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Apocalyptic Literature And Politics

Essay by   •  May 26, 2011  •  4,658 Words (19 Pages)  •  1,306 Views

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Introduction

No less than 2 religions and millions of subgroups claim the texts of the bible to be their religious, spiritual, and sometimes scientific and political view of this world and beyond. Of the 66 -73 books in the bible and all the apocryphal, pseudopigraphal, and historical writings of the characters, themes, and events in the bible without a doubt the least mined source for writings and sermons in main stream religion is the writings of an apocalyptic nature. Although many ancient apocalypses still exist to this day only one full apocalyptic book made the canon. This of course is the Revelation to John. Other apocalyptic writing does exist within the canon. A large part of the book of Daniel is very apocalyptic as well as a portion of the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and many other passages of the bible fall under the apocalyptic heading. At a point in Jewish and Christian history apocalyptic literature would have been taken very seriously by the main stream of religion. This is particularly true of the years between Antiochus Epiphanes and the revolt of Bar Kokhba. These dates are generally put about the years 167 BCE and 135 CE. It was during these times that most Judeo-Christian apocalyptic literature was written. This period was a time of great turmoil for the Christians and Jews. Both groups saw terrible persecution at the hands of several kings such as Antiochus Epiphanies, Nero, and Domitian. The political unrest and the terrible way that Jews and Christians were persecuted by the government the themes and images of apocalyptic literature tends to be of a political nature. The message sent about government in rarely positive in biblical literature and it is especially grim in apocalyptic literature. What is Apocalyptic literature?

Although the common use of the word apocalypse is used as meaning the end of the world this is not actually what all apocalyptic literature is about. The word Apocalypse is derived from the Greek word meaning to reveal or unveil. It is probably the use of revelation as the only example of apocalyptic for most people that causes this confusion. What then is apocalyptic? J.G. Collins defines apocalyptic as "a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality, which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world." (Bauckham 6) This is a good a definition as can be found for apocalyptic. So then, apocalyptic literature is basically a story about someone getting a revelation from somewhere otherworldly or supernatural. That seems simple enough. This definition is a bit more inclusive than most people consider apocalyptic to be. If we use this definition as our foundation for apocalyptic then it will include all the prophets as full apocalyptic. In order to tighten this definition, scholars will often put forth a set of characteristics boil apocalyptic literature down to those pieces of work that better fit the idea of apocalyptic. These will vary from list to list but I like the one used by Kay Murdy on her website. This list goes thusly.

Author unknown- Because the foundation of a piece of apocalyptic literature is politically based it is important for the author to conceal their identity.

Past oriented- Apocalyptic can reveal anything about creation and is as often about the creation as it is destruction. Even when he Apocalypse is about something that is yet to be the images and reasons given for the future calamity are set in the past. This makes Apocalyptic very rooted in the past.

Future Oriented- Apocalyptic literature often reveals to the prophet things that are to be. Either inevitably or as a result of man kinds inability to conform to that which God wishes. In apocalyptic that is set in the past the message is about the future. Revelations of the past will be giving to cause change in the present and future. For instance the apocalyptic sections of Genesis and Exodus the things revealed are done so to explain the Jews as the chosen people and to point out all the reasons why things are as they are and will be.

Symbolism- Probably the thing that really stands out with apocalyptic literature is the strong symbolism. The famous beasts of Daniel and revelation are rarely interpreted as actual beasts that will come to destroy the earth one day. This kind of symbolism can also be explained by the political nature of apocalyptic literature. Much in the same way the author of a apocalypse must stay hidden to save his life his message too must be shrouded in symbols to protect the author and those why study believe and follow the teachings of an apocalypse.

Numerology- Something that is really important to the study of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic literature is the numerology involved. Numbers were a very important thing to the Hebrew people. Because their written language and their written number systems were one in the same every word in Hebrew had a corresponding numerical value. The most famous number in the entire bible is 666. This is the number of the beast of revelation. This was a manner of hiding the name of the beast with a number. There are also many numbers of special significance. 6 for instance is the number of the imposter. Its close proximity to the number of god, 7, is in a manner a symbol for how easily evil and good can be confused. We will look at some of these characteristics and how they pertain to the anti government message in apocalyptic literature a bit closer later.

Now let us take a closer look at some of the symbols that apocalyptic literature has to offer. Let's start in the book of Daniel and look at one possible interpretation of the statue. In Daniel 2 we see the dream that King Nebuchadnezzar had been haunted by for some time and none of his wise men could tell him what it was or what it meant. The king demanded that his wise men not only interpret his dream but they were to tell him what his own dream was. This either meant that the king could not remember the dream well or possibly he was testing his wise men. Either way they were all unsuccessful until the Hebrew Daniel was given a chance. Here is the dream Daniel described:

31Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the

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