REVELATION OF STEPHEN
From "The Apocryphal New Testament"
M.R. James-Translation and Notes
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924
The 'Revelation called of Stephen' is condemned, like that
of Thomas, in the Gelasian Decree. Sixtus Senensis, Bibliotheca
Sancta (1593), p. 115, says: 'The Apocalypse of Stephen the first
martyr who was one of the seven deacons of the apostles was prized
by the Manichaean heretics as Serapion witnesses.' Serapion of
Thmuis he elsewhere says (p. 299),wrote a large and very notable
work against the Manichaeans in Greek 'which I have lately read'.
Our texts of Serapion contain no mention of the Apocalypse of
Stephen. But no Manichaean would have cared about the book which
I am going to speak of.
[I must record one of the very rare errors of Fabricius here.
He (Cod. Apocr. N.T.,i, p.965) cites Sixtus Senensis as saying
(on the authority of Serapion) that the Manichaeans so prized
the Revelation of Stephen as to carry it in the skin of their
thighs! This long puzzled me, and I could not find it in Sixtus.
But at last I noticed that at the end of the article just preceding
Stephanus, Victor Vitensis is quoted to this effect: The Manichaeans
so honoured their teacher that they used to have these words
inscribed on the skin of their thighs. 'Manichaeus, disciple
of Christ Jesus'. Perhaps some one has already explained this
in print; if so, I have not seen it.]
It has been usually guessed that the writing so described
was the account of the finding of St. Stephen's body, the whereabouts
of which was revealed by Gamaliel in a vision to Lucian. With
Stephen were found the bodies of Gamaliel and his son Abibas,
and of Nicodemus. Lucian's narrative was known to Augustine:
it purports to be of the year 415, and there is little in it,
as compared with similar 'inventions' of relics, which justifies
its being solemnly condemned as apocryphal .
So says I. Franko, who in 1906 (Zeitschr. f. Ntl. Wiss.) published
a Slavonic romance which, he says, is the real beginning of Lucian's
The substance of it is this:
Two years after the Ascension there was a contest about Jesus.
Many learned men had assembled at Jerusalem from Ethiopia, the
Thebaid, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Asia, Mauretania and Babylon.
There was a great clamour among them like thunder, lasting till
the fourth hour.
Stephen, a learned man of the tribe of Benjamin, stood on
a high place and addressed the assembly. Why this tumult? said
he. Blessed is he who has not doubted concerning Jesus. Born
of a pure virgin he filled the world with light. By Satan's contrivances
Herod slew 14,000 (144,000) children. He spoke of the miracles
of Jesus. Woe to the unbelievers when he shall come as judge,
with angels, a fiery chariot, a mighty wind: the stars shall
fall, the heavens open, the books be brought forward. The twelve
angels who are set over every soul shall unveil the deeds of
men. The sea shall move and give up what is in it. The mountains
fall, all the surface of the earth becomes smooth. Great winged
thrones are set. The Lord, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit take
their seats. The Father bids Jesus sit on his right hand.
At this point the crowd cried out: Blasphemy! and took Stephen
Pilate stood on the steps and reproached them: You compelled
me to crucify the Innocent; why rage against this man? Why gnash
your teeth? Are ye yet foolish?
They led Stephen away. Caiaphas ordered him to be beaten till
the blood ran. And he prayed: Lay not this sin to their charge.
We saw how angels ministered to him.
In the morning Pilate called his wife and two children: they
baptized themselves and praised God.
Three thousand men now assembled and disputed with Stephen
for three days and three nights. On the fourth day they took
counsel and sent to Caesarea of Palestine for Saul of Tarsus,
who had a commission to seize upon Christians. He took his place
on the judgement seat and said: I wonder that thou, a wise man,
and my kinsman, believest all this. None of the Sanhedrin have
given up the Law. I have been through all Judaea, Galilee, Peraea,
Damascus, and the city of the Jesitites to seek out believers.
Stephen lifted up his hands and said: Silence, persecutor!
Recognize the Son of God. Thou makest me doubt of my own descent.
But I see that thou shalt ere long drink of the same cup as I.
What thou doest, do quickly. Saul rent his clothes and beat Stephen.
Gamaliel, Saul's teacher, sprang forth and gave Saul a buffet,
saying: Did I teach thee such conduct? know that what this man
saith is acceptable and good.
Saul was yet more enraged, and looked fiercely on him, saying:
I spare thine old age, but thou shalt reap a due reward for this.
Gamaliel answered: I ask nothing better than to suffer with Christ.
The elders rent their clothes, cast dust on their heads, and
cried: Crucify the blasphemers.
