APOCALYPTIC AND PROPHETIC LITERATURE
Jonathan M. Knight
This chapter offers an introduction to the kind of rhetoric that we encounter in the apocalyptic literature. The question of what constitutes “apocalyptic literature” has been much discussed in the past and must form part of a preliminary survey of the material. It is clearly impossible, given the restriction of space, to examine all the apocalypses with the attention to detail that would be desirable. I shall therefore focus on a representative selection of texts, most but not all of them Christian. Certain themes tend to recur in the literature (e.g. eschatology, including punishment for sinners). A short survey will show at least something of the nature of apocalyptic rhetoric. The texts which I shall examine are / Enoch, Revelation, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Ascension of Isaiah.
The origins of the “apocalyptic tradition” in Israel are disputed. It is generally agreed that the early parts of / Enoch predate the book of Daniel and were written perhaps in the third century bc. This was not the first appearance of an unprecedented form of speculation but the remoulding of something that had deeper roots in Israelite culture. There are two main schools of thought as to how apocalyptic first arose in Israel. Paul Hanson thinks that a visionary group became displaced in the post-exilic period and turned to a transcendental form of eschatology to deal with problems posed by the dominance of the priestly class.1 Hanson's thesis however has been held
1 P. D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975).