Melchite Church, which adhered to the Chalcedonian creed. Perhaps Pseudo-Methodius did not intend to reveal his own denomination. Reinink has proposed that the author of the Apocalypse saw Arab rule and the inducements to apostasy as the real threat to the Church, rose above sectarian wrangling, addressed himself to all Christians, and offered the ruler of the Christian Roman Empire as the hope of all the faithful, of whatever party, in Arab-occupied lands. The Apocalypse was never taken to be a document belonging to any particular faction within Christianity. 

The Apocalypse was translated from Syriac into Greek and from Greek into Latin, all fairly rapidly. We can say practically nothing about the circumstances of the Greek translation, but as it must fall between the Syriac composition and the Latin translation we can at least date it in broad terms. The earliest manuscript of the Latin text seems to have been written sometime before 727, and we have no reason to believe that this manuscript was produced simultaneously with the translation itsel£ Certain linguistic details of the translation indicate that it was made into the Vulgar Latin of Merovingian Gaul. One Peter, a monk, claims responsibility for the Latin translation, but while he makes his moral ardor clear, he does not convey anything about his life. So within the space of some thirty-five years the Apocalypse was written in Syriac beyond one end of the Mediterranean, translated into Greek at some intermediate time and place, and then rendered from Greek into Latin beyond the far shores of the sea, all while the geopolitical turmoil which provoked its composition and transmission continued to rage unabated. 

The influence of the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius throughout the Christian world was immense. In the East, it retained its currency in its original Syriac milieu, inspiring further eschatological works, and gained further readers in Armenia and the Arab-speaking world. The Byzantine apocalyptic tradition was irrevocably transformed by PseudoMethodius, and practically all subsequent Greek apocalypses found their themes and motifs in this work. At least two Old Slavonic translations were made from the Greek Apocalypse, one before the eleventh century (perhaps at the end of the ninth century) and another in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and extracts from the Apocalypse found their way into the Russian Primary Chronicle and other historical works. 

In the West, the Latin Apocalypse is represented by a manuscript tradition that rivals the classics and the Church fathers in its extent. The popularity of Pseudo-Methodius is also evident in the multitude of vernacular translations. For instance, numerous Middle English versions were produced in prose and verse. The earliest printed edition dates from 14 70, and several more followed. This work that helped to make sense of the first Arab onslaughts took on fresh resonance over the centuries as new and strange enemies arose in the East, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. The Mongols were identified with the Unclean Nations led by Gog and Magog, and broadsheets with excerpts from the Apocalypse were printed in Vienna during the Turkish siege of 1683. But Pseudo-Methodius not only enabled medieval Europe to recognize exotic and distressing invaders, but also shaped the eschatological expectations of Christendom. 

Video Title: The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. Source: Early Christian History with Michael Bird. Date Published: April 9, 2023. Description:

In this episode of Ancient Texts & Traditions, Dr. Mike Bird looks at the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, an early medieval apocalypse about the Arab conquests and the hope for a Christian king who will deliver Christians from Muslim rule.