Category Archives: Apocalypticism

Podcast 7.1: Visions of the End – What is Apocalypticism?

In this first episode I begin to define apocalypticism with reference to (1) a worldview or ideology focused on an imminent end of the world, (2) social groups that live out that worldview, and (3) a type of writing or genre of literature (e.g. the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible and John’s Revelation.in the New Testament).

This is the first of two series, with this one dealing with both the predecessors of apocalypticism and the period up to the writing of 1 Enoch and Daniel (ca. 160s BCE).  The second series will come later and deal with later Judean and Christian apocalypticism, beginning with the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This is part of series 7 (Visions of the End 1: Origins of Judean Apocalypticism) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 7.1: Visions of the End – What is Apocalypticism? (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 7.9: Daniel’s Visions as Veiled History

Here I further explore the first-person visionary account in Daniel chapters 7-12, our earliest example of an historical apocalypse as veiled history.

Podcast 7.9: Daniel’s Visions as Veiled History (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 1.2: The Situation at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians)

This second episode looks at the situation among followers of Jesus at Thessalonica in Macedonia in the mid-first century. Considering the ethnic and social makeup of the earliest Christians, this episode also discusses two main problems faced by these followers of Jesus: “afflictions” and the death of fellow-followers of Jesus. This prepares the way for episode three, which will look at how Paul responds to this situation in his letter, known as 1 Thessalonians in the New Testament (approx. 36 minutes). This episode is part of series one (“Paul and his Communities”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 1.2: The Situation at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Post-apocalyptic films: From Escape from New York to Twelve Monkeys and beyond

As I have mentioned in connection with the likes of Nosferatu (1922), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Dr. Strangelove (1964), elements of apocalypticism (often, though not always, without an explicit role for “God”) are widespread within modern popular culture in the West (see the other posts in my Religion and Popular Culture category). In some cases, a filmmaker’s focus is on elaborating one specific apocalyptic idea, such as the Antichrist, whose story is told in a new way in films like the Omen series. In other cases, there is a convergence of a number of apocalyptic ideas and assumptions. Numerous films have been created with a focus on the apocalypse as the end or potential end of all human civilization, including Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998), which both viewed meteorites (rather than the previously “popular” nuclear bomb) as the final destructive weapon. A subgenre within these is the post-apocalyptic film.

Post-apocalyptic films are set after the end, or near-end. The apocalypse–the final intervention of some destructive power–has already taken place, and we, as viewers, witness the survivors in a horrible wasteland. Escape from New York (1981) is a good example. Twelve Monkeys is another.

The premise of the plot of Twelve Monkeys (1995) is an apocalyptic viral attack which wipes out the majority of humanity. Bruce Willis’s character, a convict, exists in the post-apocalyptic world (in 2035), where the precious (or not-so-precious) few survivors (1%) live a surreal existence underground. Oddball scientists are hard at work in this underworld seeking to reverse the apocalyptic clock. So Bruce Willis’s character, among others, is chosen to go back in time to find a way to stop the viral attack that decimated the population. The scientists have (mistaken) hints that a group known as the Army of Twelve Monkeys (which is led by Brad Pitt’s character) caused the massive slaughter. After showing up in several other time periods, Bruce Willis’s character finally arrives in the right time (1997) and place. But we the viewers, along with Willis and others, learn too late that it was not the Army of Twelve Monkeys but a disturbed red-headed man that released the virus and needed to be stopped. Perhaps the next time back crisis could be averted.

There is an online, academic article that deals with Twelve Monkeys alongside Waterworld: Conrad Ostwalt, “Visions of the End. Secular Apocalypse in Recent Hollywood Film,” Journal of Religion and Film 2 (1998).

What better time is there to post this than after watching Live Free or Die Hard (2007), in which Bruce Willis averts an attempt to bring on the apocalypse (“fire sale”: “everything must go”), at least in United States of America (which is the world from the perspective of this and other Hollywood films).

Apocalyptic literature on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha blog (End 1.11)

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha course blog has now been going for a while and includes a number of entries on apocalyptic literature:

Apocalypse of Abraham: Online Translations of the Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Abraham Abstract, Summary of The Apocalypse of Abraham Seminar

Apocalypse of Elijah: Elijah Materials Online, Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah Abstract, Summary of Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah Seminar

“The beginning of another world”: Apocalyptic expectations of re-creation (End 1.9)

An expectation of a perfect place or kingdom in which the righteous would live an eternal, blissful life is central to the apocalyptic worldview, as I have discussed in previous posts on apocalypticism. Sometimes this expectation of God’s future kingdom developed out of concrete expectations of a restored Israel as expressed by prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Prophets like Jeremiah or Ezekiel looked forward to a literal return of exiles and the re-establishment of an Israel under God’s rule in the land that God had given to them. In these cases the apocalyptic visionary of later years looked forward to a quite down-to-earth, though perfect, kingdom that God would establish when the nations recognized Israel’s God and the powers of evil were wiped out. The apocalypse of Daniel, for instance, speaks of four kingdoms (Babylonia, Persia, Media, Hellenistic) that will fall and the establishment of God’s kingdom under the direction of the warrior figure like a human being (the archangel Michael): “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever — forever and ever” (7:18).

Sometimes, however, the final blissful existence is conceived not as a return to physical Israel completely purified forever, but rather as a re-creation. I was just now reading the Epistle of Barnabas in connection with a tutorial and came across that author’s allegorical interpretation of the true meaning of Sabbath. According to this late-first-century (anti-Jewish) follower of Jesus, the six days of creation in Genesis were six thousand years, at which time “everything will be brought to an end” (15.4). The seventh day of rest would follow on the “Son’s” destruction of lawlessness and judgment of the ungodly (15.5). Finally, the author speaks of the true, final “Sabbath” when God would create an “eighth day, which is the beginning of another world” (15.8).

The author of the Jewish apocalypse known as 4 Ezra (2 Esdras 3-14 in your Apocrypha) likewise spoke of God’s final kingdom in terms of re-creation. This writing, like The Epistle of Barnabas, was written in the wake of the Romans’ destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (which happened in 70 CE). The author of 4 Ezra speaks of two ages, the present one and the one to come, when “evil shall be blotted out” (6:27). Most interesting here is how he expresses what will happen in the end times, when God’s anointed brings to completion the present age:

For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left. And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it. . . (7:28-32 [RSV]).

Here in a Christian writing and a Jewish apocalypse we are witnessing similar conceptions of re-creation, on the model of Genesis, at the end of the age.

Spoofing the apocalypse, or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb (End 1.8)

One of the more interesting and entertaining films with apocalyptic themes is Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (trailer here, official Kubrick site here, clips further below). The story goes that a psychotic general, Jack D. Ripper, has gone beyond his powers to initiate American planes dropping a nuclear bomb on a Russian city. Ripper’s psychosis manifests itself as a belief in a communist conspiracy to contaminate the bodily fluids of Americans through the fluoridation of water.

The meek and mild American president, who is played by Peter Sellers, then meets with the high command in the war room of the Pentagon in the hopes of recalling the plane–to no avail. Humourous phone-conversations between the American president and the Russian Premiere follow. One of the most hilarious episodes here is when the president stops an American general and a Soviet ambassador from fighting, saying something to the effect that “We can’t have fighting in the war-room”. Soon we hear that the American bomb is the least of their worries, since the Russians have developed a “doomsday machine” that will wipe out all living humans and animals in the event of an American strike. The end is near!

Slim Pickens rides the bomb

Photo: Slim Pickens excitedly rides the nuclear bomb, cowboy- (or is it phallic-)style, that sets in motion the end.

Now there is a surprising twist as one among the Pentagon high-command comes forward: the wheelchair bound Dr. Strangelove (also played by Peter Sellers, and he’s hilarious). It becomes clear that this former German assistant of Hitler, now working for the Americans, had planned (“I have a plan!”) the entire scheme in the hopes of establishing a new superior race of people living, at first, far underground in the deepest mine-shafts. Strangelove’s arm has a mind of its own as it repeatedly attempts to give the “heil!” gesture; this hits its climax in one of the final lines of the film as Strangelove miraculously stands up from the wheelchair and shouts, “Mein Führer, I can walk!”. Immediately the viewer witnesses the apocalypse as innumerable nuclear bombs explode to the tune of “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…” Overall, the film is a spoof not only of Cold War politics but also of the genre of apocalyptic films which see nuclear war as the final apocalyptic battle.

There are several ways in which the film spoofs, twists, or inverts key elements in the apocalyptic worldview:

Dualism and the combat: Despite the fact that the viewer of the film, along with several characters, knows that the dualism is a false one, the good old Cold War dualism of righteous America versus evil Russia (which has more recently been replaced by a new, not-so-different opposition) is fundamental to the film. An aim of the film is to deconstruct precisely this simplified political dualism by spoofing it.

Final, cataclysmic intervention of god: Only towards the end of the film do we, as viewers, learn that Dr. Strangelove — the Hitler-loving distorted god of the film — has been instrumental in orchestrating the whole plan to set in motion the destruction of the world as we know it. It is he that has ensured the dropping of the fateful bomb that would bring civilization as we know it to a screeching halt. The mad doctor is behind it all.

