Apocalyptic Literature Introduction

a-pok-a-lip'-tik lit'-er-a-tur:



1. Judaism and Hellenism

2. Political Influences


1. Differences from Prophecy in Content

2. Differences from Prophecy in Literary Form


1. Pseudepigraphic Authors not Known Individually

2. General Resemblance and Mutual Dependence

Show Them to be Products of One Sect

3. Three Jewish Sects Comprise Whole Literary Class

4. Not the Product of the Sadducees

5. Nor of the Pharisees

6. Probably Written by the Essenes



1. Enoch Books:

(1) History of the Books;

(2) Summary;

(3) Language;

(4) Date;

(5) Internal Chronology: The Book of Noah;

(6) External Chronology;

(7) Slavonic Enoch;

(8) Secrets of Enoch

2. Apocalypse of Baruch:

(1) Summary;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date;

(5) Relation to Other Books;

(6) The Rest of the Words of Baruch

3. The Assumption of Moses:

(1) Summary;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date;

(5) Relation to Other Books

4. The Ascension of Isaiah:

(1) Summary;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date

5. The Fourth Book of Esdras:

(1) Summary;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date


The Book of Jubilees:

(1) Summary;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date


1. The Psalter of Solomon:

(1) Summary;

(2) Language;

(3) Date;

(4) Christology

2. The Odes of Solomon:

(1) Relation to Pistis Sophia and Summary;

(2) Date


1. Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs:

(1) Summary:

(a) Reuben;

(b) Simeon;

(c) Levi;

(d) Judah;

(e) Issachar;

(f) Zebulun;

(g) Dan;

(h) Naphtali;

(i) Gad;

(j) Asher;

(k) Joseph;

(l) Benjamin;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date and Authorship;

(5) Relation to Other Books

2. Testament of Adam

3. Testament of Abraham

4. Testament of Job:

(1) Summary;

(2) Structure;

(3) Language;

(4) Date and Authorship




A series of pseudepigraphic works, mainly of Jewish origin, appeared during the period between 210 BC and 200 AD. They have many features in common. The most striking is the resemblance they all bear to the Book of Daniel. Following this model, most of them use "vision" as a literary device by which to introduce their conceptions of the remote future. A side product of this same movement was the composition, mainly in Alexandria, of the Sibylline books. The literary device of "vision" was one used in the Aeneid by Virgil, the classical contemporary of a large number of these works. One peculiarity in regard to the majority of these documents is the fact that while popular among the Christian writers of the first Christian centuries, they disappeared with the advent of the Middle Ages, and remained unknown until the first half of the 19th century was well on in its course.


I. Background of Apocalyptic.

1. Judaism and Hellenism:

When the Jews came back from Babylon to Palestine, though surrounded by heathen of various creeds, they were strongly monotheistic. The hold the Persians had of the empire of Southwest Asia, and their religion--Zoroastrianism--so closely akin to monotheism, prevented any violent attempts at perverting the Jews. With the advent of the Greek power a new state of things emerged. Certainly at first there does not seem to have been any direct attempt to force them to abandon their religion, but the calm contempt of the Hellene who looked down from the superior height of his artistic culture on all barbarians, and the influence that culture had in the ruling classes tended to seduce the Jews into idolatry. While the governing orders, the priests and the leaders of the Council, those who came in contact with the generals and governors of the Lagids of Egypt, or the Seleucids of Syria, were thus inclined to be seduced into idolatry, there was a large class utterly uninfluenced by Hellenic culture, and no small portion of this class hated fanatically all tampering with idolatry. When the dominion over Palestine passed out of the hands of the Ptolemies into that of the house of Seleucus, this feeling was intensified, as the Syrian house regarded with less tolerance the religion of Israel. The opposition to Hellenism and the apprehension of it naturally tended to draw together those who shared the feeling. On the one side was the scribist legal party, who developed into the Pharisaic sect; on the other were the mystics, who felt the personal power of Deity. These afterward became first the Chasidim, then later the Essenes. These latter gradually retired from active participation in national life. As is natural with mystics their feelings led them to see visions and to dream dreams. Others more intellectual, while they welcomed the enlightenment of the Greeks, retained their faith in the one God. To them it seemed obvious that as their God was the true God, all real enlightenment must have proceeded from Him alone. In such thinkers as Plato and Aristotle they saw many things in harmony with the Mosaic law. They were sure that there must have been links which united these thinkers to the current of Divine revelation, and were led to imagine of what sort these links necessarily were. The names of poets such as Orpheus and Linus, who survived only in their names, suggested the source of these links--these resemblances. Hence, the wholesale forgeries, mainly by Jews, of Greek poems. On the other hand, there was the desire to harmonize Moses and his law with the philosophical ideas of the time. Philo the Alexandrian, the most conspicuous example of this effort, could not have been an isolated phenomenon; he must have had many precursors. This latter movement, although most evident in Egypt, and probably in Asia Minor, had a considerable influence in Judea also.

