"Apocalypse" (Ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning "revelation", "an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling." The apocalyptic literature of Judaism and Christianity embraces a considerable period, from the centuries following the exile down to the close of the middle ages.
Apocalyptical elements (αποκαλυπτειν, to reveal something hidden) can be detected in the prophetical books of Joel and Zechariah, while Isaiah chapters 24-27 and 33 present well-developed apocalypses. The Book of Daniel offers a fully matured and classic example of this genre of literature.
The non-fulfillment of prophecies served to popularize the methods of apocalyptic in comparison with the non-fulfillment of the advent of the Messianic kingdom. Thus, though Jeremiah had promised that after seventy years Israel should be restored to their own land, and then enjoy the blessings of the Messianic kingdom under the Messianic king, this period passed by and things remained as of old. Some scholars[who?] believe that the Messianic kingdom was not necessarily predicted to occur at the end of the seventy years of the Babylonian exile, but at some unspecified time in the future. The only thing for certain that was predicted is the return of the Jews to their land, which occurred when Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon in c.539 BC. Thus, the fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom remained in the future for the Jews.
Haggai and Zechariah explained the delay by the failure of Judah to rebuild the temple, and so hope of the kingdom persisted, till in the first half of the 2nd century the delay is explained in the Books of Daniel and Enoch as not because of man's shortcomings but to the counsels of God. Regarding the 70 years of exile predicted in Jeremiah 29:10, the Jews were first exiled in the year 605 BCE in the reign of King Jehoiakim and were allowed to return to their land in c. 536 BCE when King Cyrus conquered Babylon. This time period was approximately 70 years, as prophesied by Jeremiah. But some people believe that the 70 years of Jeremiah were later interpreted by the angel in Daniel 25-27 as 70 weeks of years, of which 69 1/2 have already expired, while Enoch 85 interprets the 70 years of Jeremiah as the 70 successive reigns of the 70 angelic patrons of the nations, which are to come to a close in his own generation. The Book of Enoch, however, was not considered as inspired Scripture by the Jews, so that any failed prophecy in it is of no consequence to the Jewish faith.
The Greek empire of the East was overthrown by Rome, and in due course called forth a new interpretation of Daniel. The fourth and last empire which, according to Daniel 7:10-25, was to be Greek, was declared to be Roman by the Apocalypse of Baruch chapters 36-40 and 4 Ezra 10:60-12:35. (Again, these two books were not considered as inspired Scripture by the Jews, and thus were not authoritative on matters of prophecy). Earlier in Daniel chapter 7, and also in chapter 2, however, the fourth and final world empire is actually Rome, since Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome were world empires which all clearly arrived in succession. (After Babylon fell, Media and Persia merged in a joint empire known as the Medo-Persian or Achaemenid Empire). Thus, it appears that Daniel is saying here that Rome would be the last world power before the kingdom of God.
Such ideas as those of "the day of Yahweh" and the "new heavens and a new earth" were re-edited by the Jewish people with fresh nuances in conformity with their new settings. Thus the inner development of Jewish apocalyptic was conditioned by the historical experiences of the nation. But the prophecies found in Jewish Scriptures, which have not changed over time, await their fulfillment.
Another source of apocalyptic thought was primitive mythological and cosmological traditions, in which the eye of the seer could see the secrets of the future. Thus the six days of the world's creation, followed by a seventh of rest, were regarded as at once a history of the past and a forecasting of the future. As the world was made in six days its history would be accomplished in six thousand years, since each day with God was as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day; and as the six days of creation were followed by one of rest, so the six thousand years of the world's history would be followed by a rest of a thousand years.
Object and contents
The object of this literature in general was to solve the difficulties connected with the righteousness of God and the suffering condition of His righteous servants on earth. Early Old Testament prophecy taught the absolute need of personal and national righteousness, and foretold the ultimate blessedness of the righteous nation on the present earth. Later prophecy incorporated an idea of future vindication of present evils, often including the idea of an afterlife. Apocalyptic prophets sketched in outline the history of the world and mankind, the origin of evil and its course, and the final consummation of all things. The righteous as a nation should yet possess the earth, either via an eternal Messianic kingdom on earth, or else in temporary blessedness here and eternal blessedness hereafter. Though the individual might perish amid the disorders of this world, apocalyptic prophets taught that the righteous person would not fail to attain through resurrection the recompense that was due in the Messianic kingdom or in heaven itself.