Predetermined plan, elimination of the “less than desirable“, and kingdom of bliss for the chosen few: The “godly” Dr. Strangelove has a predetermined plan to create a Bizarro-heaven for the chosen — underground, that is, in the deepest mine-shafts. Seldom has the underworld been the kingdom of god. “Ten females to each male” is Dr. Strangelove’s answer to the eternal bliss of the chosen few. The judgment that will determine who will be saved is based on physical fitness and a list of other supposed superior qualities. They will be destined to repopulate the earth. Strangelove dismisses any suggestion by others that the “survivors” (including himself, of course) may not enjoy the mine-shaft plan as much as he expects. And the American general starts to worry about a “mine-shaft gap” (got to keep ahead of those “commies”).

In many ways, Dr. Strangelove is the apocalyptic film par excellence. The humour helps to lighten the burden of witnessing the end of virtually everything.

You should buy or rent the movie for yourself, but here are several short clips on You Tube:

Saviours or destroyers in space: Modern incarnations of ancient apocalyptic worldviews (End 1.7)

One thing that can be said of the apocalyptic worldview is it is flexible. The notion that we are living in an evil age and that the end is near, when evil will be wiped out by some heaven-sent powers who will destroy the hell-sent powers, has seen many variations. As has the notion that there will be a path of escape or kingdom of God for the righteous. Among the most interesting, and at times disturbing, are those variations where space, sci-fi, and religion meet.

In my post on Aliens, Fallen Angels, and Heaven’s Gate, I discussed the case of Heaven’s Gate. This group looked forward to the arrival of their saviours, a superior race of aliens who they expected to take them away to live in a blissful kingdom of god, the “Level Above Human”. There I also mentioned a breakthrough in the convergence of apocalyptic expectation and sci-fi which came to heavily influence all subsequent uses of space-races as end-time saviour and/or end-time demonic figures: the 1950s film The Day the Earth Stood Still. I commented that

One could say that the beginnings of plugging aliens into an apocalyptic worldview began with science fiction films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, which has the alien (and his sidekick robot) clearly in the role of the alien saviour figure and destroyer of evil (evil associated with the military activity of humans–the nuclear bomb and the Korean war were in mind). The alien saviour figure is, in this case, clearly in the role of a Jesus-figure (he dies and raises from the dead).

Now I have just come across an online doctoral dissertation which explores other ways in which apocalyptic ideas may find a place in outer space.

Ryan Jeffrey McMillen, “Space Rapture: Extraterrestrial Millennialism and the Cultural Construction of Space Colonization.” Doctoral dissertation: University of Texas at Austin, 2004.

Here is the summary of the dissertation:

The dream of space colonization possesses deep roots in the Christian apocalyptic fantasy of the Rapture of the elect to occur prior to the return of Christ. Space colonization, like its predecessor ascension fantasy, the Rapture, has always involved a tension between the liberation of a holy vanguard and the imminent destruction of the Earth. With the rise of modern technology, rocketry and space travel became, for fundamentalist Christians and technological determinists alike, the man-made tools and signs of an imminent apocalypse. In this dissertation, the 1970s space colonization proposal of Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill is offered as a case study of these millennial roots of the space-bound dream. O’Neill’s colonies, offered as a way to avoid an irrevocable time of Earthly tribulation, were touted as the means of depopulating the Earth and ending terrestrial conflict. O’Neill’s dreams for rocketry were no different than the dreams of those men who pioneered rocketry before him, although earlier rocketeers and space enthusiasts held more explicitly Christian-inspired apocalyptic beliefs concerning the fate of the Earth and the destiny of humanity.

In addition to examining O’Neill’s colonial fantasy, this dissertation analyzes the religious and philosophical beliefs of the rocketeers to show how each of them was deeply influenced by apocalypse and Rapture fantasy. While O’Neill’s plan resembled earlier space colonization and Rapture imaginings, it also incorporated the more terrestrially benevolent dreams of the burgeoning environmental movement of the era. In attempting to unite the Space Age with a newly powerful “Earth Age,” O’Neill sought to resurrect the dream of space colonization for a new generation. However, O’Neill failed in this attempt. Instead of seeing humanity’s future in the stars, off of a doomed Earth, many in Western culture began in the late 1960s to imagine human destiny within a long and peaceful future on Earth. This perspective came about, paradoxically, as a result of perhaps the most epochal achievement of the space race: the first photographs of the planet from the distance of the moon (pp. 7-8).

Who said that doctoral studies couldn’t be fun.

Origins of an apocalyptic sect at Qumran: Teacher of Righteousness vs. Wicked Priest (End 1.6)

The difficulty in studying groups that lived two thousand or so years ago is that we often know very little about them, let alone knowing how they came to form in the first place. The discipline of “Christian origins” is a case in point regarding just how difficult it is to explain the origins of a movement. When it comes to the apocalyptic sect that left civilization to live out its life in the desert on the edge of the Dead Sea, we happen to get some hints as to the origins of this group at Qumran, which may or may not be a group of Essenes (see my earlier post on Josephus and the “sects” within Judaism).

The writing known as the Damascus Document (written around the early to mid first century BCE) begins precisely with a description, however loaded with metaphors, of the origins of a penitential group of Judeans, probably around the 190s BCE:

“[God] remembered the covenant of the very first, he saved a remnant for Israel and did not deliver them up to destruction. And at the moment of wrath, three hundred and ninety years after having delivered them up into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, he visited them and caused to sprout from Israel and from Aaron a shoot of the planting, in order to possess his land and to become fat with the good things of the soil . And they realised their sin and knew that they were guilty men; but they were like blind persons and like those who grope for the path over twenty years. And God appraised their deeds, because they sought him with a perfect heart and raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness in order to direct them in the path of his heart” (Damascus Document = CD 1.4-11; italics mine).

This little passage tells us quite a bit, even though we need to be careful in how literally we approach this. It speaks of a particular group among the Judeans as the remnant and goes on to speak of a penitential movement that emerged as a “sprout” (with the years mentioned roughly lining up with the turn of the second century, around the 190s BCE). It speaks of a time when these men who recognized their “guilt” felt a lack of direction until a special leader emerged just decades later (20 years), the “Teacher of Righteousness”. So far so good: we have a penitential movement among the Judean population around the 190s BCE and a leader emerging perhaps around the 170s BCE.

We hear more of this “Teacher of Righteousness”, who was evidently a central figure of the past in the view of the group that lived at Qumran, from other biblical commentaries (pesharim) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (on pesher as a form of interpretation, see this post). In the commentary on Habbakuk we gain further glimpses into some aspects of the origins of this splinter group, as well as the centrality of apocalyptic expectation in connection with these origins. The author of this commentary interprets a passage in Habakkuk as referring to the Teacher of Righteousness himself:

Its interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God has disclosed all the mysteries of the words of his servants, the prophets. For the vision has an appointed time, it will have an end and not fail [Hab. 2:3]. Its interpretation: the final age will be extended and go beyond all that the prophets say, because the mysteries of God are wonderful (1QpHab 7.1-8).

Here we see the centrality of the expectation of an apocalyptic end among these particular Judeans. The Teacher of Righteousness, it is thought, had special access to interpreting the mysteries of God concerning the prophets and the coming end. Through this teacher, the Qumranites believed, they alone had access to secrets about how to interpret scripture and about how and when the final intervention of God would come.

Added to this scenario is the “Wicked Priest”. It seems that disagreements between this priest, likely a Hasmonean (Maccabean) high-priest of the temple in Jerusalem (in the 150s BCE), and the Teacher, who was also a priest, led to a fall-out that inspired members of the penitential movement to leave “wicked” society altogether and to found the community at Qumran. The sort of tensions and conflicts that led to this foundation are evident when the author interprets a passage in Habakkuk in terms of the “Wicked Priest who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to consume him with the ferocity of his anger in the place of his banishment, in festival time, during the rest of the day of Atonement” (11.4-7). The language of consume here suggests violence, perhaps even an attempt to kill the “Teacher”. The Qumran group emerged out of contentions among priests in the temple of Jerusalem.

The negativity toward the Wicked Priest and the leadership of the temple generally which made these Judeans feel a need to abandon society altogether is further confirmed in the comment that the priest “did not circumcise the foreskin of his heart and has walked on paths of drunkenness to slake his thirst; but the cup of God’s anger will engulf him, heaping up [shame upon him]” (11.11-14).

Here we have, then, a sectarian group who felt the end of the world and the end of the evil leadership of the temple was coming soon. They went out to the desert to prepare and await the “visitation” of God that is spelled out most clearly in the “two spirits” material in the Community Rule. Soon, they thought, the “dominion of Belial” (Worthless one = Satan) or the Prince of Darkness would end with the destruction or eternal torment of evil and those who aligned themselves with the way of the wicked (“the sons of darkness”), including the current “wicked” leadership of the Jerusalem temple. The destiny of the “sons of light”, namely the members of the Qumran sect, was much better: “eternal enjoyment with endless life” (1QS 4.7).

