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Reference: Apocalyptic Literature


The apocalypse as a literary form of Jewish literature first appears during the Hellenistic period. Its origin is to a considerable degree in dispute, but is involved in the general development of the period. Among the Hebrews its forerunner was the description of the Day of Jehovah. On that day, the prophets taught, Jehovah was to punish the enemies of Israel and to establish His people as a world power. In the course of time this conception was supplemented by the further expectation of a judgment for Jews as well as for heathen (Am 2:3-8; 3:9-15; 5:10-13; Zec 1:2-18; 2:4-13; Joe 2:18-28; Eze 30:2 f.). The first approach to the apocalyptic method is probably to be seen in Zec 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14. It was in the same period that the tendencies towards the aesthetic conceptions which had been inherited from the Babylonian exile were beginning to be realized under the influence of Hellenistic culture. Because of their religion, literature was the only form of aesthetic expression (except music) which was open to the art impulses of the Jews. In the apocalypse we thus can see a union of the symbolism and myths of Babylonia with the religious faith of the Jews, under the influence of Hellenistic culture. By its very origin it was the literary means of setting forth by the use of symbols the certainty of Divine judgment and the equal certainty of Divine deliverance. The symbols are usually animals of various sorts, but frequently composite creatures whose various parts represented certain qualities of the animals from which they were derived.

Apocalyptic is akin to prophecy. Its purpose was fundamentally to encourage faith in Jehovah on the part of those who were in distress, by 'revealing' the future. Between genuine prophetism and apocalyptic there existed, however, certain differences not always easy to formulate, but appreciable to students of the two types of religious Instruction. (a) The prophet, taking a stand in the present, so interprets current history as to disclose Divine forces at work therein, and the inevitable outcome of a certain course of conduct. The writers of the apocalypses, however, seem to have had little spiritual insight into the providential ordering of existing conditions, and could see only present misery and miraculous deliverance. (b) Assuming the name of some worthy long since dead, the apocalyptist re-wrote the past in terms of prophecy in the name of some hero or seer of Hebrew history. On the strength of the fulfilment of this alleged prophecy, he forecast, though in very general terms, the future. (c) Prophecy made use of symbol in literature as a means of enforcing or making intelligible its Divinely inspired message. The apocalyptists employed allegorically an elaborate machinery of symbol, chief among which were sheep, bulls, birds, as well as mythological beings like Beliar and the Antichrist.

The parent of apocalyptic is the book of Daniel, which, by the almost unanimous consensus of scholars, appeared in the Maccab

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