The apocalypses constitute a distinctive genre of ancient Jewish and Christian revelatory literature. Almost all proposed definitions of the apocalypse include the following features: (1) Apocalypses purport to describe a revelatory experience on the part of a human being. (2) The apocalypses expound that revelatory experience in the form of a story that includes information about the visionary and his experience. (3) The revelation requires assistance from a heavenly being, often an angel, who provides interpretation, guidance, or challenge to the visionary. (4) The revelation discloses an alternative reality, whether in the heavenly realms or a future worldly state, that transcends the present phenomenal order.

Several other features occur in many or most of the apocalypses. Almost all the apocalypses, including all Jewish examples, are pseudonymous; that is, they attribute themselves to a prominent hero of the past such as Enoch, Ezra, Baruch, or Peter. Most apocalypses employ striking symbols to convey their messages. Some of these symbols are allegorical and easily interpreted, while others defy straightforward conceptual translation. Apocalypses that look to a future worldly state, often called historical apocalypses, frequently rely on a set of distinctive literary conventions. Most historical apocalypses contain ex eventu prophecy, or prophecy after the fact; these describe events of the past and present as having been predicted by the pseudonymous visionary. A related device is the “review of history,” a symbolic retelling of Israel's sacred and political history up until the present crisis. Daniel's famous prophecy of the four great beasts representing a series of four kingdoms (Dan 7:1–14, 23–27) provides the most familiar biblical example, and the book of Revelation adapts the same imagery to a different end (Rev 13:1–2). Likewise, most historical prophecies “predict” the present as a time of eschatological crisis that will bring history to its decisive moment.

Daniel and Revelation provide the only two literary apocalypses in the Protestant canon. Another apocalypse, 4 Ezra (or 2 Esd 3–14), occurs in some modern editions of the Apocrypha, though the Vulgate placed it in an Appendix to the New Testament. Some canonical books include strongly apocalyptic sections, such as Isaiah 24–27, Ezekiel 1 and 37–48, Zechariah 9–14, and Joel in the Hebrew Bible. Notable apocalyptic passages in the New Testament include the “little apocalypse” of Matt 25, Mark 13, Luke 21, Paul's account of his own apocalypse in 2 Corinthians 12:1–10, Paul's teaching concerning Christ's return in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, and numerous teachings concerning end-time apostasy and chaos scattered throughout various general epistles.

Beyond Daniel and 4 Ezra, influential ancient Jewish apocalypses include 1 Enoch (a collection of five apocalypses) and 2 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 3 Baruch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah. Prominent ancient Christian apocalypses beyond Revelation are the Shepherd of Hermas, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Apocalypse of Paul, though early Christianity developed several other apocalypses, including a series of Coptic “apocalypses” found in the Nag Hammadi Library.

Many ancient Jewish and Christian texts beyond the canon demonstrate the apocalypses’ influence. Apocalyptic concerns animate many of the texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran. The War Scroll (1QM) does not report a vision, but it reads like an excerpt from an apocalypse. Like New Jerusalem (11QNJ) and the Temple Scroll (11QT), the War Scroll visualizes an alternative reality. As for genre, the book of Jubilees is a retelling of biblical narrative from Genesis 1 to Exodus 24, but it shares an apocalyptic outlook and many apocalyptic themes. Though Jubilees was not composed at Qumran, more than a dozen fragments of it are represented among the scrolls found there. Jewish and Christian Sibylline Oracles provide apocalyptic revelations in the form of oracular pronouncements rather than narrative vision reports. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, presented as the last words of Jacob's sons, sometimes convey apocalyptic sentiments. The Testament of Levi contains two apocalyptic vision reports, sometimes described as apocalypses, and mini-apocalypses occur in the Testament of Naphtali and Testament of Joseph (T. Levi 2–5, 8; T. Naph. 5–6; T. Jos. 19). The Testament of Moses does not include a vision report, but Moses’ last words “predict” Israel's history. The Psalms of Solomon, attributed to the tenth century B.C.E. king, address the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. and pronounce the arrival of a messianic king who will restore Israel's fortunes.

The canonical status of Daniel and Revelation dominated study of the apocalypses until the late twentieth century. Because Daniel and Revelation anticipate the annihilation of imperial oppressors and envision a new age beyond death, interpreters long emphasized the apocalypses’ future orientation. This interest in history and the future also led most interpreters to identify the apocalypses as a development from prophetic traditions. Revelation, after all, identifies itself as a prophecy (1:3; 22:10, 18–19), while Daniel stands among the Prophets in the Christian canon. However, renewed interest in non-canonical apocalypses such as 1 Enoch's “Book of the Watchers” (1 En. 1–36) and the Apocalypse of Peter revealed that some apocalypses reflect little or no historical interest—in these cases, their concerns involve cosmic mysteries such as the realms of heaven and hell. Many scholars now recognize that the apocalypses deal not only with time, or history, but also with space. Some apocalypses demonstrate more interest in the course of history, while others explore otherworldly concerns such as the nature of heavenly beings, the dwelling place of God, and the fate of the dead. Daniel and Revelation may shape public awareness of the apocalypses, but they no longer determine critical approaches to the literature. Interpreters now recognize the diverse content of the apocalypses, instead emphasizing their narrative structure and revelatory nature rather than a set of topical interests.

Earliest Apocalypses.

The earliest extant apocalypses are 1 Enoch and Daniel, each of which incorporates prior literary source material. Sections of 1 Enoch, the “Book of the Watchers” (chs. 1–36) and the “Astronomical Book” (chs. 72–82), likely constitute the earliest Jewish apocalypses.

First Enoch.

Clearly a composite work, 1 Enoch was composed over three to five centuries. Its influence must have been great. The Dead Sea Scrolls have yielded fragments of at least eleven manuscripts from 1 Enoch, while Jubilees, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the New Testament epistle of Jude rely upon traditions from the book. Today 1 Enoch remains in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

First Enoch establishes the norm of pseudonymity for the apocalypses. Enoch offered a fascinating possibility as the protagonist for an apocalypse. Not only does he represent humanity's seventh generation, he also escaped death. According to Genesis 5:24, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.” Enoch's faithful walk with God and his exemption from death qualify him to reveal otherworldly mysteries.

Complete manuscripts of 1 Enoch exist only in Ethiopic, but Aramaic fragments of four of the five major sections reveal both its original language and its composite nature. The larger work unites at least five earlier books, and some of those books include earlier literary sources.