For more on the Qumran community’s apocalyptic worldview, including their notions of where evil came from, see the post: Enter the serpent: Adam, Eve, and the Devil (Satan 8). For more on the sects within Judaism, including the Essenes, see the post: Let’s talk about sects: Diversity in Second-Temple Judaism (NT 2.3). Jim Davila’s blog on Qumranica provides useful links and discussion of various issues relating to Qumran. For photographs of Qumran and other information, including a tour of the caves, see the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature.

All translations in this post are from Florentino García Martínez, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (2d ed.; trans. Wilfred G.E. Watson; Leiden/Grand Rapids: E.J. Brill/Eerdmans Publishing, 1996).

The times they are a changin’ endin’: Bob Dylan’s apocalypse (End 1.4)

Long before Dylan had any sort of conversion to Christianity (he was, for a time, “born again” in the late 1970s and early 80s), his songs were saturated with biblical imagery (and they still are now). Often in popular culture elements of apocalypticism are there simply as assumptions on how one is to express things in times of trouble or in situations perceived as crises. The cultural revolution of the 1960s in the United States was a time of crisis in the eyes of the youth at the centre of this revolution, and Dylan was often considered a spokesperson for this revolution (even though he himself did not accept this role).

Characteristic of the ancient apocalyptic worldview are notions that there is a sharp divide between evil and good people or beings (dualism), that current regimes or world-powers are under the control of evil powers, that some good power (God) is imminently or in the midst of intervening in a fundamental way to oust evil and restore good, and that that good power will establish a society in which good reigns forever and evil is forever caged or obliterated. These basic assumptions that undergird the apocalyptic worldview sometimes come to expression in popular music and film.

In his pure folk days (shortly before the introduction of the electric guitar which, initially, resulted in some tomato throwing and booing at Dylan concerts), Dylan wrote a song you may have heard of: The times they are a-changin’ (1964 on his third album of the same name — some low quality mp3s are available on bobdylan.com). (If you haven’t heard of it, then where have you been? It’s in bank commercials here in Canada now, after all–not what the 1960s youth had in mind.)

In this song Dylan casts the cultural revolution of 1960s America in terms of an apocalyptic prophecy. Here there is the righteous (youth) and the wicked (the older generation of senators and others); there is talk of a raging battle; there are warnings of an imminent cataclysmic change which is described in terms of a coming flood that will bring the old order to an end (very common imagery for final judgment in ancient apocalyptic literature like 1 Enoch); there is a prophecy of a new arrangement in which the corrupt ways of the old regime will be left behind (“get out of the new one”); there is talk of a reversal that will accompany the new arrangement (the first will be last). This Dylan tune illustrates well the often unconscious presence of apocalypticism in the western imagination (even if God is left out of the equation and substituted by some other group or power).

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

(Bob Dylan; Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music)

(Do not emulate Dylan in using the term “prophesize”, which should be “prophesy”. You don’t know how many times I have corrected this in students’ papers!)

Tyler Williams on Ideas of Origins and Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia (End 1.3)

In a recent post I have emphasized the importance of the Mesopotamian “combat myth” as a piece in the apocalyptic puzzle.  Tyler has the first of a series on Origins and Creation in Ancient Mesopotamia.   He does a great job of outlining the nature of our sources and of mythology in part 1.  He promises part 2 on Babylonian notions of creation which will, no doubt, deal with the writing known as the Enuma elish (“When on high…”).  In that document, Marduk’s combat with, and slaying of, Tiamat (chaotic Sea-Water personified) and her allies is central to creation.  This has parallels in some Psalms’ notion of Yahweh creating through the defeat of Leviathan or Rahab.  So Tyler’s forthcoming post is likely to deal with the combat myth in some way.  Keep an eye on that.

Apocalypticism alive and well: Article on Bush and Hagee’s call for the apocalyptic war with Iran (End 1.2)

If you need convincing that the apocalyptic worldview is still alive and well, then read a recent article on Alternet concerning American fundamentalist John Hagee‘s attempts at garnering support for a war with Iran: War on Iraq: As Bush’s War Strategy Shifts to Iran, Christian Zionists Gear Up for the Apocalypse. I am far more comfortable reading about visions of the end by an apocalyptic writer from 2000 or so years ago, or even from the middle ages, than I am in finding apocalypticism used among contemporaries to inspire war in the present, I must admit.

Paul Boyer’s When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1992) traces the historical development of apocalypticism in the United States. Before Haggee suggested that Iran was to be the main evil force in the final Armageddon, other American fundamentalists suggested Iraq (which is now not a popular candidate without an evil leader). And, of course, during the Cold War many saw communist Russia and its allies as the forces of Gog, the evil army from the north.

Bush certainly does not hold back from using suggestive rhetoric (take the “axis of evil” for instance). Back in the 1970s and 1980s it was Hal Lindsey’s best-selling Late Great Planet Earth (predecessor to the Left Behind series) that inspired the likes of Ronald Reagan:

That [a coup in Libya] is a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t far off . . . Everything is falling into place. It can’t be long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God’s people. That must mean that they’ll be destroyed by nuclear weapons (Ronald Reagan in 1971 as cited by Boyer, p. 142).

Speaking to a lobbyist for Israel in 1983, Reagan says:

You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through (as cited in Boyer, p. 142).

For an apocalyptic thinker in any time period, the “prophecies” always “describe the times we’re going through“, whether it’s Judea in the second century BCE (see Daniel 7-12), Münster in the 1500s (also described here), or America in the 1980s or 2007. There are, of course, fundamentalist, apocalyptic websites devoted solely to explaining current events as signs of the end, such as Tribulation Watch. But I suppose that — leaving aside the likes of Hagee — one does not want the one in charge of pushing the button or sending out troups thinking along these lines or looking forward to the ultimate battle.

For more on Hal Lindsey, the Left Behind phenomenon, and the origins of the notion of a “rapture”, see my posts: “Left Below” / Left Behind: “Ha, ha, life goes on”, and Satanic conspiracies of the 1970s and 1980s.

(I came across a link to the article about Hagee on the blog of Jodi Dean, a political theorist).

Visions of the End: Where did they come from? (End 1.1)

This term I am teaching a course on early Jewish and Christian apocalypticism, including legacies for the medieval and modern eras. You can get a glimpse into this course on Visions of the End on my courses page. One of the key questions to start with in such a course is where did apocalypticism come from? By “apocalypticism” I mean, in part, the worldview that I have outlined in skeletal form in the post: It’s the end of the world as we know it: Paul’s apocalyptic worldview. I have also dealt with such issues in many previous posts collected together in my blog category apocalypticism, as well as my category on the history of Satan.

Like most questions of origin, the issue of the origins of the apocalyptic worldview is a slippery one to handle and there are no simple answers, despite my attempt at a sketchy but partial answer here. The first time that we witness what scholars often identify as the Jewish apocalyptic worldview in its “full-blown” sense is in writings such as 1 Enoch and Daniel around the turn of the second century BCE. Yet there are important pieces of the puzzle from various cultural spheres that preceded the Jewish apocalyptic worldview and that help us to make better sense of the full picture.

First of all, there is the importance of the Mesopotamian “combat myth” (on which see my earlier post here). Central to the later Jewish apocalyptic worldview is the combat between God and Satan which will come to a complete end in the certain defeat of Satan, who is sometimes identified with that age-old monster or dragon Leviathan (as in Revelation 12-13). As far back as the earliest written evidence of civilization we find a recurrent theme in the mythology of Mesopotamia and the Near East generally. This particular recurrent theme or plot which scholars have labeled “the combat myth” involves the following:

One among the many gods engages in activity that seriously threatens the very order of the society of the gods, and it seems that all may revert to chaos (i.e. almost literally all hell is breaking loose). None among the older generation of gods seems willing or able to stand up against this chaotic threat which may undo the cosmos. A young or up-and-coming god (e.g. Ninurta or Marduk) steps up after being offered kingship over all the gods if he succeeds in restoring order among the gods. That young god succeeds in slaying the chaotic god or monster and reigns supreme (at least until the next threat of chaos).

This pattern can be seen in the story of Ninurta vs. Anzu and in others such as Ba’al’s defeat of Yamm (personified Sea) and Marduk’s defeat of the chaotic sea-monster Tiamat, from whose body Marduk fashions the world as we know it (in the Babylonian Enuma elish).

This pattern is also reflected in the basic assumptions of some authors of the Hebrew Bible, who speak of Yahweh slaying Leviathan, Rahab, or Yam, sometimes in connection with his creation of the world (see Psalm 74:12-17; Psalm 89:5-18; Isaiah 51:9-11). There is some truth in the claim that the apocalyptic worldview is the combat myth writ large: instead of simply being a recurrent theme in mythology, the ongoing combat between God and Satan (the ultimate adversary) is central to the overall apocalyptic worldview and now there is a vision of a future, final battle in which Satan will be put out of business permanently.