2. Political Influences:

Political events aided in the advance of both these tendencies. The distinct favor that Antiochus the Great showed to the Greeks and to those barbarians who Hellenized, became with his son Antiochus Epiphanes a direct religious persecution. This emphasized the protest of the Chasidim on the one hand, and excited the imagination of the visionaries to greater vivacity on the other. While the Maccabees and their followers were stirred to deeds of valor, the meditative visionaries saw in God their refuge, and hoped for deliverance at the hand of the Messiah. They pictured to themselves the tyrant smitten down by the direct judgment of Yahweh. After the death of Epiphanes, the Maccabeans had become a power to be reckoned with, and the visionaries had less excitement from external events till the Herodian family found their way into supreme power. At first the Herodians favored the Pharisaic party as that which supported John Hyrcanus II, the friend of Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, and the Essenes seem to have taken Herod at first into their special favor. However, there was soon a change. In consequence of the compliance with heathen practices, into which their connection with the Romans forced the Herodians, the more religious among the Jews felt themselves compelled to withdraw all favor from the Idumean usurper, and to give up all hope in him. This naturally excited the visionaries to new expectation of Divine intervention. Behind the Herodians was the terrible iron power of Rome. The Romans had intervened in the quarrel between John Hyrcanus and his brother Aristobulus. Pompey had desecrated the temple by intruding into the Holy of Holies. The disastrous overthrow that he suffered at the hands of Caesar and his miserable end on the shores of Egypt seemed to be a judgment on him for his impiety. Later, Nero was the especial mark for the Apocalyptists, who by this time had become mainly Christian. Later Roman emperors impressed the imagination of the Apocalyptists, as the Flavians.

II. General Characteristics of Apocalyptic.

1. Differences from Prophecy in Content:

Both in matter and form apocalyptic literal and the writings associated with it differ from the prophetic writings of the preceding periods. As already mentioned, while the predictive element as present in Apocalypses, as in Prophecy, it is more prominent and relates to longer periods and involves a wider grasp of the state of the world at large. Apocalypse could only have been possible under the domination of the great empires. Alike in Prophecy and in Apocalypse there is reference to the coming of the Messiah, but in the latter not only is the Messianic hope more defined, it has a wider reference. In the Prophets and Psalmists the Messiah had mainly to do with Israel. "He will save his people"; "He will die for them"; "His people shall be all righteous." All this applies to Israel; there is no imperial outlook. In the Apocalypses the imperial outlook is prominent, beginning with Daniel in which we find the Messianic kingdom represented by a "son of man" over against the bestial empires that had preceded (Da 7:13) and reaching the acme of Apocalypse, if not its conclusion, in the Revelation of John: "The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Re 11:15). While the prophet was primarily a preacher of righteousness, and used prediction either as a guarantee, by its fulfillment, of his Divine mission, or as an exhibition of the natural result of rebellion against God's righteous laws, to the Apocalyptist prediction was the thing of most importance, and in the more typical Apocalypse there is no moral exhortation whatever.

2. Differences from Prophecy in Literary Form:

In the literary form employed there are marked differences between Apocalyptic and Prophecy. Both make use of vision, but in Prophecy, in the more restricted sense of the word, these visions are as a rule implied, rather than being described. Although Isaiah calls the greater part of his Prophecy "vision," yet in only one instance does he describe what he sees; as a rule he assumes throughout that has audience knows what is visible to him. The only instance (Isa 6:1-13) in which he does describe his vision is not at all predictive; the object is exhortation. In the case of the Apocalypses the vision is the vehicle by which the prediction is conveyed. In Ezekiel there are visions, but only one of these--"the valley of dry bones"--is predictive. In it the symbols used are natural, not, as always in Apocalypses, arbitrary. Compare in Daniel's vision of the Ram and the He-goat (Da 8:1-27). In Ezekiel the dry bones naturally suggest death, and the process by which they are revivified the reader feels is the natural course such an event would take did it come within the sphere of ordinary experience; while in what is told of the horns on the head of the Greek goat there is no natural reason for the changes that take place, only a symbolical one. This is still more marked in the vision of the Eagle in 4 Esdras 11. What may be regarded as yet more related to the form is the fact that while the Prophets wrote in a style of so elevated prose that it always hovered on the border of poetry--indeed, frequently passed into it and employed the form of verse, as Isa 26:1--the apocalyptists always used pure prose, without the elaborate parrallelism or cadenced diction of Hebrew poetry. The weird, the gorgeous, or the terrible features of the vision described are thrown into all the higher relief by the baldness of the narrative.