The “Book of the Watchers” (chs. 1–36) and the “Astronomical Book” (chs. 72–82) likely date from the third century B.C.E. The “Book of the Watchers” presents itself as both a blessing and a vision concerning a distant age (1:1–2). “Watchers” concerns itself primarily with two storylines. The first draws upon the mysterious biblical account concerning the “sons of God” who mate with mortal women (Gen 6:1–4). The “sons of God” are angels, or Watchers, and their intercourse with women corrupts humanity. The story implies that this violation of the boundary between the heavenly and earthly realms provoked God to send the great flood. (Indeed, Gen 6:1–4 immediately precedes the flood accounts.) As the Watchers face judgment, Enoch intercedes on their behalf, but judgment cannot be averted. The second storyline involves Enoch's tour of the heavenly realms. Not only does Enoch observe fascinating cosmic mysteries such as the origins of meteorological phenomena like wind, hail, and dew, he also learns the names of prominent angels. The primary interest in this second storyline involves the places of judgment and blessing reserved for wicked angels and mortals and their righteous counterparts.

As chapters 1–5 suggest, 1 Enoch may provide a sort of argument for order. Despite the chaos mortals may experience, things have been worse in the past, particularly during the days of the Watchers. Moreover, a divine and cosmic order assures readers that all things will sort themselves out in the end, including a blessed eternal dwelling for the righteous.

With the “Book of the Watchers,” the “Astronomical Book” shares the interest in cosmological mysteries. The book describes itself as an account of the movements (or “rotations”) of the heavenly luminaries (72:1), and it traces the paths of sun and moon, the winds, and even some topographic features such as the seven great rivers. The prevailing interest of the “Astronomical Book” lies in cosmic mysteries—and particularly their implications for the calendar. The “Astronomical Book” promotes a solar (364-day) calendar over a 360-day calendar, though it also acknowledges the presence of lunar (354-day) calendars (72:32; 74:10–17; 82:1–20). The “Astronomical Book,” like the “Book of the Watchers,” investigates the identities of some heavenly beings—but only with respect to interest in the proper calendar. A brief section stands out for its interest in history: the last days will witness shorter years, later crop seasons, and general apostasy (80:2—82:3).

Two other major sections of 1 Enoch derive from the second century B.C.E., particularly the “Epistle of Enoch” (chs. 91–105) and the Book of Dreams” (chs. 83–90). These two books have much in common. Both clearly incorporate antecedent literary sources. More importantly, both books demonstrate an acute interest in historical developments. The “Epistle of Enoch” and the “Book of Dreams” may represent a key development in apocalyptic writing. Written in response to the Antiochene crisis, the Maccabean Revolt, and their aftermath, these two books include reviews of history that present their own contexts as the climatic moments in the eschatological drama.

The “Epistle of Enoch” incorporates several distinctive sections. It begins with Enoch's oral exhortation to his children to pursue righteousness, then progresses into Enoch's written address to later generations. The book concludes with apparently unrelated traditions concerning the birth of Noah and “another book” concerning the judgment. The epistle's historical interest comes through most strongly in two sections called the “Apocalypse of Weeks.” This mini-apocalypse reviews Israel's history in a schematic sequence of ten weeks. Oddly, Weeks 1–7 (93:1–10) appear after Weeks 8–10 (91:12–17); however, the Qumran evidence demonstrates that these passages once circulated in the proper order. The sequence begins with Enoch's birth during the first week and continues until a seventh week of apostasy. Weeks 8–10 involve eschatological events, in which sinners will fall into the hands of the righteous; ultimately, a new heaven shall appear accompanied by countless weeks of virtue and righteousness. Because the “Animal Apocalypse” (see below) shows no awareness of the climatic events that occurred between 167 and 164 B.C.E., nor does the rest of the “Book of Dreams,” most interpreters have dated this section of 1 Enoch to around 170 B.C.E.

The “Book of Dreams” demonstrates a much more specific historical focus. It includes two visions. The first vision concerns the great flood (chapters 83–84), while the second is usually called the “Animal Apocalypse” (chs. 85–90). Any reader generally familiar with Israel's history can follow the story in the progression from one series of animals to another. The review of history culminates with the Antiochene crisis in which snow-white sheep, representing the righteous in Judea, plead with the other sheep to open their eyes to the impending threat. The vision culminates with a heavenly figure who delivers the faithful sheep from their oppression and condemns the “blind” sheep. Then the snow-white sheep dwell in an age of peace and prosperity. Finally, a snow-white bull (a messiah?) arrives, transforming all the white sheep into white bulls and bringing the age to an end. Because the “Animal Apocalypse” slows down to emphasize Judea's subjection to imperial powers and this period of apostasy—but does not seem aware of the Maccabean Revolt's outcome—most interpreters think it was written precisely during the crisis, between 167 and 164 B.C.E.

If the “Epistle of Enoch” and the “Book of Dreams” represent a move from cosmological to historical speculation in the Enochic tradition, the second of 1 Enoch's five books, the “Similitudes of Enoch” (chs. 37–71), is far more difficult to characterize. On its surface the “Similitudes” is a fairly straightforward collection of three series of similitudes, or parables, all promising the deliverance of the righteous and judgment for the sinners who oppress them. The “Similitudes” also introduce a messianic figure—a “Son of Man,” “Chosen One,” or “Messiah”—who reveals heavenly knowledge, judges sinners, and restores the world to the righteous. The message is fairly straightforward, but its historical context is not. The “Similitudes” do not occur among the Dead Sea Scrolls; indeed, no Aramaic fragments have survived. The section's messianic imagery has led a few interpreters to interpret it as a Christian work. Most, however, regard the “Similitudes” as a Jewish work composed one hundred fifty or more years after the Maccabean Revolt. In that case, the “Similitudes of Enoch” would represent an advanced development in the Enochic trajectory. History figures prominently among its concerns, but only in a general way. The “Similitudes” does not seem preoccupied with specific historical moments, movements, or developments; its interest lies in promising eschatological blessing.

First Enoch not only establishes a tradition of Enochic literature, it also demonstrates major developments in apocalyptic literature from its earliest stages. The “Book of the Watchers” and the “Astronomical Book” explore heavenly mysteries, though with an eye toward human interests such as the calendar and the fate of the dead. Responding to political developments surrounding the reign of Antiochus IV, the “Epistle” and the “Book of Dreams” express hope for history's righteous resolution in a moment of social chaos. Messianic speculation crystallizes in the “Similitudes,” along with a concern for the liberation of the poor, but without explicit grounding in a specific cultural moment.