Second, there is the Persian case of Zoroastrian apocalypticism, about which I have posted in connection with Plutarch’s ethnographic summary (and, no, the actual Ahura Mazda was not interviewed on The Daily Show — yes, I had an email asking if he had been). The Zoroastrian material speaks of an ongoing battle between Ahura Mazda (Lord Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu (Evil Spirit) that will come to a complete end in the defeat of the power of darkness and all of its allies. An end-time figure (Saoshyant = “future benefactor”) will play some role in bringing about Lord Wisdom’s plans. There will be a resurrection of the dead and judgment will follow. The power of light will punish or destroy all evil and will “make things wonderful” by establishing a blissful existence for all humans who chose to live in accordance with Truth rather than the Lie.

Clearly there are many parallels between this Persian (Iranian) worldview and Jewish apocalypticism. Yet there are difficulties in assessing what is the relation between the two: We don’t know precisely when Zoroaster lived (either the sixth century BCE or the 12th century BCE!); it is difficult to know what aspects of later Zoroastrianism go back to Zoroaster himself; and all of our writings from Zoroastrians themselves (Avesta and Pahlavi) were only put into the written form we have from the fifth century CE on (i.e. either around seventeen or eleven centuries after Zoroaster lived). So there will always be debate on how the two influenced one another.

Third, there are other important traditions within Israelite religion (before the building of the second temple around 500 BCE) that provide a framework for the development of apocalypticism.

On the one hand there is the wisdom tradition, reflected in writings such as Proverbs. An assumption behind this tradition is that God has wisdom, and that he imparts this wisdom to very special human beings, to wise men. The apocalyptic worldview makes this same assumption and, in this case, the content of the wisdom relates to God’s plan for the coming final intervention to destroy evil and save the righteous (as well as how God runs the universe as a whole). The figure of Daniel, for instance, is presented as the ultimate wise man of Yahweh whose wisdom surpasses that of the Babylonian “wise men”, such that he (someone writing in his name) is the natural candidate to produce one of our earliest apocalyptic writings.

On the other hand, and closely related, is what we can call the prophetic tradition. The writings of the prophets preserved in the Hebrew Bible struggle to explain why God has allowed terrible things to happen to the people he chose (namely, to explain the fall of the Northern kingdom to Assyria in 721 BCE and then the fall of the Southern temple to Babylonia in 586 BCE). An assumption held by these prophets is that God has future plans for his people (namely to save them) and he reveals important aspects of this plan to the people through the prophet.

In the process of communicating what Yahweh tells them to tell the people (as they see it), many prophets look forward to “that day”, namely, the day when Israel would be freed from foreign domination and restored to its united glory. Quite often Yahweh’s communications take the form of visions, like Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones or the two sticks (Ezekiel 37). “That day” also often includes the “judgment” and/or subjugation of foreign nations. As we approach the (most likely) post-exilic era, a prophecy such as that in Isaiah 24-27 (the so-called “Isaiah Apocalypse”) can say that on “that day” (which is imminent) Yahweh will “lay waste the earth and make it desolate” (24:1), that he “will punish the host of heaven in heaven [heavenly beings], and on earth the kings of the earth ” (24:21), and that this can be compared to Yahweh repeating in some more final manner the slaying of “Leviathan the twisting serpent” (27:1 [RSV]).

Although I would hesitate to call the material in Isaiah 24-27 the “full-blown apocalyptic worldview”, we are certainly well on our way towards its development. Many of the pieces of the puzzle were quite quickly coming together in the wake of exile and return, in the fifth century BCE. Soon “that day” would be the day on which Yahweh, God of Israel, did battle with Satan (or some other ultimate adversary) and all of Satan’s earthly allies (kings of other nations) in order to wipe out evil forever and establish an eternal kingdom for the righteous. By soon, I mean sometime before 1 Enoch and the book of Daniel were written (c. 225-160s BCE). By then, the apocalypse had arrived in various senses, although Satan was yet to develop fully as his completely evil self.

Much more could be said, but this will have to do for now (the post is too long!!). You can read more about such things in books by the likes of John J. Collins and Norman Cohn as listed in the outline for my course.

Interpreting the Jewish scriptures in Paul’s time (NT 2.10)

One thing that is difficult for modern students to get their minds around (and, perhaps, for modern lecturers to explain properly) is the range of methods or styles of interpretation employed by first century Jews like Paul (who was trained as a Pharisee, of course). When a person like Paul approached the Jewish scriptures, he had a variety of options on how to extract meaning from those writings. And these options go far beyond what a modern person would consider a “normal” method of interpretation, of getting the meaning out of certain passages in the Bible.

Among these styles or methods of interpretation were: 1) Midrash, 2) Pesher, 3) Allegory, and 4) Typology. There are times when a number of methods are employed at once, and the lines between these modes of interpretation can be blurry, I should add. It is the modern scholar that speaks in these clear-cut terms more so than the ancient intepreter; nonetheless there are times when, for instance, Paul explicitly says he is putting forward an “allegory” (Gal 4:24) or when an author of Daniel or of one of the Dead Sea scrolls repeatedly speaks of his “pesher” of a particular prophetic writing.

1) Midrash, which comes from the root “to study” or “to interpret”, comes closest to what we as moderns would call interpretation proper. But even so this involves going beyond what we would call a literal interpretation. Thus, for instance, Paul unpacks the story of Abraham in a somewhat literal way, focussing on the chronological sequence of Yahweh’s relations with and establishment of a covenant with Abraham (in Galatians, as discussed in my other post). Yet he also juxtaposes a variety of other scriptural sources in relation to his exposition of Abraham’s story in a way that goes beyond a literal interpretation and is also focussed on the somewhat hidden, spiritual significance of the scriptures in question. In the process he also employs typological thinking, as explained below, in presenting Gentiles as sons of Abraham, or new Abrahams. Like all forms of interpretation discussed here, the interpreter is almost always concerned with applying the meaning that is found to the current situation of the interpreter and his (or her) listeners.

2) Pesher (literally, “solution” or “interpretation”) likewise involves finding the meanings presumed to be hidden within the Torah and, especially, prophetic writings like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Hosea. Pesher may be considered a type of Midrash in some ways, but there is more of a focus on one-to-one correspondences in the interpretation of specific details of the scripture in question. Pesher is very much focussed on the hidden meanings that cannot be readily detected by just anyone.

The author of Daniel frequently uses the term “pesher” to describe Daniel’s method of interpreting the details of dreams. Some members of the Dead Sea sect use the term pesher when they are doing very detailed, one-to-one intepretations regarding how details in the prophets (8th-6th centuries BCE) are in fact referring to specific powers or persons who can be identified in their own time (2nd-1st century BCE). By doing pesher, the interpreter is unlocking or decoding the “mystery” (raz). Pesher was (and still is) very important for apocalyptic thinkers who look for the veiled meaning behind details in the scriptures in order to find one-to-one correspondences with specific incidents or people in their own times, namely the end-times.

For a discussion of pesher in the context of the Dead Sea scroll known as the Isaiah Pesher, see the West Semitic Research Project site here.

3) Allegorical approaches involve extracting the deeply hidden but always spiritual meaning in a particular passage or story in the Bible. Allegorical interpretation, which is figurative, is very far removed from a literal interpretation and often seeks to find hidden and seemingly obscure meanings that noone else had or would find in a passage. When Paul uses the story of Sarah and Hagar from Genesis (in Galatians 4:21-31) and interprets these two women as two covenants, two mountains, and two cities, he is doing allegorical interpretation. There is also a sense in which Paul concludes this allegory with typological application, however, since he finishes by saying that the readers who follow Paul are “children of promise”, like Isaac (they are new Isaacs).

Philo of Alexandria, the first century Jewish philosopher, is well-known for his allegorical interpretations. For instance, as David Runia notes: “In the so-called Allegorical Commentary, which contains 21 books, Philo gives an elaborate commentary on the first 17 chapters of the book Genesis from a purely allegorical perspective. These chapters are not interpreted in terms of the primal history of man and God’s election of the people of Israel, but are read at a ‘deeper’ level as a profound account of the nature of the soul, her place in reality, and the experiences she undergoes as she searches for her divine origin and gains knowledge of her creator” (pp. 5-6 in article linked below). Runia provides an excellent introduction to Philo, including his allegorical methods: Philo, Alexandrian and Jew. Hindy Najman (U. Toronto) has an online article which discusses Philo’s typological and allegorical interpretation of the Cain and Abel stories in Genesis: Cain and Abel as Character Traits: A Study in the Allegorical Typology of Philo of Alexandria.

4) Typology involves viewing key figures or events in the stories of the Bible as ideal types that repeat themselves in subsequent history, particularly in the time of the interpreter. Paul is thinking typologically when he speaks of Jesus as the “second Adam”. Typological interpretation is evident throughout the Gospels, as when people in the story are presented as wondering whether Jesus is Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (Mathew 16:14) or when Jesus is presented as seeing John the Baptist as the new Elijah (Mark 9:11-13). The Gospel of Matthew, in particular, provides a clear case of more thoroughgoing typological interpretation in the author’s presentation of Jesus as a new king David and a new Moses (see my post of Matthew’s portrait of Jesus here). For example, in the birth narrative Matthew juxtaposes particular stories about Moses’ birth with the birth of Jesus, and he sometimes quotes or alludes to specific passages or phrases relating to Moses’ story in the process of telling Jesus’ story.

