Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

By Moshe Greenberg | Go to book overview

Reflections on Apocalyptic
(unpublished)

To define the apocalyptic literature of early Judaism means distinguishing it on the one hand from pre-apocalyptic and on the other from non-apocalytpic literature that was contemporary with it and with which it must have shared common elements. Typical of the difficulty in arriving at an adequate definition is the omnibus formulation of apocalyptic characteristics made by Lindblom: these are "transcendentalism, mythology, cosmological orientation, pessimistic treatment of history, dualism, division of time into periods, doctrine of two ages, playing with numbers, pseudo-ecstasy, artificial claims to inspiration, pseudonymity, mysteriousness."1

There is no doubt that, taken as a whole, apocalyptic literature displays all these features; but they are not found throughout the literature, and, more important, a number of these features are found in literature no one would call apocalyptic (e.g., rabbinic aggada; Qumran Manual of Discipline).

Undisputed apocalypses appear in the Book of Daniel, and that work in its present form cannot be earlier than the Macedonian conquest of the Near East. Another collection of undisputed apocalypses, 1 Enoch, also comes from the Greek period; its earliest portions (chs. 1-36) may antedate Daniel.2 The state of Judaism at that time is very obscure, owing to the paucity of contemporary sources. But literature that can be dated to the preceding Persian and neo-Babylonian periods allows us to see what trends and notions were already present in pre-Greek times. Their presence in apocalyptic cannot, therefore, be characteristic of that genre.

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