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Apocalyptic Literature, Jewish

APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, JEWISH: The latest type of Jewish prophetic writing. The literature generally called “apocalyptic” commences with Daniel (for date, see Daniel, Book of) and closes with IV Ezra-Baruch.

Fundamental Characteristics.

On the one209 side, the limit is the time of the Maccabean rising; on the other, the downfall of the Jewish nationality. The notion of two ages following each other (this age and the coming one; cf. IV Ezra, vii. 50, “The Most High made not one age, but two”), which stands also in the background of New Testament literature, governs apocalyptic conceptions. The underlying idea here is dualism, the thought being that God alone is not in full control of “this age,” since diabolic might finds exercise therein. It is interesting to observe how through Jewish apocalyptic the idea of “world” as a whole, developing itself according to certain laws, is made familiar to later Judaism (cf. Dan. vii. 1 sqq.; Enoch lxxxv. sqq.; Baruch xxvii. sqq.), and how the inner, significant, religious-historical development of Judaism is conditioned by its external history. In its developed form apocalyptic literature originated in a period when a civilized power, the Hellenic, ruling the world by external might and inner mental superiority, entered upon a contest with Judaism, in which the latter, aroused to national consciousness, accepted the gage of battle. The Greek power, and afterward the Roman, supplied the apocalyptic seer with the material for the formation of his conceptions. Thus the time of the Maccabees is the natal hour of the Jewish apocalyptic, and Daniel is its mental creator.

Two other thoughts permeate Jewish apocalyptic: the idea of a world-judgment and the hope of resurrection from the dead. The idea of the great judgment and of God as judge of the world permeates Jewish literature subsequent to the writing of Dan. vii. In their entire purity and complete ethical power these thoughts come out only in the gospel; but the two thoughts, that in this age God is an absentee and that at its end he will destroy his world-adversaries in the great judgment, rule the Jewish idea of God. The belief in the resurrection of the dead, which is still greatly limited in Daniel, only gradually took hold of the Jewish national soul. The Psalms of Solomon know little of it (xvii. 44); it prevailed in the time of Jesus, when denial of the doctrine was regarded as disloyalty. The hope of a resurrection of the dead gave a strongly individualistic character to apocalyptic piety: it suggested inquiry about the final lot of the individual—how the individual could stand in judgment before God. This individualism was a consequence of the piety of Jeremiah and the Psalms; but the thought of individual responsibility in the final judgment nowhere developed in Judaism its full ethical force, and it was stifled again and again by the fanciful expectations of national greatness on earth, or was applied in Pharisaic party polemic against the “impious and apostates."

In general it must be emphasized that, when compared with the preceding epoch, this apocalyptic does not imply an advance of religious individualism; it reveals rather a stronger influx of national elements into the piety of Judaism. In the Maccabean period the piety of later Judaism became again national piety. The temper of apocalyptic was thoroughly particularistic and narrowly national. God’s kingdom involved only mercy to Israel and judgment to the heathen (Psalms of Solomon xvii. 2). In spite of the transcendental and ideal character which the apocalyptic picture gradually assumed (cf. the idea of a “coming age,” world-judgment, waking from the dead), the old, earthly hopes of Israel of a kingdom of Davidic glory, a Messiah bearing David’s name, an earthly empire, and a gloriously renewed Jerusalem are closely bound up with it. This divergence shows itself especially in the position which the expected Messiah occupied in this literature. With the world-judgment, the destruction of the world, and the awaking from the dead, the expected Davidic king was to have little to do; consequently his form occasionally disappeared entirely (so in Daniel and the Assumption of Moses). On the whole, however, the transcendental retained its position; at one time it was only partly pushed aside (Enoch xc. 4; IV Ezra vii. 28; Baruch xxix.); at another, it partly corresponded to the picture of hope which involved an ideal transfiguration (cf. Psalms of Solomon xvii., and the “similitudes” in Enoch). This divergence led finally to the assumption of a double finale: first, the intermediate Messianic realm (Rev. xx.; Book of the Secrets of Enoch xxxiii.), in which earthly expectations were to be realized; and, second, the “coming age,” ushered in by the world-judgment and the resurrection from the dead which should satisfy the more transcendental aspirations (cf. Enoch xciii., xci.12-19; IV Ezra vii. 28-29; Baruch xl. 3; Rev. xx.; Book of the Secrets of Enoch xxxiii.).

External Qualities.

With this fundamental character of Jewish apocalyptic a number of external qualities are connected. All apocalyptic writers indulged in fanciful computation of the end. The apocalyptic seer lived in a time when all felt that the prophetic spirit had departed, when important decisions awaited the coming of a prophet (I Macc. iv. 40; cf. ix. 27, xiv. 41) and the judgment of prophecy (Zech. xiii. 2 sqq.). Apocalyptic arithmetic took the place of prophecy; thus in the center of Daniel’s prophecies (Dan. ix.) the seventy years of Jeremiah are interpreted as seventy year-weeks (i.e., 70 X 7 years), which interpretation is followed by Enoch lxxxix. sqq.; or the duration of the world was estimated on the basis of some hidden wisdom (Assumption of Moses i. 1, x. 12; Enoch xc., xci.; IV Ezra xiv. 11; Baruch liii.), for only the wise and intelligent could understand these secrets (Rev. xiii. 18, xvii. 9; Mark xiii. 14). A consequence of the foregoing is the non-creative character of this literature; it followed closely the older literature of Israel, especially the idea of theophanies (Isa. vi. and Ezek. i.), the prophecies concerning Babylon (Isa. xiii., xiv.; Jer. l.-li.), Tyre (Ezek. xxvii., xxviii.), and Gog and Magog (Ezek. xxxviii., xxxix.). The most promiscuous notions and views from other religious departments crept in, and these, understood only in part or not at all, were circulated as coins stamped once for all. Behemoth and Leviathan, the dragon, the beast 210 with seven heads, the four ages, the seven spirits, the twenty-four elders, the candlestick with seven branches, the two witnesses, and the woman clothed with the sun—all these imply great religious historical connections which can not now be fully understood, but which nevertheless existed. A necessary rule for the interpretation of apocalyptic literature is that a single apocalypse can not be explained in itself, but only from a survey comprising, if possible, all related works. The fantastic element in Jewish apocalyptic literature is not due to an excess of imagination in these authors, who were so poor in spirit; the impression of strangeness is due to the use of abnormal religious images. For discussion of the several books, see Apocrypha, B, IV.; Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament, II., 4-21.

(W. Bousset.)

Bibliography: The best treatment is to be found in R. H. Charles’s editions of apocalyptic writings, e.g., his Enoch, London, 1893, Apocalypse of Baruch, 1896, Ascension of Isaiah, 1900, Jubilees, 1902, and in his Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, 1899; A. Hilgenfeld, Die jüdische Apokalyptik, Jena, 1857; J. Drummond, Jewish Messiah, London, 1877; R. Smend, in ZATW, v. (1885) 222-250; DB, i. 109-110; Schürer, Geschichte, iii. 181-185, Eng. transl., II. iii. 44 sqq.; M. S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, New York, 1898; EB, i. 213-250 (reviews the important apocalyptic literature); JE, i. 669-685 (treats of late Jewish productions); W. Bousset, Die jüdische Apokalyptik, Berlin, 1903; F. C. Porter, The Messages of the Apocalyptical Writers, New York, 1905.

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