Visions of the End: Early Judean and Christian Apocalypticism (HUMA 4819; Fall 2021; Remote)

General Information:

Course description:

This course investigates the origins, development and legacies of apocalypticism within Judean culture and early 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.  As we proceed we will also survey the legacies of apocalypticism in religious movements, popular culture (including music and film), and artistic representation to the present day.  Students will have an opportunity to present on scholarly articles about apocalyptic movements throughout history.

Required Books:

  • Bible (modern translation such as RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, Jerusalem – there are also links to individual biblical books below).  NRSV available as pdf here: link
  • John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Judean Apocalyptic Literature.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998 (ebook link; you may download 150 pages at a time)
  • Additional pdf readings linked below

Evaluation (see end of syllabus for full descriptions)

All written assignments should be submitted before class as an email attachment.

  • Attendance at zoom meetings, participation in discussions (in meetings), and surprize quizzes at beginning of meetings:  15%
  • Fishbowl team discussion for 15 minutes in groups of 3-4 students (students are marked individually): 10%
  • Presentation (15 minutes each) on legacies of ancient apocalypticism: 20%
  • Essay 1: Analysis of primary source – 1 Enoch, due week 5: 20%
    • Academic integrity quiz (link; results must be submitted with assignment 1 (send a screen shot of your 100% test result as an attachment along with the essay)
  • Annotated bibliography on an apocalyptic leader or group, with at least 10 substantial and directly relevant sources (same as presentation and research paper topic), due week 7: 5%
  • Essay 2: Research paper on your chosen apocalyptic leader or group, 10 pages, due week 12: 30%

Important things to know:

    • Readings and participation: Read and study materials BEFORE meetings.
    • Penalties for lateness: Assignments are due at the beginning of class (if in person, hardcopy; if remotely, by email attachment). 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 York’s policies here and here.
    • Password protected files for the course, which are used under fair dealing provisions for the purpose of education, are for course use only and should not be redistributed in any form.


Ongoing questions for reading analysis, course discussions, fishbowl discussions, presentations, and essays:

  • What do we mean by apocalypticism? What were some of the antecedents or component parts of apocalypticism?  What are the characteristics of an apocalyptic way of thinking and viewing the world (as we see it in a particular writing)?  What are some of the ways in which dualistic ways of thinking, combat mythology, predeterminism (i.e. “god’s plan”), expectations of future saviour figures, ideas about the intervention of a god, ideas about an evil personified figure or figures, images of judgement, and end-time scenarios appear in a particular writing or movement?
  • When did the apocalyptic worldview arise, and why? How did these ideas develop over time?
  • What does a close analytic reading of a particular ancient writing reveal about common denominators and variations in the details among apocalyptic thinkers?
  • How does the apocalyptic stance relate to specific historical contexts or events?
  • When do we witness social groups who live out the apocalyptic worldview?
  • What are the characteristics of the apocalypse as a genre of writing?  What types of apocalypses are there (historical and other-worldly journey)?
  • What were the afterlives or legacies of ancient apocalypticism throughout history?  What role did apocalypticism play in some modern colonial situations?  Where does apocalypticism appear within popular culture today?


Unit 1: Orientation

Week 1 (Sept 14): Introduction to apocalypticism

  • Reading during class time: Revelation 12-13 (link)

Week 2 (Sept 21): Antecedents and influences – Mesopotomian combat myth

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): Visions of the End – What is Apocalypticism? (link); Origins part 1 – Ancient Near Eastern Combat Myths (link)
  • Readings: Myth of “Anzu” (link): Psalms 74:12-17 and Psalms 89:5-18 (link); Isaiah 51:9-11, part of so-called “Second Isaiah” (link); Clifford, “The Roots of Apocalypticism in Near Eastern Myth” excerpts (link)

Week 3 (Sept 28): Antecedents and influences – Persian and Zoroastrian dualism

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): Origins part 2 – Zoroastrian apocalypticism (link)
  • Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 370 on Zoroastrianism dualism (link); Yasna 30 and 45 and “Apocalyptic texts” (link); Cohn, “Zoroastrians” (link)

Week 4 (Oct 5): Antecedents and influences – Israelite prophetic and wisdom literature

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): Origins part 3a – Israelite Prophets 1 (link); Origins part 3b – Israelite Prophets 2 (link)
  • Readings: Ezekiel 37-39 (link); Zechariah 1-8 (link); Isaiah 24-27 (link); Hibbard, “Isaiah 24–27: The So-Called Isaiah Apocalypse” (link);

