Course Outline for Visions of the End (HUMA 4819; full-year version)

General Information

Instructor: Philip Harland, click here to email me, Vanier 248. Seminar: Thursdays 11:30-2:20, TEL 0004.  Office hours: Wednesdays 2:30-3:30 or by appt.

Course description:

This course investigates the origins, development and legacies of apocalypticism within early Judaism and Christianity. Beginning with the ancient context, we will focus on understanding: (1) the earliest apocalyptic literature (biblical and non-biblical); (2) apocalyptic or millenial movements within early Judaism and Christianity; and (3) the apocalyptic world-view, which centres on the notion of God’s ultimate intervention in order to destroy evil and inaugurate an eternal perfect kingdom. We then go on to survey the legacies of apocalypticism in religious movements, popular culture (including music and film), and artistic representation to the present day.

Required Books:

  • The Bible, preferably with Apocrypha (modern translation such as RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, Jerusalem)
  • James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. New York: Doubleday, 1983.
  • Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World To Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
  • John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
  • Coursepack

Evaluation (also see end of syllabus for further descriptions of assignments):

  • Ongoing participation in class discussions (20%)
  • Presentation on legacies of ancient apocalypticism (topics listed at end of syllabus) (10%)
  • Book review essay, due Fall week 5 (5 pp. double-spaced = 15%)
  • In-class test, Fall week 10 (15%)
  • Major research paper proposal and critical bibliography, due Winter week 5 (= 5%)
  • One-hour in-class test, Winter week 8 (15%)
  • Major research paper, due Winter week 11 (12 pp. double-spaced = 20%)

Penalties for lateness: One grade (10%) per day (e.g. B becomes C, if one day late). Assignments are due at the beginning of class in printed, hardcopy form. My aim is fairness both to you and to your fellow students.
Readings, Discussions, and Presentations

Everyone is responsible for reading works listed for a particular week and should come prepared for discussion. Our principal focus for discussion will be the primary or ancient sources. Scholarly sources (esp. Collins and Cohn) will help us to make sense of the primary sources. In addition to ongoing participation from week to week, each student will have the opportunity to present (likely in teams of two) once or twice on a topic relating to the legacies of ancient apocalypticism (15 minute presentation, plus discussion). We will discuss these requirements more fully in class.




Unit 1: Orientation and Origins of Apocalypticism

Week 1 (Sept 16)

Introduction: Apocalypticism and the Academic Study of Religion

Week 2 (Sept 23)

Antecedents and Influences: The Mesopotamian Combat Myth


  • Primary sources:
    • “Anzu,” from Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, pp. 203-221 (coursepack)
    • “Hesiod’s Theogony 820-885: Myth of Typhoeus and Zeus” (coursepack)
    • Psalms 74:12-17; Psalms 89:5-18; Job 38-42; Isaiah 51:9-11 (Bible)
  • Scholarly sources: Cohn, chs. 1-3

Week 3 (Sept 30)

Antecedents and Influences: Persian and Zoroastrian Dualism


  • Primary sources:
    • Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 370 (coursepack)
    • “Verses from the Gathas” ( esp. Yasna 30 and 45) and “Apocalyptic Texts” from Mary Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, pp. 34-45 and pp. 90-96 (coursepack)
  • Scholarly sources: Cohn chs. 4-5

Week 4 (Oct 7)

Antecedents and Influences: Israelite Prophetic and Wisdom Literature


  • Primary sources: Ezekiel 37-39; Isaiah 24-27; Zechariah (Bible)
  • Scholarly sources: Cohn 6-8

**Reading week, Oct 9-15 – no classes**

Week 5 (Oct 21)

Antecedents and Influences: Discussion of Norman Cohn’s Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come


  • Primary sources: TBA
  • Scholarly sources: Cohn chs. 9-13


Week 6 (Oct 28)

Film (TBA)


Unit 2: Earliest Judean Apocalypses

Week 7 (Nov 4)

Book of Daniel: “Historical” Apocalypse (genre)


  • Primary sources: Daniel 2 and 7-12 (Bible)
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 3; Cohn, ch. 9 (again)

Week 8 (Nov 11)

1 Enoch: Otherworldly Journey Apocalypse (genre)


  • Primary sources: 1 Enoch 1-36; Genesis 5-6 (to 6:8) (Bible)
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 2; Cohn, ch. 10 (again)

