Eschatology

The origin of eschatology comes from the Greek word eschatos, meaning last or farthest; -ology meaning ‘the study of'. Eschatology is a branch of theology concerned with the end, the final events in the history of the world and the ultimate destiny of individuals. At an individual level, eschatology is concerned with the end of physical human life. It also evokes the question of life after death, the survival of consciousness, and the conditions of existence after death. This can be taken further, and seeks to look at the afterlife, exploring theories in respect of reward and punishment. At a more comprehensive level, individual eschatology also considers the reality of the human spirit or soul.

Eschatology also seeks answers of the enquiry of human purpose and the final stage of the world. This doctrine is known as universal eschatology, which looks to explain the end of the world and its relevance to the last days and ultimate destiny of humankind. This universal eschatology addresses issues of a cosmic or social dimension, which is unique to the Western approach to the subject. It is considered that the theories relative to the end of the world refer not only to time of decline, suffering and destruction, but also places emphasis on the hope for perfection of the individual and completion of the created order. Translations of eschatology in sacred texts may read as the end of age and beginnings of new realities, as opposed to the end of the world. It appears many religious eschatology texts and folklore prophesize the end of the world as a future event. These texts affirm the survival of the human. It is understood that most religious and secular eschatology involves a violent and destructive ending of the world. It is believed that Christian and Jewish eschatologies focus on the consummation or perfection of God's creation of the world, as the end times.

Eschatology on an individual level can be historically traced back to the earliest evidence of human life. It is seen that the understanding of immortality can be confirmed from archeological records from the Stone Age. The primitive individual eschatology can be denoted with the concept of human spirit and the existence beyond physical death. With advancement in civilizations and the greater understanding of religion, levels of good and evil were introduced which is associated with laws of retribution with life of the spirit beyond life on earth. For example, Egyptian eschatology beholds spiritual existence and the afterlife, which is connected with morality in reality. Morality is also defined with distinctions of places, such as heaven for reward, and hell for punishment. This is reflected in early Persian and Hebrew concepts of afterlife. For the Greeks, their individual eschatology affirms the belief in personal existence after death, but also eternal existence before birth.

There are various eschatological views among the religions across the world. Christian eschatology is predominantly concerned with death, an intermediate state, heaven, hell and the return of Jesus. Hindu eschatology is based on the cyclical perception of time, affirming an individual spiritual life of reincarnation, following the strict law of moral justice known as Karma. It is seen that there are several themes shared among the major religions of the world. There is a common belief in life after death, therefore raising enquiry into the destiny of human beings. Throughout the religions, a major communication is the idea of the condition of life after physical death. This condition is understood to be dependent on the quality of life on earth. This reflects significant correlations across the world; between the physical and spiritual lives and the universally accepted moral order.

Another major eschatological theme shared by religions across the globe is the understandings of the common human destiny and a new world order, or universal eschatology. The cyclical views of history which appear in many religious traditions believe in eschatological fulfillment within an ongoing cosmic cycle of generation and destruction. This view hold visions of a perfected society in the future are limited to the distinct ages within a cyclical framework. Zoroastrianism and Abrahamic religions hold a contrasting, linear view of eschatological fulfillment. It is perceived as the working out of an original potential of goodness that dwells in all humankind. It is seen that the scriptures in these traditions reveal God's sovereignty as existing within the order of divine purpose.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Christian Eschatology and Social Thought: A Historical Essay on the Social Implications of Some Selected Aspects in Christian Eschatology to A.D. 1500
Ray C. Petry.
Abingdon Press, 1956
Contemporary Context and Issues in Eschatology
Phan, Peter C.
Theological Studies, Vol. 55, No. 3, September 1994
Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Craig A. Evans; Peter W. Flint.
W.B. Eerdmans, 1997
Eschatological Themes in Medieval Jewish Philosophy
Arthur Hyman.
Marquette University Press, 2002
Jesus and Israel's Traditions of Judgement and Restoration
Steven M. Bryan.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Jesus and the Eschatological Temple"
Hell and the Victorians: A Study of the Nineteenth-Century Theological Controversies concerning Eternal Punishment and the Future Life
Geoffrey Rowell.
Clarendon Press, 1974
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "The Historical Development of Christian Eschatology"
The Church against Itself: An Inquiry into the Conditions of Historical Existence for the Eschatological Community
Rosemary Radford Ruether.
Herder and Herder, 1967
The Eschatology of Paul: In the Light of Modern Scholarship
Henry M. Shires.
Westminster Press, 1966
Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History
H. J. Schoeps; Harold Knight.
Westminster Press, 1961
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Eschatology of the Apostle Paul"
The Shape of Things to Come: Toward an Eschatology of Literature
Griesinger, Emily.
Christianity and Literature, Vol. 53, No. 2, Winter 2004
Search for more books and articles on eschatology