Apocalyptic Literature: Background


1) A Setting (Macc 1 – 2; NJBC 1239-1243)

a) Political situation: Loss of independence: The Maccabean revolt (175-135 BCE) restored Jewish independence for a short time. But the Maccabean movement disintegrated into the infighting and corruption of the successors, the Hasmoneans (NJBC 1241): Aristoboulos I (104-3 BCE) claims kingship; Alexander Janneus crucifies 800 Pharisees; Aristoboulos II (69-3 BCE) defeats Hyrkanus II who ask for the help of the Roman Pompey who comes to Jerusalem in 63 BCE. Again Plastine is under foreign yoke.

b) As regards Religion: Corruption of the High priesthood of Jerusalem under the Hasmoneans.

c) Socially: Progressive marginalisation of small farmers, the goo lands being taken over by absentee landowners.

d) Other Calamities: Wars, drought, earthquakes …

2) A World Vision (JBC I, 343f)

a) Pessimistic world view and loss of thrust in human institutions, especially kingship. There remains faith in God that will take the form of hope.

b) Leading to double perspective:

  • Vertical hope replaces horizontal expectations: the prophets expressed the hope that the Davidic dynasty would fulfil the messianic promises and intervened in politics. The apocalyptic writers expect salvation to come from above: the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven (Dan 7 replaces the Davidic Messiah).
  • Eschatological fight between the rule of satan and the reign of God.

3) A Literature (NJBC, pp298-304 and 1055ff)

a) Prolific: Enoch, Jubilees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Assumption of Moses, much of Dead Sea Scrolls: War of Children of Light against Children of Darkness, Temple Scroll; Melchisedech Apocalypse, etc. In the Bible, already present in Ezekiel, found in later parts of Isaiah, Zechariah, and mostly in Daniel. Appears also in New Testament: Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13 and parallel); 1 Cor 15: 12-19; 1 Thess 4: 13-19; 2 Thess 2: 1-12; Jude; 2 Pet 2-3.

b) Pseudonymous: as underground literature.

c) Cryptic style through use of symbols making use of an apocalyptic symbolical grammar well described in JBC I 343.

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