Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that
developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among
millennialist early Christians.
"Apocalypse" (ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning
"revelation", "an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously
known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling". As a
genre, apocalyptic literature details the authors' visions of the end
times as revealed by an angel or other heavenly messenger. The
apocalyptic literature of
Judaism and Christianity embraces a
considerable period, from the centuries following the Babylonian exile
down to the close of the Middle Ages.
1.1 Unfulfilled prophecy
2 Object and contents
3 Comparison to prophecy
3.2 Dualistic theology
3.3 Pseudonymous authorship
3.4 Conception of history
4 Old Testament
4.1 Characteristics of
Old Testament apocalyptic literature
5 New Testament
6 See also
9 External links
Apocalyptic elements can be detected in the prophetical books of Joel
and Zechariah, while Isaiah chapters 24–27 and 33 present
well-developed apocalypses. The
Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel offers a fully matured
and classic example of this genre of literature.
The non-fulfillment of prophecies served to popularize the methods of
apocalyptic in comparison with the non-fulfillment of the advent of
the Messianic kingdom. Thus, though Jeremiah had promised that after
seventy years Israelites should be restored to their own land,
and then enjoy the blessings of the Messianic kingdom under the
Messianic king, this period passed by and things remained as of
old. Some[who?] believe that the Messianic kingdom was not
necessarily predicted to occur at the end of the seventy years of the
Babylonian exile, but at some unspecified time in the future. The only
thing for certain that was predicted was the return of the Jews to
their land, which occurred when
Cyrus the Persian
Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon in
circa 539 BC. Thus, the fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom remained
in the future for the Jews.
Haggai and Zechariah explained the delay by the failure of Judah to
rebuild the temple, and so hope of the kingdom persisted, until in the
first half of the 2nd century the delay is explained in the Books of
Daniel and Enoch as due not to man's shortcomings but to the counsels
of God. Regarding the 70 years of exile predicted in Jeremiah
29:10, the Jews were first exiled in 605 BC in the reign of king
Jehoiakim and were allowed to return to their land in c. 536 BC
when King Cyrus conquered Babylon. This period was approximately 70
years, as prophesied by Jeremiah. But some
people[who?] believe that the 70 years of Jeremiah were later
interpreted by the angel in Daniel 9 as 70 weeks of years, of which
69½ have already expired, while Enoch 85 interprets the 70 years of
Jeremiah as the 70 successive reigns of the 70 angelic patrons of the
nations, which are to come to a close in his own generation. The
Book of Enoch, however, was not considered inspired Scripture by the
Jews, so that any failed prophecy in it is of no consequence to the
The Greek empire of the East was overthrown by Rome, and prompted a
new interpretation of Daniel. The fourth and last empire was declared
to be Roman by the
Apocalypse of Baruch chapters 36–40 and 4 Ezra
10:60–12:35. Again, these two books were not considered inspired
Scripture by the Jews, and thus were not authoritative on matters of
prophecy. In addition, earlier in Daniel chapter 7 and also in chapter
2, the fourth and final world empire is considered to be Rome since
Babylon, Medo-Persia (Achaemenid Empire), Greece, and Rome were world
empires which all clearly arrived in succession. Thus, it might be
interpreted[by whom?] that Daniel was saying that Rome would be the
last world power before the kingdom of God.
Such ideas as those of "the day of Yahweh" and the "new heavens and a
new earth" were re-interpreted by the Jewish people with fresh nuances
in conformity with their new settings. Thus the inner development of
Jewish apocalyptic was conditioned by the historical experiences of
the nation. But the prophecies found in Jewish scriptures, which
have not changed over time, await their fulfillment.
Another source of apocalyptic thought was primitive mythological and
cosmological traditions, in which the eye of the seer could see the
secrets of the future. Thus the six days of the world's creation,
followed by a seventh of rest, were regarded as at once a history of
the past and a forecasting of the future. As the world was made in six
days its history would be accomplished in six thousand years, since
each day with God was as a thousand years and a thousand years as one
day; and as the six days of creation were followed by one of rest, so
the six thousand years of the world's history would be followed by a
rest of a thousand years.
Object and contents
The object of this literature in general was to square the
righteousness of God with the suffering condition of His righteous
servants on earth. Early
Old Testament prophecy taught the need of
personal and national righteousness, and foretold the ultimate
blessedness of the righteous nation on the present earth. Its views
were not systematic and comprehensive in regard to the nations in
general. Regarding the individual, it held that God’s service here
was its own and adequate reward, and saw no need of postulating
another world to set right the evils of this one.
But later, with the growing claims of the individual and the
acknowledgment of these in the religious and intellectual life, both
problems, and especially the latter, pressed themselves irresistibly
on the notice of religious thinkers, and made it impossible for any
conception of the divine rule and righteousness to gain acceptance,
which did not render adequate satisfaction to the claims of both
problems. To render such satisfaction was the task undertaken by
apocalyptic, as well as to vindicate the righteousness of God alike in
respect of the individual and of the nation. Later prophecy
incorporated an idea of future vindication of present evils, often
including the idea of an afterlife.
