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Apocalyptic literature

This entry only concerns the historical genre of apocalyptic literature. Justifications and interpretations within theological contexts are abundantly available at entries for individual books. For other uses, see Apocalypse (disambiguation) for a list.
Apocalyptic literature was a new genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians.

"Apocalypse" is from the Greek word for "revelation" which means "an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling" (Goswiller 1987 p. 3). The poetry of the Book of Revelation that is traditionally ascribed to John is well known to many Christians who are otherwise unaware of the literary genre it represents.

The apocalyptic literature of Judaism and Christianity embraces a considerable period, from the centuries following the exile down to the close of the middle ages. In the present survey we shall limit ourselves to the great formative periods in this literature--in Judaism from 200 BCE to 100 CE, and in Christianity from 50 to approximately 350 CE.

Transition from prophecy to apocalyptic literature

Apocalyptical elements (αποκαλυπτειν, to reveal something hidden) can be detected in the prophetical books of Joel and Zechariah, while Isaiah xxiv.-xxvii. and xxxiii. presents well-developed apocalypses. In the Book of Daniel we have a fully matured and classic example of this genre of literature.

The way, however, had in an especial degree been prepared for the apocalyptic type of thought and literature by Ezekiel, for with him the word of God had become identical with a written book (ii. 9-iii. 3) by the eating of which he learned the will of God, just as earlier writing conceived that the eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden imparted spiritual understanding and self-consciousness. When the divine word is thus conceived as a written message, the sole office of the prophet is to communicate what has been written. Thus the human element is reduced, and the conception of prophecy becomes stenographic. And as the personal element disappears in the conception of the prophetic calling, so it tends to disappear in the prophetic view of history, and the future comes to be conceived not as the organic result of the present under the divine guidance, but as mechanically determined from the beginning in the counsels of God, and arranged under artificial categories of time. This is essentially the apocalyptic conception of history, and Ezekiel may be justly represented as in certain essential aspects its founder in Israel.

Sources of apocalyptic literature

The origin of the apocalyptic genre is to be sought in unfulfilled prophecy and in traditional elements drawn from various sources.

Unfulfilled prophecy

Where were the promised glories of the renewed kingdom and Israel's unquestioned sovereignty over the nations of the earth? One such unfulfilled prophecy Ezekiel takes up and reinterprets in such a way as to show that its fulfilment is still to come. The prophets Jeremiah(iv.-vi.) and Zephaniah had foretold the invasion of Judah by a mighty people from the north. But as this northern foe had failed to appear Ezekiel re-edited this prophecy in a new form as a final assault of God and his hosts on Jerusalem. On the other hand, there is a striking difference between Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's prophecy: in Jeremiah's prophecy, the invading armies are said to be victorious over Israel as tools of God's judgment, whereas in Ezekiel's prophecy, the armies are destroyed by God before they ever have a chance to cause any damage to Israel. Also, it is possible that the invasion from the north predicted in Jeremiah 4:6; 6:1 was fulfilled in the subsequent invasion of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, since Jeremiah 25:9 suggests that northern armies would assist Nebuchadnezzar in his invasion of Judah. Thus, it is much more likely that the Battle of Gog and Magog prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39 is a quite different invasion altogether.

However, Ezekiel's prophecy established a permanent dogma in Jewish apocalyptic literature, which in due course passed over into Christian.

But the non-fulfillment of prophecies relating to this or that individual event or people served to popularize the methods of apocalyptic in a very slight degree in comparison with the non-fulfilment of the greatest of all prophecies--the advent of the Messianic kingdom. Thus, though Jeremiah had promised that after seventy years Israel should be restored to their own land, and then enjoy the blessings of the Messianic kingdom under the Messianic king, this period passed by and things remained as of old. On the other hand, some scholars believe that the Messianic kingdom was not necessarily predicted to occur at the end of the seventy years of the Babylonian exile, but at some unspecified time in the future. The only thing for certain that was predicted is the return of the Jews to their land, which occurred when Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon in c. 539 BC. Thus, the fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom remained in the future for the Jews.

Haggai and Zechariah explained the delay by the failure of Judah to rebuild the temple, and so generation after generation the hope of the kingdom persisted, sustained most probably by ever-fresh reinterpretations of ancient prophecy, till in the first half of the 2nd century the delay is explained in the Books of Daniel and Enoch as due not to man's shortcomings but to the counsels of God. Regarding the 70 years of exile predicted by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29:10, the Jews were first exiled in the year 605 B.C. in the reign of King Jehoiakim, and were allowed to return to their land in c. 536 B.C. when King Cyrus conquered Babylon. This time period was approximately 70 years, as prophesied by Jeremiah. But some people believe that the 70 years of Jeremiah were later interpreted by the angel in Daniel as 70 weeks of years, of which 69 1/2 have already expired, while the writer of Enoch interprets the 70 years of Jeremiah as the 70 successive reigns of the 70 angelic patrons of the nations, which are to come to a close in his own generation. The Book of Enoch, however, was not considered as inspired Scripture by the Jews, so that any failed prophecy in it is of no consequence to the Jewish faith.