In writing this post, my memory was refreshed by: J.D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (2nd edition; Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1990) and R. N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (2nd edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). The four types outlined above are also those listed by Dunn.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Paul’s apocalyptic worldview (NT 2.6)

This past week we’ve been reading Paul’s first letter to the Christians living in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians), which happens to be the earliest writing regarding followers of Jesus in the Roman world (dating sometime in the 40s or around 50 CE). In other words, it is our earliest glimpse into this Jewish Jesus-movement as it made its way into a Greco-Roman world. This letter from Paul to a group of Jesus-followers in the Greek city of Thessalonica in Macedonia is very important for several reasons, a couple of which I’d like to mention here.

First of all, it is in this letter that we first see evidence of what a Jew like Paul taught his listeners when he travelled to a particular city. In the first chapter Paul speaks of the great reputation of the followers of Jesus at Thessalonica, pointing out how other Jesus-followers in Macedonia and elsewhere respected those Thessalonians highly. This rhetoric of praise (epideictic or demonstrative rhetoric) continues throughout the letter, by the way. In the process, Paul provides a glimpse into the core of his teaching to the Greeks:

For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 [RSV]).

This short passage is jam-packed with important information regarding the earliest “good message” (gospel) as taught by Paul. (1) Paul taught that the Jewish God was the only God (Jewish monotheism), (2) that the one Jewish God had a Son that had been raised from the dead, and (3) that there is a coming wrath and the Son, Jesus, would save the Thessalonian Jesus-followers from that wrath of God.

This third point regarding a coming wrath is part of what scholars call the apocalyptic worldview, and Paul expands upon it when he is faced with the worries of some Thessalonians whose friends and family have died before the arrival of the Son. You can read about that for yourself in 1 Thessalonians chapters 4 and 5 (especially 4:13-5:10).

Basically, one can outline the apocalyptic worldview or perspective in a simplified manner as follows:

We are living in an evil world dominated by evil forces. There is a constant struggle between these evil forces and the forces of good, and evil seems to have the upper hand. Humans are part of this ongoing dualistic struggle and take sides as either the righteous (e.g. sons of light) or the wicked (e.g. sons of darkness). But God has a plan to end that ongoing struggle.

God will intervene in a cataclysmic way and the final massive battle between good and evil will end in the triumph of good over evil. This will happen very soon. Through God’s wrath, evil forces, under the leadership of Satan (or Belial, or some other name for evil personified) will be either obliterated or tortured forever. Some important figure (or figures) sent by God, such as an anointed priest or prophet or king or warrior or all of the above, will play a key role in the final triumph of God.

God or his messenger will judge and separate the righteous people from the wicked people. There may be a resurrection of the dead who will also face such categorization. The righteous will go on to live forever in bliss with God in his new creation or kingdom or paradisical world. The fate of the wicked will be the same as the evil forces, such as Satan, who will face the wrath.

This basic perspective as outlined here holds true for the members of the Jewish Dead Sea sect (perhaps Essenes) and for Paul, as well as for some other Jews. Not all Jews in the second-temple period were apocalyptic, I should add, but both Paul and the Dead Sea sect (and most likely Jesus too) were. This worldview has also been important for many Christians throughout Western history. There are differences in the details from one apocalyptic thinker to the next, but basically the overall components of the worldview are the same.

If you are interested in reading further posts on this subject, click on my category for apocalypticism or on my category for the history of Satan (who plays a key role in the apocalyptic worldview). I also have a specific post which deals with Zoroastrian apocalypticism, which is an important factor in understanding the emergence of the apocalyptic worldview within Judaism and Christianity. In Zoroastrianism, the ongoing battle is between Ahura Mazda (Lord Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu, head of the evil forces.

You can read far more about apocalypticism in early Judaism and Christianity, as well as throughout history at the fine Apocalypse! site connected with the PBS Frontline documentary. Felix Just also supplies a number of useful links on the topic.

P.S. How long can I maintain references to song titles in my post titles?

Rhetorical functions of Satan: From Babylon the whore to devilish super-apostles (Satan 7)

As a Jewish apocalyptic movement, the early Jesus movement (“Christianity”) inherited a worldview in which Satan played an important role as the ultimate adversary or opponent of God and his agents. Plenty could be said of the centrality of Satan’s (or his demons’) opposition to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, for instance, where the temptation in the desert at the start of Jesus’ mission draws clear attention to an ongoing struggle (further illustrated in the many exorcisms) that seemingly threatens to undo that very mission. Jesus is often presented, as in the gospel of Mark, as the beginning of the end for the evil powers that are active in the world. Most early Christians took Satan and his demons seriously and felt evil powers could be active in the real-life settings of Christians and others. So this was more than just thoughts in peoples’ heads, and Satan played an important role in real-life social and political interactions and in polemical discourses.

Here I want briefly to draw attention to two main rhetorical functions of Satan in polemical discourses or discourses of the “other”. Moreover, the ultimate Opponent (Satan) could make his appearance (discursively) in struggles with (1) opponents outside of one’s group and (2) opponents within (or on the fringes of) Judaism or the Jesus movement that were nonetheless categorized as “other”, as demonic outsiders. The “demonization” of either external enemies or internal adversaries continued in various ways throughout the history of Christianity (and was characteristic of earlier polemical discourses within the context of early Judaism as well).

(1) First of all, Satan and the language of evil play an important role in the “demonization” of outsiders or other peoples, including ruling powers. John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) provides an excellent example of this (written some time in the years following Rome’s destruction of the temple in 70 CE, perhaps in the 90s). The author of these visions thinks in terms of an ongoing struggle between God and his Lamb (Jesus), on the one hand, and the dragon, Satan, and his Beast, on the other. More importantly here, the dragon here is quite clearly in league with the Roman imperial power, which is portrayed as a seven-headed, chaotic beast arising from the sea in chapter 13 (with the emperor Nero in particular — as the mortally wounded head who “was, and is not, and is to ascend” [17:7-14] — on the top of the author’s mind). The “dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority” to this beast, and the people worshipped both the dragon (Satan) and the beast (the emperor), according to these visions (13:2). The rhetorical attack on the external Roman imperial power continues in chapters 17-18, where the author speaks of Babylon (= Rome — both had destroyed God’s temple in Jerusalem) as a whore who rides on the seven-headed beast and drinks the blood of the saints. For more on the imperial dimensions of the Apocalypse, see my earlier post on Worshiping the Beast / Honouring the Emperor.

The use of the language of evil and Satan in relating to outsiders or external opponents would continue long after John wrote down these visions. One particularly prominent example is the way in which subsequent Christians (e.g. Justin Martyr) spoke of the gods of the Greeks and Romans as “demons” (compare Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth at 10:14-22).

(2) Second, in the internal debates and struggles within Christianity, Satan was frequently called on to combat those within or on the margins of one’s own cultural group who held different views on what following Jesus meant. Thus, for instance, when Paul attempted to convince some Christians at Corinth that they should take him as authoritative rather than some other eloquent “super-apostles”, he employed the language of evil and Satan to describe these (Jewish-Christian) opponents:

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 [RSV]).

These leaders of the Jesus movement with whom Paul strongly disagrees become servants of Satan who will share the evil one’s fate, in this discourse.

One more example will suffice here. The Johannine epistles (1-3 John) reflect a particular group of Jesus-followers (likely living in western Asia Minor) which had recently had difficulties that led to a schism. The author portrays those that had left the group, who held differing views on Jesus, as “antichrists” in the service of the devil:

“Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come . . . They went out from us, but they were not of us . . . Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:18-23 [RSV]; compare 2 John 7-11).

This is the earliest known occurence of the term “antichrist”, by the way, which would soon develop its own history in reference to a primary earthly assistant of Satan that would precede the final battle between evil and good. Among later interpreters, the beasts in John’s Apocalypse, or in the book of Daniel before it, were sometimes identified with this developing antichrist figure.

Rebellious, fallen angels and the flood: 1 Enoch (Satan 4)

A very important part of Satan’s identity within Christianity is the notion that Satan is the chief angel among a group that rebelled against God and fell from their original position in the heavenly realm. We first have clear signs of this critical component in Satan’s story around 200 BCE in a Jewish writing in the Pseudepigrapha known as 1 Enoch (text and introductions online here). 1 Enoch is an apocalypse in terms of genre and is a composite work, divided into five books, with book one (chapters 1-36) being among the earliest (on which go to my earlier post here for further clarification).

What is most important here is that book one of 1 Enoch presents a midrash (interpretation) and considerable expansion of a few mysterious verses in Genesis (6:1-8): the account of the “sons of God” (angelic figures) mating with human women that immediately precedes the story of God sending the flood. “Enoch’s” visions explain the origins of evil and sin among humanity, and in this case suggest that ultimately evil came from the divine realm by way of fallen angels. Issues regarding the degree to which humans, on the one hand, or divine beings (angels), on the other, were responsible for the introduction and continuation of evil and sin among humanity would continue to occupy those who told and re-told the story of Satan in subsequent centuries. Some would configure things differently than book one of 1 Enoch does.

