Discussion Notes for Visions of the End Course (remote 2021 version)


Early Judean Apocalypses

Developments in early Apocalypticism (Judean and Christian)

Introduction to Apocalypticism (Ancient to Modern)

1. Why study apocalypticism?:  Apocalypticism’s varied 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); modern environmental and scientific movements; popular culture (e.g. TV, film, music)

2. What is apocalypticism?

  • 1) Worldview or perspective (also important for essay one on 1 Enoch)
    • Key characteristics:
      • Thoroughgoing cosmic dualism / twoism – good and evil, god and personified evil opponent(s)
      • Present evil age apparently dominated by evil powers
        • Fallen angels and the origins of evil personified
      • Centrality of combat or battle (combat myth origins) – God vs Belial / Satan / etc
      • Predeterminism (god’s final plan to destroy evil and establish good order)
      • Revelation (god reveals his knowledge, plans and power over the universe to special people)
      • God’s cataclysmic and final intervention (part of the plan):
        • End-time emissaries or functionaries on god’s side (e.g. angels, priests, prophets, kings/messiahs/christs contributing to the fulfillment of god’s plan)
        • End-time opponents headed by figures like Satan or a fallen angel (later development of a Anti-Christ figure)
        • End-time scenario: combat; final judgement with destinies for the righteous (eternal bliss – “heaven”) and wicked (destruction or eternal torment – “hell”)
  • 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

3. Our historical approach to the subject

  • Studying cultural phenomena in historical context: non-theological; non-normative; non-judgmental; cross-culturally sensitive; interdisciplinary
  • Theoretical frame of postcolonialism (discussion of Loomba)


Origins of Apocalypticism 1: Mesopotamian Combat Myths

1. Introduction to Ancient Near Eastern combat mythology

  • A look ahead:
    • The beast in Daniel 7 and the reign of the angelic opponent, Michael (one like a human being)
    • The great red dragon / “ancient serpent” of John’s Apocalypse (see 12 and 20), the battle, and the reign of the “king of kings”
    • Centrality of this battle imagery to the apocalyptic worldview as a whole
  • The Ancient Near Eastern Combat myth: Order vs. chaos
  • Importance and characteristics

2. Mesopotamian examples

  • Sumerian (2000s BCE): Ninurta vs. Azag (online translation)
  • Akkadian (1000s BCE): Ninurta vs. Anzu / Zu (discussion of readings)
  • Babylonian (1400-1200 BCE and earlier): Marduk vs. Tiamat (online translation)
  • Influence on Greek mythology: Zeus vs. Typhon (online translation)

4. Canaanite and Israelite examples

  • Israelite: Yahweh vs. the chaos monster (Rahab/Leviathan)
    • Psalms 74:12-17
    • Psalms 89:5-18
    • Job 40-41 (Yahweh’s rubber ducky)
    • Isaiah 51:9-11: Slaughter of chaos as prototype for the future

5. Significance of the combat myth for Judean (Jewish) apocalypticism


Origins of Apocalypticism 2: Persian and Zoroastrian Apocalypticism

1. Introduction to Zoroaster and Zoroastrian apocalypticism

  • The Indo-Aryans (settling in Iran from about 1500 BCE) and the Persian (Achaemenid and Sassanian) empires (550 BCE-651 CE)
  • Zoroaster
    • The problem of dating: 6000s BCE (e.g. Diogenes Laertius / Plutarch / Pliny ca. I-III CE); 1500-500 BCE (based on analysis of individual writings); 600s-500s BCE (e.g. al-Biruni ca. 900s CE, based on popular Iranian belief)
    • Priest who developed a specific understanding of Ahura Mazda as the supreme deity (in opposition to Angra Mainyu = Ahriman); notions of asha (truth / order) vs. druj (falsehood / disorder); overall dualism
  • Zoroastrian sources (Avesta) and the problem of dating Zoroastrian apocalypticism
    • Oral transmission with the earliest writing probably in the 5th century CE (earliest manuscript from 1323 CE)
    • Which teachings in the Avesta are early, and which later?
      • Some Gathas may more directly reflect Zoroaster’s teachings (older language and cultural context of pastoralism)
  • Zoroastrian apocalypticism important whether as an influence on Judean apocalypticism and/or on its own terms as another form of apocalypticism

2. Key apocalyptic themes and plots

  • Zoroastrianism according to Plutarch’s description (ca. 120 CE) drawing, in part, on a source from the fourth century BCE (discussion) – among the earliest written sources
  • Key characteristics in the Zoroastrian apocalyptic worldview (discussion of Gathas)
    • Apocalyptic elements in the early Gathas (9th or 6th century BCE?)
      • Cosmic dualism: “Two primal spirits”  at battle (Yasna 30, 45)
      • Place and destiny of people in this dualism: The wicked and the just (rewards / recompense; House of Best Purpose / House of the Lie)
      • Saoshyant figure
      • Transfiguration of the world
    • Apocalyptic developments in the later Avesta (dates unknown, first written in about the 400s CE) (“Apocalyptic Texts” from Boyce)
      • Periods of history and eschatology: “Limited time” and “the making wonderful”
        • The Seven branch tree analogy (ZVYt ch. 3)
        • Signs of the end (ZVYt ch. 4)
        • Saviour figures of the end times: Saoshyants (future benefactors)
        • The final cosmic battle, the defeat of evil and the making wonderful
        • Resurrection, judgement and final destinations (ZVYt ch. 9 [and Bundahishn chs. 1  and 34 in Boyce p.52, 82-83])

