The origins of apocalyptic are another area of major contention by scholars of ancient Israelite religion. Review and evaluate the key issues and modern scholarly proposals in this arena, and then, with your review and evaluation in mind, lay out and defend your own position.
In order to discuss the origins of apocalyptic it is important to define the boundaries of investigation for “apocalyptic” and what is meant by the term “origins.” Apocalypse is used to designate a genre of texts with a number of similarities. The most influential definition of apocalypse was generated by the SBL Study Group who used a descriptive approach to genre analysis in which they identified a cluster of traits that could set these books apart from other books . John Collins one of the leading scholars in this group defined apocalypse as “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a 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.” This definition included a range of books that modern scholars had previously identified as “apocalyptic” fall between the time periods of 250 BCE to 250 CE. Collins divides the corpus into historical apocalypses and otherworldly journeys.
This highlights an important issue in this avenue of study as well as the study of ancient texts in general. The SBL Study Group’s definition has the advantage of using a number of shared features. Any identification of genre must be consistent in applying the criteria in order to see what is excluded and included. Additionally, important to genre analysis is the realization that textual affinities and modern genre identification may tell us little about historical connections or social groups. These connections must be made subsequent to a literary genre analysis.
With the above definition of the genre apocalypse, “apocalyptic” can be understood as something that shares features that are distinguishing of the genre of apocalypse. Noting that genres are not static nor are the groups which may hold apocalyptic view, we may find these traits in places outside of the formal genre of apocalypse. Collins notes that not all communities that are influenced by apocalypses actually produce apocalypses (such as Qumran). We can use apocalypticism as a either a mode of thought or worldview in that is characterized by apocalyptic thinking as found in the genre of apocalypse.
Thus, if we are to look at the origin of the genre apocalypse we are mostly likely to find the “origins” of the diverse characteristics and ideas that are encompassed by this genre category scattered throughout other genres both diachronically and synchronically. However, the origins of the individual characteristics may not tell us about social groups or people that brought these together into a united text, and we must be cautious with labeling social groups according to one type of genre of literature that is either produced or possessed by them. This has been a perennial problem in Wisdom literature, where older scholars (i.e. Crenshaw ) insisted that Wisdom literature represented the worldview of a distinct social group ontologically different from priest and prophets. This is no longer held since it is increasingly apparent that the scribes who produced wisdom literature were themselves also priests, prophets, or both and a scribe participated in the transmission and composition of all genres of writing.
Important proposals in the past that looked for the “origin of the apocalyptic” generally isolated what they saw as the essential ingredient and argued that it came by means of a certain culture, social group, or genre. This approach, which looks for the genetic parentage of “apocalyptic” is mostly incompatible with the generic approach advocated by Collins and the SBL Study Group. Rather than seeing apocalypticism as a derivative of another genre or historical movement, it is a ideology and world based upon a constructed literary genre that is characterized by its allusions and dependency upon other genres, motifs, and themes. Tracing these individual strands is surely a valuable endeavor, but we must be cautious in then making statements of historical development of social groups in relation to literary genres.
For example, earlier scholarship emphasized the dualism in apocalypticism and argued for its origins in Persia and Zoroastrianism. Others have argued for its development within Israel and argued that it stemmed from the prophetic movement. Paul Hanson in an important study (Dawn of the Apocalyptic, 1975) advocated that apocalypticism finds it origins within the prophetic movement and this can be seen in a number of prophetic books that contain “early apocalypses” or “proto-apocalypses.” Hanson sees the 6th-5th centuries BCE as the formative period for early apocalyptic characterized by prophetic works like Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 9-14, and Joel 2-3. For Hanson, the important ingredient in this identification is found in the differentiation between prophetic eschatology and apocalyptic eschatology. In the former, the important role of the prophet was to tie Yahweh’s plans to political and historical events of their world, while in the latter (apocalyptic eschatology) the political and historical situation was no longer a part of Yahweh’s redemptive plans for his people. Hanson’s proposal is a very important work for the development of eschatological thinking, but eschatology is not the only aspect of the genre of apocalypse.
This proposition is held in opposition to Gerhard von Rad who argued that wisdom was the ultimate source of apocalypticism. Von Rad was convinced that wisdom literature was representative of a worldview held by a distinct class of people. This worldview was argued to be distinctly ahistorical (un-rooted in the ideas of salvation history and God intervening in history) and represented a universal Yahwism, which provided a better fit for apocalypticism since prophecy was always distinctly historical. H. Müller nuanced von Rad’s view by clarifying that it is specifically the “mantic wisdom” in Mesopotamia that is at the root of apocalypticism. The deciphering of cryptic portents in dreams is a key element in Daniel. Most scholars argue that the origin of apocalypticism lies somewhere between wisdom and prophecy.
However, the problem of calling dream interpretation (texts from the series ziqîqu which includes omens for interpreting dreams, but also incantations and namburbi rituals) a part of “wisdom” is a problem in and of itself. Wisdom itself is a label for a genre not a tradition or a movement, similar to the generic approach espoused for looking at apocalypses. Those who used and copied the ziqîqu series were both scribes and ritual specialists who composed any number of different genres of texts. Although the lore of ritual specialists in Mesopotamia could be legitimately called wisdom, this is mostly unrelated to what is considered wisdom in the HebrewBible.
This identification “mantic wisdom” (a.k.a. dream omens) with apocalypticism is also part of a number of connections that scholars have make in attempts to discover a Babylonian milieu for the genesis of apocalypticism. The ex eventu prophecies in Akkadian have been described as apocalyptic since they not only describe events that have already happened but also make predictions for the future. The Uruk prophecy in particular predicts that a king will rise up to rule the world (the four quarters) and “his reign will be established forever. The kings of Uruk will exercise dominon like the gods.” Grayson argues that these are real predictions (since they never happened) and demonstrate eschatology by at least the 1000 BCE if not earlier.
My own inclination as it is probably clear is to realize that question for origins of apocalypses is best seen as a search into similar themes, motifs, and allusions. This can be a synchronic analysis, looking at similar genres that were present at the time of composition of apocalypses proper (250BCE-250 CE) or looking at the precursors of particular characteristics of an apocalypse in genres in the past. I think that this approach prevents us from attempting to find the ultimate origin of “apocalyptic” thinking, and instead focus upon the many strands that were later intertwined with one another to create what became defined as an apocalypse.
I agree with the prevailing opinion that the eschatological aspects of apocalyptic thinking have antecedents in the genre of revelatory texts, particularly those that are called prophecy. However, I am disinclined to attempt to prove an evolutionary trajectory that links “proto-apocalypses” to the development of the entire genre (a genre which does not receive a self conscious label until well into the modern era). If Hanson is right, that the proto-apocalypses demonstrate a state of transition during the 6th-5th centuries, then it seems more informative to understand the phenomena on its own terms rather than hoping to impose labels from the common era. It is also important to be precise that the eschatological nature of post-exilic prophecy is probably only beneficial to understanding the historical apocalypse rather than the heavenly journey.
Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Augsburg Fortress, 2009. ———. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (The Biblical Resource Series). 2nd ed. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998. ———. “Towards the Morphology of a Genre : Introduction.” Semeia no. 14 (January 1, 1979): 1–20. Coogan, Michael David. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Gregory, B. C. “Wisdom and Apocalyptic.” Edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns. Dictionary of the Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2008. Johnson, T. J. “Apocalypticism, Apocalyptic Literature.” Edited by Mark J Boda and J. G McConville. Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012.