The Postponement of the Final Judgment and End of all Things



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The Postponement of the Final Judgment and End of all Things:

An Intermediate State of Purgation in the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace Depictions

Jamie Brummitt


Introduction
According to Jacques Le Goff, Purgatory officially began in the 11th century.1 Through an extensive analysis of interpretations given to the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace scenes from the 3rd to 9th centuries my research indicates that an intermediate state of purgation existed far earlier than Le Goff suggests. Through an analysis of primary and contemporary secondary literature, I argue that the images and discourse surrounding them constitute the first indications that an intermediate state of purgation was in existence far earlier than most scholars have assumed. This intermediate state of purgation coincides with the delay of the Parousia and the synthesizing of the spiritual and physical resurrection. With these developments arose a need for an intermediate judgment whereby the immortal soul could be rewarded or punished while awaiting final judgment.

The biblical account of The Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace occurs in Daniel 3:1-30. In the story, Azaiah, Mishael and Hananiah refuse to worship an idol set-up by Nebuchadnezzar. With their refusal, the three were bound and thrown into a fiery furnace. Soon after, an angel appeared in the furnace and the flames release the three from their bonds, allowing them to walk in the furnace unharmed. 2 While this biblical account influenced scenes included on early Christian burial structures, bowls and lamps, these artistic representations are often not interpreted in context of the original story. Instead, the images are interpreted through early Christian discourse concerning salvation, baptism and afterlife.

The interpretations of these scenes in Christian contexts are evidenced by their association with the devil and with the flames as representations of Gehenna. John Chrysostom believed the devil inspired Nebuchadnezzar to throw the three into the furnace.3 Cyprian interprets the three as models of harmony in prayer, explaining that their ability to be unharmed by the flames stems from their faith and virtue. Even more interesting is Cyprian’s suggestion that the furnace is Gehenna. However, he makes clear that the fire cannot harm God’s confessors. 4 A work by pseudo-Cyprian also equates the furnace with Gehenna. 5 Jerome signifies the angel in the furnace as prefiguring Christ’s decent to Gehenna, where both sinners and the righteous were imprisoned.6 These ideas are of particular significance since they liken the furnace to Gehenna. However, even more important is that Gehenna holds both sinners and the righteous. This is important to my research because it points to the possible interpretation by the early Church Fathers of Gehenna and the fiery furnace as an intermediate state of purgation that holds the wicked and righteous.

Most contemporary interpretations do not recognize the eschatological dimensions associated with the furnace scenes. Emile Male and M.E LeBlant link prayers to the dead and the judgment of the soul with the scenes.7 While these scholars only recognize the furnace scenes as symbolizing salvation, their work is significant in that makes possible my interpretation of the existence of an intermediate state of purgation. The eschatological dimension of the fiery furnace scenes was proposed by Kathleen Irwin who suggested the fire be interpreted “as Gehenna, into which Christ descended to set free the prophets.”8 Irwin rejects the idea of the scenes as representing Purgatory by stating that “is missing the point of my argument.”9 Irwin cites Le Goff’s interpretation that the idea of Purgatory did not fully develop until the 11th and 12th centuries. 10 Le Goff does however admit that an intermediate state of judgment is present as early as the 4th century in the writings of Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine and possibly in the 2nd century with The Passion of Perpetua. 11

As Alan Segal points out “the delay of the apocalypse meant a turn to immortality of the soul and an interim ‘waiting period’ in which the souls were punished and rewarded…before the end.”12 As Vincent Kerns writes, this waiting period can be witnessed as early as the 2nd century in the writings of Tertullian.13 While Kerns erroneously claims that Purgatory existed as a church doctrine in the 2nd century, his argument is valid in that there is clear and earlier evidence than Le Goff suggests of the existence and widespread belief of an intermediate state involving judgment of the immortal soul. This existence of an intermediate state of purgation is substantiated by commentary on the scenes and in other 2nd century writings concerning the immortal soul.

Objective

While I agree that the furnace scenes were interrupted by early Christians in an eschatological dimension, I disagree that the scenes are mere representations of Gehenna. I propose that these scenes were representations of an intermediate state of purgation. These scenes should not be interpreted as Gehenna especially in light of the 12 references to Gehenna in the New Testament that reference it as a place of physical punishment for the wicked.14 In the prayer for the dead cited by Male there is an indication that the souls of the righteous are equated with the three Hebrews in that they needed to be delivered from a fiery furnace.15 The idea that the righteous need to be delivered from Gehenna is in direct opposition to the Gehenna of the New Testament. In this paper I will show how the early Christian discourse surrounding these images and the story behind it provide sufficient evidence that an intermediate state of purgation was in existence far earlier than most scholars have believed.



Justification

If I am able to provide sufficient evidence that The Three Hebrew in the Fiery Furnace depictions were interpreted by early Christians and the Church Fathers as an intermediate state of purgation I believe that the ideas and beliefs about Christianity can be reinterpreted. While Purgatory was not officially defined until the 11th century, I believe these images and the discourse surrounding them provide visual and textual evidence of the belief in an intermediate state of purgation. If this is the case, then scholars will have to reevaluate the interpretation and meaning of the Christian afterlife. This work and the idea of an intermediate state of purgation are important not only to scholars, but to the general community as well, since most people believe or struggle to believe in ideas of the afterlife. While this research cannot provide evidence in the existence of an afterlife, it can provide evidence of certain beliefs about the afterlife circulating in early Christianity.