Saul said: Guard them until the morrow. Next day he sat on
the judgement seat and had them brought before him, and they
were led away to be crucified. An angel came and cast away the
cross, and Stephen's wounds were healed. Seven men came and poured
molten lead into his mouth and pitch into his ears. They drove
nails into his breast and feet, and he prayed for their forgiveness.
Again an angel came down and healed him, and a great multitude
Next day all assembled and took him out of the city to judge
him. He mounted upon a stone and addressed them: How long will
ye harden your hearts? The Law and the Prophets spake of Christ.
In the first Law, and the second, and the other books it is written:
When the year of the covenant cometh I will send my beloved angel,
the good spirit of sonship, from a pure maiden, the fruit of
truth, without ploughshare and without seed, and an image of
sowing (?), and the fruit shall grow after the . . . of planting
for ever from the word of my covenant, and signs shall come to
pass. And Isaiah saith: Unto us a child is born, &c. And
again: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, &c. And the prophet
Nathan said: I saw one, a maiden and without touch of man, and
a man child in her arms, and that was the Lord of the earth unto
the end of the earth. And again the prophet Baruch saith: Christ
the eternal appeareth as a stone from the mountain and breaketh
in pieces the idol temples of the . . . David also said: Arise,
O Lord, unto thy resting place, &c. Understand then, O foolish
ones, what the prophet saith: In this word shalt thou judge.
And he looked up to heaven and said: I see the heaven opened
and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.
Then they laid hands on him, saying: He blasphemeth! Gamaliel
said: Wherein? This righteous man hath seen the Son saying to
the Father: Lo, the Jews rage against me and cease not to ill-treat
them that confess my name. And the Father said: Sit thou on my
right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Then they bound Stephen and took him away to Alexander, the
reader, who was a chief of the people, and of the troop in Tiberias.
In the fourth watch of the night, a light as of lightning
shone round about him, and a voice said: Be strong. Thou art
my first martyr, and thine hour is nigh. I will write the record
of thee in the book of everlasting life.
The Jews took counsel and decreed that he should be stoned.
There were with him Abibas, Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Pilate, his
wife and two children, and a multitude of believers. Saul stood
forth and beckoned, and said: It would have been better that
this man should not be slain, because of his great wisdom: but
forasmuch as he is an apostate, I condemn Stephen to be stoned.
The people said: He shall be stoned: but those who stood in the
front rank with staves looked on each other and durst not lay
hands on him: for he was renowned among the people.
Saul was wroth, and stripped those servants of their garments
and laid them on the table; and commanded the men to stone Stephen.
Stephen looked round and said: Saul, Saul, that which thou
doest unto me to-day, that same will the Jews do unto thee to-morrow.
And when thou sufferest, thou shalt think on me.
The people cast stones upon him so thickly that the light
of the sun was darkened. Nicodemus and Gamaliel put their arms
about him and shielded him, and were slain, and gave up their
souls to Christ.
Stephen prayed, saying: Forgive them that stone us, for by
their means we trust to enter into thy kingdom. And at the tenth
hour he gave up the ghost. Then beautiful youths appeared, and
fell upon the bodies and wept aloud: and the people beheld the
souls borne up by angels into heaven, and saw the heavens open
and the hosts coming to meet the souls. And the people mourned
for three days and three nights.
Pilate took the bodies and put each one into a silver coffin
with his name upon it: but Stephen's coffin was gilt: and he
laid them in his secret sepulchre. But Stephen prayed: Let my
body be buried in my land of Serasima in Kapogemala (Caphargamala)
until the revealing, when the martyrs that follow me shall be
gathered together. And an angel came and removed the bodies thither.
But Pilate rose early to burn incense before the bodies, and
found them not; and rent his clothes, saying: Was I then not
worthy to be thy servant? On the night following, Stephen appeared
and said to him: Weep not. I prayed God to hide our bodies. In
the time of our revealing one of thy seed shall find us after
a vision, and thy desire shall be fulfilled. But build a house
of prayer and celebrate our feast in the month of April. After
seven months thou also shalt rest. And Pilate did so: and he
died, and was buried at Kapartasala: and his wife also died in
peace. But the holy martyrs appeared thrice to venerable and
believing men, speaking to them, and revealing divine words:
for after their death many believed.
One of Franko's two manuscripts omits all mention of Pilate,
who is indeed not necessary to the story. The statements about
him are quite irreconcilable with other legends, even those of
the Eastern Church which take the favourable view of him.
Franko is clearly right in saying that this romance implies
a continuation, and most likely right in holding that the Lucian-narrative
implies a previous story. But the extravagance of the Slavonic
text is such that one cannot but think it has been improved by
the translator: and if Pilate could be gratuitously inserted
-as I think he has been- by one redactor, others may equally
well have been at work.