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About Rapture
  EQ 80.2 (2008), 143-161 Raptured or not raptured? That is the question. Oavid Malcolm Bennett David Bennett is currently doing doctoral research on the srcins of Left Behindeschatology, through the University of Queensland. KEY WORDS: Ephraem, Pseudo-Ephraem, Fra Doleino, rapture, tribulation, 'Left Be hind', millennium. Introduction A heated debate rages over the srcins of certain dispensational or 'Left Behind tl ideas, particularly thatof a pretribulation rapture. A pretribulation rapture is the removal of the church from earthto heaven before a period of great strife on earth, which is known as 'the tribulation' or 'the great tribulation'. This tribulation is usually believed to last for three-and-a-half or seven years. Some believe that this and related ideas were taught in the early church, while others say that they did not emerge until the nineteenth century. As part of that debate it has been argued that Ephraem (c.306-73) or Pseudo-Ephraem (Late 4th to early 7th century) and Pra Dolcino (13th to 14th century) taught a pretribulation rapture and related concepts. This article will examine these claims. Ephraem or Pseudo- Ephraem Since the mid-1990s Left Behind and dispensational websites and other media have buzzed with the news that Grant Jeffrey had identified a reference to a pretribulation rapture in a sermon in Latin by oneof the Syrian Church Fathers/ entitled On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World.' TimothyDemy and Thomas Ice supported this claim in an academic article in 1995. Theysay that this sermon by Ephraem or Pseudo-Ephraem 'includes a statementof a concept similar to the rapture more than one thousand years before the writ- 'Left Behind' has become a common way of describing traditional dispensationaleschatology, because of its treatment in the very popular Left Behind series of novelsbyTim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Wheaton: Tyndale).2 Grant R. Jeffrey, Triumphant Return: The Coming Kingdom of God (Toronto: FrontierResearch, 2001), 173-74.3 The C. P. Caspari rendering of this sermon is numbered document 54 in the editionsof Ephrem's works in Kees den Biesen's system, see his Bibliography of Ephrem the Syrian (Giove in Umbria, 2002). 27,115·16.  144 ã EQ David Malcolm Bennett ings of John Nelson Darby'4 of the Plymouth Brethren, who is often said to have invented the idea. To investigate this we will first take a very brief look at Ephraem (aka Ephremor Ephraim), then examine the provenance of the sermon On the Last Times. We wiU next survey a few works by Ephraem to gain a feel for his interpretive meth ods and eschatology, including another End Times sermon. Then we will quicklyexamine the eschatology of some of his Syrian successors. Finally, we will look at On the Last Times. We will search primarily for the pretribulation idea, but also for other concepts essential to Left Behind, such as the millennium andthe dispensational Israel/church dichotomy. Background Ephraem lived in Nisibis in Mesopotamia during the fourth century, but after thePersian overthrow of that city he went to live in Edessa, in what today is Turkey.He is best known for his 'hymns', which are long didactic poems, but he alsowrote commentaries, and some of his sermons still exist. 5 However, the situa tion concerning his writings is complicated because there is a vast body of work that has been attributed to him, some of which is now believed to be pseudonymous. 6 While scholarly opinion is divided on the srcins of On the Last Times, a late date and pseudonymous authorship are favoured. For example, C. P. Caspari(the editor of the Latin text of this sermon) and Paul Alexander argue for a date after the death ofEphraem. Caspari regards the dating as some time between thelate sixth and the early seventh centuries. Alexander says that it appears to have been srcinally composed at the end of the fourth century and reached its finalform in the late sixth or early seventh centuries. 7 In the opinion ofthese scholars,then, it is not the work of Ephraem, but an unknown preacher dubbed 'PseudoEphraem'. However, both Caspari and Alexander regard Pseudo-Ephraem as being 'heavily influenced by the genuine works of Ephraem',8 so an understanding of Ephraem's theology is important to our task. 4 Timothy J. Demy and Thomas D. Ice, 'The Rapture andan Early Medieval Citation', BS 152 [July-Sept. 1995),306. 5 Sebastian Brock (ed.), St Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise (Crestwood: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1990), 8-12, 25-36; Robert Murray, Symbols of the Church and Kingdom (Cambridge: CUp, 1975) 29-31; Arthur Voobus, Literary, Critical and Historical Studies in Ephrem the Syrian (Stockholm: Etse, 1958), 11,46-58.6 Andrew Palmer, 'The Influence of Ephraim the Syrian', paragraphs 2-4, Hugoye:Journal ofSyriac Studies 2:1 (Jan. 1999), taken from http://syrcom.cua.edu/HugoyeJVo12NoIJHV2NlPalmer.html, viewed: 1 Sept. 2005.7 Paul J. Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition (Berkeley: Uni. of California Press.1985), 144-47; Paul J. Alexander, 'The Diffusion of Byzantine Apocalypses in theMedieval West' in Prophecy and MilIenarianism: Essays in Honour of Marjorie Reeves, ed. Ann WilIiams (London: Longman, 1980),59-60.8 Alexander, 'Diffusion', 59.  