The above periods came and passed by, and again the expectations of the Jews were disappointed. Presently the Greek empire of the East was overthrown by Rome, and in due course this new phenomenon, so full of meaning for the Jews, called forth a new interpretation of Daniel. The fourth and last empire which, according to Daniel vii. 10-25, was to be Greek, was now declared to be Roman by the Apocalypse of Baruch and 4 Ezra. (Again, these two books were not considered as inspired Scripture by the Jews, and thus were not authoritative on matters of prophecy.). Earlier in Daniel chapter 7, and also in chapter 2, however, the fourth and final world empire is actually Rome, since Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome were world empires which all clearly arrived in succession. (After Babylon fell, Media and Persia merged in a joint empire known as the Medo-Persian or Achaemenid Empire.) Thus, it appears that Daniel is saying here that Rome would be the last world power before the kingdom of God.

Once more such ideas as those of "the day of Yahweh" and the "new heavens and a new earth" were constantly re-edited by the Jewish people with fresh nuances in conformity with their new settings. Thus the inner development of Jewish apocalyptic was always conditioned by the historical experiences of the nation. But the prophecies found in Jewish Scriptures, which have not changed over time, await their fulfillment.

Traditions

Another source of apocalyptic was primitive mythological and cosmological traditions, in which the eye of the seer could see the secrets of the future no less surely than those of the past. Thus the six days of the world's creation, followed by a seventh of rest, were regarded as at once a history of the past and a forecasting of the future. As the world was made in six days its history would be accomplished in six thousand years, since each day with God was as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day; and as the six days of creation were followed by one of rest, so the six thousand years of the world's history would be followed by a rest of a thousand years. Of primitive mythological traditions we might mention the primeval serpent, leviathan, behemoth, while to ideas native to or familiar in apocalyptic belong those of the seven archangels, the angelic patrons of the nations, the mountain of God in the north, the garden of Eden.

Object and contents of apocalyptic literature

The object of this literature in general was to solve the difficulties connected with the righteousness of God and the suffering condition of His righteous servants on earth. Early Old Testament prophecy taught the absolute need of personal and national righteousness, and foretold the ultimate blessedness of the righteous nation on the present earth. Later prophecy incorporated an idea of future vindication of present evils, often including the idea of an afterlife. Apocalyptic prophets sketched in outline the history of the world and mankind, the origin of evil and its course, and the final consummation of all things. The righteous as a nation should yet possess the earth, either via an eternal Messianic kingdom on earth, or else in temporary blessedness here and eternal blessedness hereafter. Though the individual might perish amid the disorders of this world, apocalyptic prophets taught that he/she would not fail to attain through resurrection the recompense that was his/her due in the Messianic kingdom or in heaven itself.

Apocalyptic literature as a genre

There are many different perspectives on apocalyptic visions as literature. If one assumes that the visions were not authentic, the formulas of apocalyptic literature are the marks of a literary form, which can be analyzed like other literature. If one assumes that the visions are authentic, some argue that apocalyptic prophecy can still be analyzed as a genre of literature. From this perspective, the emotional value of the visions is to some extent guaranteed by the writer's intense earnestness and by his manifest belief in the divine origin of his message. Finally, some argue that apocalyptic visions are a mixture of past history dressed up in the guise of prediction, and unfulfilled future prophecy. This perspective has been expounded by Gunkel, who has emphasized that the writer did not freely invent his materials but derived them in the main from tradition; Gunkel held that these mysterious traditions of his people were accurate forecasts of the time to come.

Authorship can be difficult to determine; apocalyptic prophets often ascribed visionary experiences and reinterpretations of the mysterious traditions of his people to some heroic figure of the past. Assuming the accuracy of apocalyptic visions, there will always be a difficulty in determining what belongs to the actual vision and what to the literary skill or free invention of the author, since the visionary must be dependent on memory and past experience for the forms and much of the matter of the actual vision.

Apocalyptic literature as distinguished from prophecy

We have already dwelt on certain notable differences between apocalyptic and prophecy; but there are certain others that call for attention.

In the nature of its message

The message of the prophets was primarily a preaching of repentance and righteousness if the nation would escape judgment; the message of the apocalyptic writers was of patience and trust for that deliverance and reward were sure to come.

By its dualistic theology

Prophecy believes that this world is God's world and that in this world His goodness and truth will yet be vindicated. Hence the prophet prophesies of a definite future arising out of and organically connected with the present. The apocalyptic writer on the other hand despairs of the present, and directs his hopes absolutely to the future, to a new world standing in essential opposition to the present. Here we have essentially a dualistic principle, which, though it can largely be accounted for by the interaction of certain inner tendencies and outward sorrowful experience on the part of Judaism, may ultimately be derived from Mazdean influences. This principle, which shows itself clearly at first in the conception that the various nations are under angelic rulers, who are in a greater or less degree in rebellion against God, as in Daniel and Enoch, grows in strength with each succeeding age, till at last Satan is conceived as "the ruler of this world or "the god of this age.

Under the guidance of such a principle the writer naturally expected the world's culmination in evil to be the immediate precursor of God's intervention on behalf of the righteous, and every fresh growth in evil to be an additional sign that the time was at hand. The natural concomitant in conduct of such a belief is an uncompromising asceticism. He that would live to the next world must shun this. Visions are vouchsafed only to those who to prayer have added fasting.

