Apocalyptic Literature (Matt Corbitt)
Apocalyptic literature is best understood when studied with its counterparts: pseudographical and Apocryphal writings. Isolation of any of these components, such as apocalyptic literature alone, leads to false conclusions that evolve from a lack of historical and psychological context.[TE1] The vivid imagery found in apocalyptic literature is meant to inspire, motivate, and translate the author's point. Whether divinely inspired, or the product of a well-meaning author inspired by another man, apocalyptic literature continues to make far-reaching impacts on the Judeo-Christian world two thousand years after its initial writing.
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of allegedly divinely inspired writings that predict the end of the world. Apocalyptic literature has its roots in the Judeo-Christian world and is typically dated from around 200 BC to 165 AD (Lerner 2013). The Greek definition for ‘apocalypse’ could literally be translated as "unveiling". Therefore, the book of Revelation in the New Testament canon could adequately be referred to as the "unveiling" of Jesus Christ (Grenz 1999, 12).
In contrast, the Apocrypha, which includes some apocalyptic literature[TE2] , spanned from 300 BC to 300 AD. [TE3] The time period that spans from Malachi to the appearance of John the Baptist is sometimes referred to as the “silent years" due to the lack of canonical scripture written in those years. During the silent years there was no prophet of God until John the Baptist stepped onto the scene.
It should be noted that Palestine changed political hands several times before the Romans came to power. The Jews experienced the challenges of new conquerors, and, with each new overlord, the Jewish people lost faith and hope. The end of the Davidic dynasty heralded the diaspora from which the Hebrew people have not yet fully recovered. Specifically, Jesus’ native homeland of Galilee was not fully conquered by the Romans until 63 BC, and was one of the last areas of Palestine to join the Roman Republic (Mack 2013, 55). Knowing this background is essential to understanding why and how apocalyptic literature came to being and has gained so much prominence both in ancient times and today.
There are several parts of the Protestant recognized canon that are of the apocalyptic genre. These canonized apocalyptic books represent only a fraction of the total amount of apocalyptic literature that was written in the same time period. Good.
The authors of the apocryphal writings are not known. However, scholars have found that different books were written at different time periods and have attempted to make educated guesses at their authorship. For example, scholars have used historic clues to deduce that a Hellenistic Jew in Alexandria, Egypt, most likely wrote the book of Enoch in the first century. The book of Jubilees was written in the second century BC (Barnstone 2005, 3, 10). Some, but not all of the Christian or Jewish apocalypse literature were either included in the Apocrypha or the Canon. The dubious nature of the apocryphal writings was translated into much of the apocalyptic literature. This was done to add weight and gravitas to the works, which would have been overlooked otherwise.
The best definition to match what the Jewish people mean by "sacred" in addressing the Apocrypha is found as Webster’s dictionary’s third definition. Sacred means highly valued or deserving great respect. This is contrasted to "God breathed" or Divinely inspired. The canon is considered to be divinely[TE4] inspired and not just sacred. In like manner, the apocalyptic literature is defined as "One of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom"(Merriam-Webster n.d.). Due to the distraught and desperate state of the Jewish people when these books were written, great faith and personal identity was invested in the fulfillment of these prophecies.
A clear understanding of the historical and psychological context is vital to a proper understanding of apocalyptic writings. The Jewish people were conquered many times and moved around relentlessly without concern for their wellbeing or religious faith, resulting in a situation ripe for the acceptance of apocalyptic writings. Apocalyptic literature gave the Jewish people something they had not had in hundreds of years: hope.
It is for this reason that non-canonical literature continues to captivate the faith and imaginations of the current generation, thousands of years after its writing. As the writings became popular throughout the Christian ranks, the message was changed from the restoration of an Earthly kingdom in Palestine to a heavenly spiritual one, and still inspires hope and faith in our world today.