Raptured or not raptured? That is the question EQ ã 145 Ephraem's work Ephraem's writings are at the same time both theological and pastoral, with astrong emphasis upon the doctrines of God, repentance and, at times, eschatology and baptism, plus instruction on how to live the Christian life. However,it needs to be noted that, as one might expect from theology that is frequentlyexpressed in poetry, his teachings are not always theologically precise. SebastianBrock says that he 'avoids -indeed abhors -definitions, which he regards asboundaries .. that impose limits', and he prefers to use 'paradox and symbol',with great use of vivid imagery.9 His approach to theology, then, is 'dynamic and fluid' rather than systematic, O and his interpretive method is consequently verydifferent from dispensational literalism.Another aspect of his method that is relevant here is his understanding of time. To Ephraem there are two 'times', human historical time and sacred time.The former is linear and runs from age to age, but the latter is always the 'eternal now' and knows no before or after.11 Indeed, according to Brock, Ephraembelieved that 'eschatological Paradise', that is, a rough equivalent of heaven inmodern thinking, 'belongls] to sacred time and space' and is thus 'ever present'. 12 Yet even within historical time Ephraem could compress two events from different eras as if in one. For example, he sees God's rejection of Israel as happeningin the wilderness of the Exodus, but not becoming a practical reality until afterthe death of Christ. 3 Thus he did not always have as rigid an understanding of history as we might.In Ephraem's generally accepted works the primary eschatological interestsare death and what happens after it, plus the resurrection andthe final states. He does not seem greatly concerned about the end of the world as such, thoughhe does mention it on occasions. For example, the Nisibene Hymns do not mention events relating to the end of the world, except for the resurrection. Theyconcentrate largely on the intermediate state,14 which is spent on the borders ofParadise. 15 He appears to have believed in the ancient Jewish idea that one creation dayequals a thousand years, for in one of these hymns he says that at least 5000 years 9 Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1994), 14,38-40. 10 Brod(, Luminous, 21. Brock explores Ephraem's theological method in some detail on pages 23-51. 11 Brock, Luminous, 29-30. 12 Brock, Luminous, 32; see also Brock, Ephrem, 54-55. 13 Ephraem, Hymns of the Church 44:23, quoted in Murray, Symbols, 59. Murray alsonotes another incident where he appears to move an event from its srcinal time (Commentary on the Diatessaron 11:5-8, Symbols, 63). 14 Ephraem, Nisibene Hymns 37-68, in Philip Schaff and HenryWace (eds.) Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2nd Series [NPNF21, vol. 13 (Peabody: Hendrickson, [189011995), 198-219. 15 Ephraem, Paradise8:11, Brock, Ephrem, 135.  146 ã EO David Malcolm Bennett of earth's history had already passed. 16 However, he did not believe in an earthlymillennium, an essential component of Left Behind eschatology. In fact. Brocksays that Ephraem's understanding of the future paradise was totally differentfrom the ideal earthly state ofthe chiliasts. To Ephraem it belonged 'outside time and space' and became 'the home of the righteous and glorious after the finalResurrection [for] it can only be entered in the resurrected state ofthe body'.17 Yet Ephraem's Hymns on Paradise paint Paradise 1B in terms that sound verylike the more extravagant of the early church's pictures of the millennium. Forexample, The man who abstained, with understanding, from wine, will the vines of Paradise rush out to meet all the more joyfully,as each one stretches outand proffers him its clusters. 19 In Paradise even 'dismal February resembles radiant May'.20 And 'Paradise'sgift', with its 'treasure of perfumes' and 'storehouse of scents .. is the table of the Kingdom'.21 But this kingdom is in the heavenly world, not upon earth. Similarly, Aphrahat (d. after 345), a contemporary Syrian Church Father, regardedChristians on earth as the heirs of that kingdom, but believed that they would not inherit it on earth but in heaven, and that this kingdom would not last for a thousand years but forever. 22 Then, in one of his sermons, On the Fathers who have Completed their Course, Ephraem speaks about the intermediate state, but also teaches about the end. He reflects upon the loss of 'perfect fathers and venerable ascetics' who have already been gathered(Stanza 21) ... into the haven of life and into eternal joy, thatthey might be glad there, and in the Paradise of pleasure andthe heavenly bridal chamber they might take their delight in the immortal Bridegroom with the greatest joy.23 He next mourns at length the sinfulness and slackness of the Christians that surround him, and then continues, 16 Ephraem, Nisibene65:3, NPNF2 13:216. 17 Brock, Ephrem, 54-55. 18 To Ephraem Paradise 'belongs to a different mode of existence, outside time and space' (Brock, Paradise, 153). 19 Ephraem, Paradise 7:18, Brock, Ephrem, 125. See also Ephraem, Paradise 2:5, 7:22, 9:17, Brock, Ephrem, 86, 127, 142. 20 Ephraem, Paradise 10:2, Brock, Ephrem, 148. 21 Ephraem, Paradise 11:15, Brock, Ephrem, 159. 22 Murray, Symbols, 242-43. 23 Sermon on the Fathers who have Completed their Course, stanzas 13 & 21, translation and © Archimandrite Ephraem, 1997, www.anastasis.org.uk/dead-pat.htm. quoted with the translator's permission.
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