Quartz Hill School of Theology

B461 Apocalyptic Literature

1. Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature

What we call "apocalyptic" is a style of literature which appears on the scene of early Judaism at the beginning of the third century before the common era. Some scholars suggest that apocalyptic arose because certain promises found in the Old Testament had not been fulfilled. Thus, in an attempt to rescue God from the scourge of doubt, such promises were pressed from the present into the future, rescuing the prophet and God from the accusation of falsehood. This "end time" mentality, which "unveils" the future, was called by its Greek name, Ἀποκάλυψις (apocalypsis), which literally means "unveiling".

Other scholars (notably Gerhard von Rad) suggest that apocalyptic literature arose as a response to the failure of wisdom to meet the challenge of the Maccabean crisis. von Rad supposed that the writers of the apocalyptic materials were disciples of the wisdom school who were disenchanted with wisdom's failure to help out in the period of crisis brought about by Antiochus Epiphanes. Thus, such apocalypticists, convinced that God did indeed punish the wicked and reward the righteous, pushed these promises from this life to the next. Hence there arose the notion that if good deeds are not recognized in this life, they will be in the next.

Both of these approaches to the study of apocalyptic (from prophetic roots and from wisdom roots) attempt to draw a line of continuity from Israel's past to its present life in crisis. Such a line of continuity is, regrettably, not only impossible to demonstrate but it is also unnecessary.

Apocalyptic arose as a literature of crisis. Suffering folk turned to future hope in an effort to ameliorate their present hardship. So, when we read apocalyptic literatures we need to put ourselves in the mindset of people who suffer oppression, hardship, or persecution. Thus, to take a few Biblical examples, Daniel was written as a word of comfort to those suffering under Antiochus Epiphanes. Mark 13 was written to help those suffering the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. And Revelation, the most famous apocalypse, was composed to assist those who were suffering under the persecution of Domitian, emperor of Rome at the end of the first century CE. What all these writings have in common is the fact that they were written to help folk look to the future rather than now. We are now in a position to examine particular apocalypses in order to flesh out this basic thesis.

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