The Lives of the Prophets is an ancient apocryphal account of the lives of the prophets from the Old Testament. It is not regarded as scripture by any Jewish or Christian denomination. The work may have been known by the author of some of the Pauline Epistles, as there are similarities in the descriptions of the fates of the prophets, although without naming the individuals concerned.
The work survives only in Christian manuscripts. There are two groups of Greek manuscripts: the first group includes many versions, well known in the past centuries, with heavy Christian additions. Some of these versions were attributed to Epiphanius of Salamis, others to Dorotheus of Tyre. The other group of Greek manuscripts is more stable and free from the interpolations found in the previous group: the best codex is a 6th-century CE manuscript usually referred to as Q or as anonymous recension. There is also a Latin version with a text near to Q used by Isidore of Seville (before 636 CE). There are also versions in Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic.
Original Language and Date
There is not consensus among scholars about the original language. Torrey proposed Hebrew, other authors proposed Aramaic. The preferred use of quotations from the Septuagint suggests a Greek original with semitic coloring.
Authenticating the dating is highly problematic due to the Christian transmission and presumed expansions. Most scholars consider this work to be of Jewish origin dating the 1st century CE. Torrey suggests a date before 106 CE. Hare the first quarter of the 1st century CE. Satran proposes an early Byzantine origin in the 4th-5th century on previous materials. But the date must be before the 5th century, as Torrey writes in his Introduction that the Lives "exists in several different rescensions. Of these, the most familiar is the one which appears in the works of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus (fourth century)".
It begins with an account of what it is attempting to contain:
The names of the prophets, and where they are from, and where they died and how, and where they lie
The Lives of the Prophets includes the lives of the 23 prophets. Some lives are extremely short, only the most basic information is given, while for the others there are details and stories. The main facts indicated in the Lives are the following:
Ezekiel: said to be of Arira and to be of a priesthood family. He suffered martyrdom in the land of the Chaldeans and was buried in the grave of Shem and Arpachshad. A description of the grave is given. Same stories of Ezekiel in the Babylonian captivity are then narrated.
Daniel: said to be of the Tribe of Judah and born at Beth Horon. He is described as a man devoted to fast and prayer, and the story, full of miraculous details, of Nebuchadrezzar's conversion is narrated.
Jonah: said to be born in the land of Kariathmos near the Greek town of Azotus. After his predication in Nineveh he went to live with his mother in Sur. He returned in Judea, died, and was buried in the cave of Kenaz (the one referred to in Genesis 36:11).
Habakkuk: said to be from the land of Bethzuchar and of the Tribe of Simeon. After the fall of Jerusalem he went to live in the land of Ishmael and then returned to help the Hebrews who remained. He later went in Babylonia during the Babylonian captivity where he met Daniel. He died two years before the end of the captivity and was buried in his land.
Elijah the Tishbite: is said to be from the land of the Arabs, of the tribe of Aaron that was in Gilead. The birth of Elijah was miraculous: when he was to be delivered, his father Sobacha saw white figures of man who greeted him, wrapped him up and fed him with flames.
The author of the Lives of the Prophets seems to have been more interested in miracles, intercessions and predictions of the prophets than in their ethical teaching.
One of the more typical themes of the Lives of the Prophets is the interest of the author for the burial places of the prophets. Jeremias in his study examines both the archaeological and the literary evidence, in particular the Herod architectural activity and the attestations of Matthew 23:29 and Luke 11:47, and considers the Lives as a witness of popular devotion in the 1st century.
The theme of prophets as intercessors for people long after the prophet's death is also present.
A major theme is martyrdom of the prophets: six prophets are said to have been martyred.