Because of its canonical status, the book of Daniel has provided the model apocalypse, the source for many motifs that appear in the Gospels and in Revelation. In Daniel we encounter the Son of Man, the sequence of four beasts, and the Hebrew Bible's first explicit reference to resurrection hope. We cannot know whether Daniel provides the source for these ideas, but the book surely contributes a great deal to their popularity. Daniel's canonical location likewise attests to its influence. Its placement among the Hebrew Bible Ketuvim (Writings) emphasizes the influence of wisdom traditions. After all, Daniel and his friends reside in the court as wise men, Daniel himself is an interpreter of dreams, and the book professes a vocation for the wise (maśkîlîm) to guide the people during a period of intense crisis. In Christian Bibles Daniel stands among the Prophets, testifying to its intense engagement with historical and eschatological concerns.

Daniel may be divided into two parts—and in two ways. First, chapters 1–6 and 7–12 date from different periods and embody different genres. Chapters 1–6 are almost certainly earlier, but no consensus has emerged regarding their original setting. Some interpreters regard Daniel 7–12 as an apocalypse, separating these chapters from the legends that make up the rest of the book. We cannot know whether chapters 7–12 ever circulated independently. Second, a major section of Daniel (2:4B-7:28) exists in Aramaic while the rest is in Hebrew. While various solutions have been proposed for this odd phenomenon, the possibility exists that the book's final redactors actually intended a bilingual literary work (Portier-Young 2010). As for understanding Daniel as an apocalypse, we must decide how the visionary section relates to the legends and whether the combination of Aramaic and Hebrew tells us anything about the book's historical context.

Almost all readers trace Daniel's final form to the Antiochene crisis, inviting comparisons with the “Epistle of Enoch” and the “Book of Dreams.” According to one conventional view, the court legends described the social and religious challenges facing Judeans during the crisis, while the apocalyptic section offered an eschatological hope for the wise. In this reading, Daniel and his friends model the sort of behavior faithful Judeans must follow. They are willing to cooperate with their imperial overlords, but on some points—particularly diet and worship—they cannot compromise. In every case God delivers these faithful ones from danger. Next, Daniel's apocalyptic section assures readers that the present empire is not eternal, that God will inaugurate a new age of righteousness, and that the wise will rise to everlasting life (12:2–3).

Some recent interpretations, however, now see Daniel's apocalyptic section, particularly its Hebrew parts (chs. 8–12), as a corrective to the court legends (Portier-Young). In this view the court legends present an overly optimistic view of how Judeans may relate to empire. By the time the apocalyptic visions were composed, characterized as “a time of anguish” unique in human history (12:1), one can no longer portray imperial kings as flawed but beneficent powers, as the legends do with Darius (6:1–3). Daniel's visions characterize Antiochus as “a contemptible person” who rules by deception and intrigue (11:21–23) and exalts himself above the true God (11:36). His reign divides the people between those who are deceived and those who are faithful (11:33).

Daniel 7–12 includes a series of vision reports. Chapter 7, in Aramaic, contains a vision and its interpretation. In the vision Daniel observes four great beasts emerging from the sea, which (he learns) represent a succession of four empires. Daniel also encounters the heavenly throne room, where the “Son of Man” is presented before the “Ancient of Days” and given dominion over the nations. Chapter 8 depicts the emergence of a goat with a great horn. From this horn emerges a little horn, who overtakes God's people and God's sanctuary. God allows the goat to reign for a set period of time before it meets its end. The interpretation reveals that the great horn represents Alexander the Great, while the little horn symbolizes Antiochus IV, who inherited a part of Alexander's empire. Chapter 9 is not really a vision report: Daniel acknowledges Israel's sin and seeks God's forgiveness. In reply, Gabriel informs Daniel that Jerusalem's coming crisis will last for only a limited period of time. Chapters 10–12 provide Daniel with a “preview” of history, focused largely upon Antiochus and his demise, and the promise of an eternal reward. This review of history is crucial for dating Daniel, as it follows Antiochus's career accurately until the “time of the end” (11:40–45).

For modern readers, the figure of Daniel is nearly as elusive as that of Enoch. Obscure references in Ezekiel associate an individual named Daniel with Noah and Job as examples of righteousness (14:14, 20) and cite Daniel as an icon of wisdom (28:3). The Ugaritic “Tale of Aqhat” mentions a righteous judge named Daniel. We may assume that Daniel's name evoked stronger associations for the book's first audiences, though the combination of righteousness, wisdom, and mystery is entirely appropriate for an apocalyptic visionary.

Like some parts of 1 Enoch, the book of Daniel expresses an interest in wisdom, though wisdom in Daniel is linked to worldly affairs, the interpretation of dreams, and discerning the righteous path, rather than to cosmic speculation. Like other parts of 1 Enoch, Daniel identifies its own historical moment as an eschatological crisis and envisions divine deliverance for the people.


Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

View of the ancient street from the south. The pile of stones at the end of the street (right) is part of the rubble left from the destruction of the Temple in 70 c.e.

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Jewish Apocalypses of the First and Second Centuries C.E.

The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 C.E. posed an intense religious and cultural crisis. Several Jewish apocalypses emerged in the wake of those events, during which it became conventional to identify Rome as “Babylon.” (We observe this phenomenon in early Christian literature as well.)

Second and 3 Baruch draw upon the figure of Baruch, frame the catastrophe as a challenge for theodicy, and propose how Jews might move forward, but the two apocalypses offer quite disparate responses. The figure of Baruch offers a suitable visionary for these apocalypses. He was Jeremiah's scribe at the time of Jerusalem's first fall in 587/586 B.C.E., and the prophet assured him that God would deliver his life from the crisis—yet his story ends there, perhaps implying that Baruch would escape death. Hence Baruch is qualified to comment on Jerusalem's destruction, and, like Enoch, his legend includes room for mystery (2 Bar. 25:1; 76:2–3).

In 2 Baruch the seer asks God to take away his life so that he will not have to see Jerusalem's destruction (3:2), and he presses hard questions concerning the justice of that calamity. The vision reveals that Zion's suffering is only temporary, while the world to come will reward the righteous. In a series of speeches, Baruch informs the people that the only viable path of safety and security requires following the Law. If the people will turn back to the Law, God will bring better times. Beyond this life, the righteous expect blessing, while torment is reserved for the wicked.

Third Baruch follows a different pattern. Where 2 Baruch advances a particular social and religious agenda, 3 Baruch offers almost no moral exhortation. And where 2 Baruch expresses hope for a just resolution of history, 3 Baruch is more interested in disclosing heavenly secrets. Indeed, 3 Baruch hardly raises the issue of Jerusalem's fall before dismissing the problem as preliminary to divine mysteries (1:1–7 in the Greek version; 1:2–6 in the Slavonic). Baruch travels through five heavens. The first includes the builders of Babel, the second contains its planners, and the third reveals Hades and the dwelling places of the wicked—thus the first three heavens are places of judgment. The heavenly tour also reveals the course of the sun and other cosmic mysteries. The fourth heaven depicts the souls of the righteous. When Baruch arrives at the fifth heaven, he finds it shut and the vision ends. Thus, 3 Baruch responds to Jerusalem's tragedy in terms of where individuals dwell after their death: the wicked are in torment, the righteous live in praise before God.