III. Authorship of Jewish Apocalyptic Works.

1. Pseudepigraphic Authors not Known Individually:

In most cases the question of authorship is one that has to be discussed in regard to each work individually. A number of the characteristics of the works render such a procedure impossible in regard to them. If we put to the one side the two Apocalypses that form part of the canon, they are all pseudonymous, as Enoch and Baruch, or anonymous, as the Book of Jubilees. Many of them in addition show traces of interpolation and modification by later hands. If we had a full and clear history of the period during which they were written, and if its literature had to a great extent been preserved to us we might have been in a position to fix on the individual; but as matters stand, this is impossible. At the same time, however, from internal evidence, we may form some idea of the surroundings of those who have written these works.

2. General Resemblance and Mutual Dependence Show Them Products of One Sect:

From the striking resemblance in general style which they exhibit, and from the way in which some of them are related to the others, many of these works seem to have been the product of similar circumstances. Even those most removed from the rest in type and general attitude are nearer them than they are to any other class of work. All affirmative evidence thus points to these works having been composed by authors that were closely associated with each other. The negative evidence for this is the very small traceable influence these works had on later Jewish thought. Many of them axe quoted by the Christian Fathers, some of them by New Testament writers. The whole of these works have been preserved to us through Christian means. A large number have been preserved by being adopted into the Old Testament canon of the Ethiopic church; a considerable number have been unearthed from Ambrosian Library in Milan; most of them have been written in Palestine by Jewish writers; yet no clear indubitable sign of the knowledge of these books can be found in the Talmud.

3. Three Jewish Sects Comprise Whole Literary Class:

The phenomenon here noted is a striking one. Works, the majority of which are written in Hebrew by Jews, are forgotten by the descendants of these Jews, and are retained by GentileChristians, by nations who were ignorant of Hebrew and preserved them in Greek, Latin or Ethiopic translations. A characteristic of the Judaism during the period in which these books were appearing was the power exercised by certain recognized sects. If one takes the most nearly contemporary historian of the Jews, Josephus, as one's authority, it is found how prominent the three sects, Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, were. To a certain extent this is confirmed by the Gospels and the Acts, with this noticeable exception--the Essenes are never mentioned by name.

4. Not the Product of the Sadducees:

The scribes, the literary class among the Jews, all belonged to one or other of these ruling sects. Consequently these works must have proceeded from members of one of those sects. Their mutual resemblance precludes their authors from belonging some to one sect and some to another. We know pretty exactly from Josephus and the New Testament what the character and tenets of the Sadducees were. They were the priestly sacerdotal class, and were above all, political schemers. They received only the Pentateuch as authoritative, and had no share in the Messianic hopes of which the Prophets were full. They believed neither in angel nor spirit, and had no hope of immortality (Ac 23:8). Josephus compares them with the followers of Epicurus among the Greeks. Nothing could be farther removed from the spirit and doctrines of the Apocalypses than all this. The Messianic hopes bulk largely; angels are prominent, then, hierarchies are described and their names given. The doctrine of immortality is implied, and the places of reward and punishment are described. The Apocalypses cannot therefore be attributed to the Sadducees.

5. Nor of the Pharisees:

There is greater plausibility in attributing them to the Pharisees. So far as doctrines are concerned, there is no doubt that the agreement is relatively close. There are, however, difficulties in accepting this view of their origin. With the fall of the Jewish state, the Sadducees disappeared when there was no field for political activity, and when with the destruction of the temple there were no more sacrifices to require the services of Aaronic priests. Nearly contemporaneously the Essenes disappeared in Christianity. The Pharisees alone remained to carry on the traditions of Judaism. We have in the Talmud the result of Pharisaic literary activity. The Mishna is the only part of this miscellaneous conglomeration which is at all nearly contemporary with the works before us. It has none of the characteristics of the apocalyptic writings. The later Hagadi Midrash have more resemblance to some of these, noticeably to the Book of Jubilees. Still, the almost total want of any references to any of the Apocalypses in the recognized Pharisaic writings, and the fact that no Jewish version of any of these books has been preserved, seems conclusive against the idea that the Apocalypses owed their origin to the Pharisaic schools. The books that form the ordinary Apocrypha are in a different position. The majority, if not the whole of them, were received into the Jewish canon of Alexandria. Some of them are found in Hebrew or Aramaic, as Ecclesiasticus, Tobit and Judith. None of the Apocalypses have been so found. This leads necessarily to the conclusion that the Pharisees did not write these books.

