Article

apocalyptic literature

Christopher Rowland

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics


Published online December 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.587

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The apocalyptic literature composed by Jews and Christians in antiquity purports to offer information on God's purposes by means of revelation. In the apocalypses, understanding of God and the world is rooted in the claim to a superior knowledge in which insight of the divine through vision or audition transcends the wisdom of human reason. While an apocalyptic dimension has always formed a part of Jewish religion (evident in the material in the biblical literature which speaks of the prophet's access to the heavenly council), the writing of the extant Jewish apocalypses, most of which were preserved by Christians rather than Jews (mostly in Greek or in translations from the Greek), took place in the period from the career of *Alexander (3) the Great to the end of the *Bar Kockhba Revolt; they may best be understood as the form the prophetic tradition took at the end of the Second Temple period. The apocalypses are linked to the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Bible (the book of Daniel is an example), though their emphasis on heavenly knowledge and the interpretation of dreams links them with the mantic wisdom of the seers of antiquity. All the apocalyptic texts are distinguished from the prophetic by the range of their imagery and the character of the literary genre. Most apocalypses are pseudonymous (Revelation in the New Testament seems to be exceptional in this respect) and contain heavenly revelations mediated in different ways (heavenly ascents as the prelude to the disclosure of divine mysteries, an angelic revealer descending to earth to communicate information to the apocalyptic seer). Because in most of the extant apocalypses there is a particular focus on the destiny of the world, it is often stated that they offer evidence of an expectation of the imminent end of the world, accompanied by the irruption of a new order. This is said by some scholars to contrast with a more material eschatology found in the rabbinic literature in which the future order of things evolves within history. This distinction is to be rejected as all the extant Jewish apocalypses offer an account of a hope for the future of the world which differs little from other non-apocalyptic sources.

Article.  787 words. 

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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