In the process of explaining the origins of evil, this author seems to blend together two separate traditions that existed before his time concerning a conspiracy among certain angels (perhaps drawing on a lost work called the “Book of Noah”, mentioned in the book of Jubilees ch. 10, for one of these traditions). The reason we can detect these traditions is that, in 1 Enoch, there are inconsistencies in who was the leader of the rebel angels (see further John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination). At times the author speaks of Semyaz (Semihazah) as the chief and at others of Azazel (Asa’el). Not only that, but the author seems to have preserved the different emphases of each tradition. The Semyaz material portrays the conspiracy against God as centred on the sexual act of union with humans and the Azazel tradition focusses on how the fallen angels subsequently reveal secrets of heaven to humanity, including skills that led to war and seduction, to the general chaos that brings the flood. For this author, the offspring of the mixing of divine and human are giants whose spirits after death are demons that continue to mislead humanity (15:8-12).

The result of this whole conspiracy is war and chaos on earth. God consults with his trusted angels, such as Michael and Raphael, to arrange punishment of both the humans and the fallen angels, referring to the end of days in the process:

“then spoke the Most High. . . ‘the earth and everything will be destroyed. And the deluge is about to come upon all the earth; and all that is in it will be destroyed.’ . . . And secondly the Lord said to Raphael, ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot and throw him into the darkness!’ And he (Raphael) made a hole in the desert. . . he threw on top of him (Azazel) rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered his face in order that he may not see light; and in order that he may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment.” (1 Enoch 10:1-7; trans. by E. Isaac in James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1983-85], p. 17)

The imprisonment and end-time fate of this fallen angel here resembles the fate of “the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan” in John’s Apocalypse (20:1-10), as we shall soon see. As in other apocalyptic writings, the flood of long ago becomes a precursor or foreshadow of God’s final intervention in the end times, the “great day of judgment”, when the angels who rebelled, along with the humans who sided with them by doing evil, will meet their end. The righteous ones, on the other hand, will go on to live in a new world cleansed “from all sin and from all iniquity” (see 10:17-22).

The name “Satan” itself does not appear here at all, but the fallen angels story was soon to be linked up with passages involving the angelic adversary (“satan”) in the Hebrew Bible, as we begin to see in the likes of Jubilees (chapters 10-11; c. 150-105 BCE). Still later (in the second and third centuries CE), this notion of fallen angels would also be linked up (by Christian authors) with a passage that originally referred to the Babylonian king as cosmic rebel in Isaiah 14, the “Day Star, Son of Dawn” who falls from heaven (where he imagines himself to belong). Part of the phrase just mentioned was translated into Latin by Jerome (in 410 CE) as “Lucifer”. Looking far ahead to the 1600s, it would be hard to imagine Milton’s Paradise Lost without the story of Satan or Lucifer as the chief rebel angel who fell from heaven’s height.

Other predecessors of Satan in Israelite religion and the Hebrew Bible (Satan 3)

When reading the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. “Old Testament”) for historical purposes, it is important not to project back into its pages later developments in Judaism and Christianity, and this is particularly true in the case of “Satan”. Although there is no full-blown notion of personified evil in Israelite religion, there are indeed important messenger or angelic figures associated with Yahweh (“LORD”), God of the Israelites. Sometimes these figures could later on be associated with the notion of Satan as a thoroughly evil figure. (“Israelite religion” is the term scholars often use to refer to the religious life of the Hebrews before the Babylonian exile of 586 BCE, while “Judaism” is generally used in reference to developments following the return under Cyrus and foundation of the second temple in Judea, hence “Second Temple Judaism”). Here I want to briefly discuss three closely related, recurring figures associated with Yahweh’s (God’s) heavenly entourage or council: (1) “the adversary” (ha-satan), (2) the injurious, or evil, spirit (rucha ra’a) and (2) the “messenger” (mal’ak).

1) The Hebrew word for an opponent, prosecutor, adversary, or one who obstructs, satan, occurs in a number of places in the Bible, sometimes in reference to human opponents and sometimes in reference to a figure sent by God. In 2 Samuel 19:22 and in 1 Kings 11:14-25, for instance, the term satan is used of human adversaries of the protagonists (David and Solomon). In most other cases, it is a heavenly figure or messenger (mal’ak = Greek angelos) that God sends to act as an obstruction, adversary, or accuser (see, for instance the story of Balaam in Numbers 22, especially verse 22). The most well-known case of “satan” is the adversary among the “sons of God” (bene ha-elohim) in The Book of Job (chapters 1-2; seventh-fourth centuries BCE). This figure acts almost as a legal prosecutor in challenging Job’s piety and in letting loose severe treatment (e.g. killing all of Job’s 10 children) as a test, all with the active consent of God. The adversary is by no means an evil figure opposed to God in this story (online resources for Job here).

The closest we come to the notion of an angelic adversary (satan) going against the will of God and perhaps even needing to be stopped is in Zechariah (c. 520 BCE), where “the satan” is a prosecutorial figure against Joshua, and Yahweh “rebukes” the satan for accusing Joshua in this particular case (see Zechariah 3; also see 1 Chronicles 21:1, where a “satan” apparently opposes Israel, but with little clarification by the author). There is no indication that these angelic figures are inherently evil in an ongoing manner, however.

2) A recurring figure in the Hebrew Bible sent to do God’s work, either in opposition to or in support of humans, is the mal’ak, or messenger (translated in an ancient Greek translation of the Bible [LXX] as angelos and now often as “angel” in English). Thus, for instance, it is an angel of Yahweh that appears to Moses in a flame of fire (the burning bush) and an angel (as well as pillars of cloud or fire) that helps to guide the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery (Exodus 3:2 and 14:19-24). But we have already seen above that an angel can also serve God’s will in an oppositional manner, if necessary (as in Numbers). And there are passages which imply or state that an angel is involved as a “destroyer” on God’s behalf, as in the Passover incident (Exodus 12:23; cf. 2 Samuel 24:16).

3) Quite similar to the latter role of the messenger sent by God to cause injury is the “evil spirit” in the Hebrew Bible (especially in the so-called Deuteronomistic History, sixth century BCE and earlier). This figure, who is directly distinguished from the “spirit of Yahweh”, is sometimes sent by God to facilitate things happening in the way that God wants them to happen, sometimes inciting violence (see Judges 9:22-23; 1 Samuel 16:14-16; 18:10-11; 19:9-11; also see 1 Kings 22:19-22 for a “lying spirit”).

The most important distinction between these “satans” (including the one in Job), “messengers”, or “evil spirits” and the evil Satan figure of later apocalypticism is that the Hebrew Bible’s satans and angels are almost always acting in conjunction with the will of Yahweh, or God. They are almost always sent by God to be an obstruction or to act as an adversary or prosecutor against some person or persons.

However, even these same passages involving the Israelite God taking adversarial action against certain people could be interpreted differently by later Jews or Christians. This is the case with those in later centuries who did indeed hold a view of Satan as an evil figure opposed to God (such as Jubilees, where Mastema, Enmity personified, takes on some of these same roles, as we shall see later). With the full-blown, apocalyptic Satan, just about the only thing that is in accordance with God’s will is the existence of this figure, whose intentions are directly opposed to God but who unwittingly plays a crucial part in the unfolding of God’s plan (according to many ancient apocalyptic Jews and Christians).

I am indebted to Neil Forsyth’s The Old Enemy, pp. 107-123 (cited in full in the previous entry) for getting me going on analyzing the passages (I disagree somewhat with his take on Zechariah).

Mesopotamian gods, chaos-monsters, and the “combat myth” (Satan 2)

A rebellious fallen angel who later develops into a full-blown personification of evil (as Satan) first begins to appear clearly in our sources within the context of Jewish apocalypticism around 200 BCE (in book 1 of 1 Enoch). The story of this personified evil figure continues to develop and play an important role in early Christianity. Yet there are important predecessors in the Ancient Near East which help us to understand subsequent stories surrounding the figure of Satan. Among the predecessors is Angra Mainyu or Ahriman (the opponent of Ahura Mazda) within Zoroastrianism, which I have discussed here in an earlier entry on this blog.

Oldest among these predecessors are the chaos-monsters (also gods) who are slayed by an up-and-coming Mesopotamian (or Hittite or Canaanite or Israelite) deity in traditions dating as far back as the third millenium BCE (our earliest evidence for literate civilizations). In particular, the portrayal of Satan in John’s Apocalypse (written c. 90s CE), which became the most potent early image of Satan as the ancient serpent or dragon, cannot be understood without reference to these older gods who threaten or even personify chaos and are ultimately defeated in combat (see especially Revelation, chapters 12-13).

Although there is considerable diversity among these stories of the Mesopotamian gods and we should not imagine that they’re all the same, there is nonetheless a common pattern that emerges in many of these combat stories:

1) A god among the pantheon engages in activity that threatens the well-being (or even existence) of other gods and the society of the gods.

2) The opposition from the chaos-god seems insurmountable and other gods desperately seek (with great difficulty) someone who can solve the problem.

