Visions of the End: Apocalypticism and Responses to Power (HUMA 4819 – 3 credit version B, Fall 2019)

General Information: Philip Harland.  Seminar: Fridays 11:30-2:20 (new location: McLaughlin College 215).  Office hours (Vanier 248): Thursdays 2:30-3:30.

Course description: This course investigates the origins of apocalypticism among ancient Judeans (Jews) and early Jesus adherents (Christians) and the continuing legacies of these visions of the end in social movements and popular culture to the present day.  In particular, we will approach ancient apocalyptic literature as a window into the perspectives of Judeans and Jesus followers as subject peoples in a colonial situation.  We will pay special attention to varied reactions among these minorities to politically or culturally dominant powers or ethnic groups, including Judeans, Greeks, Macedonians, and Romans.

Required Books:

  • The Bible with Apocrypha (modern translation such as RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, Jerusalem).
  • Articles linked in the course outline below.  Please print, read, and bring all readings to class each week.

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

  • Participation: Attendance, ongoing participation in class discussions, discussion question generation, written response to documentary (25%)
  • Surprize quizes (10%)
  • Presentation (15 minutes each) on the apocalyptic figure or movement explored in your research paper (10%)
  • Academic integrity tutorial and test: link. Students must print out and hand in perfect test results before the first assignment (due week 4)
  • Assignment 1: Analysis of primary source – 1 Enoch 1-36 as a window into the apocalyptic worldview, due week 6 (15%)
  • Assignment 2:  Research paper on the same apocalyptic figure or movement of your presentation (20%)
  • In-class test, week 11 (20%)

Important things to know

  • Readings and participation: Everyone is responsible for reading and studying works listed for a particular week before coming to class.
  • Penalties for lateness: All assignments are due at the beginning of class. Late submissions will be penalized by one full grade (e.g. from a B to a C) and a further grade for each additional day beyond the due date.
  • Academic honesty and plagiarism policies: Absolutely no form of plagiarism will be tolerated. Study our policies: link and link.
  • Cell-phones, laptops, and other devices: All cell-phones and other hand-held devices must be completely turned off and remain unused during class and tutorial times. Laptops are permitted for note-taking only.




Week 1 (Sept 6): Introduction: Defining the apocalyptic world view and assessing its employment by subject peoples

  • Readings analyzed in class: Judean apocalypticism via Paul – 1 Thessalonians (link); Combat myth – Mesopotamian myth of the god Zu (link); Loomba on postcolonialism (link)

Week 2 (Sept 13): Building blocks of apocalypticism: Mesopotamian combat myths, Zoroastrian dualism, Israelite prophecy

  • Readings:
    • Combat myth: Psalms 74:12-17 and Psalms 89:5-18 (link); Isaiah 51:9-11 (link)
    • Zoroastrian dualism: Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 370 (link)
    • Israelite prophecy: Isaiah 45-47 (part of “Second-Isaiah” = 40-55), regarding response to Babylonian power (link); “Isaiah-Apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 (link); Bellis, “The Changing Face of Babylon in Prophetic / Apocalyptic Literature” (link)

Under Hellenistic and Hasmonean Rule

Week 3 (Sept 20): Daniel and the Apocalypse of Weeks reacting to Seleucid (Hellenistic) rule

  • Readings: Daniel 2, 7-12 (link); Apocalypse of Weeks in 1 Enoch 93:1-10 + 91:11-17 (link); Horsley, “Scribal Resistance to Hellenistic Imperial Rule” (link to excerpts)
  • Discussion questions: Wilma and Inna

Week 4 (Sept 27): The Judean sibyl and the Egyptian potter under Ptolemaic (Hellenistic) rule

  • Readings: Sibylline Oracles 3.97-294 and 545-808 (link); “The Apology of the Potter” (link); Collins, “The Sibyl and the Potter” (link)
  • Discussion questions: Alecia

Week 5 (Oct 4):  Documentary – “Waiting for Armageddon” (2009; 74 minutes) + brief writing assignment (2 pages) regarding the film due after class via email (60 minutes)

  • link to film
  • Assignment reflecting on connections between American fundamentalist apocalyptic ideas in relation to ancient ones due by 10 pm by email attachment (2 pages double-spaced).

Week 6 (Oct 11): The Dead Sea sect and current powers: Hasmoneans, “Kittim” (Seleucids, Romans), sons of Belial

  • Readings: Community Rule (1QS), columns 1-4 (link); War Scroll (1QM), column 1 (intro) and columns 15-19 (final battle), especially looking for the Kittim with Schultz’ article as your guide (link); Pesher Habakkuk, columns 1-9, with Romans as Kittim and references to Teacher of Righteousness (founder of the sect) vs. Wicked (Hasmonean) Priest (link); Schultz, “Romans, not Greeks: Changing Expectations for the Eschatological War in the War Texts from Qumran” (link)
  • Presentations: Girolamo Savonarola (Ron); Millerites (Inna)
  • Discussion questions: Zena and Jasmeen

*Assignment 1 due*

**Reading week, Oct 12-18, 2019 – no classes**

Under Roman and Herodian Rule

Week 7 (Oct 25): Testament of Moses on Judean (Hasmonean and Herodian) and foreign rulers