By pseudonymous authorship

We have already touched on this characteristic of apocalyptic. The prophet stood in direct relations with his people; his prophecy was first spoken and afterwards written. The apocalyptic writer could obtain no hearing from his contemporaries, who held that, though God spoke in the past, "there was no more any prophet." This pessimism and want of faith limited and defined the form in which religious enthusiasm should manifest itself, and prescribed as a condition of successful effort the adoption of pseudonymous authorship. The apocalyptic writer, therefore, professedly addressed his book to future generations. Generally directions as to the hiding and sealing of the book were given in the text in order to explain its publication so long after the date of its professed period. Moreover, there was a sense in which such books were not wholly pseudonymous. Their writers were students of ancient prophecy and apocalyptical tradition, and, though they might recast and reinterpret them, they could not regard them as their own inventions. Each fresh apocalypse would in the eyes of its writer be in some degree but a fresh edition of the traditions naturally attaching themselves to great names in Israel's past, and thus the books named respectively Enoch, Noah, Ezra would to some slight extent be not pseudonymous.

By its comprehensive and deterministic conception of history

Apocalyptic took an indefinitely wider view of the world's history than prophecy. Thus, whereas prophecy had to deal with temporary reverses at the hands of some heathen power, apocalyptic arose at a time when Israel had been subject for generations to the sway of one or other of the great world-powers. Hence to harmonize such difficulties with belief in God's righteousness, it had to take account of the rôle of such empires in the counsels of God, the rise, duration and downfall of each in turn, till finally the lordship of the world passed into the hands of Israel, or the final judgment arrived. These events belonged in the main to the past, but the writer represented them as still in the future, arranged under certain artificial categories of time definitely determined from the beginning in the counsels of God and revealed by Him to His servants the prophets. Determinism thus became a leading characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic, and its conception of history became severely mechanical.

Old Testament Era Apocalyptic Literature

Canonical books

(See the separate headings for the various apocalyptic books mentioned in this article.) All are probably pseudepigraphic except the passages from Ezekiel and Joel. Of the remaining passages and books, some consider large sections of Daniel attributable to the Maccabean period, with the rest possibly to the same period. Some consider Isaiah xxxiii. to be written about 163 B.C.; Zech. xii.-xiv. about 160 B.C., Isaiah xxiv.-xxvii. about 128 B.C., and xxxiv.-xxxv. sometime in the reign of John Hyrcanus. Jeremiah xxxiii. 14-26 is assigned by Marti to Maccabean times, but this is highly questionable.

Non-Canonical Books

Book of Noah

This is a lost work, known through fragments.

1 Enoch, or the Ethiopic Book of Enoch

This is the most important of all the apocryphal writings for the history of religious thought. Like the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Megilloth and the Pirke Aboth, this work was divided into five parts, which, as we shall notice presently, spring from five different sources.

Originally written partly in Aramaic (i.e. vi.-xxxvi.) and partly in Hebrew (i.-vi., xxxvii.-cviii.), it was translated into Greek, and from Greek into Ethiopic and possibly Latin. Only one-fifth of the Greek version in two forms survives. The various elements of the book were written by different authors at different dates, vi.-xxxvi. was written before 166 B.C., lxxii.-lxxxii. before the Book of Jubilees, i.e. before 120 B.C. or thereabouts, lxxxiii.-xc. about 166 B.C., i.-v., xci.-civ. before 95 B.C., and xxxvii.-lxxi. before 64 B.C. There are many interpolations drawn mainly from the Book of Noah.

Testaments of the XII Patriarchs

This book, in some respects the most important of Old Testament apocryphs, has only recently come into its own. Owing to Christian interpolations, it was taken to be a Christian apocryph, written originally in Greek in the 2nd century A.D. Now it is acknowledged by Christian and Jewish scholars alike to have been written in Hebrew in the 2nd century B.C.

From Hebrew it was translated into Greek and from Greek into Amenian and Slavonic. The versions have come down in their entirety, and small portions of the Hebrew text have been recovered from later Jewish writings.

The Testaments were written about the same date as the Book of Jubilees. These two books form the only Apology in Jewish literature for the religious and civil hegemony of the Maccabees from the Pharisaic standpoint. To the Jewish interpolation of the 1st century B.C. (about 60-40) a large interest attaches; for these, like I Enoch xci.-civ. and the Psalms of Solomon, constitute an unmeasured attack on every office-- prophetic, priestly and kingly--administered by the Maccabees.

Psalms of Solomon

These psalms, in all eighteen, enjoyed but small consideration in early times, for only six direct references to them are found in early literature. Their ascription to Solomon is due solely to the copyists or translators, for no such claim is made in any of the psalms. On the whole, Ryle and James are no doubt right in assigning 70-40 B.C. as the limits within which the psalms were written. The authors were Pharisees. They divide their countrymen into two classes--"the righteous," ii. 38-39, iii. 3-5, 7, 8, &c., and "the sinners," ii. 38, iii. 13, iv. 9, &c.; "the saints," iii. 10, &c., and "the transgressors," iv. II, &c. The former are the Pharisees; the latter the Sadducees. They protest against the Asmonaean house for usurping the throne of David, and laying violent hands on the high priesthood (xvii. 5, 6, 8), and proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the Son of David, who is to set all things right and establish the supremacy of Israel. Pss. xvii.-xviii. and i.-xvi. cannot be assigned to the same authorship. The hopes of the Messiah are confined to the former, and a somewhat different eschatology underlies the two works. Since the Psalms were written in Hebrew, and intended for public worship in the synagogues, it is most probable that they were composed in Palestine. (See Psalms of Solomon)

The Assumption of Moses

This book was lost for many centuries till a large fragment of it was discovered by Antonio Maria Ceriani in 1861 (Monumenta Sacra, I. i. 55-64) from a palimpsest of the 6th century. Very little was known about the contents of this book prior to this discovery.

