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Book of Elchasai

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Estimated Range of Dating: 101-220 A.D.

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Information on Book of Elchasai

Johannes Irmscher writes (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, p. 685):

Hippolytus (Ref. 9.13-17 and 10.29), Epiphanius (Haer. 19 and 30) and Origen (ap. Euseb. HE VI 38) all mention the book of a certain Elchasai, which was used by several sects and in particular by the Elchasaites, who were named after this Elchasai. Hippolytus and Epiphanius, the latter clearly uninfluenced by the former, adduce extracts from this book, the only remains that we possess. One of these fragments (No. 9) contains a cryptogram which, reading outswards from the middle word and inverting the order of the letters, produces an Aramaic formula; such a play upon words pre-supposes readers who understood Aramaic, and makes it probable that the book in its original form was written in that language. The author's name is given as Elchasai by Hippolytus or his authority Alcibiades, the disciple of Elchasai, and also later by the Arabic writer en Nedim in the Fihrist (cf. D. Chwolson, Die Ssabier und Ssabismus 2, 1856, 543), while Epiphanius has Elxai; the first and better-attested form deserves the preference. Both forms of the name go back to the Aramaic [ARAMAIC], which Epiphanius (Haer. 19.2.10) correctly translates as 'hidden power'. It is not possible to decide whether Elchasai was his own name or a sobriquet (like that, for example, of Simon Magus in Acts 8:10).

Irmscher writes further (op. cit., pp. 686-687):

Origin and dissemination: according to his own account (frag. 2) Elchasai came forward with his message in the third year of Trajan (101); he seems to have composed his book during the reign of the same emperor, as is suggested by the prophecy, given in frag. 7 but not fulfilled, of a universal conflict blazing up three years after the Parthian war (114-116) but still under Trajan's rule. The reports about Elchasai's homeland are contradictory; the most worthy of credit are some references in Epiphanius (Haer. 19.2.10f..; 53.1.1ff.), which point to the region east of Jordan. The work was dedicated to the 'Sobiai', the 'baptized' (from [ARAMAIC]), as the adherents of Elchasai called themselves (not a person of that name, as Hippolytus, Ref. 9.13.1-3 = Frag. 1a wrongly assumed). It was however disseminated also among other religious groups, both Jewish and Jewish-Christian, and for this Epiphanius once again affords the evidence (Haer. 19.1; 30.18; 53). It was brought to the congregation of Callistus in Rome about 220, and that in a Greek version, by the above-mentioned Alcibiades of Apamea, who was active as a missonary in the imperial capital. A propagandist advance by the sect to Caesarea in the year 247 is mentioned by Eusebius (HE VI 38). It seems to have met with only slight success, and in any case we cannot speak of a wide diffusion of the sect. The influence of the Elchasaites upon Mani - as we now know from the Cologne Mani Codex - must however have been quite considerable. Down to his twenty-fourth year Mani lved in an Elchasaite community, and his own independent teaching developed in controversy with this baptist group.

The fragments are:

  1. Hippolytus Ref. 9.13.1-3
    Epiphanius Haer. 30.17.7
  2. Hippolytus Ref. 9.13.3-4
    Hippolytus Ref. 9.15.1-2
  3. Hippolytus Ref. 9.15.3
  4. Hippolytus Ref. 9.15.4-16.1
  5. Epiphanius Haer. 19.3.5
  6. Epiphanius Haer. 19.3.6f.
  7. Hippolytus Ref. 9.16.-24
  8. Epiphanius Haer. 19.1.8-9
  9. Epiphanius Haer. 19.4.3
  10. Hippolytus Ref. 9.17.1

All these fragments can be found in New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, pp. 687-689.

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Kirby, Peter. "Book of Elchasai." Early Christian Writings. <>.