3) Finally, a less prominent or younger god steps forward and acts as a hero in battling and successfully defeating and killing the monstrous threat, re-establishing order in the universe. Often, there are two rounds in the fight, with the hero losing the first. Sometimes (as in the case of Marduk vs. Tiamat and Yahweh vs. Leviathan) the slaying of the chaos-monster coincides with the creation of the world of humans by the hero-god. In essence, the hero-god has saved the entire cosmos from reverting to chaos and now has a new status as a chief or king among the gods.

It is important to state that the gods who threaten to bring chaos to the entire cosmos are not inherently evil in these traditions, however, and they are indeed gods (which Satan is not within early Judaism and Christianity). Yet the role of the chaos-monster as opponent or adversary of the hero-god and the centrality of the battle between the two (“combat myth”) which ends in triumph for the hero are, in many respects, at the heart of Satan’s story and his function within early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic worldviews.

Perhaps the most well known case of this mythology is the Babylonian story of Marduk’s slaying of Tiamat, the chaotic sea-monster and mother of all gods, whose husband, Apsu, had plans to do away with her noisy children, the rest of the gods. (As chaotic sea-monster, Tiamat is comparable to the Israelite Leviathan or the Canaanite Yamm). Marduk then uses the corpse of Tiamat to create the world as we know it. You can read that story in the Enuma elish (When on high) online.

The other story I want to briefly cite here, a poetic myth dating back to the second millenium BCE, is also intriguing with regard to the chaos-god as a jealous rebel against the current head of the gods. This is the story of the frightful, monstrous bird Anzu (also Zu), who brings chaos in the world of the gods by stealing the tablet of destinies — the record of all the plans of the gods and locus of power — away from Ellil (also spelled Enlil), the father of the gods (see photo below). What better time to rebel than when Ellil’s taking a shower. The problem begins like this:

“Ellil appointed him (Anzu) to the entrance of the chamber which he had perfected.
He would bathe in holy water in his presence.
His eyes would gaze at the trappings of Ellil-power:
His lordly crown, his robe of divinity,
The Tablet of Destinies in his hands, Anzu gazed,
And gazed at Duranki’s god (i.e. Ellil), father of the gods,
And fixed his purpose, to usurp the Ellil-power.
Anzu often gazed at Duranki’s god, father of the gods,
And fixed his purpose to usurp the Ellil-power.
‘I shall take the gods’ Tablet of Destinies for myself
And control the orders for all the gods,
And shall possess the throne and be master of the rites!
I shall direct every one of the Igigi (category of gods)!’
He plotted opposition in his heart
And at the chamber’s entrance from which he often gazed,
he waited for the start of the day.
While Ellil was bathing in the holy water,
Stripped and with his crown laid down on the throne,
He gained the Tablet of Destinies for himself,
Took away the Ellil-power. Rites were abandoned,
Anzu flew off and went into hiding.
Radiance faded (?), silence reigned,
Father Ellil, their counsellor, was dumbstruck,
For he (Anzu) had stripped the chamber of its radiance.
The gods of the land searched high and low for a solution.”
Standard Babylonian version, tablet 1, iii, first millenium BCE; Stephanie Dalley, trans., Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford: OUP, 2000), pp. 206-207.

The abandonment of rites in honour of the gods, the silence, and the dumbstruck state of Ellil (as well as other passages which indicate that Anzu’s action has halted water for agriculture) are symbolic of the utter chaos that ensues in the cosmos as a result of Anzu stealing the tablet of destinies, the power of Ellil. After interviewing several divine candidates to fight Anzu, all of which are not up to the seemingly impossible task, young Ninurta (or Ningirsu in some versions) is put forward for the job, and is instructed by his mother, Belet-ili:

“Seize him by the throat: conquer Anzu,
And let the winds bring his feathers as good news to Ekur, to your father Ellil’s house. Rush and inundate the mountain pastures
And slit the throat of wicked Anzu. . .
Show prowess to the gods and your name shall be Powerful!” (SBV, tablet 2).

Ninurta vs. Anzu

In the first battle-sequence, Anzu gains the upper hand by using his Ellil-power to disassemble any of Ninurta’s arrows before they can approach Anzu and Anzu has the power to release and return his own feathers as a smokescreen (using the phrase “Wing to wing” to employ this power). Ninurta then consults with Ea, god of wisdom, who advises that Ninurta disguise his own arrows as though they were Anzu’s feathers, and to time his shooting to coincide with Anzu’s use of his “super-power” (emitting and recalling his feathers). Thus in the second, overwhelming confrontation:

“(As Anzu) shouted ‘Wing to wing’, a shaft came up (?) at him,
A dart passed through his very heart.
He (Ninurta) made an arrow pass through pinion and wing. . .
He slew the mountains (symbolic of Anzu), inundated their proud pastures (ending drought). . . slew wicked Anzu.
And warrior Ninurta regained the gods’ Tablet of Destinies for his own hand.”

Problem solved, and Ninurta’s reward for slaying the jealous and rebellious god who brought chaos was supremacy among the gods:
“You have won complete dominion, every single rite.”

Here, then, is the essence of what scholars call the “combat myth” which, via the Israelite case of Yahweh vs. Leviathan, came to play an important role within the apocalyptic worldview, with its battle between the forces of God and the forces of Satan, the dragon or ancient serpent in John’s Apocalypse.

For an online scholarly article about Ninurta and Anzu (and Azag, another combatant), go here. For Israelite instances of the combat myth, with Yahweh vs. Leviathan or Rahab or Behemoth or Tananim, see the following biblical passages: Psalms, chapters 74, 104; Isaiah chapter 27; Job chapters 40-41. You can view William Blake’s illustration of Leviathan and Behemoth (1825) online at the Tate gallery here. There are also several useful online overviews concerning Ancient Near Eastern mythologies and gods of the Sumerians, the Babylonians and Assyrians, the Canaanites, the Hittites and Hurrians.

Excellent books on the relevance of Mesopotamian combat myths and chaos-monsters for early Judaism and Christianity (including Satan) include: Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (2nd edition; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), and Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).

Photo (above): Ninurta pursues Anzu, as depicted on a stone sculpture in the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud, Iraq. Drawing from Austen Henry Layard, A Second Series of the Monuments of Nineveh (London: John Murray, 1853), volume 2, plate 5. This full work, now in the public domain, is available online at ABZU.

A guided tour of the heavens: The Ascension of Isaiah (NT Apocrypha 21)

When scholars of early Judaism and Christianity identify a writing as an “apocalypse” (in terms of genre), they usually have in mind a first-person visionary report that claims to narrate a “revelation” (apocalypsis) from God himself. Almost always the content of the visions that are narrated also presuppose or directly pertain to an apocalyptic worldview, namely, an ideology in which this present world is dominated by evil forces (headed by Satan, or Beliar, or what have you) which will ultimately and imminently be destroyed (or perpetually punished) in the final intervention of God and his angelic forces (there is a thoroughgoing dualism in this way of thinking).

One of the two main types of apocalyptic writing that have been identified is the so-called “historical apocalypse”. Here the focus of the visions relates to the unfolding of God’s historical plans (on this, see John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, which is browsable online here). The Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible (written about 160s BCE) and John’s Apocalypse or Revelation (written about 70-90 CE) in the New Testament are largely characterized by this historical focus: both relate the unfolding of God’s plan for history in relation to actual political powers (Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors, respectively), and these political powers are cast in the role of the ultimate evil opponents of God (on John’s Apocalypse see my earlier post on Worshiping the Beast / Honouring the Emperor or my article here).

The second main type of apocalypse is the “otherworldly journey”. Here the visionary is taken on a tour of the far reaches of the world and beyond, usually a tour of either the heavens or the underworld (hell). The earliest surviving example of this type is the first book (chs. 1-36) of 1 Enoch (online here) written about 200 BCE, in which the Enoch of Genesis is presented as the visionary who expounds the story of the fallen angels (Gen 6) and is guided by an angel in order to witness the workings of the universe.

In its present Christian form, the Ascension of Isaiah (reflecting materials ranging from the second century BCE to as late as the fourth century CE; online here) consists of the story of the prophet Isaiah’s martyrdom (who is sawn in half) and a report of Isaiah’s vision in which Isaiah is taken on a journey through the seven heavens with an angel as guide (chs. 1-5 and 6-11 respectively). The martyrdom and the vision are linked in their present form, since it is because Isaiah had gone on the tour, witnessing God’s plan to send his Beloved (Christ) to destroy the evil powers, that Beliar (Satan) seeks to have Isaiah killed (through the evil angel Sammael and king Mannaseh) (3:13).