The present book is possibly the long-lost Διαθηκη Μωυσεως mentioned in some ancient lists, for it never speaks of the assumption of Moses, but always of his natural death. About a half of the original Testament is preserved in the Latin version. The latter half probably dealt with questions about the creation. With this "Testament" the "Assumption," to which almost all the patristic references and that of Jude are made, was subsequently edited. The book was written between 4 B.C. and A.D. 7. As for the author, he was no Essene, for he recognizes animal sacrifices and cherishes the Messianic hope; he was not a Sadducee, for he looks forward to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom (x.); nor a Zealot, for the quietistic ideal is upheld (ix.), and the kingdom is established by God Himself (x.). He is therefore a Chasid of the ancient type, and glorifies the ideals which were cherished by the old Pharisaic party, but which were now being fast disowned in favour of a more active role in the political life of the nation. He pours his most scathing invectives on the Sadducees, who are described in vii. in terms that recall the anti-Sadducean Psalms of Solomon. His object, therefore, is to protest against the growing secularization of the Pharisaic party through its adoption of popular Messianic beliefs and political ideals.

Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch

This apocalypse has survived only in the Syriac version. The Syriac is a translation from the Greek, and the Greek in turn from the Hebrew. The book treats of the Messiah and the Messianic kingdom, the woes of Israel in the past and the destruction of Jerusalem in the present, as well as of theological questions relating to original sin, free will, works, &c. The views expressed on several of these subjects are often conflicting. We must, therefore, assume a number of independent sources put together by an editor or else that the book is on the whole the work of one author who made use of independent writings but failed to blend them into one harmonious whole. In its present form the book was written soon after A.D. 70. For fuller treatment see Baruch.

4 Ezra

This apocryph is variously named. In the first Arabic and Ethiopic versions it is called 1 Ezra; in some Latin MSS. and in the English authorized version it is 2 Ezra, and in the Armenian 3 Ezra. With the majority of the Latin MSS. we designate the book 4 Ezra.

In its fullest form this apocryph consists of sixteen chapters, but i.-ii. and xv.-xvi. are of different authorship from each other and from the main work iii.-xiv. The book was written originally in Hebrew. There are Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic (two), and Armenian versions. The Greek version is lost. This apocalypse is of very great importance, on account of its very full treatment of the theological questions rife in the latter half of the 1st century of the Christian era. The book, even if written by one author, was based on a variety of already existing works. It springs from the same school of thought as the Apocalypse of Baruch, and its affinities with the latter are so numerous and profound that scholars have not yet come to any consensus as to the relative priority of either. In its present form it was composed A.D. 80-100.

Greek Apocalypse of Baruch

This work is referred to by Origen of Alexandria (de Princip. II. iii. 6):

"Denique etiam Baruch prophetae librum in assertionis hujus' testimonium vocant, quod ibi de septem mundis vel caelis evidentius indicatur."

This book survives in two forms in Slavonic and Greek. The former was translated by Bonwetsch in 1896, in the Nachrichten von der königl. Ges. der Wiss. zu, Gott. pp. 91-101; the latter by James in 1897 in Anecdota, ii. 84-94, with an elaborate introduction (pp. li.-lxxi.). The Slavonic is only of secondary value, as it is merely an abbreviated form of the Greek. Even the Greek cannot claim to be the original work, but only to be a recension of it; for, whereas Origen of Alexandria states that this apocalypse contained an account of the seven heavens, the existing Greek work describes only five, and the Slavonic only two.

As the original, work presupposes 2 Enoch and the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) and was known to Origen, it was written between A.D. 80 and 200, and nearer the earlier date than the later, as it would otherwise be hard to understand how it came to circulate among Christians. The superscription shows points of connexion with the Rest of the Words of Baruch, but little weight can be attached to the fact, since titles and superscriptions were so frequently transformed and expanded in ancient times. As James and Kohler have pointed out, part of section 4 on the Vine is a Christian addition. A German translation of the Greek appears in Emil Kautzsch's Apok. u. Pseud, ii. 448-457, and a strong article by Kohler on the Jewish authorship of the book in the Jewish Encyclopedia, ii. 549-551. (See Baruch.)

Apocalypse of Abraham

This book is found only in the Slavonic (edited by Bonwetsch, Studien zur Geschichte d. Theologie und Kirche, 1897), a translation from the Greek. It is of Jewish origin, but in part worked over by a Christian reviser. The first part treats of Abraham's conversion, and the second forms an. apocalyptic expansion of Gen. xv. This book was possibly known to the author of the Clem. Recognitions, i. 32, a passage, however, which may refer to Jubilees. It is most probably distinct from the Αποκαλυψις Αβρααμ used by the gnostic Sethites (Epiphanius, Haer. xxxix. 5), which was considered heretical by mainstream Christianity. On the other hand, it is probably identical with the apocryphal book Αβρααμ mentioned in the Stichometry of Nicephorus, and the Synopsis Athanasii, together with the Apocalypses of Enoch, &c.

