Lives of the Prophets

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The Lives of the Prophets is an ancient apocryphal account of the lives of the prophets of the Old Testament. It is not regarded as scripture by any Jewish or Christian denomination. The work may have been known by the author of some of the Pauline epistles, as there are similarities in the descriptions of the fates of the prophets, although without naming the individuals concerned.

Start of the Lives in a 13th-century manuscript now in Vienna

Manuscript tradition[edit]

The work survives only in Christian manuscripts. There are two groups of Greek manuscripts: the first group includes many versions, well known in the past centuries, with heavy Christian additions. Some of these versions were attributed to Epiphanius of Salamis,[1] others to Dorotheus of Tyre.[2] The other group of Greek manuscripts is more stable and free from the interpolations found in the previous group: the best codex is a 6th-century CE manuscript[3] usually referred to as Q or as anonymous recension, which is the earliest Greek version of this work.[4] There is also a Latin version (Vitae prophetarum) with a text near to Q used by Isidore of Seville (before 636 CE). There are also versions in Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic[4] and Arabic. There are an abundance of Greek manuscripts, the most important of these are the following:[4]

  • Codex Marchalianus, Codex Vaticanus Gr. 2125, sixth century, in the Vatican Library;[5]
  • Codex Paris. Gr. 1115, copied in 1276, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris: it is the chief witness for the longer of the two recensions attributed to Epiphanius of Salamis;[6]
  • Codex Coisl. 120, tenth century, Bibliothèque Nationale (Fonds Coislin), Paris: it is the leading representative of the short attributed to Epiphanius;[7]
  • Codex Vindob. Theol. Gr. 40 (formerly 77), thirteenth century, Vienna: it is the best example of the recension attributed to Dorotheus;[8]
  • Codex Coisl. 224, tenth century, Bibliothèque Nationale (Fond Coislin), Paris: it is a member of the "anonymous recension".[9]

Original language and date[edit]

There is no consensus among scholars about the original language.[10] The preferred use of quotations from the Septuagint suggests a Greek original with semitic coloring.[11]

Authenticating the dating is highly problematic due to the Christian transmission and presumed expansions. Torrey[12] suggests a date before 106 CE. Hare[11] the first quarter of the 1st century CE. Satran[13] proposes an early Byzantine origin in the 4th-5th century on previous materials. But the date must be before the 5th century, as Torrey writes in his Introduction that the Lives "exists in several different rescensions. Of these, the most familiar is the one which appears in the works of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus (fourth century)".[12]


It begins with an account of what it is attempting to contain:

The names of the prophets, and where they are from, and where they died and how, and where they lie

The Lives of the Prophets includes the lives of the 23 prophets. Some lives are extremely short, only the most basic information is given, while for the others there are details and stories. The main facts indicated in the Lives are the following:

Since the work is found in Christian manuscripts, some New Testament prophets are typically appended, specifically Zachariah, Symeon, and John the Baptist. Symeon is reported as dying of old age, while Zachariah is said to have been killed by Herod "between the temple and the altar," per Jesus' words in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51.[18]


The author of the Lives of the Prophets seems to have been more interested in miracles, intercessions and predictions of the prophets than in their ethical teaching. One of the more typical themes of the Lives of the Prophets is the interest of the author for the burial places of the prophets. Jeremias[19] in his study examines both the archaeological and the literary evidence, in particular the Herod architectural activity and the attestations of Matthew 23:29 and Luke 11:47, and considers the Lives as a witness of popular devotion in the 1st century. The theme of prophets as intercessors for people long after the prophet's death is also present. A major theme is martyrdom of the prophets: six prophets are said to have been martyred.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Codex Paris gr 1115 (dated 1276, said E1 or Epiphanius Prior, published in the 16th century) and Codex Coisl. 120 (10th century, said E2 or Epiphanius Alter)
  2. ^ referred to as D or Dorotheus and included in the Chronicon Paschale, 7th century
  3. ^ Codex Marchalianus, Vatican Library gr.2125
  4. ^ a b c D. R. A. Hare, The Lives of The Prophets (First Century A.D.). A New Translation and Introduction, in James H. Charlesworth (1985), The Old Testament Pseudoepigrapha, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company Inc., Volume 2, ISBN 0-385-09630-5 (Vol. 1), ISBN 0-385-18813-7 (Vol. 2), p. 379. Quote: "A critical text of Q is presented by T. Schermann, Prophetarum vitae fabulosae indices apostolorum discipuloruque Domini Dorotheo, Epiphanio, Hippolyto aliisque vindicate, pp. 69-78. With this was compared the text of Q as printed by E. Nestle, Marginalien und Materialien. Discussions of the major recensions and their chief witnesses may be found in T. Shermann, Propheten- und Apostellegenden nebst Jüngerkatalogen des Dorotheus und verwandter Texte, pp. 1-133; A. -M. Denis, Introduction, pp. 85-88; C. C. Torrey, The Lives of the Prophets, pp. 4-6".
  5. ^ Digitized manuscript
  6. ^ Digitized manuscript
  7. ^ Digitized manuscript
  8. ^ Digitized manuscript
  9. ^ Digitized manuscript
  10. ^ The work survives only in Christian manuscripts.
  11. ^ a b D.R.A. Hare The Lives of the Prophets in ed. James Charlesworth The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2 pp. 379-400 ISBN 0-385-18813-7(1985)
  12. ^ a b Torrey, C.C. The Lives of the Prophets (SBLMS 1), Philadelphia 1946
  13. ^ D.Satran Biblical Prophets in Byzantine Palestine. Reassessing the Lives of the Prophets (SVTP 11) Leiden 1995 pag 121-128
  14. ^ a b c d e f g place not identified
  15. ^ Data about Micah are quite certainly wrong due probably to a confusion with the Micaiah of 1 Kings 22
  16. ^ usually identified as Beth-meon of Jermiah 48:23
  17. ^ a b c d e There is not agreement among scholars about the location of this place
  18. ^ See the recension ascribed to Epiphanius of Salamis in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca, Volume 43 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864), p. 414. Some New Testament manuscripts specify that Jesus is referring here to Zechariah, son of Berechiah, but this clarification is not present in all.
  19. ^ J. Jeremias Heiligengräber in Jesu Umwelt (Mt 23,29; Lk 11,47). Eine Untersuchung zur Volksreligion der Zeit Jesu, Göttingen 1958
  20. ^ D. A.Carson, P.T. O'Brien, M.A. Seifrid Justification and Variegated Nomism: A Fresh Appraisal of Paul and Second Temple Judaism ISBN 3-16-146994-1 (2001) pag 69-71

Further reading[edit]

  • Bernheimer, Richard (1935). "Vitae prophetarum". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 55 (2): 200–203. JSTOR 594443.
  • Bernheimer, Richard (1952). "The Martyrdom of Isaiah". The Art Bulletin. 34 (1): 19–34. JSTOR 3047388.
  • Brock, Sebastian (2006). "The Lives of the Prophets in Syriac: Some Soundings". In Charlotte Hempel; S. N. C. Lieu (eds.). Biblical Traditions in Transmission: Essays in Honour of Michael A. Knibb. Brill. pp. 21–37.
  • Emil Schürer, G.Vermes, F.Millar The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ ISBN 0-567-09373-5 (1973) pag 783-786
  • G. Lusini Vite dei Profeti in ed. P.Sacchi Apocrifi dell'Antico Testamento Vol 4 ISBN 88-394-0587-9 (2000)

External links[edit]