In a series of seven visions 4 Ezra (chs. 3–14 of 2 Esd) also responds to Jerusalem's fall, and its agenda resembles that of 2 Baruch. Like 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra promises an age of justice and prosperity for the righteous, including defeat of the Roman Empire. This hope includes a messianic vision involving the revealing of God's “son” (7:28–29; 13:32). Not only does Ezra call the people to observe the Law, he also attributes Zion's suffering to their failure to live in righteousness. However, 4 Ezra's literary interest transcends its eschatological vision and religious agenda. Second Baruch and 4 Ezra alike protest the injustice of Zion's suffering at the hands of wicked “Babylon.” While Zion may have sinned, its wrongs cannot compete with those of Babylon. Fourth Ezra presses the question far more aggressively than does 2 Baruch, directly challenging the justice of God. Only a series of revelatory experiences transforms Ezra's perspective—and that without a logical resolution to the problem.

A fourth Jewish apocalypse, the Apocalypse of Abraham, also emerged in the aftermath of Jerusalem's destruction. Though its literary form differs from 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra in significant ways, the Apocalypse of Abraham also calls for righteous living in the wake of tragedy. While the Apocalypse of Abraham represents a true apocalypse, it also stands within the great tradition of interpreting scriptural accounts by expanding them. The first eight of its thirty-two chapters represent Abraham's own account of how his suspicions regarding idolatry prepared him to receive his divine call. The rest of the book narrates Abraham's revelatory encounter with God through the mediation of the angel Iaoel. In addition to some heavenly mysteries, the vision reveals the separation of the elect from the masses of humanity. Israel itself fails to live in righteousness, and Abraham observes the plundering of the Temple by gentiles. The apocalypse culminates with a messianic vision, which features God's chosen one delivering the elect from the heathen who have humiliated them and the punishment of the wicked in Hades.

A fifth apocalypse, 2 Enoch (also called “Slavonic Enoch”), may well derive from the period before Jerusalem's fall. Until recently 2 Enoch existed only in Slavonic manuscripts, the earliest of which derived from the fourteenth century C.E., but in 2009 Coptic manuscripts were identified that contain chapters 36–42 and may derive from the tenth century or earlier. The presence of some Semitic terms suggests a likely composition in Hebrew or Aramaic. Second Enoch narrates the seer's tour of the seven firmaments. The seventh provides a model for the ideal earthly temple and sacrifices, while others address phenomena such as the storehouses of snow and dew, places of punishment, and Paradise. The book's interest in proper worship and sacrifices, including a 364-day solar calendar, leads some scholars to think that some form of 2 Enoch emerged before the Temple's destruction in 70 C.E. from a group of disenfranchised or disaffected priests.

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah must derive from the first or second century C.E. because Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–215) quotes it briefly (Strom. 5.11.77). Preserved in Coptic, it seems to reflect a Greek original. Clement's quotation describes Zephaniah's journey to the fifth heaven, but Coptic texts describe the prophet's tours of realms of the dead. Zephaniah himself observes pools of fire and a beastly angel who seeks his own destruction, yet the prophet escapes. Nevertheless, Zephaniah later sees the punishments awaiting the wicked. Parts of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah anticipate the measure-for-measure punishments we encounter in the Christian Apocalypse of Peter.

The Jewish apocalypses of the first and second centuries C.E. demonstrate the emergence of an apocalyptic literary tradition, that tradition's potential to address both public crises and pressing religious questions, and the tradition's flexibility and diversity. Several apocalypses express responses to the calamity of Jerusalem's destruction, yet their prescriptions vary. We encounter calls for communal obedience to the Law, hope for a historical resolution through messianic intervention, and individual hope for the afterlife. Some apocalypses grapple with the problem of theodicy, while others speculate concerning meteorological phenomena. In short, the decades after 70 C.E. proved fruitful for the production of diverse Jewish apocalypses.

The First Christian Apocalypses.

The same period that produced apocalypses such as 2 and 3 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and the Apocalypse of Abraham witnessed the emergence of the earliest Christian apocalypses. Most interpreters perceive an interest in Jerusalem's fate in Revelation, though a few date Revelation to the period immediately prior to Jerusalem's fall. Nevertheless, the events of 70 C.E. ultimately forced both Judaism and the emergent Jesus movements to refine their identities. Within decades of Jerusalem's fall, Christians (though the term may be somewhat anachronistic at this point) produced Revelation, the Shepherd of Hermas, the final form of the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Apocalypse of Peter.

The book of Revelation is the oldest surviving Christian apocalypse, though it does not seem to have influenced other ancient apocalypses in any way. Revelation's reception in the early church was uneven. Thus, while Revelation has exerted more influence on Christian apocalyptic thought and millenarianism than any other book, and while it once dominated scholarly assumptions regarding apocalyptic literature, its influence within early apocalyptic literature was negligible.

Revelation is the first work to identify itself as an “apocalypse”; indeed, the Greek word apokalypsis (“revelation”) is both its initial word and its title. Along with the Shepherd of Hermas, another Christian apocalypse from roughly the same period, Revelation is not pseudonymous. Its author identifies himself as John, and the book indicates he is personally known to his audience.

Written in the final third of the first century, Revelation addresses a specific and identifiable audience, seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (now western Turkey). From the author's perspective, these churches varied in their level of faithfulness to Christ, their social and economic prosperity, and the degree of pressure or persecution they were experiencing from their neighbors. Their common challenge involves maintaining a distinctive testimony to Jesus in the midst of a culture thoroughly embedded in diverse religious practices, particularly the cult of devotion to Rome and its emperor (particularly evident in chs. 13 and 17–18). Revelation also critiques the economic exploitation that accompanied imperial commerce (see especially chapter 18). Roman imperial hubris is characterized as a “beast”; its commercial and diplomatic “promiscuity” as a “whore.” Revelation regards all levels of accommodation to imperial worship as idolatry, characterizing any such contamination as soiling one's garments (3:4; see 7:14; 22:14). It further calls its hearers to persevere in their testimony to Jesus, even at the risk of their own lives (12:11–12). In short, Revelation calls the churches to a thorough rejection of the trappings of imperial and pagan culture.