Lost Apocalypses: Prayer of Joseph

The Prayer of Joseph is quoted by Origen of Alexandria. The fragments in Origen of Alexandria represent Jacob as speaking and claiming to be "the first servant in God's presence," "the first-begotten of every creature animated by God," and declaring that the angel who wrestled with Jacob (and was identified by Christians with Christ) was only eighth in rank. The work was obviously anti-Christian.

Book of Eldad and Modad

This book was written in the name of the two prophets mentioned in Num. xi. 26-29. It consisted, according to the Targ. Jon. on Num. xi. 26-20, mainly of prophecies on Magog's last attack on Israel. The Shepherd of Hermas quotes it Vis. ii. 3. (See )

Apocalypse of Elijah

Apocalypse of Zephaniah

Apart from two of the lists this work is known to us in its original form only through a citation in Clem. Alex. Strom. v. II, 77.

2 Enoch, or the Slavonic Enoch, or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch

This new fragment of the Enochic literature was recently brought to light through five MSS. discovered in Russia and Servia. The book in its present form was written before A.D. 70 in Greek by an orthodox Hellenistic Jew, who lived in Egypt. For a fuller account see 2 Enoch.

Oracles of Hystaspes

See under N. T. Apocalypses, below.

Testament of Job

This book was first printed from one MS. by Mai, Script. Vet. Nov. Coll. (1833), VII. i. 180, and translated into French in Migne's Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, ii. 403. An excellent edition from two MSS. is given by M. R. James, Apocrypha Anecdota, ii. pp. lxxii.-cii., 104-137, who holds that the book in its present form was written by a Christian Jew in Egypt on the basis of a Hebrew Midrash on Job in the 2nd or 3rd century. A. D. Kohler (Kohut Memorial Volume, 1897, pp. 264-338) has given good grounds for regarding the whole work, with the exception of some interpolations, as "one of the most remarkable productions of the pre-Christian era, explicable only when viewed in the light of Hasidean practice." See Jewish Encycl. vii. 200-202.

Testaments of the III Patriarchs

For an account of these three Testaments (referred to in the Apost. Const. vi. 16), the first of which only is preserved in the Greek and is assigned by James to the 2nd century A.D., see that scholar's "Testament of Abraham," Texts and Studies, ii. 2 (1892), which appears in two recensions from six and three MSS. respectively, and Vassiliev's Anecdota Graeco-Byzantina, (1893), pp. 292-308, from one MS. already used by James. This work was written in Egypt, according to James, and survives also in Slavonic, Romanian, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions. It deals with Abraham's reluctance to die and the means by which his death was brought about. James holds that this book is referred to by Origen of Alexandria (Hom. in Luc. xxxv.), but this is denied by Schürer, who also questions its Jewish origin. With the exception of chaps. x.-xi., it is really a legend and not an apocalypse. An English translation of James's texts will be found in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (Clark, 1897), pp. 185-201. The Testaments of Isaac and Jacob are still preserved in Arabic and Ethiopic (see James, op. cit. 140-161). See Testaments of the III Patriarchs.

Sibylline Oracles

Of the books which have come down to us the main part is Jewish, and was written at various dates, iii. 97-829, iv.-v. are decidedly of Jewish authorship, and probably xi.-xii., xiv. and parts of i.-ii. The oldest portions are in iii., and belong to the 2nd century B.C.

New Testament Era Apocalyptic Literature

When we pass from Jewish literature to that of early Christianity, we see the continuation of the tradition of apocalyptic prophecy. In this era, prophecies were no longer only in books bearing the names of ancient patriarchs, but on the lips of living men, who believed they were God's messengers before His people. Early Christianity had a special fondness for this class of literature. Christianity that preserved the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, as Judaism as developed into Rabbinism, and gave it a Christian character either by a forcible exegesis or by a systematic process of interpolation. Moreover, Christianity cultivated this form of literature and made it the vehicle of its own ideas. Christianity saw itself as the spiritual representative of what was true in prophecy and apocalyptic; its essential teaching was as that of its Founder that both worlds were of God and that both should be made God's.

Canonical

Apocalypse in Mark xiii

According to the teaching of the Gospels the second advent was to take the world by surprise. Only one passage (Mark xiii. = Matt. xxiv. = Luke xxi.) conflicts with this view, and is therefore suspicious. This represents the second advent as heralded by a succession of signs which are unmistakable precursors of its appearance, such as wars, earthquakes, famines, the destruction of Jerusalem and the like. Our suspicion is justified by a further examination of Mark xiii. For the words "let him that readeth understand" (ver. 14) indicate that the prediction referred to appeared first not in a spoken address but in a written form, as was characteristic of apocalypses. Again, in ver. 30, it is declared that this generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled, whereas in 32 we have an undoubted declaration of Christ "Of that day or of that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." On these and other grounds verses 7, 8, 14-20, 24-27, 30, 31 should be removed from their present context. Taken together they constitute a Christian adaptation of an originally Jewish work, written A.D. 67-68, during the troubles preceding the fall of Jerusalem. The apocalypse consists of three Acts: Act i. consisting of verses 7, 8, enumerating the woes heralding the parousia, Act ii. describing the actual tribulation, and Act iii. the parousia itself. (See Wendt, Lehre Jesu, i. 12-21; Charles, Eschatology, 325 sqq.; H. S. Holtzmann, N. T. Theol. 1-325 sqq. with literature there given.)