Apocalyptic prophets sketched in outline the history of the world and
mankind, the origin of evil and its course, and the final consummation
of all things. The righteous as a nation should yet possess the earth,
either via an eternal Messianic kingdom on earth, or else in temporary
blessedness here and eternal blessedness hereafter. Though the
individual might perish amid the disorders of this world, apocalyptic
prophets taught that the righteous person would not fail to attain
through resurrection the recompense that was due in the Messianic
kingdom or, alternatively, in heaven itself.
Comparison to prophecy
Some may distinguish between the messages of the prophets and the
messages of proto-apocalyptic and apocalyptic literature by saying
that the message of the prophets was primarily a preaching of
repentance and righteousness needed for the nation to escape judgment;
the message of the apocalyptic writers was of patience and trust for
that deliverance and reward were sure to come. Neither the prophets
nor the apocalyptic authors are without conflict between their
messages, however, and there are significant similarities between
prophecy and apocalyptic writings.
Apocalyptic literature shares with prophecy revelation through the use
of visions and dreams, and these often combine reality and fantasy. In
both cases, a heavenly interpreter is often provided to the receiver
so that he may understand the many complexities of what he has seen.
The oracles in Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, and Jeremiah give a clear
sense of how messages of imminent punishment develop into the later
proto-apocalyptic literature, and eventually into the thoroughly
apocalyptic literature of Daniel 7–12. The fully apocalyptic visions
in Daniel 7–12, as well as those in the New Testament’s
Revelation, can trace their roots to the pre-exilic latter biblical
prophets; the sixth century BCE prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah 40–55 and
56–66, Haggai 2, and Zechariah 1–8 show a transition phase between
prophecy and apocalyptic literature.
Prophecy believes that this world is God's world and that in this
world His goodness and truth will yet be vindicated. Hence the prophet
prophesies of a definite future arising out of and organically
connected with the present. The apocalyptic writer despairs of the
present and directs his hopes to the future, to a new world standing
in essential opposition to the present. This becomes a dualistic
principle, which, though it can largely be accounted for by the
interaction of certain inner tendencies and outward sorrowful
experience on the part of Judaism, may ultimately be derived from
Mazdean influences. This principle, which shows itself in the
conception that the various nations are under angelic rulers, who are
in a greater or less degree in rebellion against God, as in Daniel and
Enoch, grows in strength with each succeeding age, till at last Satan
is conceived as "the ruler of this world" or "the god of this
The prophet stood in direct relations with his people; his prophecy
was first spoken and afterwards written. The apocalyptic writer could
obtain no hearing from his contemporaries, who held that, though God
spoke in the past, "there was no more any prophet." This pessimism
limited and defined the form in which religious enthusiasm should
manifest itself, and prescribed as a condition of successful effort
the adoption of pseudonymous authorship. The apocalyptic writer,
therefore, professedly addressed his book to future generations.
Generally directions as to the hiding and sealing of the book were
given in the text in order to explain its publication so long after
the date of its professed period. There was a sense in which such
books were not wholly pseudonymous. Their writers were students of
ancient prophecy and apocalyptical tradition, and though they might
recast and reinterpret them, they could not regard them as their own
inventions. Each fresh apocalypse would in the eyes of its writer be
in some degree but a fresh edition of the traditions naturally
attaching themselves to great names in Israel’s past, and thus the
books named respectively Enoch, Noah, Ezra would to some slight extent
be not pseudonymous.
Conception of history
Apocalyptic writing took a wider view of the world's history than did
prophecy. Whereas prophecy had to deal with governments of other
nations, apocalyptic writings arose at a time when Israel had been
subject for generations to the sway of one or other of the great
world-powers. Hence to harmonize Israel's difficulties with belief in
God's righteousness, apocalyptic writing had to encompass such events
in the counsels of God, the rise, duration and the downfall of each
empire in turn, until, finally the lordship of the world passed into
the hands of Israel, or the final judgment arrived. These events
belonged in the main to the past, but the writer represented them as
still in the future, arranged under certain artificial categories of
time definitely determined from the beginning in the counsels of God
and revealed by Him to His servants, the prophets.
became a leading characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic, and its
conception of history became mechanical.
c. 1 – 130s CE
Merkabah and Hekhalot
100 BCE – 1000 CE
c. 1150–1250 CE
c. 1175–1570 CE
1665–c. 1800 CE
Old Testament apocalyptic literature
The revelations from heavenly messengers, about the end times, came in
the form of angels, or from people who have been taken up to heaven
and are returned to earth with messages. The descriptions not only
tell of the end times, but also describe both past and present events
and their significance, often in heavily coded language. When speaking
of the end times, apocalyptic literature generally included
chronologies of events that will occur and frequently places them in
the near future, which gives a sense of urgency to the prophet’s
broader message. Though the understanding of the present is bleak, the
visions of the future are far more positive, and include divinely
delivered victory and a complete reformation of absolutely everything.
Many visions of these end times mirror creation mythologies, invoke
the triumph of God over the primordial forces of chaos, and provide
clear distinctions between light and dark, good and evil. In such
revelations, humankind is typically divided into a small group that
experiences salvation, while the wicked majority is destroyed. Since
the apocalyptic genre developed during the Persian period, this
dualism may have developed under the influence of Persian thought.