Though an apocalypse, Revelation calls itself a prophecy (1:3) and presents itself as a circular letter (1:4). After an opening address to the audience, John describes an encounter with the risen Jesus (1:10–20). Jesus dictates individual letters to each of the seven churches (chs. 2–3). The letters address the seven churches in terms of their diverse circumstances and varying levels of faithfulness to Christ. In particular, they condemn competing Christian prophets, who may have advocated a more moderate cultural stance, and they address the potential threat of persecution. Then John is taken up into heaven (4:1). The body of the apocalypse (4:1–22:7) narrates what John sees from his heavenly vantage point. After an introduction to God's heavenly throne room where Jesus emerges as the Lamb (chs. 4–5), John witnesses a series of judgments upon the earth's population (chs. 6–10). He then encounters a series of characters who embody the great crisis his churches face: the two faithful witnesses (ch. 11), the woman clothed with the sun and the dragon Satan (ch. 12), the beast and the “other” beast (ch. 13), Babylon the whore (chs. 17–18), and the bride that is the New Jerusalem (21:1–22:7). The conflict among these forces, some aligned with the Lamb and some with the dragon, leads to a final resolution: the defeat of evil, the final judgment, and the emergence of the New Jerusalem. The book concludes with a reminder that those who “wash their robes” will inherit the tree of life and the heavenly city (22:14), while anyone who alters the book's vision will be excluded from those blessings (22:18–19).

Like Revelation, the Shepherd of Hermas appears not to be pseudonymous. Hermas is likely a former slave who lives in Rome (Herm. Vis. 1.1.3), has a family (Herm. Vis. 1.3.1; 2.3.1), and functions as some sort of minister among the churches there (Herm. Sim. 10.4.1). Hermas consists of three distinct parts. It begins with a series of Visions, moves through Mandates providing straightforward moral exhortation, and concludes with a section of Parables, or Similitudes, largely devoted to allegories providing pointed moral and religious instructions, which are reinforced by images of final judgment. In some early Christian circles Hermas functioned as sacred scripture and it was nearly canonized.

Composed in the first few decades of the second century, Hermas addresses a particular crisis among the Roman churches. The threat of persecution receives significant attention, and it evokes a keen pastoral problem. If a believer denies her faith under persecution, may her repentance restore her salvation? Like the Epistle to the Hebrews, which extends no opportunity for post-conversion repentance (6:4–6; 10:26–31), in Hermas persons who have renounced their faith, blasphemed, or betrayed other believers have no hope at all (Sim. 9.19.1). Yet other classes of sinners receive one opportunity for repentance (Vis. 2.2.4–8; Man. 4.3.1–7). Even then, their worthiness of eternal blessing varies according to the severity of their sins.

The Apocalypse of Peter (not to be confused with the Coptic Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter) amounts to a tour of otherworldly realms. The apocalypse relies on two Gospel settings, particularly as related in Matthew. As Jesus teaches on the Mount of Olives, the setting for Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching in Matt 24, Jesus uses the palm of his right hand to show Peter what must occur on the last day. This content takes up chapters 1–14, and then the narrative shifts to the scene of transfiguration (chs. 15–17; see Matt 17:1–9A). Chapters 13–17, spanning both major sections of the apocalypse, include depictions of the blessed realms awaiting the righteous. Even there we find overtones of vengeance, as the righteous observe the torment of their adversaries. The Apocalypse of Peter's references to persecutors and those who betray Christians suggests a preoccupation with persecution.

Clement of Alexandria and the Muratorian Canon treat the Apocalypse of Peter as sacred scripture. If the Apocalypse of Peter enjoyed early popularity, its primary influence lies in later depictions of measure-for-measure punishments from the fourth-century Apocalypse of Paul through Dante and into popular cultural adaptations. The apocalypse moves on to reveal the blessings of the righteous, but far more attention is devoted to the torment endured by sinners. The righteous observe the suffering of sinners, which includes blasphemers hanging by their tongues, poisonous beasts tormenting murderers, and red-hot irons being applied to those who yield to doubt. Even so, the apocalypse does hold out hope that all persons may eventually attain the everlasting kingdom (chapter 14).

The Ascension of Isaiah appears to build upon a Jewish legend concerning the prophet's martyrdom. During his execution, Isaiah journeys into the seven heavens, where he receives a vision of the “Beloved One,” or Christ. Part of the revelation is christological: as Jesus descends through the seven heavens on the way to his incarnation, his glorious appearance diminishes to accommodate each level. It is fair to label this portrayal of the incarnation as docetic, as the Beloved only appears (Greek dokeō, “to seem or appear”) to be human. Part of the message has to do with low morale even corruption in the church and the threat of persecution. Still another dimension of Isaiah's revelation is polemical: if Isaiah “saw” Jesus centuries ago, then Israel is culpable for rejecting Isaiah's vision and later failing to recognize Jesus as messiah. Inspired by the devil, the people as a whole participate in the executions of both Isaiah and Jesus. These arguments, along with a reference to the myth of Nero's return (4:1–13), suggest an early second-century date.

Written within a narrow range of decades, the four earliest Christian apocalypses differ in important respects. Revelation's concern with society and politics has little to do with the Apocalypse of Peter's portrayal of afterlife states. Yet these apocalypses share two important concerns. All four reflect tension within the churches regarding accommodation, apostasy, repentance, and corruption. All demonstrate a preoccupation with persecution. One might well interpret the earliest Christian apocalypses as responses to stresses within the churches and tension with the larger society.

Related Literature.

Scholars have expended significant energy in developing a precise definition of the apocalypses, but literary forms are notoriously fluid and capable of countless adaptations. Apocalypses such as the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Ascension of Isaiah, or the Apocalypse of Peter could easily have emerged from the expansion of biblical narratives. Even the “Book of the Watchers” largely amounts to an elaboration of two mysterious texts, the career of Enoch (Gen 5:21–24) and the story of the Nephilim (Gen 6:1–4). The popular book of Jubilees, though generically an expansion rather than an apocalypse, relates both revelatory and eschatological content.

Testaments, the final blessings of dying heroes, also provided a setting for eschatological teaching. In those moments of extremity, biblical heroes such as Abraham, Isaac, and Israel looked far into their descendants’ future. Thus, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs includes mini-apocalypses (T. Levi 2–5, 8; T. Naph. 5–6; and T. Jos. 19). Each of the twelve testaments addresses a moral virtue and its corresponding vice. In the Testament of Levi the patriarch falls into a sleep in which an angel calls him to pass through the seven heavens, ranging from places of punishment to the very throne of God. Levi also receives his priestly commission through an apocalyptic vision. Naphtali's apocalypse reveals both Israel's captivity and the leading roles appointed to Levi, Judah, and Joseph. The Testament of Joseph's apocalypse is clearly Christian rather than Jewish, as it reveals a messiah saving both gentiles and Israel by means of grace. Meanwhile, the Testament (or Assumption) of Moses traces Israel's history into the first century C.E.

