Jewish Apocalyptic Literature: A Survey

I’m studying and teaching about Revelation at the congregation. And before you can understand something, it is good to know what it is. Revelation is an apocalypse, a kind of Jewish writing found in the Second Temple period and a little beyond.

In the survey below, I give dates and a brief description of the major apocalypses. As you read through them, think of the similarities to Revelation. I will likely post some comparisons between Revelation and other apocalypses in coming days. Oh, and the Remnant of Israel, Part 3 will be coming soon as well . . .

Parts of Ezekiel (586 B.C.E.) and Zechariah (400 B.C.E.) have images that would become the basis of apocalyptic symbolism.

Daniel (c. 520 B.C.E.) is usually dated much later by critical scholars who doubt that anyone could have seen the future so accurately. Daniel 2 and 7-12 especially contain symbolic visions about world history, which the apocalyptic genre is based on. Also, Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man (ch. 7) is very important for 1 Enoch.

The Book of Astronomy (1 Enoch 72-82, c. 250 B.C.E.). Enoch is led by an angel through the heavens for a detailed view of astronomical and calendar issues.

The Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36, c. 175 B.C.E.) is the story of the fallen angels (Gen. 6:1-4) and how their sin brought corruption to the world which can only be rooted out by a final judgment.

Jubilees (c. 164 B.C.E.) is a response to the pressures of Hellenism and Antiochus IV. Some Jewish leaders within Israel as well as Antiochus and forces outside Israel sought to pressure Jews to become Greek in practice, language, and religion. Jubilees is a retelling and expansion of Genesis 1 – Exodus 12 urging Jews to stand firm in the traditions of Torah. Jubilees does this, for example, by having patriarchs in the stories making speeches urging their children not to practice immorality and idolatry.

Testament of Moses (some parts as early as 160 B.C.E.) is an expansion and retelling of Deuteronomy 31-34: the preparations of Moses for his death, his song, his blessing for the tribes, and his death and burial. References are made to the issues of Hellenism (assimilation to Greek culture) and political events that threatened Israel’s way of life leading up to the Maccabees.

The Book of Dream Visions (1 Enoch 83-90, c. 160 B.C.E.) is about visions Enoch saw of the flood and a symbolic vision of the history of the world with animals representing people. There are many references to the pressures of Hellenism and the events leading up to the Maccabees.

Sybilline Oracles, Book 3 (early parts around 150 B.C.E.) are poetic prophecies related to the experiences and pressures of the Jewish community in Egypt. The end time is predicted to come after the seventh king of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt (probably to be identified with Philometer).

The Book of the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 92-105, c. 150-50 B.C.E.) urges readers to be faithful in trials since the time of salvation is soon to come. History is represented as a period of ten “weeks” leading up to final judgment where all evil will be defeated.

2 Enoch (c. 1st cent. C.E.) is an account of Enoch’s ascent into heaven and comforting promises of a glorious Age to Come.

Parables or Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71, c. early 1st cent. C.E.) is a journey Enoch takes to the heavenly throne room where his questions are answered by an angelic guide. Enoch is revealed to be the Son of Man, the judge of the earth in the last days. He and the angels will carry out judgment on the wicked and resurrection for the righteous to a renewed earth.

2 Baruch (c. end of 1st cent. C.E.) contains detailed descriptions of the end times (viewed as coming during the Roman period): especially the Messianic woes, the resurrection, and the renewed earth. There are visions in 2 Baruch very similar to those in Daniel. The Messiah is a central figure in 2 Baruch.

4 Ezra (2 Esdras, c. end of 1st cent. C.E.) is similar to 2 Baruch. It has Daniel-like visions and identifies Rome as the final empire. A lot of 4 Ezra concerns sin and the problem of evil which is largely answered by the promise of a coming Age without evil.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Second Temple Lit., Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature: A Survey

  1. Pingback: Sarx » Blog Archive » Today was Tomorrow Yesterday

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