Greek Apocalyptic -- By: Gerald L. Stevens

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 14:1 (Spring 2017)
Article: Greek Apocalyptic
Author: Gerald L. Stevens

Greek Apocalyptic

Gerald L. Stevens

Apocalyptic Thought

Apocalyptic can be used to mean both an ideology and a style of writing. As a style of writing, such literature was popular all across the ancient Mediterranean world, so not particularly Jewish in origins. The genre was adopted and adapted, however, by Jewish writers from about 200 BC to AD 200. The popularity of this Jewish literature seems to parallel times of historical crises in Jewish life. Such moments would include the sacrilege of the Jewish temple by the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Ephiphanes in 167 BC, addressed in Daniel 7-12, another temple episode related to the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC, disruption in the Zadokite line of Jewish high priests by Jewish Hasmonean rulers commencing with Simon in 142 BC, giving rise to the Qumran movement, the census revolt in Galilee led by Judas the Galilean in AD 6, first-century messianic pretenders such as Theudas (Acts 5:36), Caligula’s edict to install an image of himself in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in AD 40, the abusive Roman procurators in Judea in the lead up to the First Jewish War of AD 66-70, whose catastrophic results gave rise to 2 Esdras and 2 Baruch, and the Simon bar Kochba messianic rebellion of the Second Jewish War of AD 133-35. Almost all of these crises involve the oppression of the Jewish people by Gentile kings and their kingdoms. In the face of this sometimes brutal oppression, with its accompanying sense of social, political, and religious powerlessness, the question of God’s sovereignty for an oppressed Jewish population was inevitable and the desire for the reign of God’s justice and righteousness inescapable.


In other cultures, source material for apocalyptic included Near Eastern mythology, especially from Babylon (Marduk fighting Tiamat, dragon of the primordial sea) and Persia (Zoroaster and the climatic final battle of forces of light and darkness). Such literature produced stock symbolism, such as the sea as a place of chaos, with which any ancient mariner would resonate after enduring a storm at sea (Dan 7:2-3; Rev 13:1), or the great final battle at the end of history.

Jewish adaptation of apocalyptic style seems to have developed out of the groundwork of the Jewish prophetic movement. Jewish prophets evoke a perspective that God was working in history. That is, prophecy is optimistic. Nathan denounced king David’s adultery (2 Sam 12:1-14). Habak...

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