The imagery in apocalyptic literature is not realistic or reflective
of the physical world as it was, but is rather surreal and fantastic,
invoking a sense of wonder at the complete newness of the new order to
Isaiah 24–27; 33; 34–35
Some are possibly falsely attributed works (pseudepigraphic) except
for the passages from Ezekiel and Joel. Of the remaining passages and
books, some consider large sections of Daniel attributable to the
Maccabean period, with the rest possibly to the same period. Some
consider Isaiah 33 to be written about 163 BCE; Zechariah 12–14
about 160 BCE; Isaiah 24–27 about 128 BCE; and Isaiah 34–35
sometime in the reign of John Hyrcanus. Jeremiah 33:14–26 is
assigned by Marti to Maccabean times, but this is disputed.
Apocalypse of Abraham
Apocalypse of Adam
Apocalypse of Baruch (Greek)
Apocalypse of Baruch (Syriac)
Apocalypse of Daniel
Apocalypse of Daniel (Greek)
Apocalypse of Elijah
Apocalypse of Ezra (Greek)
Apocalypse of Lamech
Apocalypse of Metatron
Apocalypse of Moses
Apocalypse of Sedrach
Apocalypse of Zephaniah
Apocalypse of Zerubbabel
In the transition from Jewish literature to that of early
Christianity, there is a continuation of the tradition of apocalyptic
prophecy. Christianity preserved the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, as
Judaism developed into Rabbinism and gave it a Christian character by
a systematic process of interpolation. Christianity cultivated this
form of literature and made it the vehicle of its own ideas.
Christianity saw itself as the spiritual representative of what was
true in prophecy and apocalyptic.
The Sheep and the Goats
2 Thessalonians 2
Book of Revelation
Apocalypse of James (First)
Apocalypse of James (Second)
Apocalypse of Golias
Apocalypse of Methodius
Apocalypse of Paul
Apocalypse of Paul (Coptic)
Apocalypse of Peter
Apocalypse of Peter (Gnostic)
Apocalypse of Samuel of Kalamoun
Apocalypse of Stephen
Apocalypse of Thomas
Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens
Summary of Christian eschatological differences
Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles (genre)
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
List of Gospels
New Testament papyri
^ Goswiller 1987 p.3
^ Coogan 2009 p 424
^ a b Charles 1911, p. 169.
^ Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10
^ Jeremiah 29:5,6
^ Jeremiah 28:5,6
^ Charles 1911, pp. 169-170.
^ a b c d e f g Charles 1911, p. 170.
^ 2 Enoch 32:2–33:2
^ Coogan p.354
4 Ezra 7:50
^ John 12:31
^ 2 Corinthians 4:4
^ Charles 1911, pp. 170-171.
^ Daniel 12:4, 9; 1 Enoch 1:2; Assumption of Moses 1:16–18
^ a b c d Charles 1911, p. 171.
^ Hayes, Christine (2006). "Introduction to the
Old Testament (Hebrew
Bible) — Lecture 23 — Visions of the End: Daniel and Apocalyptic
Literature". Open Yale Courses. Yale University.
^ Coogan p.353
^ Bernhard Duhm, Das Buch Jesaia übersetzt und erklärt, Göttingen
1902 (second edition), and Karl Marti.
^ Charles 1911, p. 174.
^ See More Christian Apocrpyha by James R. Davila, University of St.
Andrews, U.K. (2006)
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Charles, Robert Henry (1911). "Apocalyptic
Literature". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th
ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 169–175.
Charlesworth, James H. ed., The
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1:
Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Gsrden City, New York:
Doubleday & Co., 1983.
Collins, John Joseph The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to
Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, (The Biblical Resource Series), Grand
Rapids: Eerdman, 1998 (second edition).
Coogan, Michael A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament, Oxford:
Oxford University Press 2009.
Cook, David, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Religion and
Politics), Syracure, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.
Cook, Stephen L., The Apocalyptic Literature: Interpreting Biblical
Texts, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Frye, Northrop, 1957. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Princeton,
Pricneton University Press, 1957.
Goswiller, Richard, Revelation, Pacific Study Series, Melbourne, 1987.
Reddish, Mitchell G. Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader, Peabody,
Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.
L. Michael White, "
Apocalyptic literature in
Judaism and early
Christianity" Thorough historical introduction.
David M. Williams, The
Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation as Jewish apocalyptic
literature Concise introduction to the genre.
Apocalyptic in Encylopǣdia Iranica
Books of the Bible
Old Testament Protocanon
Additions to Esther
Baruch / Letter of Jeremiah
Additions to Daniel
Song of the Three Children
Bel and the Dragon
Prayer of Manasseh
1, 2, and 3 Meqabyan
Paralipomena of Baruch
Letter of Baruch
Chapters and verses
Major prophets / Minor prophets
Old Testament canon
New Testament canon
Dead Sea Scrolls
New Testament manuscript categories
New Testament papyri
New Testament uncials
Other books referenced in the Bible
New Testament apocrypha
Synod of Hippo