Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 45:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

Christopher Rowland: The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity. New York: Crossroad, 1982. 562. $27.50.

Scholarly interest in apocalyptic literature, both biblical and extrabiblical, is high. Recent books and articles on the origin, characteristics, contents, and relevance of ancient apocalyptic number in the hundreds. Nevertheless, even though such concentrated study has been directed toward the rather small number of texts designated as apocalyptic, a consensus has not been reached on many of the major issues associated with their study. Thus, a major new work on apocalyptic by Christopher Rowland, Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge, generates a great deal of curiosity. How will he handle many of the outstanding problems surrounding apocalyptic literature?

Rowland’s work is of great interest, furthermore, on the basis of its scope. He covers everything from the definition, content, and origin of the genre as a whole to the question of whether or not certain strands of early Jewish rabbinic tradition should be included in the genre. Further, he addresses the difficult issue of which texts from early Christian literature are rightly considered apocalyptic. In addition, Rowland’s conclusions, though he is going over much-traveled grounds, are innovative and suggestive.

Take for instance his characterization of apocalyptic literature. He argues strongly against the predominant opinion that apocalyptic is defined by a certain eschatological perspective. Rowland rightly rejects this characterization of apocalyptic as eschatology on the basis of his observation that apocalyptic is just as, or even more explicitly, concerned to come to grips with present reality. Rowland suggests that apocalyptic is a type of literature which is concerned with explaining the human situation in the present (p. 2) by preoccupation with the world above and the heavenly mysteries which are made accessible to the apocalypticist “through a dream, vision or divine intermediary” (p. 21). Thus, in effect, Rowland substitutes a definition of apocalyptic based on one main distinguishing element (eschatology) with a different definition grounded on a different distinguishing element (open heaven).

Both approaches to the definition of apocalyptic literature may be called

a “key” approach in that apocalyptic literature is defined by one key distinguishing trait. J. Carmignac has recently listed a number of attempts to define apocalyptic literature with a “key” approach, noting that none of them successfully delineates apocalyptic from other types of literature (“Que’est-ce que l’Apocalyptique? Son emploi à Qumrân,” RevQ ...

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