The Greek text of this work is printed for the first time in the same part of “Texts and Studies” as the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena. The sources for it are two manuscripts—one in Paris, belonging to the twelfth century, and the other in Oxford, dating from the fifteenth or sixteenth. The latter, however, only extends to the close of c. viii., the copy used by the scribe having been imperfect. There are versions of the work in Slavonic, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic; in the former of these the Blessed Ones are called the Brachmani.
From two passages in the poems of Commodian (c. 250 a.d.) it would seem that the work was known in his day, and the canon of Nicephoras (c. 850 a.d.) places it among certain apocryphal books which are to be rejected. At the same time, it is doubtful whether, in its present form, it can be put as far back as the earlier of these dates.
It professes to be the account of a visit to the Makares, or Blessed Ones, given by a hermit, Zosimus, who was privileged to visit them. For forty years he had abstained from bread and wine and from seeing the face of man, always praying to be permitted to see the life of the Blessed. With the second chapter the narrative begins in the first person, and is continued in this up to c. xxi., just where the angels come to receive the soul of Zosimus, and the work is then finished off by one of the hermits who were present at his last moments.
While the style is inelegant and sometimes obscure, the matter of the book is very interesting, and shows considerable powers of imagination. The land of the Blessed is reached by means of a camel, which comes from the desert, and then by a storm of wind, which carries Zosimus along with it. He is addressed by the river to which he comes, as well as by the wall of cloud which rises above it, and is finally lifted across it by two trees. The origin of the Blessed Ones is noteworthy, as connecting the story with early literature on the Lost Tribes. They are the descendants of Rechab in the days of Jeremiah the prophet, who, for refusing to give up their observances, are cast into prison by the king. From this they are delivered by an angel, and brought to the place they now inhabit,—a level land covered with flowers,—a view of Paradise which continues all through the Middle Ages. The chapters (x.–xv.) in which the Blessed describe their life and death are of special merit, and form the best part of the whole. In striking contrast to its lofty tone is the appearance of Satan with his 1360 demons, whom Zosimus finally overcomes and drives away.
To the various accounts of the Earthly Paradise, the story of Zosimus forms an important addition; on these it may, either directly or indirectly, have had considerable influence, although the difficulty of assigning a definite date to it makes this very uncertain.