Unit 3: Developments in Early Apocalypticism

Week 9 (Nov 18)

An Apocalyptic Movement at Qumran


  • Primary sources:
    • “Community Rule” (1QS), especially columns 3-5 (coursepack)
    • “War Rule” (coursepack)
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 5

Week 10 (Nov 25)


Week 11 (Dec 2)

Sibylline oracles and apocalypticism


  • Primary sources:
    • Sibylline Oracles, books 3 (Hellenistic period) and 5 (Roman period)s
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 4 and 8

Week 12 (Dec 9)

Modern Legacies: Apocalypticism in popular culture and film (Film: 12 Monkeys)




Unit 4: Apocalypticism in the First Century

Week 1 (Jan 6)

The Similitudes of Enoch: Rich and poor in an apocalyptic frame


  • Primary sources: 1 Enoch 37-71
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 6

Week 2 (Jan 13)

Apocalypses responding to the destruction of the Temple (70 CE): 4 Ezra


  • Primary sources: 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras 3-14)
  • Scholarly sources: Collins ch. 7

Unit 5: Apocalypticism and the Jesus Movements

Week 3 (Jan 20)

The Historical Jesus and Gospel portraits of an apocalyptic Jesus


  • Primary sources: Mark, especially chapter 13 (Bible)
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 9; Cohn, ch. 11

Week 4 (Jan 27)

Paul’s apocalyptic worldview and communities


  • Primary sources: 1 Thessalonians; 1 Corinthians, especially chs. 7 and 15 (Bible)
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 9

Week 5 (Feb 3)

Apocalypse of John (Revelation)


  • Revelation (esp. chs. 1-3, 13-22); Sibylline Oracles 4.103-192; 8.110-215
  • Scholarly sources: Collins, ch. 9; Cohn, chs. 12-13


Week 6 (Feb 10)

Apocalypse of Peter

Modern Legacies: Apocalypticism in popular culture and film (Film: Seventh Sign)


Unit 6: More Legacies of Ancient Apocalypticism

Week 7 (Feb 17)

Medieval and Early Modern Developments

Case study: Münster incident in Germany


  • Primary sources: Passages regarding the Münster incident in Hans Hillerbrand, The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, pp. 252-267 (coursepack).
  • Scholarly sources: Cohn, “The Egalitarian Millenium (iii),” from The Pursuit of the Millenium, pp. 252-280 (coursepack); Roberto Rusconi, “Antichrist and Antichrists,” from The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 2, pp. 287-325 (coursepack).

Beginning of film: Seventh Sign

**Feb 21-25 Reading Week – no classes**

Week 8 (March 3)


Continuation of film: Seventh Sign

Week 9 (March 10)

18th and 19th Century Developments

Case study: Taiping Rebellion in China


Week 10 (March 17)

20th Century Apocalypticism

Case study: American Fundamentalism

Documentary film: Waiting for Armageddon


  • Primary sources: Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (excerpts), pp. 81-145 (coursepack)
  • Scholarly sources: Paul Boyer, “The Growth of Fundamentalist Apocalyptic in the United States,” from The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 3, pp. 140-178 (coursepack)

Week 11 (March 24)

20th Century apocalypticism on the margins: Waco, Heaven’s Gate and others


    • Ted Daniels, “The Branch Davidians,” A Doomsday Reader, pp. 128-143 (coursepack)
    • John R. Hall, “From Jonestown to Waco” from Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements, and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan, pp. 45-78 (coursepack)
    • “Comet Hale-Bop, Planet Nibiru, the Mass Landing, and Heaven’s Gate”, especially “Crew from the Evolutionary Level above Human Offers — Last Chance to Advance beyond Human” (coursepack)
    • Browse the Heaven’s Gate website:
    • Browse videos on Youtube using the search phrases: “Heaven’s Gate Cult Initiation Tape” and “Heaven’s Gate BeyondHuman”


Week 12 (March 31)

Modern Legacies: Apocalypticism in popular culture and film

Description of Assignments

Each student will have the opportunity to present at least once during the course. Each presentation will be 15 minutes. The presentation will be on the legacies of apocalypticism and will deal with a particular apocalyptic thinker or movement in the medieval, early modern or modern periods. Here are some of the topics to choose from (you may also discuss other options with me):

