Physical Descriptions of the Antichrist


Luca Signorelli’s 1501 depiction of the face of antichrist, from the Orvieto Cathedral (via Wikipedia)

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I’ve been working on a new translation and introduction to First Apocryphal Apocalypse of John (1 Apocr. Apoc. John) for awhile. It will appear in vol. 2 of Burke & Landau’s New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. My contribution is very nearly done. I just received the hopefully last round of feedback from one of the editors (thanks, Brent!).

One thing about really good editors (and in my view, both Tony Burke and Brent Landau are really good editors) is that they know where to ask for more, and when to leave things be. A good editor knows when and where to push to make the contribution better. In this last round, Brent pushed back about one of the more interesting passages in 1 Apocr. Apoc. John: A physical description of the antichrist. Here’s the text:

The appearance of his face is dark, the hairs of his head (are) as sharp as arrows. His eyebrows (are) like a field, his right eye like the morning star rising and his other (eye) like a lion. His mouth is a cubit’s breadth, his teeth a broad span. His fingers (are) like sickles, his footprint two spans, and upon his forehead, an inscription: ‘antichrist.’

There are other ancient writings that give brief physical descriptions of the antichrist. News flash: They don’t all agree. Brent helpfully asked how this description compares to other descriptions. It is a good question, so I’ll need to at least add a footnote with minimal discussion here.

All of this is background to the reason for this post. In digging around to find other physical descriptions of the antichrist, I came across the following citation:

Rosenstiehl, J.M. 1967. Le portrait de l’antichrist. Vol 1, pp. 45–63 in Pseudepigraphes de l’Ancien Testament et manuscrits de la mer mort. Cahiers de la RHPR1 1, ed. M. Philonenko, et al. Paris.

My biblical studies library resources are limited here in Bellingham, so I put the call out on the Twitter, and was answered (thanks, Ian). A scan was on its way. In French, but that’s not a huge deal. Upon arrival of the scan, I realized this was a pretty sweet source (and very appropriate for my needs). It provided over 20 excerpts of descriptions of an antichrist figure from several different writings (including 1 Apocr. Apoc. John!).

Now, I needed to get translations, and my French is only as good as I can fake through my Spanish and the little I know of Latin. This means it isn’t great. So on Saturday I started keying the excerpts and feeding them to Google Translate to get a rough translation.

I figure this might be useful information to others out there, so I have a Google doc that lists the descriptions, in order, with sources, with the French first followed by the English. The English is a translation of the French unless otherwise noted. View the document.

If you know French better than I do (likely), feel free to suggest an edit to the English. I’ll probably accept it, I’d just rather not have wide-open editing on this document.


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