2 Thessalonians ii

The earliest form of Pauline eschatology is essentially Jewish. He starts from the fundamental thought of Jewish apocalyptic that the end of the world will be brought about by the direct intervention of God when evil has reached its climax. The manifestation of evil culminates in the Antichrist whose parousia (2 Thess. ii. 9) is the Satanic counterfeit of that of the true Messiah. But the climax of evil is the immediate herald of its destruction; for thereupon Christ will descend from heaven and destroy the Antichrist (ii. 8). Nowhere in his later epistles does this forecast of the future reappear. Rather under the influence of the great formative Christian conceptions he parted gradually with the eschatology he had inherited from Judaism, and entered on a different development, in the course of which the heterogeneous elements were for the most part silently dropped.

Apocalypse (Revelation)

Since this book is discussed separately we shall content ourselves here with indicating a few of the conclusions now generally accepted. The apocalypse was written about A.D. 96. Its object, like other Jewish apocalypses, was to encourage faith under persecution; its burden is not a call to repentance but a promise of deliverance. It is derived from one author, who has made free use of a variety of elements, some of which are Jewish. The question of the pseudonymity of the book is still an open one. It is also speculated in some Catholic circles that this book is also a depiction of the Mass in Heaven and a testament to the sacrificial nature of the Mass and was written poetically so as not to bring attention to the first century Christians who were under much persecution at the time.

Non-Canonical

Greek Apocalypse of Peter

Until 1892 only some five or more fragments of this book were known to exist. These are preserved in Clement of Alexandria and in Macarius Magnes. It is mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, and according to Eusebius was commented on by Clement of Alexandria.

In the fragment found at Akhmim there is a prediction of the last things, and a vision of the abode and blessedness of the righteous, and of the abode and torments of the wicked.

Testament of Hezekiah

This writing is fragmentary, and has been preserved merely as a constituent of the Ascension of Isaiah. To it belongs iii. 13b-iv. 18 of that book. It is found under the above name, Διαθηκη Εζεκιον, only in Cedrenus i. 120-121, who quotes partially iv. 12. 14 and refers to iv. 15-18. For a full account see Ascension of Isaiah.

Testament of Abraham

This work in two recensions was first published by James, Texts and Studies, ii. 2. Its editor is of opinion that it was written by a Jewish Christian in Egypt in the 2nd century A.D., but that it embodies legends of an earlier date, and that it received its present form in the 9th or 10th century. It treats of Michael being sent to announce to Abraham his death: of the tree speaking with a human voice (iii.), Michael's sojourn with Abraham (iv.-v.) and Sarah's recognition of him as one of the three angels, Abraham's refusal to die (vii.), and the vision of judgment (x.-xx.).

Oracles of Hystaspes

This eschatological work (Χρησεις Ὑστασπον: so named by the anonymous 5th-century writer in Buresch, Klaros, 1889, p. 95) is mentioned in conjunction with the Sibyllines by Justin (Apol. i. 20), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. vi. 5), and Lactantius (Inst. VII. xv. 19; xviii. 2-3). According to Lactantius, it prophesied the overthrow of Rome and the advent of Zeus to help the godly and destroy the wicked, but omitted all reference to the sending of the Son of God. According to Justin, it prophesied the destruction of the world by fire. According to the Apocryph of Paul, cited by Clement, Hystaspes foretold the conflict of the Messiah with many kings and His advent. Finally, an unknown 5th-century writer (see Buresch, Klaros, 1889, pp. 87-126) says that the Oracles of Hystaspes dealt with the incarnation of the Saviour. The work referred to in the last two writers has Christian elements, which were absent from it in Lactantius's copy. The lost oracles were therefore in all probability originally Jewish, and subsequently re-edited by a Christian.

Vision of Isaiah

This writing has been preserved in its entirety in the Ascension of Isaiah, of which it constitutes chaps, vi.-xi. Before its incorporation in the latter work it circulated independently in Greek. There are independent versions of these chapters in Latin and Slavonic.

Shepherd of Hermas

In the 2nd century this book enjoyed a respect bordering on that paid to the writings that were eventually incorporated into the New Testament. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen of Alexandria quote it as Scripture, though Tertullian speaks slightingly of it. The writer belongs really to the prophetic and not to the apocalyptic school.

His book is divided into three parts containing visions, commands, similitudes. He lets us know that he had been engaged in trade, that his wife was a termagant, and that his children were badly brought up. Various views have been held as to the identity of the author: some have made him out to be the Hermas to whom salutation is sent at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, others that he was the brother of Pius, bishop of Rome in the middle of the 2nd century, and others that he was a contemporary of Clement, bishop of Rome at the close of the 1st century.

Theodor Zahn fixes the date at 97, Salmon a few years later, Richard Adelbert Lipsius 142.

