Seers, Sibyls, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism

By John J. Collins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
THE PLACE OF APOCALYPTICISM
IN THE RELIGION OF ISRAEL

In a seminal essay, published in 1969, F.M. Cross claimed that “in many respects the most serious lacuna in the study of apocalyptic has been in the early era, in its relations to older biblical religion.”1 Much study has been devoted to this issue in the intervening years, but the lacuna has not been definitively filled. Instead, expanding research on the apocalyptic literature has shown that the issue is even more complex than had been thought and that any theory of “the origins of apocalyptic” necessarily involves some over-simplification and confusion.

It is now widely recognized that the word “apocalyptic” used as a noun obscures some quite basic distinctions. In 1970, K. Koch distinguished between “apocalyptic as a literary type” and “apocalyptic as a historical movement.”2 This distinction was refined by P.D. Hanson in 1975 in his definitions of “apocalypse” as a literary genre, “apocalypticism” as the ideology of a particular kind of socioreligious movement, and “apocalyptic eschatology” as a religious perspective that is not confined to either apocalypses or apocalyptic movements.3 While these distinctions are quite fundamental, it is also important to appreciate the relationship between the three terms. As Koch already argued, the starting point for any discussion of “apocalyptic” matters must lie in those texts which are recognized as apocalypses.4 Apocalyptic eschatology is most appropriately defined as the kind of

1 F.M. Cross, “New Directions in the Study of Apocalyptic,” Apocalypticism, JTC 6(1969)161.

2 K. Koch, Ratlos vor der Apokalyptik (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1970; English trans. M. Kohl, The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic [SBT 2/22; Naperville: Allenson, 1972]).

3 P.D. Hanson, “Apocalypticism,” IDBSup, 28–34. M.E. Stone (“Lists of Revealed Things in Apocalyptic Literature,” in F.M. Cross et al., ed., Magnalia Dei, The Mighty Acts of God [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1976] 414–52) distinguishes between apocalypse and apocalypticism or apocalyptic, in a manner closer to Koch.

4 Koch, The Rediscovery, 23. Koch's list (Daniel, 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, Apocalypse of Abraham, Revelation) is too brief. For the full corpus, see J.J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre, Semeia 14 (1979). The list of Jewish apocalypses should at least include 2 Enoch,3 Baruch, and Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and arguably also Jubilees and Testament of Abraham. Most of these texts can be found in J.H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepig rapha, vol. 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1983).

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