3. Significance for the Judean apocalyptic worldview


Origins of Apocalypticism 3: Israelite Prophecy and Wisdom

1. Importance of Israelite Prophecy for Judean apocalypticism

  • Israelite prophetic and wisdom literature as an important basis of later apocalypticism (we will deal with wisdom more fully later)
    • Scholarship on prophecy and apocalypticism (Hanson 1974; Moore 1995; Collins etc.)
    • Common view that Israelite prophecy played a key role.  Debates as to how to explain that and how important prophecy was in relation to other cultural factors (e.g. Cohn and the prominence of Zoroastrianism)
  • Key questions in comparing prophets (of the exilic and post-exilic periods) with the later apocalypses (post 200 BCE):
    • What similarities and differences are there in literary forms (e.g. first person account, visions, communications from God, angelic assistance — prophets generally contain oracles)?
    • What similarities and differences are there in the worldviews and assumptions?
    • What recurring themes in the prophets come to play a key role in later apocalyptic literature?  What transformations take place with respect to these themes (specific crises vs. general cosmic end)?
      • Interpreting “that day” in the prophets (what does it refer to?)
        • Battles, triumph over foes and the nature of those foes (end of political powers, or end of everything?)
        • “Celebrations” at the defeat of the foes, including banquets
        • Restoration of Israel and establishment of God’s rule / kingdom (what is the nature of that kingdom and who rules?)
      • What’s missing in the prophets? (e.g. resurrection of the dead, judgement of human beings, ultimate destination of human beings, Satan as a personified evil figure)
    • How did later apocalyptic writers interpret and use these earlier prophetic writings?


  • Considerable continuity, and yet something new (of cosmic proportions) is taking place in apocalyptic literature

2.  Key passages illustrating the relation (or lack thereof) between the prophets and later apocalypticism

  • Ezekiel the exilic prophet (ca. 580-70s BCE)
    • Ezekiel 37-39:
      • Valley of dry bones and the restoration of Israel (37): Resurrection?
      • The defeat of Gog of Magog, the power from the north (38-39)
  • Zechariah 1-8 (ca. 520-518 BCE)
    • A series of eight visions interpreted by an angel (1-6)
      • “The satan” in ch. 3 – personified, cosmic evil?
    • The Branch / Davidic ruler (6:9-14)
    • God’s promise: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem (ch. 8)
  • Zechariah 9-14 (ca. 400s BCE?)
    • The “day of Yahweh” / “that day”: What happens on “that day”?
    • Centrality of “the nations”
  • Isaiah 24-27 (ca. 540-425 BCE, perhaps 485 BCE when Xerxes conquered Babylon)
    • What happens on “that day” in this passage (judgement, etc)?
    • “that day” meets combat myth (27:1; cf. 25:7)
    • Resurrection?

3. Significance for Judean apocalypticism


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) — deal with this later on
  • 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 (chs. 1-16)
      • Blending two traditions of fallen angels (Semyaz and Azazel)
      • 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 (chs. 17-36): Angels as tour guides
  • Other second century BCE portions of 1 Enoch
    • 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

3. Relations, significance and legacy


Daniel: “Historical” Apocalypse of Crisis

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • The figure and legends of Daniel
    • Ancient Mesopotamian parallels and archetypes (Dan’el)
    • The stories in Daniel chs. 1-6 and the apocalyptic visions (chs. 7-12)
    • Identity of the author(s): “The wise” in Daniel 11-12
  • Genre of Daniel 7-12: “Historical apocalypse”
    • Characteristics of the genre
    • Historical context of this apocalypse: 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
    • 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”
  • Another vision and the interpretation of Jeremiah (Dan. 8-9)
  • 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

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


The Dead Sea Scrolls: An Apocalyptic Movement at Qumran

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • 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 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


Apocalypticism in the Early Jesus movements: Jesus Materials and Paul

1. Introductory matters and historical context

  • Early Jesus movements as apocalyptic movements within Judean culture
  • Jesus and his context: Messianic and prophetic figures in first century Galilee and Judea

2. Apocalypticism associated with Jesus

  • The historical Jesus and scholarship: Christ of faith vs. historical Jesus
  • Scholarly debates concerning the apocalyptic or non-apocalyptic character of Jesus’ teachings
    • Why do these opposing opinions exist (nature of our sources and methods in approaching them, theological tendencies)?
  • Apocalypticism in the earliest portrait of Jesus: Discussion of the Gospel of Mark
    • Discussion of Mark 13 (and parallels): The “little apocalypse”


  • Apocalyptic themes associated with Jesus in various traditions
    • 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 (Lk 10:18-20; Lk 11:14-23; 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 Mk 4:26-29; Mt 13:24-30 [harvest symbolism])
    • The future “kingdom of God” and restoration of Israel (Lk 14:15-24; Lk 22:28-30; Mk 11:15ff; Mk 13:1-2; 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)

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)
    • Dualism:  1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
    • 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


Apocalypses Responding to the Destruction of the Temple, part 1: 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 worldview

  • 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
  • Function of 4 Ezra: Venting; Consoling; Warning

3. Relations, significance and legacy


The Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and Apocalyptic Responses, part 2: 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

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