*Reading week Oct. 9-15 – no class*

Week 5 (Oct 19): Discussion of modern American forms of apocalyptic expectation

  • Video (watch before meeting): Waiting for Armageddon (link; 2009 documentary; 74 minutes)
  • Readings: Collins, “The Apocalyptic Genre” (link)

** Assignment 1 (analysis of primary source / 1 Enoch) due at the beginning of zoom class **

Unit 2: Earliest Judean Apocalypses

Week 6 (Oct 26): Literature associated with Enoch – Otherworldly journey type

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): 1 Enoch – An Introduction to the Earliest Apocalypse (link); 1 Enoch – Fallen Angels in Early Apocalypticism (link)
  • Readings: 1 Enoch 1-36 (link); Genesis 5-6 (link); Collins, “The Early Enoch Literature” (link)

Week 7 (Nov 2): Book of Daniel – “Historical” apocalypse type

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): Introduction to Daniel’s Historical Apocalypse (link); Daniel’s Visions as Veiled History (link)
  • Readings: Daniel 2, 7-12 (link); Collins, “Daniel,” pages 95-117 (ebook link)
  • Fishbowl discussion (students who together begin our discussion for the first 15 minutes of class): Naomi, Anthony, Theodora
  • Presentations:
    • Aamina: Girolamo Savonarola and the New Jerusalem (15th c.)
    • Dana: Peoples’ Temple / Jonestown (1970s)
    • Liva: Branch Davidians (1990s)

Unit 3: Developments in early Apocalypticism (Judean and Christian)

Week 8 (Nov 9): Moved one week forward due to illness

*Nov. 12: Last date to drop a Fall course without receiving a grade*

Week 9 (Nov 16): The Apocalyptic community on the Dead Sea – Dualism and the final cosmic battle (note date change)

  • Video lecture (watch before meeting): Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, Scholars, Scrolls and Scandals (link)
  • Readings:  “The Community Rule (1QS),” especially a detailed reading of columns 1-5 (link); Collins, “The Dead Sea Scrolls,” pages 150-175 (ebook link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Lucia, Gianmarco, Aidan, Shane
  • Presentations:
    • Anthony: Order of the Solar Temple (1990s)
    • Naomi: Jehovah’s Witnesses (19th-21st c.)
    • Erin: Raëlians (1970s on)

Week 10 (Nov 23): Apocalypticism among the earliest Jesus adherents – Paul (note date change and move of presentations and a different fishbowl in a later week)

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): The Situation at Thessalonica (link) and Paul’s response to Jesus-followers at Thessalonica (link)
  • Readings: 1 Thessalonians, chapters 1-5 – the entire letter (link); 1 Corinthians, chapters 7-15, especially chapters 7 and 15 (link); Collins, “Apocalypticism in Early Christianity” (ebook link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Dana, Aamina, Rosalie, Liva
  • Presentations:
    • Theodora: The Lollards (14th c.)
    • Lucia: Seventh Day Adventists (19th-20th c.)
    • Nicole: Heaven’s Gate in USA (1990s)

Week 11 (Nov 30): Presentations (note that 4 Ezra was moved forward to the following week in order to fit presentations and John’s Apocalypse was removed)

  • Presentations:
    • Gianmarco: Millerites (19th c)
    • Aidan: Hung Hsiu-ch’uan’s “Heavenly Chronicle” and the Taiping rebellion (19th c.)
    • Amy: Antônio Conselheiro and Canudos in Brazil (19th c.)
    • Ian: Aetherius Society (1950s on)
    • Simia: Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan (1990s)

Week 12 (Dec 7): Apocalypses responding to the destruction of the temple: 4 Ezra

  • Video lecture (watch before meeting): Prof. Hindy Najman, Ezra the Prophet in 4 Ezra, starting at 44:00-1:11:11 (link)
  • Readings: 4 Ezra, chapters 3-14 (link); Collins, “After the Fall: 4 Ezra,” pages 198-212 (link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Ian, Amy, Nicole, Erin, Simia
  • Presentations:
    • Rosalie: Thomas Muntzer and the Peasant Rebellion (16th c.)
    • Shane: Hal Lindsey (1970s on)


Assignments Descriptions

Fishbowl discussion (first 15 minutes of meeting, students marked individually – link to audio recording with description):

  • For most weeks, four or five students on their own will begin discussion of that weeks main readings in their group with the rest of us observing quietly and, eventually (after 15 minutes), joining the discussion.  Our focus questions for the course may be a guide for some issues to explore.  You will also want to show how the current week’s readings relate to other things we have been learning in the course.
  • There is no need for the group to meet or discuss things in advance.  In fact, it is preferred that you don’t since this is not a cooredinated presentation but rather a somewhat spontaneous discussion based on your own reading of the materials.

