Discussion notes for Visions of the End: Early Jewish and Christian Apocalypticism



Early Jewish Apocalypses

Developments in early Apocalypticism (Jewish and Christian)

Legacies of Ancient Apocalypticism


Introduction to Apocalypticism (Ancient to Modern)

1. What is apocalypticism?

  • 1) World-view: Set of concepts and way of viewing reality
    • Origin and characteristics
    • The cosmic drama
  • 2) Social grouping and collective behaviour (millenarian or millenial movements)
  • 3) Type of literature (apocalypse as genre): Examples and characteristics of the genre; social settings

2. Why study apocalypticism?

  • Apocalypticism’s varied significance:
  • Ancient Judaism and Christianity
  • History of western culture
  • Medieval: The case of Munster, the “New Jerusalem”
  • Modern world:
  • Religious movements
  • Mainline Christianity in the West: The case of American fundamentalism
  • “Radical” doomsday sects: The case of Heaven’s gate (Star Trek meets Revelation)
  • Other Christian movements: The case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Zionist and other modern Jewish messianic movements
  • Developing world: Cargo cults and the case of Jonfrum
  • Modern environmental and scientific movements
  • Popular culture

3. Our approach to the subject: Academic study of religion

-Characteristics: Religion as a cultural phenomenon; non-theological; non-normative; non-judgmental; cross-culturally sensitive; interdisciplinary


Origins of Ancient Apocalypticism: Antecedents and Influences

1. Ancient Near Eastern: Combat Mythology

-The Combat myth: Order vs. chaos

-Importance and characteristics

-Mesopotamian examples

-Sumeria (2000s BCE): Ninurta (young warrior god) vs. Azag

-Akkadian (1000s BCE): Ninurta vs. Zu (see handout)

-Babylonian: Marduk vs. Tiamat

-Canaanite and Israelite examples

-Ugaritic/Canaanite: Ba’al (warrior and storm god) vs. Yamm (sea) or Mot (death)

-Israelite: Yahweh vs. the chaos monster (Rahab/Leviathan)

-Psalms 74:12-17; 89:5-18; Job 40-41 (Yahweh’s rubber ducky)

-Isaiah 51:9-9-11: Slaughter of chaos as prototype for the future

-Significance of the combat myth for Jewish apocalypticism

2. Persian (Iran): Zoroastrianism

-Zoroaster and apocalypticism

-Problems in pin-pointing influences

-Key apocalyptic themes and plots

-Cosmic dualism: Discussion -- “Two primal spirits” (see handout)

-Periods of history and eschatology: “Limited time” and “the making wonderful”

-Saviour figures of the end times: Saoshyants (future benefactors)

-The final cosmic battle, the defeat of evil and the making wonderful

-Resurrection and judgement

-Significance for the Jewish apocalyptic worldview

3. Israelite/Jewish

-The Israelite prophetic and wisdom traditions

-Discussion: Proto-apocalypticism in Ezekiel 37-39 and Isaiah 24-27

-Central themes in the transition to apocalypticism

-Legacies: Use of Ezekiel by apocalpyticists into the present


Daniel: “Historical” Apocalypse of Crisis

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • The figure of Daniel
    • Ancient Mesopotamian parallels and archetypes (Dan’el)
  • The stories (Dan. 1-6) and the apocalyptic visions (chs. 7-12)
  • Identity of the author(s): “The wise” in Daniel 11-12
  • Genre: Characteristics of the genre of apocalypse
  • Daniel 7-12 as “historical” apocalypse
  • Historical context: Hellenization, Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt (esp. 169-164 BCE)

2. Apocalyptic themes and world-view

  • The story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2): Relation to the visions of the apocalypse (in chs. 7-12)
  • Wisdom, divination and apocalypticism: Decifering divine plans for the future
  • The four kingdoms (Babylonian, Median, Persian, Greek) and the fifth (God’s)
  • 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”
  • Daniel’s apocalyptic end-time scenario (Dan. 10-12)
  • Resurrection and judgement (earliest biblical reference to general resurrection)
  • Function of Daniel’s apocalypse: Endurance and maintenance of covenant in a time of persecution

3. Relations, significance and legacy

  • Relations within ancient Judaism
  • Influences on early Christianity
  • Legacies in the history of western culture: The cases of Thomas Muntzer (1524-25) and post-WW II America


Enoch and Otherworldly Journeys

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • The figure of Enoch: Genesis 5:21-24; Enoch, Enmeduranki and divination; Enoch’s development in other literature
  • Sequence of the books in 1 Enoch:
  • Pre-Maccabean (c. 225-200 BCE): Book of Watchers (1-36); Astronomical Book (72-82); Apocalypse of Weeks (93:1-10 + 91:11-17); Epistle of Enoch (91-107)
  • Maccabean era (c. 160s BCE): Animal Apocalypse (85-91)
  • First century CE: Similitudes (37-71)
  • Genre issues: Cosmic (other-worldly) journey apocalypses

2. Apocalyptic themes and world-view

The Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36): Ancient stories and end-time scenarios

  • Enoch’s development of the story of the fall of angels in Genesis 6:1-4 (1-16)
  • Paradigm for the origin of sin and evil
  • Prototype for the judgement of the wicked at the end times
  • Throne visions in apocalyptic literature (1 Enoch 14:8-25)
  • Enoch’s cosmic journeys (17-36): Angels as tour guides

Astronomical Book (72-82): Secrets of the workings of the universe

Apocalypse of weeks (93:1-10 + 91:11-17): Periods of history from the apocalyptic perspective

Animal Apocalypse (85-91): Apocalyptic imagery and contemporary events

Similitudes (37-71): The destinies of the righteous and of the wicked

  • Coming judgement of the wicked
  • The identity and significance of the “son of man” figure (esp. chs. 46, 48)
  • Social dimensions of judgement: Kings and the wealthy as “wicked”
  • Resurrection and the destiny of the righteous (esp. chs. 51, 58)

3. Relations, significance and legacy

  • Ancient Judaism (popularity of Enoch literature) and Christianity (Son of Man)


The Dead Sea Scrolls: An Apocalyptic Movement at Qumran

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • Unity and diversity in Second-Temple Judaism (c. 538 BCE-70 CE)
  • Unity: Monotheism, Election/Land, Covenant/Law, Temple/cult
  • Diversity: Parties within Judaism (Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, etc.)
  • Dead Sea sect as Essenes?
  • History of the Qumran community:
    • Penitential movement before Qumran (Teacher of Righteousness and Wicked Priest) (starting c. 190s BCE?)
    • 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
  • Alternative to current temple cult
  • Apocalypticism and the end of days

2. Discussion of Apocalyptic themes and worldviews

A. Community Rule (1QS)

  • The Two Spirits (1 QS 3-4): Dualism and predeterminism
  • Periods of history and the end of days:
  • Present evil age: “dominion of Belial” (background on the history of Satan)
  • Ongoing struggle / battle
  • God’s ultimate eternal kingdom (and the new temple?)

B. 11QMelchizedek

  • Final days: End-time figures
  • Two anointed ones?: 1) King (David) / warrior figure; 2) Priestly (Aaron) figure
  • Figure of Melchizedek (11QMelchizedek); “Son of God” warrior; “Branch of David”
  • Figure of prince Michael (cf. Daniel)
  • Messianic banquet

C. War Scroll (1QM)

  • Final battle of the sons of light and sons of darkness, of Michael and Belial
  • Human participation in the battle

3. Relations, significance and legacy

  • Relations within Judaism
  • Relation to Christianity
  • Apocalyptic or millenarian movement
  • Shared concepts: Dualism, eschatology, messianic ideas
  • Legacy: Dead Sea Scrolls and the popular imagination


The Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and Apocalyptic Responses I: The Case of 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras)

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • Roman rule in Israel and the Jewish war of 66-70 CE
  • Jewish 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 worldview

  • Introduction to 4 Ezra
    • 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


  • Function of 4 Ezra: Venting; Consoling; Warning

3.Relations, significance and legacy


Apocalypticism in early Christianity: Jesus and Paul

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • Christianity as an apocalyptic movement within Judaism
  • Jesus and his context: Messianic and prophetic figures in first century Palestine

2. Apocalypticism associated with Jesus

  • The historical Jesus and scholarship: Christ of faith vs. historical Jesus
  • Apocalyptic themes associated with Jesus
    • Revelation and the mysteries of God (cf. Lk 10:21, 23; Mk 4:11)
    • Jesus’ time as the end-time (Lk 12:54-56; Mk 9:1)
      • Cosmic conflict with evil/Satan (cf. Lk 12:51-53; Lk 16:16; Lk 10:18; Lk 11:20; Mk 3:27 [exorcisms])
    • General resurrection (cf. Mk 12:18-27; Lk 11:31-32)
    • Final judgement (cf. Mk 4:2-9 and 4:26-29; Mt 13:24-30 [harvest symbolism])
    • The future “kingdom of God” and restoration of Israel (cf. Mk 14:25; Lk 13:29 [Messianic banquet imagery]; cf. Lk 22:28-30//Mt 19:27-29; Lk 13:28-29 [ restoration of Israel)


  • Discussion of Mark 13 (and parallels): The “little apocalypse”

3. Paul’s apocalyptic worldview

  • From Jesus to Paul: The messenger becomes the message
  • Apocalyptic themes and scenarios in Paul’s letters
    • Revelation and “mysteries”: Paul’s visionary experience (2 Cor 12:1-10)
    • Discussion of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11: Dualism
    • Paul’s apocalyptic scenario: Two ages and Christ as transition
      • Present evil age
      • The end of the age and general resurrection
      • Jesus as the promised end-time Messiah (first and second visits)
        • The first and last Adams: Christ as the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15:20-26)
      • Judgment
      • Future age: “New creation”

4. Relations, significance, legacy


The Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and Apocalyptic Responses II: The Case of John’s Apocalypse

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • 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. Apocalyptic themes and worldview