The eschatology associated with the apocalypses, often known as apocalyptic eschatology, tends to depict the present setting of the author as a time of eschatological crisis. Literary forms from the revelatory literature of surrounding cultures provided an obvious vehicle for the conveyance of apocalyptic eschatology. In times of crisis the Roman Senate would consult books of the Sibyl's recorded oracles. Both Jews and Christians composed Sibylline Oracles, modeled upon the pronouncements of the Cumaean Sibyl. Not only did the Sibylline Oracles provide timely eschatological teaching, they enhanced their own authority by implying that even pagan oracles promoted Jewish or Christian teaching.

Finally, several of the Dead Sea Scrolls resemble the apocalypses in significant ways. Most notably, the War Scroll (1QM) prescribes how the “Sons of Light” will defeat the “Sons of Darkness” in a climactic battle, leaving no survivors. The War Scroll addresses not so much military strategy and tactics as the ritual preparation and behavior required for the conflict. Likewise, several scrolls devoted to the New Jerusalem and the Temple Scroll (11QT) describe an ideal Jerusalem, much as Ezekiel 40–48 imagines an ideal temple. We may consider all of these texts revelatory and eschatological, though they lack the narrative of a revelatory experience that distinguishes the apocalypses.

We encounter apocalyptic topics in diverse literary genres, including every significant layer of the New Testament. Expansions of scriptural narratives, testaments, and oracles did not exhaust the possibilities for conveying apocalyptic teaching. Nevertheless, these genres proved particularly suitable for apocalyptic topics.

Cultural Contexts for the Apocalypses.

Interpreters have long debated the primary cultural influences that led to the creation of the apocalypses. Some emphasize ancient Persian religion with its dualistic cosmology and its system of predetermined world ages. From the underworld journeys of Inanna and Gilgamesh to the Odyssey, Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures knew of and developed literary tours of the underworld. Other scholars note the obvious affinities of the apocalypses with biblical prophecy, which also appeals to divine revelation, particularly those prophetic traditions in which visions or eschatology figures prominently. Still others emphasize the biblical wisdom tradition and its interaction with other forms of ancient Near Eastern philosophy, particularly the “mantic” wisdom devoted to dreams and oracles. Oracular and revelatory traditions were ubiquitous features of the ancient Near East.

We cannot reasonably hope to sort out the major cultural influences for the apocalypses. Cultural phenomena develop in varied and unpredictable ways. It is best to say that the apocalypses emerged from the convergence of remarkably diverse literary, mythological, and religious cultural streams. In some cases we may trace direct lines of convergence. For example, Revelation 12:9 depicts Satan as a dragon, an image that resonates not only with ancient Near Eastern myths involving combat among supernatural beings but also with Roman imperial mythology. More often than not, as with journeys to the realms of the dead, we note a general pattern in apocalyptic imagery that emerged all over the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world, which requires one to explore specific resonances among discrete traditions.

Whether tracing the apocalypses to a single source or proposing that one context is more determinative than others, attempts to trace the origins of apocalyptic thought function more to determine the interpretation of apocalyptic literature than to explain it. If one privileges prophetic traditions, then one may interpret the apocalypses as authoritative interventions in the public and political struggles of their day. An emphasis on the wisdom traditions favors the apocalypses as an attempt to grapple with profound mysteries such as evil and fate. However, cultural phenomena rarely emerge from a single source. Instead, we might think of apocalyptic


Apocalyptic Literature.

Close-up of the scroll known as the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness or the War Scroll (1QM). Discovered at Qumran in 1947, it describes how the Sons of Light will defeat the Sons of Darkness in an apocalyptic battle.


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literature as a stream with many tributaries. The genre was not rigidly tied to a single outlook, and apocalyptic authors were free to choose from diverse cultural resources. This means there may have been no one, single, or “essential” apocalyptic outlook.

The apocalypses are distinguished not by their content or interests but by their literary form: narratives of revelatory experiences mediated by an otherworldly being that disclose mysteries concerning the eschatological future or otherworldly states. However, this literary form hosted a variety of topical interests, and concerns regarding historical eschatology, speculation about the heavenly realms and their inhabitants, and the ultimate fate of mortals surely contributed to the apocalypses’ development.

Some interpreters, particularly dealing with New Testament texts, emphasize the intracanonical scriptural antecedents of apocalyptic discourse. With its accent on intracanonical conversation, this move often accompanies a theological agenda. Many apocalypses clearly developed from scribal traditions dedicated to serious engagement with scripture. For example, while many interpreters observe that the Enochic tradition does not foreground Torah, the figure of Enoch and the story of the Watchers certainly indicate an attempt to fill inviting gaps in the scriptural account. The stories of Daniel and his friends, particularly their role in the court and the interpretation of dreams, evoke the Joseph cycle in Genesis, while the apocalyptic material explicitly reinterprets Jeremiah's reference to seventy years as seventy weeks of years (Dan 9:2, 24–27; Jer 25:11–12). Second Baruch and 4 Ezra appeal to the Torah as the path of salvation. Revelation avoids quoting scripture, but it features identifiable allusions to scriptural passages more densely than does any other New Testament book.

A significant amount of the research on the apocalypses investigates how their topics may have emerged within the flow of Israel's sacred literature. Sometimes such discussions describe some biblical texts as “proto-apocalyptic” for their distinctive eschatological content and symbolic language. Parts of Isaiah (particularly chs. 24–27), Ezekiel (chs. 1, 37–48), Zechariah (usually chs. 9–14, though apocalyptic literary devices and topics permeate all of Zechariah) and Joel depict a dramatic discontinuity between the present era and a coming glorious age. Images of great portents appear in many of these texts. The apocalypses represent a coalescence of such topics and literary devices into a distinctive literary form.

As we have seen, some apocalypses build upon scriptural antecedents for their narratives, often filling the gaps of biblical stories. The Apocalypse of Abraham explores legends concerning the patriarch's life before his divine call. The Ascension of Isaiah probably adds apocalyptic material and Christian theology to Jewish legends concerning the prophet's martyrdom. The Apocalypse of Peter builds from the Synoptic apocalypses (especially Matt 24) and the story of the Transfiguration (especially Matt 17:1–9a). In this respect some apocalypses relate closely to literature such as Jubilees and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which also expand biblical stories and feature apocalyptic interests. Indeed, one might identify several passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs as mini-apocalypses: Testament of Levi 2–5, 8; Testament of Naphtali 5–6; and Testament of Joseph 19.

