apocalypse!
APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE in Judaism and Early Christianity by Professor L. Michael White
apocalypticism explained
home
the book of revelation
the antichrist
pictorial chronology
a roundtable
primary sources
join the discussion
The Genre of Apocalypse in Early Jewish & Christian Tradition

White is Professor of Classics and Christian Origins at the University of Texas at Austin, and acted as historical consultant for "Apocalypse!"
The Greek word apokalypsis (from which we get the English word "apocalypse") literally means "something uncovered" or "revealed." It emerged as a new genre of literature in early Jewish tradition commencing sometime in the third century BCE. Apocalyptic thinking has been called "the child of prophecy in a new idiom." This idea aptly reflects both its origins out of the older prophetic tradition and its new elements. For prophecy in ancient Israel, even down to the period of the Babylonian exile, had little to do with predicting the future or forecasting historical events. The great prophets of Israel, such as Isaiah or Jeremiah, were primarily concerned with delivering the "word of the Lord," meaning oracles calling on the people to respond to divine direction. But after the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, things began to change. Now there began to be oracles calling for people to hold fast, saying that there would be a restoration of the nation and that the enemies would eventually be punished by God. A future-looking sense of history was born, and we see these ideas especially in some of the proto-apocalyptic writers from the end of the prophetic tradition, such as the "Third Isaiah" writer and the compilers of Ezekiel.

The full flowering of apocalyptic, however, required other elements, and chief among these were influences from first the Persian culture and then the Greek, in the period from the fifth to the third centuries BCE. In this vein, apocalyptic has also been called "a product of hope and despair; hope in the eternal power of God and despair over the present evil conditions of the world." This sense of dualism, drawn chiefly from Persian Zoroastrianism, is characteristic of the genre, but specifically looks at time and history in dualistic categories: the present evil age will give way to a glorious new age. The break between these two was usually termed the "end" or "last things" (Greek: eschaton or eschata), meaning the "end" of the present evil age. The outlook of apocalypse literature thus recounts how the world will work itself out in this manner, usually with some account of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan and their respective forces. Notions of deliverer figures, such as the messiah (an old kingship title from the Davidic period) were commonplace in this scenario; however, not all apocalypses envision a concrete character as such, while others, notably the Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls, expected more than one messiah.

Apocalyptic thinking was extremely influential in Jewish tradition between the second century BCE and third century CE; however, the disastrous failure of the lltwo revolts against Rome (in 70 and 135 CE, respectively) caused the radical political dimension of apocalyptic tradition to undergo some key changes.

The following are some of the key examples of Apocalypse literature during this period, showing where the Apocalypse of John (Revelation) fits into this history.

Proto-Apocalyptic literature (5th-4th centuries BCE)

· "Third Isaiah" (= Isaiah, chapters 56-66)

· Ezekiel (esp. chapters 37-48)



Early Jewish Apocalyptic (late 3rd century BCE to 70 CE)

· I ENOCH ca. 225 BCE (and forward; 5 sections of compositions, some of which show Christian reworking)

· DANIEL ca. 165 BCE (included in Hebrew Bible)

· BOOK OF JUBILEES ca. 150-100 BCE

· SIBYLLINE ORACLES
Book III ca. 150 BCE (and forward)

· TESTAMENT OF XII
PATRIARCHS hca. late 2nd century BCE (+)

· PSALMS OF SOLOM. ca. 48 BCE

· TESTAMENT OF MOSES
(*Assumption of) ca. 6-36 CE (but based on earlier 2nd cent. BCE text)

· MARTYRDOM OF ISAIAH 1st century CE

· DEAD SEA SCROLLS ca. 2nd century BCE to 69 CE
(selections, e.g., "The War Scroll")

· LIFE OF ADAM AND EVE or
APOCALYPSE OF MOSES ca. 70 CE

· TESTAMENT OF ABRAHAM ca. 1st century CE

· II ENOCH (*Book of Secrets of Enoch') ca. 1st century CE



Later Jewish and Christian Apocalypses

· SIBYLLINE ORACLES (Jewish)
Book IV ca. 80 CE

· II EDRAS (IV EZRA) ca. 80-90 CE (chs. 3-14) later + (chs. 1-2, 15)

· II BARUCH after ca. 90

· APOCALYPSE OF ABRAHAM ca. 70-100 CE

· APOCALYPSE OF JOHN ca. 90-95 CE

· III BARUCH ca. 2nd century CE

· SIBYLLINE ORACLES (Jewish & Christian)
Book V ca. 2nd century CE

· APOCALYPSE OF PETER (Christian) early 2nd CE

· THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS early 2nd CE (Christian)



home · apocalypticism · book of revelation · antichrist · chronology · roundtable · primary sources · discussion
readings · video · glossary · links · synopsis

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Losing IraqJuly 29th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS