3. Apocalyptic Between the Testaments
Having examined a couple of Old Testament texts of the apocalyptic genre, we can now move on to a discussion of this literature in the intertestamental period.
Our first text is the Ethiopic book of Enoch, chapter 85. It is an excellent example of apocalyptic literature. As this text is not widely accessible then I have offered it below.
I Enoch 85
1,2 And after this I saw another dream, and I will show the whole dream to thee, my son. And Enoch lifted up (his voice) and spake to his son Methuselah: ' To thee, my son, will I speak: hear my words-incline thine ear to the dream-vision of thy father. Before I took thy mother Edna, I saw in a vision on my bed, and behold a bull came forth from the earth, and that bull was white; and after it came forth a heifer, and along with this (latter) came forth two bulls, one of them black and 4 the other red. And that black bull gored the red one and pursued him over the earth, and thereupon 5 I could no longer see that red bull. But that black bull grew and that heifer went with him, and 6 I saw that many oxen proceeded from him which resembled and followed him. And that cow, that first one, went from the presence of that first bull in order to seek that red one, but found him 7 not, and lamented with a great lamentation over him and sought him. And I looked till that first 8 bull came to her and quieted her, and from that time onward she cried no more. And after that she bore another white bull, and after him she bore many bulls and black cows. 9 And I saw in my sleep that white bull likewise grow and become a great white bull, and from Him proceeded many white bulls, and they resembled him. And they began to beget many white bulls, which resembled them, one following the other, (even) many.
The animal imagery should be fairly familiar to readers of the Bible. In fact, this imagery plays a great part in Christian apocalypses of a later era. Of the many non-canonical writings, I Enoch is perhaps the most investigated. It is the subject of research because it is the fertile ground from which much later thought sprung. Thus, for a few minutes we will discuss the book and its purpose.
Enoch was originally composed in Aramaic by an apocalyptic seer. It was added to over a very long period of time. Thus, the earliest pa ssages (Ch 12-16, 91:1 during the years before the Maccabean era while chapters 1-5 were added at the end of the compositional time-frame just before the dawn of the Christian era. The segment which concerns us, chapter 85, was composed between 165 and 161 BCE. What is of interest to readers of the New Testament is that Enoch is quoted by Jude.
b. Treatise of Shem
This document is interesting as apocalyptic because it draws on zodiacal symbolism in order to communicate the secrets of God. The treatise contains twelve chapters, one for each sign of the zodiac. The text of this document originated in the first century before Christ, but the common text used today is a fifteenth century syriac manuscript found in the John Rylands library at Manchester.
This is a significant text for Christians because it has bearing on the interpretation of Matthew 2. A brief excerpt is given below. This excerpt is chapter 9.
And if the year begins in Sagittarius: everyone whose name contains a B or a P will have misery and a severe disease, and in the beginning of the year it will increase in severity. And men in many places will be troubled. And in the land of Egypt there will be sown only a very little. And in the middle of the year there will be much rain. But men will gather produce into granaries because of the drought. And grain will not be pleasing. Even at the end of the year it will not be good. But wine and oil will be considered good. And adultery will increase and small cattle will die.
The interesting thing about these jewish astrological texts from the period of the birth of the church is that they show that Judaism was experimenting with theories and ideas not only not found in the Old Testament, but absolutely forbidden by it. Nevertheless, the apocalypticists were interested in foretelling the future so that their audiences would have some sense of hope. We will next examine the Qumran community and its apocalyptic ideas.
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