Discussion Notes for Visions of the End Course (postcolonial edition, four-month)

Our Approach to Apocalypticism

1. Why study apocalypticism?:  Significance

  • Ancient Judaism and Christianity
  • History of western culture
    • Medieval (e.g. Munster, the “New Jerusalem”)
    • Modern world: Mainline Christianity in the West (e.g. American fundamentalism); “Radical” doomsday sects (e.g. Heaven’s Gate); other Christian movements (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses); movements in colonial contexts (e.g. cargo cults, Taiping rebellion); modern environmental and scientific movements; popular culture (e.g. TV, film, music)

2. What is apocalypticism?

  • 1) World-view or perspective: cosmic drama
    • Discussion of Paul as an example – 1 Thessalonians distributed reading
  • 2) Social grouping and collective behaviour (millenarian or millenial movements)
  • 3) Type of literature (genre): (a) “historical” apocalypses; (b) otherworldly journey apocalypses

3. Our historical and postcolonial approach to the subject

  • Studying cultural phenomena in historical context: non-theological; non-normative; non-judgmental; cross-culturally sensitive; interdisciplinary
  • Theoretical frame of postcolonialism (subject peoples) and responses to power
    • Discussion of Loomba on colonial and postcolonial studies


Origins: Building Blocks of Apocalypticism

1. Ancient Near Eastern: Combat mythology – Order vs. chaos (from 2000s BCE)

  • Outline the plot
  • Examples:
    • Akkadian (1000s BCE): Ninurta vs. Zu (discussion)
    • Babylonian (1400-1200 BCE and earlier): Marduk vs. Tiamat (online translation)
    • Ugaritic/Canaanite: Ba’al vs. Yamm (sea) and Mot (death) (online translation)
    • Israelite: Yahweh vs. the chaos monster (Rahab/Leviathan)
      • Discussion of Psalms 74:12-17; Psalms 89:5-18; Isaiah 51:9-11 (future focus)

2. Persian: Zoroastrianism (from 1100s or 500s BCE?)

  • The problem of dating Zoroaster and Zoroastrian sources (400 CE and after)
  • Zoroastrian apocalypticism / dualism:  Discussion of Plutarch (ca. 120 CE) drawing, in part, on a source from the fourth century BCE
    • Two primal spirits: Ahura Mazda vs. Angra Mainyu
    • Apocalyptic developments in the later Avesta (dates unknown, first written in about the 400s CE): periods of history and eschatology (“limited time” and “the making wonderful”); signs of the end; saviour figures; rsurrection, judgement and final destinations

3. Israelite: Prophets and foreign powers in the exilic period (586-539 BCE)

  • Exilic prophets on foreign colonial powers and Babylon: discussion of Second Isaiah
  • Babylon through the years: discussion of Bellis article
  • Proto-apocalpytic?: discussion of Isaiah 24-27


Daniel and the Apocalypse of Weeks Reacting to Seleucid (Hellenistic) Rule

1. Prologue discussion: Remembering key characteristics of the Judean apocalyptic worldview (using Daniel and the Apocalypse of Weeks as examples)

2. Seleucid Rule (from 175 BCE) and Judean responses (discussion of Horsley on Hellenistic Rule and Judea)

  • Internal rivalries in Judea and the Hellenizing reforms of 175 BCE (Jason, Menelaos)
  • Actions of Antiochus Epiphanes IV and his soldiers (170 BCE looting, 168 BCE armies to support Menelaos)
  • Later Maccabean revolt (ca. 167 BCE) and Hasmonean high priesthood