Methods

In order to carryout this project, I will read secondary resources as well as primary resources. The primary resources may include, but are not limited to, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), New Testament, and Jewish apocalyptic literature. In many cases I will be reading the English versions of these texts, however in some situations I will be interpreting documents from Greek or Hebrew. This interpretation will require some help from others scholars as I am not fluent in either of the languages. However, I will attempt to learn some parts of these languages to assist in my own interpretation of these texts. Along with reading the texts, I will also use the depictions of The Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace and early Christian discourse from the Church Fathers and others who wrote about these images and the afterlife.

As I read and interpret information from my primary and secondary research, I will keep a file log of all topics read and analyzed. Once I am finished taking notes and reading primary sources, I will compare the information that I have found with other scholars from my secondary research. From these comparisons I will write a formal essay on my findings and the implications that may have on the afterlife in Christianity.

Description of the Product

The final product will be a formal essay on my research findings from certain primary and secondary sources. This essay will include an introduction followed by a thorough explanation of the conclusion I have come to through historical and textual analysis on the belief of an intermediate state of purgation. The research paper will also include an index of all the topics covered, a bibliography of primary and secondary sources as well as excerpts from primary sources that I found relevant and influential to this project.



Working Bibliography

Primary Sources

Gleason Archer (translator) Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1958)

Saint Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian: Treatises, Fathers of the Church Series, vol. 36 (New York, 1958), p.108, 334, 84, 132; Saint Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian: Treatises, Fathers of the Church Series, vol. 51 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1964),

Saint Joannes Chrysostomus, Patriarch of Constantinople, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, onte Statues or To The People of Antioch, Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, vol.9 (Oxford, 1842).

George Ogg (translator) The Pseduo-Cyprianic “De Pascha Comutus,” (London: S.P.C.K., 1955).

The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1989.

Charlesworth, J.H. (Ed.). (1983). The Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday.

* I will also be using the depictions of The Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace as primary sources. A list of these depictions can be found catalogued in Kathleen Irwin’s thesis listed below as a secondary source.
Secondary Sources

Alan Segal, Life After Death, (New York: Doubleday, 2004).

Kathleen Irwin, The Liturgical and Theological Correlations in the Associations of Representations of the Three Hebrews and the Magi in the Christian Art of Late Antiquity (Graduate Theological Union, 1985).

Le Goff, Jacques, The Birth of Purgatory (University of Chicago Press: 1986).

Edmund LeBlant, Etude sur les Sarcophages Chretiens Antiguesde la Ville d’Arles, (Paris, 1878).

Emile Male, Religious Art in France; the 12th Century, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).



Thomas Whittemore, Notes and Illustrations of the Parables of the New Testament, (Boston: Published by the author, 37 Cornhill, 1846).



1 Le Goff, Jacques, The Birth of Purgatory (University of Chicago Press: 1986). Le Goff does suggest precedents, as early as the second century, for the later dogma, but these are too general to powerfully argue for a uniform practice and belief. My research indicates that it was a widespread belief much earlier than Le Goff states.

2 Kathleen Irwin, The Liturgical and Theological Correlations in the Associations of Representations of the Three Hebrews and the Magi in the Christian Art of Late Antiquity (Graduate Theological Union, 1985), 77-79.

3 Saint Joannes Chrysostomus, Patriarch of Constantinople, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, onte Statues or To The People of Antioch, Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, vol.9 (Oxford, 1842): 84.

4 Saint Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian: Treatises, Fathers of the Church Series, vol. 36 (New York, 1958), p.108, 334, 84, 132; Saint Cyprianus, Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian: Treatises, Fathers of the Church Series, vol. 51 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1964), 18, 166, 197.

5 George Ogg, The Pseduo-Cyprianic “De Pascha Comutus,” (London: S.P.C.K., 1955): 15.

6 Gleason Archer, translator, Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1958), 40.

7 Emile Male, Religious Art in France; the 12th Century, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978): 53; M. Edmund LeBlant, Etude sur les Sarcophages Chretiens Antiguesde la Ville d’Arles, (Paris, 1878); xxvi.

8


9 Irwin, 1985, 95; Vincent Kerns, “The Traditional Doctrine of Purgatory,” The Irish Ecclesiastical Record 80, (1953): 326-346.

10 Irwin, 1985, 235 #68; LeGoff, 1986, 3.

11Le Goff, 1986, 3. He also mentions the late second century text The Passion of Perpetua as being one of the earliest references to a state of purgation.

12 Alan Segal, Life After Death, (New York: Doubleday, 2004): 487.

13 Kern,1953,329.

14 Thomas Whittemore, Notes and Illustrations of the Parables of the New Testament, (Boston: Published by the author, 37 Cornhill, 1846): 58; For the interpretation of these instances see: Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

15 Irwin, 1985, 90.





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