  • Readings: Testament of Moses (link); Keddie, “Judaean Apocalypticism and the Unmasking of Ideology: Foreign and National Rulers in the Testament of Moses” (link)
  • Presentations: The Children of Peace in Upper Canada (Lori); Seventh Day Adventists (Philip)
  • Discussion questions: Ron

Week 8 (Nov 1): Apocalypses responding to the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70 CE) – 4 Ezra

  • Readings: 4 Ezra, with a very close reading of chapters 11-12 on the eagle (link); Collins, “After the Fall: 4 Ezra” (link)
  • Presentations:  John Nelson Darby and the doctrine of the rapture (Wilma); Jehovah’s Witnesses (Alecia)
  • Discussion questions: Philip and Lori

Week 9 (Nov 8): Legacies in film – “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) (92 minutes)

  • Readings: Saliba, “The Study of UFO Religions” (link)
  • Presentations: Aetherius Society (Jasmeen)

*Nov. 8: Last date to drop course without receiving a grade *

Week 10 (Nov 15): Apocalypses responding to the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70 CE), part 2 – John’s Apocalypse

  • Readings:  John’s Apocalypse (Revelation), esp. chs. 1-3, 12-18 (link); Friesen, “Apocalypse and Empire” (link)
  • Presentations:

Week 11 (Nov 22): In class test

Week 12 (Nov 29): Legacies in film – “12 Monkeys” (1995) (129 min)

  • Readings:  Conrad Ostwalt, “Visions of the End. Secular Apocalypse in Recent Hollywood Film” (link)


Assignments Descriptions

Analysis of primary source essay (5 pages, no longer)

Analysis of the apocalyptic perspective or worldview via 1 Enoch 1-36, aka the Book of Watchers: Thoroughly read and study 1 Enoch 1-36 (link), one of the earliest examples of a Judean (Jewish) apocalyptic writing (ca. 200 BCE).  Also read John Collin’s brief introduction to this part of 1 Enoch (link).  Write an essay in which you explain key components of the apocalyptic worldview as evidenced in this document.

You will engage questions such as: What is the overall point or aim of the author in this writing?  What is he trying to convey to you as reader?  How does the author view the world, humanity, and otherworldly figures (including angels and God)?  What importance does the author give to the revelation of knowledge and what sources of knowledge are there?  How does the author explain the origins of evil and how does this impact humanity, including his audience?   What importance does he give to the story of angels interacting with human women?

You will need to take an historical approach in this essay, avoiding your own moral or theological judgements.  Rather than judging the writer or his views as good or bad, right or wrong, you will instead seek to understand and explain the author’s perspectives.

Research Paper (10 pages double spaced)

This paper will demonstrate research and analysis of both primary and secondary sources.  You will likely have at least 10 directly relevant scholarly (secondary) sources (articles, chapters, books) in your bibliography.  These will be found in the library, but also in online journal databases through the library.  You will also make extensive use of primary sources by — or contemporary with — the historical subjects or movement you are studying in your analysis.   The paper will focus on explaining the movement or figures by using these primary sources with interpretive help from the 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?


Useful Resources for Finding Primary and Secondary (Scholary) Sources for the Research Paper

York University Library Searchable Online Databases for Journal Articles and Other Sources

Scholarly overviews (check the footnotes and bibliographies in these works for further resources)

  • John J. Collins, Bernard McGinn, and Stephen J. Stein, eds., The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism (3 vols. New York: Continuum, 2000).


Presentation / research paper topics on legacies of apocalypticism

You will each present for 15 minutes on a figure or movement relating to the history of apocalypticism.  This will require you to find and study at least three academic articles and/or books and at least two primary sources produced or used by the figure or movement.  These sources should be directly referred to during the presentation.  For each presentation, you will want to explain the movement or its leader, provide some historical and cultural context, and describe the role of apocalyptic ideas or practices within the movement.  It is very important that you avoid morally judging the figure or movement you are studying.  Instead, you want to carefully explain what occurred or what they do and believe without passing moral judgement on them.

Possible focus questions: 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?

  • The Apostolics and Dolcino (13th century)
  • The Lollards (14th century)
  • Girolamo Savonarola and the New Jerusalem (15th century Dominican)
  • Münster (NOTE SPELLING) as the New Jerusalem (16th century)
  • Thomas Müntzer (NOTE SPELLING) and the Peasant rebellion (16th century)
  • John Nelson Darby and the doctrine of the rapture (19th century)
  • Hung Hsiu-ch’uan’s “Heavenly Chronicle” and the Taiping rebellion (19th century)
  • Antonio Conselheiro and Canudos in Brazil (19th century)
  • Children of Peace in Toronto (19th century)
  • Millerites (19th century)
  • Seventh Day Adventists (19th-20th century)
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses (20th century)
  • Hal Lindsey and his Late Great Planet Earth (20th century; pdf of the book is available online on archive)
  • Aetherius Society (1950s on)
  • Peoples Temple = Jonestown (1970s)
  • The Brethren of Jimmie T. Roberts (1970s on)
  • Raëlians (1970s on)
  • Heaven’s Gate in USA (1990s)
  • Order of the Solar Temple in Quebec and Switzerland (1990s)
  • Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan (1990s)
  • Left Behind phenomenon (1990s-2000s)

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