Isaiah’s otherworldly journey begins as he ascends with the angel-guide to “the firmament” above the world, but below the heavens. Isaiah then proceeds through each of the seven heavens. In each heaven he witnesses a throne flanked by angels, and the glory of each heaven and its angels increases until he reaches the final, seventh heaven, the dwelling place of the Most High (God) and his “Beloved” (Lord Christ). There, says Isaiah,

“I saw all the righteous from Adam. And I saw there the holy Abel and all the righteous. And there I saw Enoch and all who were with him, stripped of the garment of the flesh, and I saw them in their higher garments, and they were like the angels who stand there in great glory” (Ascension of Isaiah 9:7-9; trans. by Müller in Schneemelcher)

Isaiah then gains a revelation of what will occur in the future, final intervention of God (the end times). Ascending and descending are important not only for Isaiah here, but also for other key figures in the apocalyptic visions. Isaiah hears the voice of the Most High himself calling on his Beloved (Lord Christ) to descend, to trace the steps that Isaiah had just traversed, in other words:

“Go and descend through all the heavens; descend to the firmament and to that world, even to the angel in the realm of the dead (on the descent to hell see my other posts on Satan) . . . that you may judge and destroy the prince and his angels and the gods of this world and the world which is ruled by them, for they have denied me and said ‘We alone are, and there is none beside us’. And afterwards you will ascend from the angels of death to your place, and you will not be transformed in each heaven [i.e. you will not be affected by the inferiority of each heaven in relation to the seventh heaven], but in glory you will ascend and sit on my right hand. And the princes and powers of this world will worship you” (Ascension of Isaiah 10.7-14).

Almost immediately, Isaiah then witnesses the descent and ascent of the Beloved (Christ). But there is more of this ascending and descending. Earlier in this writing we learn that, as part of the “consummation” of the world, an anti-Beloved (so to speak), Beliar himself, will be sent before the Beloved comes:

“And after it has come to its consummation, Beliar, the great prince, the king of this world who has ruled it since it came into being, shall descend; he will come down from his firmament in the form of a man, a lawless king, a slayer of his mother, who . . . will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted; and one of the twelve will be delivered into his hand. . . All that he desires he will do in the world; he will act and speak in the name of the Beloved and say ‘I am God and before me there has been none else’. And all the people in the world will believe in him, and will sacrifice to him and serve him saying, ‘This is God and beside him there is none other’ . . . And after (one thousand) three hundred and thirty-two days the Lord will come with his angels and with the hosts of the saints from the seventh heaven with the glory of the seventh heaven, and will drag Beliar with his hosts into Gehenna” (4:1-14).

In a manner reminiscent of John’s Apocalypse (esp. ch. 13), the author is here presenting an end-time evil figure in the form of an actual king and, more specifically, a king modelled on a returning emperor Nero (Nero redivivus) who is worshipped as a god (alluding to the Roman imperial cult, on which go here for a brief discussion or here for an entire article). It is important to remember that the line between “otherworldly journey” apocalypses and “historical” apocalypses is by no means stark (as with the fluidity of genre as a whole), and there are some apocalypses with the characteristics of each, of course.

The ascending and descending theme is an important component in this apocalyptic author’s worldview, and the apocalyptic seer’s own guided tour gives him a first-hand experience of otherworldly travel himself.

UPDATE (Dec. 15): Now also see Alan S. Bandy’s collection of various scholarly definitions of the apocalyptic genre.

“Left Below” / Left Behind: “Ha, ha, life goes on”

I’m a bit behind the times, but last night I saw (in repeat) the Simpsons’ episode called “Left Below,” which spoofs the very popular American fundamentalist “Left Behind” phenomenon (Tim LaHaye’s massive money-maker). Homer gets caught up in the expectation of the “rapture” while watching a movie and eventually gets a good following among other Springfieldites. He accurately predicts that “stars” will fall from the sky, which is fulfilled when a blimp carrying hollywood stars crashes and dumps its load of stars. He, like many other modern apocalyptic thinkers or “prophecy students”, calculates the time of the end based on his own unique formula. As in other cases, the calculated time of the end comes and goes — followed by the “great disappointment” of Springfield — only to be recalculated after recognizing the faulty number in the calculation, which again comes and goes. Nelson chimes in at the appropriate point with his “Ha, ha, life goes on”.

For those of you who happen not to be familiar with the origins of such modern American apocalyptic notions, things are very complicated but I’ll oversimplify them here in short form. In the 1800s, a Protestant Irish guy named John Nelson Darby developed the doctrine of the rapture in reference to the belief that just before the end-times and the terrible things listed in John’s Apocalypse, all believing Christians would be taken away from the earth by Jesus. Basically, the doctrine combines a variety of passages in the New Testament (including some from John’s Apocalypse / Revelation), but it is especially related to the reference to Jesus coming in the clouds in Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica (written c. 50 CE):

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 [NIV]).

This doctrine was taken on by a number of American pastors, particularly those associated with the rise of fundamentalism in the twentieth century (beginning about 1919, but especially with the growth of fundamentalism post World War II). But it was not to become extremely popular until Hal Lindsey wrote his best-seller, The Late, Great Planet Earth in the 1970s. There Lindsey, as a “prophecy student”, interprets various current political and cultural events as the fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible (especially Daniel and John’s Apocalypse / Revelation). The book had a quite explicit proselytizing function, as it concludes with a call to accept Jesus and be saved from the coming wrath of God, to be among those that are Raptured and not “left behind” for the torturous tribulations to come. Many Lindsey like prophecy books that interpreted current events followed, including those that plugged the Hussein/Iraq situation into the end-time equation in the 1980s and 90s. As you are aware, there has been somewhat of a renaissance of the rapture notion in its American fundamentalist form with the extremely popular novels by Tim LaHaye (especially leading up to and since the turn of the millenium). There you go: the history of modern American fundamentalist apocalypticism in three paragraphs (not).

If you want to read more about apocalypticism generally, go to that PBS Apocalypse! site I mentioned before in connection with Aliens, Fallen Angels, and Heaven’s Gate. For more detail on the origins of the American form of apocalypticism, read Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1992).

UPDATE: A friend of mine who has cable (I have those old-fashioned rabbit ears you may have heard of in history books–very fuzzy) recorded the Simpson’s episode for me, and I watched it again. Quite humorous is Homer’s preaching, which captures the tensions in apocalyptic discourse: “God loves you . . . HE’S GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!”

The official title of the episode is “Thank God It’s Doomsday” (originally aired May 8, 2005).

Aliens, Fallen Angels, and Heaven’s Gate

A week or so ago, Jim Davila discussed a recent novel which combines stories of the fallen angels and giants (Nephilim) with UFOlogy and fundamentalist Christian apocalypticism (also discussed on the new blog Café Apocalypsis). The combination of an imminent expectation of the end with the role of alien races as either the saviours or the villains is not new, of course. In the 1990s, the Heaven’s Gate group combined Christian apocalyptic expectation of the final intervention of God (in this case aliens) with the notion of good and bad alien races (the group clearly believed in their views as they ended their lives in expectation of the end and the move to the “level above human”). The malevolent space races, the “Luciferians,” likely included the notion of fallen angels, whose activity was outlined in some detail by the Heaven’s Gate:

The term “TRUE” Kingdom of God is used repeatedly because there are many space alien races that through the centuries of this civilization (and in civilizations prior) have represented themselves to humans as “Gods.” We refer to them collectively as “space alien races in opposition to the Next Level,” what historically have been referred to as “Luciferians,” for their ancestors fell into disfavor with the Kingdom Level Above Human many thousands of years ago. They are not genderless – they still need to reproduce. They have become nothing more than technically advanced humans (clinging to human behavior) who retained some of what they learned while in the early training of Members of the Level Above Human, e.g., having limited: space-time travel, telepathic communication, advanced travel hardware (spacecrafts, etc.), increased longevity, advanced genetic engineering, and such skills as suspending holograms (as used in some so-called “religious miracles”). The Next Level – the true Kingdom of God – has the only truly advanced space-time travel vehicles, or spacecrafts, and is not interested in creating phenomena (signs) or impressive trickery.

These malevolent space races are the humans’ GREATEST ENEMY. They hold humans in unknown slavery only to fulfill their own desires. They cannot “create,” though they develop races and biological containers through genetic manipulation and hybridization. They even try to “make deals” with human governments to permit them (the space aliens) to engage in biological experimentation (through abductions) in exchange for such things as technically advanced modes of travel – though they seldom follow through, for they don’t want the humans of this civilization to become another element of competition. They war among themselves over the spoils of this planet and use religion and increased sexual behavior to keep humans “drugged” and ignorant (in darkness) while thinking they are in “God’s” keeping. They use the discarnate (spirit) world to keep humans preoccupied with their addictions. These negative space races see to it, through the human “social norm” (the largest Luciferian “cult” there is), that man continues to not avail himself of the possibility of advancing beyond human.

Heaven’s Gate, “Crew from the Evolutionary Level Above Human Offers — Last Chance to Advance Beyond Human,” 1996 (Copy at: http://www.wave.net/upg/gate/lastchnc.htm).

One could say that the beginnings of plugging aliens into an apocalyptic worldview began with science fiction films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, which has the alien (and his sidekick robot) clearly in the role of the alien saviour figure and destroyer of evil (evil associated with the military activity of humans–the nuclear bomb and the Korean war were in mind). The alien saviour figure is, in this case, clearly in the role of a Jesus-figure (he dies and raises from the dead).

For the script of the movie, go here. For a brief and rough overview of the plot and its religious themes, go here. For further discussion of apocalypticism and apocalyptic groups throughout western history (including Heaven’s Gate), go to the PBS site Apocalypse!.