5 Ezra

This book, which constitutes in the later MSS. the first two chapters to 4 Ezra, falls obviously into two parts. The first (i. 5-ii. 9) contains a strong attack on the Jews whom it regards as the people of God; the second (ii. 10-47) addresses itself to the Christians as God's people and promises them the heavenly kingdom. It is not improbable that these chapters are based on an earlier Jewish writing. In its present form it may have been written before A.D. 200, though James and other scholars assign it to the 3rd century. Its tone is strongly anti-Jewish. The style is very vigorous and the materials of a strongly apocalyptic character.

6 Ezra

This work consists of chapters xv.-xvi. of 4 Ezra. It may have been written as an appendix to 4 Ezra, as it has no proper introduction. Its contents relate to the destruction of the world through war and natural catastrophes--for the heathen a source of menace and fear, but for the persecuted people of God one of admonition and comfort. There is nothing specifically Christian in the book, which represents a persecution which extends over the whole eastern part of the Empire. Moreover, the idiom is particularly Semitic. Thus we have xv. 8 nec sustinebo in his quae inique exercent, that is בשא ב ; in 9 vindicans vindicabo: in 22 non parcet dextera mea super peccatores = φεισεται ... επι = יתמול...על. In verses 9, 19 the manifest corruptions may be explicable from a Semitic background. There are other Hebraisms in the text. It is true that these might have been due to the writer's borrowings from earlier Greek works ultimately of Hebrew origin. The date of the book is also quite uncertain, though several scholars have ascribed it to the 3rd century.

Christian Sibyllines

Critics are still at variance as to the extent of the Christian Sibyllines. It is practically agreed that vi.-viii. are of Christian origin. As for i.-ii., xi.-xiv. most writers are in favour of Christian authorship; but not so Johannes Geffcken (Oracula Sibyllina, 1902), who strongly insists on the Jewish origin of large sections of these books.

Apocalypses of Paul, Thomas and Stephen

These are mentioned in the Gelasian decree. The first may possibly be the [Greek: Anabagikon Paulou] mentioned by Epiphanius (Haer. xxxviii. 2) as current among the Cainites. It is not to be confounded with the apocalypse mentioned two sections later.

Apocalypse of Esdras

This Greek production resembles the more ancient fourth book of Esdras in some respects. The prophet is perplexed about the mysteries of life, and questions God respecting them. The punishment of the wicked especially occupies his thoughts. Since they have sinned in consequence of Adam's fall, their fate is considered worse than that of the irrational creation. The description of the tortures suffered in the infernal regions is tolerably minute. At last the prophet consents to give up his spirit to God, who has prepared for him a crown of immortality. The book is a poor imitation of the ancient Jewish one. It may belong, however, to the 2nd or 3rd centuries of the Christian era. See Constantin von Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocryphae, pp. 24-33.

Apocalypse of Paul

This work contains a description of the things which the apostle saw in heaven and hell. The text, as first published in the original Greek by Tischendorf (Apocalypses Apocr. 34-69), consists of fifty-one chapters, but is imperfect.

Internal evidence assigns it to the time of Theodosius, i.e. about A.D. 388. Where the author lived is uncertain. Justin Perkins found a Syriac MS. of this apocalypse, which he translated into English, and printed in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1864, vol. viii. This was republished by Tischendorf below the Greek version in the above work. In 1893 the Latin version from one MS. was edited by M. R. James, Texts and Studies, ii. 1-42, who shows that the Latin version is the most complete of the three, and that the Greek in its present form is abbreviated.

Apocalypse of John

(Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocr. 70 sqq.) contains a description of the future state, the general resurrection and judgment, with an account of the punishment of the wicked, as well as the bliss of the righteous. It appears to be the work of a Jewish Christian. The date is late, for the writer speaks of the "venerable and holy images," as well as "the glorious and precious crosses and the sacred things of the churches" (xiv.), which points to the 5th century, when such things were first introduced into churches.

Arabic Apocalypse of Peter

Contains a narrative of events from the foundation of the world till the second advent of Christ. The book is said to have been written by Clement, Peter's disciple. This Arabic work has not been printed, but a summary of the contents is given by Alexander Nicoll in his catalogue of the Oriental MSS. belonging to the Bodleian (p. 49, xlviii.). There are eighty-eight chapters. It is a late production; for Ishmaelites are spoken of, the Crusades, and the taking of Jerusalem. See Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocrypae pp. xx.-xxiv.

Apocalypse of the Virgin

This book contains her descent into hell. It is not entirely published, but only several portions from Greek MSS. in different libraries, by Tischendorf in his Apocalypses Apocryphae, pp. 95 sqq.; James, Texts and Studies, ii. 3. 109-126.

Apocalypse of Sedrach

This late apocalypse, which M. R. James assigns to the 10th or 11th century, deals with the subject of intercession for sinners and Sedrach's unwillingness to die. See James, Texts and Studies, ii. 3. 127-137.

Apocalypse of Daniel

See Vassiliev's Anecdota Graeco-Byzantina (Moscow, 1893), pp. 38-44; Uncanonical Books of the Old Testament (Venice, 1901), pp. 237 sqq., 387 sqq.