  • Vision of the one like a Son of Man and the messages to the churches (chs. 1-3)
    • Heavy influence of Daniel’s apocalypse


  • Vision of the throne and heavenly worship (chs. 4-11)
    • Jesus as the (wrathful) Lamb
    • Beginning of the end: The scroll with the seven seals - six opened
    • The twelve tribes of Israel (144,000) worship God and the Lamb
    • Sevens: The seventh seal and the six of seven trumpets/disasters


  • Combat: Vision 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)
      • Religious 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)
  • Function of John’s Apocalypse: Consoling, warning

3. Relations, significance, legacy


Legacies 1: Apocalypticism c. 300-1800 CE

1. Allegorizing the apocalypse (late Roman era)

  • Spiritual battles among early monks: The case of St. Anthony (c. 250-356 CE)
  • Christianization of the Roman empire: What about Babylon the whore?
  • Eusebius’ view of Constantine’s empire: God’s final kingdom
  • Allegorizing and defusing apocalypticism
    • The case of Augustine (354-430 CE): “City of God” is here and now
  • Canonization of the Apocalypse and councils

2. Realizing the apocalypse (medieval to early modern)

  • Medieval era:
    • Background to the figure of Antichrist in the middle ages
    • Mysticism: The case of Hildegard of Bingen (1100s)
    • The Crusades (1097-1270): Claiming the New Jerusalem
    • Resurgence of apocalypticism: Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135-1202) and the three ages
    • Influences: Spiritual Franciscans (1200s) and the Age of the Spirit
  • Early modern era:
    • Reformations: The case of Münster city, “New Jerusalem” (1533-35) (Discussion)
    • England, Old and New: Legacies for American apocalypticism
    • Reading contemporary history through apocalyptic eyes: The case of George Joye (Discussion)
    • Revolution and apocalypticism: Movements of the 1600s
    • Puritan America as the “New Jerusalem”
    • Continuing importance in relation to politics
    • Pre-millenialist and post-millenialist strands
    • Enlightenment background

3. Visualizing the apocalypse

  • Woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer (1500s)


Legacies 2: Apocalypticism from c. 1800-1914

1. Influential figures and movements of the nineteenth century

  • Outside the mainstream:
    • Joseph Smith (1805-1844) and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
    • William Miller (1782-1849) and the Millerites (or “adventists”): Calculating the end (1844)
    • Ellen White (1827-1915) and the Seventh Day Adventists
    • Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (1914 end)
      • Joseph Rutherford: “Millions now living will never die” (1925 end)
      • New slogan: “Stay alive til ‘75”

  • Into the mainstream:
    • British premillenialism and its legacies for American Fundamentalism
    • John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and “Premillenial dispensationalism”
    • Doctrine of the Rapture
    • Rise of Fundamentalism in the USA and the influence of Darby

  • Children of Peace in Toronto: Rebuilding Solomon’s Temple for the New Jerusalem (1812-1889)

2. Christian Missions and Colonialism

  • China: The case of the Taiping ("Heavenly Kingdom") rebellion (1850-1868)
    • Hung Hsiu-ch’uan (1814-1864), founder and leader
    • Establishing a movement: God Worshippers Society (from 1844)
    • Summary of rebellion
    • Discussion of "The Heavenly Chronicle"


  • Latin America: The case of Antonio Conselheiro and Canudos (Brazil), “New Jerusalem” (1893-1897)

3. New ideologies: The case of Marxism (discussion)


Legacies 3: Apocalypticism from 1914-2000

1. Mainstream: Fundamentalist apocalypticism and events of the twentieth century

  • Rise of Fundamentalism (and decline of Liberalism) in Post WW II period
  • Popularity of apocalypticism in American Fundamentalist Christianity: Christ’s literal second coming as one of the fundamentals

  • Assembling the pieces of the “prophetic puzzle”: Hal Lindsey as a case study
    • Lindsey’s approach to biblical prophecy
    • Apocalyptic scenario and key events:
    • Pointing to Israel’s key role: “this generation will not pass away”
    • Identifying the Satanic end-time powers: Cold War and American anti-communism
    • Nuclear war at the centre of Armageddon
    • Finding the Antichrist, the “future Fuehrer”: Revival of the Roman empire
    • “Ultimate Trip”: Christ’s second coming and the function of the apocalyptic message

2. Margins: Apocalyptic thinkers and movements

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Apocalypticism turns to violent action
    • Jonestown
    • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas
    • Order of the Solar Temple in Quebec and Switzerland
    • Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan
    • Heaven’s Gate in California: The Day the Earth Stood Still (again)

3. Secular apocalypse: Popular culture and the media in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries

  • Apocalyptic themes in movies and television: Nuclear and viral apocalypse
  • Science and environmental apocalypse: Humanity as destroyer and/or potential saviour of the world
  • New invisible menaces: Viruses (biological and technological) and the apocalypse
  • Ebola; West Nile (talk about up to date)
  • Y2K and the media: The end is near (...or at least a computer crash)!!!!
    • Building “bomb-shelters” again?