Episco-Fact #116
November 22, 2018

Reverend Tracey talked about the religious genre, apocalyptic, and it was mentioned in last week's Episco-fact. What is its history and where can we find it in the Bible?

Apocalyptic is a genre of writing that flourished in the period from about 200 BCE to about 100 CE. It is derived from the Greek "apocalypse," which means "revelation" or "unveiling." It is often characterized by visions of supernatural beings, cataclysmic events, and horrible sufferings. As was stated in last week's Episco-fact, apocalypse in the Bible is represented in the Hebrew Bible's (Old Testament) Book of Daniel, probably written in the first half of the Second Century BCE. Likely written as comfort to Jews who were undergoing intense persecution by Antiochus IV Epiphanes who imposed a regime of enforced Hellenistic enculturation. This program included the outlawing of circumcision, the requirement to eat "unclean" foods, the conformity to the gymnasium, where people trained in the nude, and the erection of a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. Offenders were subject to severe penalties, including death.

This regime eventually led to the revolt led by Judas Maccabaeus in around 167 BCE. The story of Daniel deals with the protection by God of faithful Jews and promises of God, revealed in visions, of a redeemed and reestablished Israel. There are examples of apocalyptic passages in classical prophecy which foreshadow Books like the aforementioned, Biblical books. These foreshadowing's can be found in Joel 2, Isaiah 65, Amos 5.16-20, 9:11-15, Isaiah 24, Zechariah 9-14, Ezekiel 38-39. There is something from outside classical Jewish culture in these writings, and it is likely that cultural influences from Persia are the explanation. Jews living in their traditional homeland were very much in touch with the influences of the neighboring super-powers of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.

In the time between Daniel and Revelation, there were other books which are part of this genre, one which is included in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical section of the Bible with Apocrypha—2 Esdras (Fourth Book of Ezra); and in the Nag Hammadi Library discovered in 1945—First and Second Books of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Assumption of Moses, the Book of Jubilees, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Additionally, in the New Testament period in the Apocalypse of Peter is part of this genre and outside of the canon.

For both Jewish and Christian adherents, persecution was part of life. For Jews, that persecution, including the persecutions that became part of the Church response to official status, was characterized by physical assault, economic dislocation, geographic displacement, and death. The same was true for parts of the Church in the Roman and Sassanid Empires during that same period. Being reassured that God was in control, was important to Jews and Christians. These books assured the people of God they would eventually know abundance, long life, and culturally safe spaces. Apocalyptic symbology revealed the real workings of the spiritual world playing out underneath the physical reality, and this comfort encouraged the Jews and Christians alike.