3.  Enoch’s Apocalypse of Weeks and the context of the “perverse generation”

4.  Daniel and the crisis of Antiochus Epiphanes’ rule

  • Background for the figure and legends of Daniel
    • Ancient Mesopotamian parallels and archetypes (Dan’el)
    • The stories in Daniel chs. 1-6 and connections with the visions (chs. 7-12)
    • The story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2) and the four kingdoms (Babylonian, Median, Persian, Greek) and the fifth (God’s)
      • Revelation and heavenly mysteries
  • The “historical apocalypse” of Daniel 7-12
    • Author among the “wise”; characteristics of the genre
    • Historical context of this apocalypse: Hellenization, Antiochus IV Epiphanes and (later) the Maccabean revolt (esp. 169-164 BCE)
  • Vision of the Heavenly Court (Dan. 7)
    • Heavenly/earthly correspondences in the apocalyptic world view
    • Key figures: Beast-monsters (and the ancient combat myth); “Ancient of days” (and the throne vision); “One like a human being/son of man” (cf. 4 Ezra 13; 1 Enoch 46, 62); “Holy ones”
  • Vision of the ram (Persia) and the goat (Hellenistic kings) and the interpretation of Jeremiah (Dan. 8-9)
  • Ptolemies vs Seleucids and Daniel’s apocalyptic end-time scenario with the judgement of god (Dan. 10-12)


The Judean Sibyl and the Egyptian Potter under Ptolemaic rule

1. Context: Ptolemaic rule in Egypt

  • Greeks: Greek settlements / colonies (Alexandria, Naukratis, Ptolemais) and military colonies in the lake district (Fayum)
  • Indigenous Egyptians
    • Ptolemies encourage many indigenous ancestral traditions
    • Ptolemies integrated as pharoahs
    • Some signs of literary protest against foreign (Greek) kings
  • Agricultural wealth (grain) and “royal land”
  • Continuing struggles among the other “successors”, especially Seleukids — Israel in the middle (remember Daniel 10)
  • Onias IV, the Leontpolis temple, and Judeans’ relatively positive relations with Ptolemies

2. The Judean sibyl and Ptolemaic kings (discussion)

  • Intro
    • Sibylline oracles in the Greco-Roman world and propogandistic purposes
    • Judean apocalypticism in the Sibylline oracles
    • Date of third oracle (likely 163-145 BCE – see p. 355 of intro): Ptolemy VI Philometor (180-145 BCE) or Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator (145-44 BCE) or Ptolemy VIII Physcon (144-117 BCE in final portion of reigns)

3. The Potter and the Ptolemaic (“belt-wearers”) kings (discussion)

  • Intro:
    • Egyptian responses to foreign rule and colonialism (e.g. Oracle of the Lamb to Bocchoris, Demotic Chronicle)
    • Date of the Potter’s oracle (ca. 150 BCE with changes as late as 116 BCE, but dating to 2nd or 3rd century CE on papyri)


The Dead Sea Sect and Current Powers: Hasmoneans, “Kittim” (Seleucids, Romans),  Belial

1. Introducing the Qumran community

  • Unity and diversity in Second-Temple Judean culture (c. 538 BCE-70 CE)
    • Unity: Monotheism, Election/Land, Covenant/Law, Temple/cult
    • Diversity: Parties within Judean culture (Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, etc.)
    • Dead Sea sect as Essenes?
  • History of the Qumran community:
    • Penitential movement before Qumran: Teacher of Righteousness vs Wicked Priest (starting c. 190s BCE?)
      • Damascus Document description of origins  – Discussion of Pesher Habakkuk
      • Opposition to Hasmonean rule under leadership of the “Wicked priest”
    • Phases at Qumran: Founding and early history (c. 140-100 BCE); Growth and development (c. 100-31 BCE); Rebuilding to the end of the movement (30 BCE- 68 CE)
  • Central characteristics and concerns of the community: Community Rule as a window
    • Covenant, Torah (law) and purity — Techniques of biblical interpretation: Applying the bible to the life of the community (e.g. Habakkuk pesher)
    • Alternative to current temple cult

2. Apocalyptic Perspectives of the Community and Reactions to Rulers

  • Community Rule (1QS) discussion

    • Resisting Belial’s rule
    • The Two Spirits (1 QS 3-4): Dualism and predeterminism
    • Periods of history and the end of days:
      • Present evil age: “dominion of Belial”; Ongoing struggle / battle; God’s ultimate eternal kingdom (and the new temple?)
  • War Scroll (1QM) discussion
    • Understanding the Kittim = main power of the final days before intervention, variously defined based on an apocalyptic thinker’s own time (discussion of Schultz’ article)
      • Kittim, literally peoples of Cyprus island (settlement of Kition) but used of island or seafaring peoples from further west generally  (see Josephus’ definition in Antiquities 1.128; in Bible: Numbers 24:24; Daniel 11:30)
      • Dead Sea scrolls materials: From Seleucids to Romans
      • Kittim in Daniel and in the Habbakuk Pesher: Romans
    • Characteristics of the final battle of the sons of light and sons of darkness