Difference from prophecy
The message of the prophets was primarily a preaching of repentance and righteousness if the nation would escape judgment; the message of the apocalyptic writers was of patience and trust for that deliverance and reward were sure to come.
Prophecy believes that this world is God's world and that in this world His goodness and truth will yet be vindicated. Hence the prophet prophesies of a definite future arising out of and organically connected with the present. The apocalyptic writer despairs of the present and directs his hopes to the future, to a new world standing in essential opposition to the present. This becomes a dualistic principle, which, though it can largely be accounted for by the interaction of certain inner tendencies and outward sorrowful experience on the part of Judaism, may ultimately be derived from Mazdean influences. This principle, which shows itself in the conception that the various nations are under angelic rulers, who are in a greater or less degree in rebellion against God, as in Daniel and Enoch, grows in strength with each succeeding age, till at last Satan is conceived as "the ruler of this world" or "the god of this age."
The prophet stood in direct relations with his people; his prophecy was first spoken and afterwards written. The apocalyptic writer could obtain no hearing from his contemporaries, who held that, though God spoke in the past, "there was no more any prophet." This pessimism limited and defined the form in which religious enthusiasm should manifest itself, and prescribed as a condition of successful effort the adoption of pseudonymous authorship. The apocalyptic writer, therefore, professedly addressed his book to future generations. Generally directions as to the hiding and sealing of the book were given in the text in order to explain its publication so long after the date of its professed period. There was a sense in which such books were not wholly pseudonymous. Their writers were students of ancient prophecy and apocalyptical tradition, and though they might recast and reinterpret them, they could not regard them as their own inventions.
Conception of history
Apocalyptic writing took a wider view of the world's history than prophecy. Thus, whereas prophecy had to deal with governments of other nations, apocalyptic writings arose at a time when Israel had been subject for generations to the sway of one or other of the great world-powers. Hence to harmonize such difficulties with belief in God's righteousness, it had to take account of the role of such empires in the counsels of God, the rise, duration and downfall of each in turn, till finally the lordship of the world passed into the hands of Israel, or the final judgment arrived. These events belonged in the main to the past, but the writer represented them as still in the future, arranged under certain artificial categories of time definitely determined from the beginning in the counsels of God and revealed by Him to His servants the prophets. Determinism thus became a leading characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic, and its conception of history became mechanical.
Some are possibly pseudepigraphic except the passages from Ezekiel and Joel. Of the remaining passages and books, some consider large sections of Daniel attributable to the Maccabean period, with the rest possibly to the same period. Some consider Isaiah 33 to be written about 163 BCE; Zachariah 12-14 about 160 BCE; Isaiah 24-27 about 128 BCE; and Isaiah 34-35 sometime in the reign of John Hyrcanus. Jeremiah 33:14-26 is assigned by Marti to Maccabean times, but this is disputed.
In the transition from Jewish literature to that of early Christianity, there is a continuation of the tradition of apocalyptic prophecy. Christianity preserved the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, as Judaism developed into Rabbinism and gave it a Christian character either by a forcible exegesis or by a systematic process of interpolation. Christianity cultivated this form of literature and made it the vehicle of its own ideas. Christianity saw itself as the spiritual representative of what was true in prophecy and apocalyptic.
- Mark 13
- 2 Thessalonians 2
- Book of Revelation
- General topics
- Apocalypse (disambiguation)
- Summary of Christian eschatological differences
- Related literature
- List of Gospels
- Acts of the Apostles (genre)
- List of New Testament papyri
- Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
- Goswiller, Richard, Revelation, Pacific Study Series, Melbourne, (1987).
- Frye, Northrop, 1957. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays.
- Reddish, Mitchell G. Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader
- Collins, John Joseph The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (The Biblical Resource Series)
- Cook, David, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Religion and Politics)
- Cook, Stephen L., The Apocalyptic Literature: Interpreting Biblical Texts
- Charlesworth, James H. ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Anchor Bible)
- L. Michael White, "Apocalyptic literature in Judaeism and early Christianity" Thorough historical introduction.
- Prof. Felix Just, S.J., offers definitions of apocalypse.
- David M. Williams, "The Book of Revelation as Jewish Apocalyptic Literature" (Archived 2009-10-25) Concise introduction to the genre.