The cultural contexts of the apocalypses involve not only mythological ideas and literary motifs but also social contexts. For decades the prevailing view was that the apocalypses emerged from contexts of oppression. The apocalypses indeed reflect a marked dissatisfaction with the current state of the world, envisioning either its dissolution or its transcendence. Some apocalypses condemn the rich, while others critique the empires of their day. For these reasons, many have regarded apocalyptic literature as “literature of the oppressed.”

More recent research has heavily qualified this assumption. For one thing, global millenarian movements, marked by apocalyptic ideologies, emerge from quite diverse social circumstances even in the modern era. Moreover, the ancient apocalypses themselves reveal a wide range of preoccupations that cannot be restricted to contexts of abject deprivation. Some apocalypses address ritual phenomena such as calendar and sacrifice, some reflect the sort of scientific curiosity concerning natural phenomena that one would encounter in wisdom and philosophical traditions, and others address audiences that represent diverse levels of economic and social privilege. As a result, we may say that the apocalypses share a disposition of dissatisfaction with, perhaps even estrangement from, the prevailing social order. Where interpreters once associated the apocalypses with deprivation, most now consider the phenomenon of relative deprivation; that is, groups widely disparate in terms of social and economic status may yet perceive themselves to be at odds with the powers of their day.

Recent investigations have also demonstrated that apocalyptic discourse flourished well beyond the apocalypses themselves, even while apocalypses were being composed. We may distinguish between the classical apocalypses as largely scribal products and the emergence of more popular apocalyptic discourse in broader social contexts. As scribal productions, the classical apocalypses must have emerged from groups that possessed not only the ability to write but the resources to compose major literary works. These groups need not have been social elites, but Richard A. Horsley suggests that, as professional scholars, Judean scribes would have been “caught in the middle” between the ruling forces that determined their fate and the general—and generally impoverished—masses (2007, p. 194).

Yet two factors, one speculative and the other more empirical, reveal that the apocalypses influenced much broader circles. First, several of the apocalypses imagine their contents being shared with the general population. Surely this is a literary conceit, but it plausibly reflects a desire to share the content of the apocalypses with a wider audience. Whether that happened, or to what extent, remains a matter for speculation. Second, apocalyptic ideas clearly spread well beyond the apocalypses. Though scribal and priestly concerns marked the Qumran community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish politics of the first century C.E. also included popular groups motivated by what we may call millenarian hopes. Earliest Christianity, as a Jewish sectarian movement that quickly attracted gentile converts, thoroughly adopted concepts such as resurrection, a final judgment, and struggles between God and Satan. That Jesus’ message, judged by most historians as heavily apocalyptic, could have attracted popular interest suggests that the concepts were familiar to many. Pauline Christianity can hardly be described as a scribal movement despite the apostle's considerable education. Clearly, apocalyptic concerns took hold far beyond the immediate contexts of the literary apocalypses.

The earlier assumption that the apocalypses were a literature of the oppressed has problems. If


Coins of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Obverse: Bust of Antiochus IV (r. 175–164 b.c.e.). Reverse: Zeus, seated on a throne, holds Nike. The inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝτΙΟΧΟϒ ΘΕΟϒ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟϒΣ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟϒ (Basileōs Antiokhoy Theoy Epiphanoys Nikēphoroy [“Basileus Antiochus, God Manifest, Bearer of Victory”]). Antiochus’s suppression of Judaism and attempts to Hellenize Judea brought on the Maccabean Revolt (167–164). Photograph by Zev Radovan.

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the apocalypses emerged from scribal circles, and if apocalyptic topics exerted significant influence in popular culture, we should not assign apocalyptic discourse to any single social context. Nevertheless, the literary apocalypses flourished in times of great social and political upheaval. Daniel and significant parts of 1 Enoch derive from the conflicts surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean Revolt in the early second century B.C.E. The multiple calamities associated with the First Jewish Revolt in 66–73 C.E. precipitated several Jewish apocalypses and figure significantly in the book of Revelation. And the first Christian apocalypses all indicate a preoccupation with persecution, whatever their other concerns. Conflict and trauma indeed lie among the critical factors in the production of the apocalypses.

Reception and Influence.

The apocalypses participated in the crystallization of several concepts that proved crucial for the formation of Judaism and Christianity during the Hellenistic and Roman eras. One might imagine a reader who, having worked through the Jewish scriptures in their entirety, began to read literature from the Dead Sea Scrolls or especially the New Testament. Even if that reader understood the scriptures with perfect comprehension, she would need assistance with critical ideas. Who is this Chosen One, or Messiah, and what is his role? Who is Satan, and how does he relate to the demons? How did we come to expect a resurrection and a final judgment of mortals? It is not that these ideas are absent from the Hebrew Bible; rather, the scriptures do not systematize them in such a way as to prepare for their significance in Judaism and Christianity through the following centuries. Daniel, for example, contains the first explicit reference to the resurrection. It is the only apocalypse in the Hebrew Bible, and probably the last book in that canon to reach its final form. As far as we can tell, the apocalypses created the space in which those concepts reached a more highly developed form.

A common pattern emerged in both Judaism and Christianity. The apocalypses flourished in some circles, but historical conditions led mainstream interpreters of the traditions to reject or qualify apocalyptic ideas. The prominence of works such as Daniel and 1 Enoch among the Qumran finds, along with the demonstrable influence of those books on some sections of the New Testament, reveals their popularity among some groups. To this day, 1 Enoch stands in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church along with Jubilees and 2 Esdras. As part of 2 Esdras, 4 Ezra also appears in some Eastern canons, and it was appended to the Vulgate New Testament and widely cited among early Christian writers. While Revelation did earn a place in the Christian canon, its reception varied among early churches, while the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocalypse of Peter enjoyed scriptural standing in some circles as well.

Their canonical standing reflects the apocalypses’ influence, and their translation into multiple languages testifies to their geographic reach. Assessing the apocalypses’ use and influence in particular regions remains a desirable research objective (Frankfurter). Ironically, several apocalypses are no longer extant in their original languages because their popularity waned in mainstream circles. This gap stands in tension with the existence of fragments in other languages. The Ascension of Isaiah provides an excellent example. Though it was probably completed in Greek, the most extensive manuscripts for the Ascension have survived in Ethiopic. Fragments also exist in Coptic, Latin, and Old Slavonic, indicating the apocalypse's widespread use. Hebrew or Aramaic may also lie in the background, as the Ascension builds upon Jewish legends concerning Isaiah's martyrdom. While the author of Hebrews almost certainly did not know the Ascension of Isaiah in its final form, Hebrews 11:37 alludes to legends concerning a prophet who was sawn in two, precisely Isaiah's fate in the apocalypse. Justin Martyr accuses Jews of sawing Isaiah apart with a wooden saw (Dial. 120.5), while Tertullian credits the prophet with testifying to the LORD while being sawn in two (Pat. 14)—traditions dimly reflected in rabbinic literature as well.