  • The Phrygian movement (Montanism) (2nd century)
  • Joachim of Fiore’s apocalyptic worldview (12th century)
  • Medieval Jewish apocalypticism
  • Apocalypticism in early Islam
  • Medieval otherworldly journeys (apocalypse as a genre of literature)
  • The Lollards (14th-15th centuries)
  • Muntzer and the peasant rebellion
  • Apocalyptic movements in revolutionary England (17th century)
  • John Nelson Darby and the doctrine of the rapture (19th century)
  • Antonio Conselheiro and Canudos in Brazil (19th century)
  • Children of Peace in Toronto (19th century)
  • Millerites (19th century)
  • Ellen White and Seventh Day Adventists (19th-20th centuries)
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses (19th-20th centuries)
  • Karl Marx and apocalypticism (19th century)
  • Science and apocalypticism (20th century)
  • Environmentalism and apocalypticism (20th century on)
  • Jonestown (1970s)
  • UFO cults and apocalypticism
  • Order of the Solar Temple in Quebec and Switzerland (1990s)
  • Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan (1990s)

Focus questions for each presentation: What is the apocalyptic worldview of a particular person or movement? What, if anything, actually happens as a result of this worldview (how does it affect behaviour)? What connections or innovations are evident in relation to ancient apocalypticism?

Book Review Paper (5 pages, no longer)
Carefully read and study the assigned book, making note of the main arguments of the author. Write a review of the book, which entails:

  • Outlining the main argument (or point) of the book and how the author builds up this argument in sub-arguments throughout the chapters.
  • Discussing the author’s methods (or approach) and use of evidence to support his or her points.
  • Providing a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Does the author achieve what she set out to do? Is the argument convincing or not, and in what ways? What theoretical assumptions and/or value judgements influence the author’s reconstruction of history? Be sure to provide concrete examples (citing page numbers in parentheses) of the problems or strengths you discuss.

The review paper should have a clear thesis statement (concerning your evaluation of the book) which is supported throughout the paragraphs. The paper should be clearly written and structured with no spelling or grammatical errors. Be succinct and do not exceed the prescribed length.

Proposal for major research paper and critical bibliography (2-3 pages)
Choose a topic relating to the course that interests you. Speak with me to confirm that the topic will work and to get advice on how to proceed. Write a succinct proposal and outline of the paper, which entails:

  • Stating your topic, its relevance to the course, and the sort of material you expect to cover.
  • Outlining your tentative thesis or main argument and how you expect to structure the paper.
  • Discussing primary and secondary sources that will be useful in research. Provide a bibliography (following an accepted academic style of bibliography correctly).

Major Research Paper (12 pages double spaced)

This paper will build upon your earlier proposal, demonstrating research and analysis of both primary and secondary sources. A good research paper includes the following characteristics (and more):


  • Opening paragraph that provides context by noting the broader relevance of the topic. Ease the reader into the subject, yet get to your main topic or point promptly.
  • Clear thesis statement that encapsulates your main argument or point.
  • Clearly structured paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a specific point (or sub-thesis) that helps to support your overall thesis.
  • Clearly written sentences that communicate your ideas in a direct and succinct manner (without repetition).
  • Succinct concluding paragraph that pulls things together without merely repeating what has already been said.
  • No spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Complete bibliography listing all sources consulted or cited in the paper. Follow an accepted academic format of bibliography (do not create your own variations).


  • Early indication of your purpose, the way you will be approaching your topic, and the methods you will be using (e.g. historical, sociological, anthropological, psychological)
  • Discussion of a range of material relevant to your topic and purpose.
  • Provision of historical and cultural context. Where does your topic fit within the broader historical trends of the period you are studying? How does your topic relate to political, social or cultural developments of the time?
  • Thorough references to the sources (both primary and secondary) of your information throughout the paper (using an accepted form of citation). Find out what plagiarism is and avoid it like the plague.
  • Critical use and analysis of primary sources (that is, materials from the period you are studying produced by contemporary participants or observers). Primary sources include not only writings but also visual and artefactual materials (e.g. archeological findings, buildings, artistic productions, films in the modern context).
  • Critical use and analysis of secondary sources (that is, scholarly materials). Demonstrate that you have read relevant scholarly sources. Show that you are aware of the key issues of debate among scholars and take sides in the matter. Which scholarly positions do you agree or disagree with and why?

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