6. Probably Written by the Essenes:

By the method of exclusions we are led thus to adopt the conclusion of Hilgenfeld, that they are the work of the Essenes. We have, however, positive evidence. We know from Josephus that the Essenes had many secret sacred books. Those books before us would suit this description. Further, in one of these books (4 Esdras) we find a story which affords an explanation of the existence of these books. 2 (4) Esdras 14:40-48 tells how to Ezra there was given a cup of water as it were fire to drink, and then he dictated to five men. These men wrote in characters which they did not understand "for forty days" until they had written "four score and fourteen books" (Revised Version (British and American)). He is commanded, "The first that thou hast written publish openly, and let the worthy and unworthy read it: but keep the seventy last that thou mayest deliver them to such as be wise among thy people." While the twenty-four books of the ordinary canon would be open to all, these other seventy books would only be known by the wise--presumably, the Essenes. This story proceeds on the assumption that all the biblical books had been lost during the Babylonian captivity, but that after he had his memory quickened, Ezra was able to dictate the whole of them; but of these only twenty-four were to be published to all; there were seventy which were to be kept by a society of wise men. This would explain how the Books of Enoch and Noah, and the account of the Assumption of Moses could appear upon the scene at proper times and yet not be known before. In the last-named book there is another device. Moses tells Joshua to embalm (hedriare) the writing which gives an account of what is coming upon Israel. Books so embalmed would be liable to be found when Divine providence saw the occasion ripe. These works are products of a school of associates which could guard sacred books and had prepared hypotheses to explain at once how they had remained unknown, and how at certain crises they became known. All this suits the Essenes, and especially that branch of them that dwelt as Coenobites beside the Dead Sea. We are thus driven to adopt Hilgenfeld's hypothesis that the Essenes were the authors of these books. Those of them that formed the Community of Engedi by their very dreamy seclusion would be especially ready to see visions and dream dreams. To them it seem no impossible thing for one of the brotherhood to be so possessed by the spirit of Enoch or of Noah that what he wrote were really the words of the patriarch. It would not be inconceivable, or even improbable, that Moses or Joshua might in a dream open to them books written long before and quicken their memories so that what they had read in the night they could recite in the day-time. As all the Essenes were not dwellers by the shores of the Dead Sea, or "associates with the palms of Engedi," some of the writings of this class as we might expect, betray a greater knowledge of the world, and show more the influence of events than those which proceeded from the Coenobites. As to some extent corroborative of this view, there is the slight importance given to sacrifice in most of these works.


Classes of Books:

In the classification of plants and animals in natural science the various orders and genera present the observer with some classes that have all the features that characterize the general Mass prominent and easily observable, while in others these features are so far from prominent that to the casual observer they are invisible. This may be seen in the apocalyptic writings: there are some that present all the marks of Apocalypses, such as the Book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses and the Apocalypse of Baruch. They all claim to be revelations of the future--a future which begins, however, from the days of some ancient saint--and then, passing over the time of is actual composition, ends with the coming of the Messiah, the setting up of the Messianic kingdom and the end of the world. There are others, like the Book of Jubilees, in which the revelation avowedly looks back, and which thus contain an amount of legendary matter. One of the books which are usually reckoned in this class, has, unlike most of the Apocalypses, which are in prose, taken the Book of Psalms as its model--the Psalter of Solomon. A very considerable number of the works before us take the form of farewell counsels on the part of this or that patriarch. The most famous of these is the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Although the great masonry have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic by Jews resident in Palestine, the Sibylline books, composed to a great extent by Jews of Alexandria, present an exception to this.

We shall in the remainder of the art consider these sub-classes in the order now mentioned: (1) Typical Apocalypses; (2) Legendary Testaments; (3) Psalmic; (4) Testaments; (5) Sibylline Oracles.

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