Analysis of primary source essay (5 pages double-spaced, no longer – For an audio recording of my discussion about this assignment, go to this link.

  • 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 of 1 Enoch?  What is this ancient author trying to convey to the 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, brilliant or silly, you will instead seek to understand and explain the author’s perspectives within an ancient context.

Annotated bibliography on an apocalyptic leader or group  – same as presentation and final research paper topic (3 pages double-spaced)

  • Prepare an annotated bibliography with at least 10 relevant scholarly sources regarding your topic and at least 3 primary sources.  Each annotation (sentence or two beneath each entry) should explain what the article or book is about and how it will be relevant to your final research paper, demonstrating that you have read, browsed, or consulted it.
  • If you already know well an academically acceptable form of bibliographic citation, you may follow it properly.  If you do not yet know one very well, I would suggest you use one of the two Chicago manual of style forms of bibliography (notes-and-bibliography style or author-date style), which are explained here: Chicago Manual of Style options.

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) and at least 3 primary sources (works by the people you are studying or by contemporaries of those people) 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):
    • Form:
      • 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).
  • Content:
    • 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?


Presentations on an apocalyptic leader or movement in subsequent history (coinciding with your bibliography and research paper) (link to audio recording with description):

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 scholarly sources (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 so that your audience understands the connection with what they have learned in the course.  It is very important that you avoid morally judging the figure or movement you are studying.  Instead, you want to take an historical approach, carefully explaining what occurred or what they do and believe without passing moral judgement on them.

See the course focus questions for ideas about what you can ask as you analyze materials about a particular movement or leader.  A great place to start your bibliographical search for relevant articles or books is in the articles and bibliographies of: John J. Collins, Bernard McGinn, and Stephen J. Stein, eds., The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism (3 volumes. New York: Continuum, 2000)  – BL 501 E53 in Scott library REFERENCE SECTION.

  • The Apostolics and Dolcino (13th century) – Ato
  • The Lollards (14th century) – Theodora
  • Girolamo Savonarola and the New Jerusalem (15th century Dominican) – Aamina
  • Münster (NOTE SPELLING) as the New Jerusalem (16th century)
  • Thomas Müntzer (NOTE SPELLING) and the Peasant rebellion (16th century) – Rosalie
  • John Nelson Darby and the doctrine of the rapture (19th century)
  • Hung Hsiu-ch’uan’s “Heavenly Chronicle” and the Taiping rebellion (19th century) – Aidan
  • Antonio Conselheiro and Canudos in Brazil (19th century) – Amy
  • Children of Peace in Toronto (19th century) – Jay
  • Millerites (19th century) – Gianmarco
  • Seventh Day Adventists (19th-20th century) – Lucia
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses (20th century) – Naomi
  • Hal Lindsey and his Late Great Planet Earth (20th century; pdf of the book is available online on archive) – Shane
  • Aetherius Society (1950s on) – Ian
  • Peoples Temple = Jonestown (1970s) – Dana
  • Raëlians (1970s on) – Erin
  • Branch Davidians (1990s) – Liva
  • Heaven’s Gate in USA (1990s) – Nicole
  • Order of the Solar Temple in Quebec and Switzerland (1990s) – Anthony
  • Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan (1990s) – Simia


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).




Film (watch before zoom meeting) – “The Day the Earth Stood Still [1951 original]” (link)

Biographies of Jesus on Jesus as an apocalyptic figure – Mark

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): Jesus as Teacher – Present or Future Kingdom? (link); Jesus as Prophet (link)
  • Readings: Gospel of Mark, with an especially close reading of chapter 13 (link): Horsley, “The Kingdom of God and the Renewal of Israel” excerpts (link)



Apocalypses responding to the destruction of the temple, part 2: John’s Apocalypse

  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting): A Satanic Empire in John’s Apocalypse (ca. 80-100 CE) (link)
  • Readings:  John’s Apocalypse / Revelation, esp. chs. 1-3, 12-18 (link); Collins, “Apocalypticism in Early Christianity: The Book of Revelation,” pages 271-279 (ebook link)
  • Fishbowl discussion:

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