Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran, Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus

By Michael E. Stone | Go to book overview
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Chapter Ten
Apocalyptic literature

Michael E. Stone


General

The apocalypse emerged, from the third century B.C.E. at least, as a major literary genre and one which was to have a lasting influence on Judaism and Christianity. The apocalypses, as the title indicates, are primarily books of revelations typified by the vision form.1 The visions experienced by the seer are usually symbolic, particularly when they bear the character of political prediction.2 In any case, the vision typically bears a mystifying veneer and most often an angelus interpres appears to explicate to the seer the interpretation of the symbols or the meaning and implication of the vision. The vision is not published under its writer’s name, but is attributed to a famous figure drawn from the past.3 This pseudepigraphy is typical of the apocalypses and the reasons usually suggested for it are discussed below. They include, most plausibly, the association of a particular tradition of teaching with the name of some ancient seer. Moreover, the cessation of the prophetic office is often emphasized and the consequent attribution of later visions to figures from the period in which prophecy was still active.

The apocalyptic writings embrace a great variety of contents. Two general categories seem, however, to be particularly prominent. The first is eschatology. Apocalyptic eschatology is permeated by the expectation of the imminent end and, for it, the advent of the end does not depend upon human action.4 The second type of material, here called the speculative, is the revelation of heavenly or similar secrets. The secrets revealed may include matters of cosmography and uranography, angelology and

1 Greek ἀπoχἀλνψις. On the use of the term cf. Kaufmann, ‘Apokalyptik’, 1143.

2 On the nature of this symbolism, see Collins, ‘Symbolism of Transcendence’, and previous bibliography there.

3 Except for the Apocalypse of John (whether John of the Apocalypse is to be distinguished from the Evangelist or not). The lack of pseudepigraphy in this case is doubtless due to the different eschatological self-understanding of the Christian community from which the Apocalypse of John stemmed. Contrast Rev 22:10 with Dan 12:4 for a clear illustration of this. See Yarbro Collins, ‘Early Christian Apocalypses’, 71.

4 Man’s repentance may affect his own fate, but not usually that of the world.

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