Thursday, January 11, 2024

Two Witnesses (11.3–6)


And I will give my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.’

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing in front of the earth’s Lord. And if anyone desires to injure them, fire will come from their mouth and devour their enemies. And if anyone desires to injure them, he must be killed this way. These have the authority to shut heaven so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophecy. And they have authority over the waters, to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague whenever they desire.


These ‘two witnesses’ amalgamate several predecessors from the Hebrew Bible. Their epithet refers to the Torah’s requirement that a justified death sentence must be established on the testimony of a minimum two witnesses. Their sackcloth and fire-breathing suggests a prophet like Jeremiah. They are called ‘olive trees’ and ‘lampstands’, borrowing from Zechariah’s depiction of the high priest Jehoshua and the governor Zerubbabel, who were responsible for the construction of Jerusalem’s second temple (which plays back into the previous passage). The miracles they conjure remind of Elijah and Moses, whom some traditions expected would return from heaven prior to the eschaton. It is possible the author had in mind two contemporaries from among his peers.



4.8 Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and wail

5.14 Therefore thus says Yhwh, the god of armies: Because they have spoken this word, I am now making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them.


17.6 On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness.


1.17.1, 7 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As Yhwh the god of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ […] after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

2.2.11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.

2.19.1 When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of Yhwh.


37.34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days.


4.9 ‘If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.’


4.3, 11–13 And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’ […] Then I said to him, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?’ And a second time I said to him, ‘What are these two branches of the olive trees, which pour out the oil through the two golden pipes?’ He said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.’


3.5–8 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.


4.5–6 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of Yhwh comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.


4.1 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry


48.1, 10 Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire, and his word burned like a torch. […] At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Sibylline Oracles

2.187–189 Then the Thesbite, driving a heavenly chariot at full stretch from heaven, will come on earth and then display three signs to the whole world, as life perishes.


9.2–4 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

2 Enoch

1.5 from his mouth something like fire was coming forth


18.16 ‘But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.’


8.17 ‘In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid.’


Judean Antiquities 4.8.48 as he [Moses] was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God.

b Sota

13b And some say: Moses did not actually die, as it is written here: “And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there,” and it is written: “And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights.” Just as there, where it says: “And he was there with the Lord,” it means that he was standing and serving before God; so too, here, when it says: “And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there,” it means that he was standing and serving before God.

Deuteronomy Rabbah

3.17 The Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, ‘Moses, by your life, just as you gave your life for them in this world, so too in the future, when I bring Elijah the prophet, both of you will come together.’

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