The Revelations of Bartholomew

Dulaurier published from a Parisian Sahidic MS., subjoining a French translation, what is termed a fragment of the apocryphal revelations of St Bartholomew (Fragment des révélations apocryphes de Saint Barthélemy, &c., Paris, 1835), and of the history of the religious communities founded by St Pachomius. After narrating the pardon obtained by Adam, it is said that the Son ascending from Olivet prays the Father on behalf of His apostles; who consequently receive consecration from the Father, together with the Son and Holy Spirit--Peter being made archbishop of the universe. The late date of the production is obvious.

Questions of St Bartholomew

See Vassiliev, Anec. Graeco-Byzantina (1893), pp. 10-22. The introduction, which is wanting in the Greek MS., has been supplied by a Latin translation from the Slavonic version (see pp. vii.-ix.). The book contains disclosures by Christ, the Virgin and Beliar and much of the subject-matter is ancient.

Apocalypse of Zerubbabel

The Apocalypse of Zerubbabel is a medieval Hebrew apocalypse written at the beginning of the seventh century. Zerubbabel, who laid the foundation of the Second Temple in the 6th century BCE, receives a revelatory vision outlining the restoration of Israel, the End of Days, and the establishment of the Third Temple.

Others

More thoughts on apocalyptic

An apocalypse is a literary report of a fearful, often violent, vision that reveals truths about past, present and future times in highly symbolic and poetical terms. The poet may represent himself as transported into a heavenly realm, or the vision may be unveiled— and even interpreted— by an angelic messenger. Apocalyptic exhortations are aimed at chastening and reforming their hearers with threats of punishment and rewards in the coming "end times." A brief apocalyptic vision is found in Gospel of Mark 13 is sometimes called the "Little Apocalypse" and parallel passages can be found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.

Apocalyptic poetry concentrates the character that Northrop Frye has found in the Bible as a whole: "a series of ecstatic moments or points of expanding apprehension—this approach is in fact the assumption on which every selection of a text for a sermon is based" (Frye 1957 p 326).

In connection with a PBS documentary "Apocalypse!" Dr. L. Michael White said, "Apocalyptic thinking has been called "the child of prophecy in a new idiom." (see link). White drew attention to the new direction prophecy took after the Hebrews' return from the trauma of the "Babylonian captivity." Earlier prophets of Israel and Judah had spoken of the word of God, calling the children of Israel to their duty. The newer apocalyptic writings, in the aftermath of the destruction of Solomon's temple looked forward to coming divine retribution and made forecasts of the future that contrasted hope and despair. The throne of David itself, as it was not unshakeable as events had proved, took on metaphoric meanings. Early examples of the apocalyptic world-view can be found in the late additions made to Isaiah by the pseudepigraphical writer called the "Third Isaiah" (chapters 56 to 66), and in the collection of prophetic forecasts of this new kind that are collected as Ezekiel

The new cultural element included extreme and vivid polarized contrasts, a distinctly realized Satan in opposition to Yahweh, a city of Evil (Babylon) contrasted to the city of God (Jerusalem), the evil and corruption and despair of the visible world contrasted with the blinding light of the world to come and often embodied in demons and dragons, elements deriving from Zoroastrian dualism. A new focus on eschatology, the End of All Things, was also foreign to the earlier Hebrew tradition. Some, though not all apocalyptic literature was messianic, predicting the imminent arrival of a savior—even in Essene writings, of more than one savior.

The overtly allegorical nature of this new literature inspired new allegorical readings, now applied to every kind of earlier statement, a detailed unravelling of texts, often to give results not originally foreseen, which influenced the development of techniques of exegesis for Jewish and Christian scholar alike and became a foundation of the medieval hermeneutics, which are still practiced today in some traditionalist circles, as "Biblical hermeneutics".

Among books of prophecy of this new kind, the Book of Daniel was accepted into the Hebrew Bible, among the "Writings," as the sense of a canonic literature developed in the Rabbinic tradition during the first centuries of the Common Era. Other apocalyptic literature did not make the cut: The Book of Enoch, some of which is older than Daniel (though it has received some Christian interpolations and editing in the versions that have survived) was never considered canonical by Jews or Christians, though it is quoted or paralleled dozens of times in the New Testament. Enoch has been called "an ecstatic elaboration" of the line in Genesis (v.22): "And Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he begat Methuselah." The book of Jubilees (2nd century BCE) also contains some apocalyptic poetry. The so-called Sibylline Oracles, which were assembled partly in Alexandria, are filled with pseudo-prophecy (vaticinium ex eventu, written after the fact) and threatening generalities; they bridge any apparent gap between late Jewish apocalyptic literature and early Christian writings in the genre.

Within the Christian tradition, the Apocalypse of Peter and The Shepherd of Hermas are examples of apocalyptic literature that devotees of Revelation would also enjoy, though their poetry never reaches the same intensity.

Apocalyptic literature has had a long history. Some aspects of apocalyptic visions can be found in the Kabbalah.

See also

References

Notes

External links

Bibliography

  • Goswiller, Richard, Revelation, Pacific Study Series, Melbourne, (1987).
  • Frye, Northrop, 1957. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays.
  • Reddish, Mitchell G. Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader
  • Collins, John Joseph The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (The Biblical Resource Series)
  • Cook, David, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Religion and Politics)
  • Cook, Stephen L., The Apocalyptic Literature: Interpreting Biblical Texts
  • Charlesworth, James H. ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Anchor Bible)

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