The First Jewish Revolt, brutally crushed in 70 C.E. and followed by the equally disastrous Second Jewish Revolt of 132–135, demanded reflection on apocalyptic speculation. As we have seen, the First Revolt precipitated a wave of Jewish and Christian apocalypses. Nor did Jews and Christians cease to compose apocalypses in the wake of these momentous events. Nevertheless, Jewish communities generally began to articulate their religious lives apart from an immediate hope for a restored Zion while Christian communities sought to live at peace with the potential persecutors who lived next door.

In coming to terms with their new realities, emerging Jewish leaders deemphasized both apocalyptic revelation and millennial expectation. The Jewish apocalypses survive because they were copied by Christians, not because of a robust apocalyptic tradition in Jewish circles. Meanwhile, the rabbis actively discouraged eschatological speculation and apocalyptic revelation. Some have argued that, while the rabbis largely rejected the tradition of the apocalypses, the revelatory impulse continued in Jewish mysticism, which involved exploration of the heavenly world but with little speculation concerning the end of days.

The composition of Christian apocalypses continued beyond the second century C.E., but two factors muted the political subversiveness we encounter in Revelation, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Christian Sibylline Oracles. First, the historical dimension largely recedes from the Christian apocalyptic traditions. Christian apocalypses of the third and fourth centuries emphasized either personal eschatology (as in the Apocalypse of Paul, which builds upon the Apocalypse of Peter) or the unveiling of profound mystical truths (as in the emergence of Gnostic apocalypses). Second, the interpretation of Revelation changed as Christianity grew in numbers and influence, particularly as Christianity acquired the status of a favored religion. No longer understood as a critique of Roman imperialism now that the empire favored the church, Revelation was transformed into an allegory of the church or (later) of the spiritual life of the individual. The transition from millenarian (or chiliastic) to ecclesial interpretations of Revelation accelerated markedly in the fourth century. While millenarian elements have persisted throughout the history of Western Christianity, by medieval times few interpreters called attention to Revelation's social and historical dimensions. Moreover, just as the fourth-century Apocalypse of Paul continues the revelation of measure-for-measure punishments we encounter in the Apocalypse of Peter, Paul's apocalypse also inspired several medieval tours of hell (Himmelfarb 2010, pp. 101–102).

As canonical apocalypses, Daniel and Revelation have continued to exert their influence. Jewish messianic movements of the medieval period sometimes employed ambiguous passages from Daniel to calculate the time of the end, though mystical revelations also legitimated eschatological claims. Daniel 7:13 also inspired messianic reflection. For its part, Revelation sometimes escaped its more domesticated interpretations as an allegory of the soul or an account of the church to fuel millenarian movements. When the Protestant Reformation led to decades of bloody conflict, Revelation's images of the beast and the whore contributed to polemics on all sides. Though Revelation has contributed significantly to Christian liturgy and art, today its primary cultural significance in the West relates to end-time speculation. Indeed, the millenarian tradition has persisted throughout Christian history, with numerous outbreaks of violence inspired by millennial hope. And although Islam has created relatively few apocalypses, the eschatological fervor demonstrated by the Quran's early stages reflects the influence of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic traditions. The hadith, traditions associated with Muhammad and his companions, include numerous statements concerning the end of the world. Some are quite long and may correspond to the Jewish and Christian literary apocalypses. End-time expectation is growing in popularity in the current global Islamic scene, including the hope for Jesus’ return to drive out the Antichrist and convert Christians to Islam (D. Cook 2005).

The ancient Jewish and Christian apocalypses represent a distinctive literary genre that tended to emerge in times of crisis. At the same time, they drew deeply on deep cultural and religious roots from emergent Judaism and its larger Near Eastern and Mediterranean environments. Their influence extends beyond a discrete literary movement to impact popular Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam throughout the centuries, to say nothing of their influence upon the common imagination apart from specific religious traditions. Though relatively few ancient Jewish and Christian literary works qualify as apocalypses, their diverse social, religious, and thematic interests indicate that the apocalypse offered a particularly versatile vehicle, adaptable to many situations and purposes.



  • Carey, Greg. Ultimate Things: An Introduction to Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic Literature. St. Louis: Chalice, 2005. An introductory survey of ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, including but not limited to the apocalypses.
  • Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. 2d ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Surveys apocalyptic motifs in ancient cultures from India to Egypt, situating the emergence of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature within a complex web of cultural influences.
  • Collins, John J., ed. Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre. Semeia 14 (1979). These studies, compiled by leading scholars in the appropriate fields, assess the distinctive characteristics of Jewish, early Christian, Gnostic, Greek and Latin, and Persian apocalypses. Collins’s introduction sets forth a definition of an apocalypse that remains the standard.
  • Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998. The preeminent introduction to Jewish apocalyptic literature, with an emphasis on the apocalypses.
  • Cook, David. Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature. Religion and Politics. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2005. An introduction to the book sets forth the origins of Islamic apocalyptic thought, while the rest of the book is dedicated to contemporary apocalyptic thought among Muslims.
  • Cook, Stephen L. Prophecy and Apocalypticism: The Postexilic Social Setting. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995. Argues that Jewish apocalyptic literature drew upon biblical symbols and images to construct meaning in diverse social circumstances, particularly among priestly groups. This book undermined the thesis that tied apocalyptic to settings of abject deprivation.
  • Frankfurter, David. “Early Christian Apocalypticism: Literature and Social World.” In The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism: Volume 1: The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity, edited by John J. Collins, pp. 415–453. New York: Continuum, 1998. A concise survey of early Christian apocalyptic literature, with special interest in how early Christian apocalypticism developed in particular geographic regions.
  • Himmelfarb, Martha. The Apocalypse: A Brief History. Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. A historical survey of the rise of apocalypticism from 1 Enoch through early Christian apocalyptic literature, with a concluding chapter devoted to modern apocalyptic movements. Useful especially for introductory study.
  • Horsley, Richard A. Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. Characterizes Daniel and 1 Enoch (along with Ben Sira) as products of Judean scribal groups competing for influence in the face of imperial pressure. Horsley rejects the notion of a particular stream of apocalyptic thought, seeing the apocalypses as a blend of prophetic and wisdom traditions.
  • Portier-Young, Anathea. Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. Attributes the rise of apocalyptic literature, reflected in both Daniel and 1 Enoch, as a literature of resistance against imperialism. Employs contemporary studies in resistance literature and the sociology of resistance.
  • Rowland, Christopher. The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity. New York: Crossroad, 1982. Characterizes apocalypticism as a form of mantic wisdom devoted to the mystical exploration of heavenly mysteries.

Greg Carey