Testament of Moses on Judean (Hasmonean and Herodian) and foreign rulers

1. Introductory matters: Date and social setting of the author

2. Perspectives on foreign and domestic / national (Judean) rulers

  • Testament’s timeline: Identifying the succession of rulers in Moses’ prophecy
  • Discussion of Keddie’s argument on the “against empire” scholarship, on the ruling class, and on Ideological and Repressive State Apparatuses

3. Apocalyptic themes, the immanent end, and personified evil in the testament


 Apocalypses responding to the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70 CE) I: 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras)

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • Roman rule in Israel and the Judean war of 66-70 CE
  • Judean responses to the destruction of the Temple
    • Common interpretation: Punishment for Israel’s sin
    • Rabbinic Judaism: From Temple to Torah
    • Christianity: Spiritualizing the Temple
  • Apocalyptic writers: 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, John’s Apocalypse

2. Apocalyptic themes and perspectives on the Roman power

  • Introduction to 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras)
    • Central issue of theodicy – God’s promises and apparent failings
    • Dialogues: Ezra, sceptical advocate of humanity and reluctant apocalyptic visionary
      • Dialogue 1 (3:1-5:20): Is Babylon (= Rome) better than Israel?
      • Dialogue 2 (5:21-6:34): Do you really hate your people?
        • The two ages and the description of the “new age”
      • Dialogue 3 (6:35-9:25): Why do the wicked so outnumber the righteous?
        • Ezra as advocate for humanity (the “wicked”): Questioning a central aspect of the apocalyptic worldview
        • Ezra’s particular apocalyptic scenario
    • Visions: Ezra’s “conversion”
      • Vision 1 (9:26-10:59): Woman (Zion) mourning for her son – Ezra’s turning point
      • Vision 2 (11:1-12:51): The Eagle (Roman empire) and the lion (Messiah)
        • Influence of Daniel’s visions
      • Vision 3 (13:1-58): The Man from the sea
      • Epilogue (14:1-48): Ezra as the new Moses
        • The books (secret and otherwise): Ezra and the Law


Apocalypses responding to the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70 CE) II: John’s Apocalypse

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • Discussion of Friesen’s overview of “empire” in the study of John’s Apocalypse
  • Apocalyptic genre: Historical apocalypse with a heavenly vision
  • Historical context:
    • Another response to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (Babylon = Rome)
    • Authorship and addressees
    • The situation in Asia Minor
    • Revising the traditional view of persecution
    • Social and religious life in the seven cities of Asia Minor: Imperial cults

2. Anti-accommodation and anti-imperialism in John’s apocalypse

  • Vision of the one like a Son of Man and the messages to the assemblies (chs. 1-3): opponents and group-society relations
  • Final Combat: with otherworldly and imperial eneVision of Signs (chs. 12-18)
    • The woman giving birth, the great dragon and the cosmic battle (ch. 12)
    • Visions of the beasts and of Babylon the whore: Rome as the end-time evil world order in apocalyptic literature (cf. Sib.Or. 3:350-380; 4 Ezra 11)
      • Cultic critique of Rome (ch. 13): The beasts and worship of the emperor
      • Economic critique of Rome (chs. 17-18): Fall of Babylon and lamentations


  • Judgment: Vision of Satan’s end and the victory of the righteous (chs. 19-20)
    • Jesus as king, judge, and cosmic warrior (19:11-16)
    • End-time banquet: “to eat the flesh of kings…and the flesh of all men” (19:17-21)
    • Thousand year reign (millenium) with Christ and the final defeat of Satan


  • New Heaven and new earth: Vision of the New Jerusalem (chs. 21-22)

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