Apocalypse: An Overview
APOCALYPSE: AN OVERVIEW
Apocalypse, as the name of a literary genre, is derived from the Apocalypse of John, or Book of Revelation, in the New Testament. The word itself means "revelation," but it is reserved for revelations of a particular kind: mysterious revelations that are mediated or explained by a supernatural figure, usually an angel. They disclose a transcendent world of supernatural powers and an eschatological scenario, or view of the last things, that includes the judgment of the dead. Apocalyptic revelations are not exclusively concerned with the future. They may also be concerned with cosmology, including the geography of the heavens and nether regions, as well as history, primordial times, and the end times. The judgment of the dead, however, is a constant and pivotal feature, since all the revelations have human destiny as their ultimate focus. The great majority of these writings are pseudonymous: the recipient of the revelation is identified as a famous ancient person, such as Enoch or Daniel. (The Book of Revelation is an exception in this regard.) The ascription to a famous person added to the authority of the works, which were in any case presented as divine revelation.
The Book of Revelation (about 90 ce) is the earliest work that calls itself an apocalypse (Rv. 1:1), and even there the word may be meant in the general sense of "revelation." The usage as a genre label became common from the second century on, and numerous Christian compositions are so titled (e.g., the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul). The Cologne Mani Codex (fifth century) refers to the apocalypses of Adam, Sethel, Enosh, Shem, and Enoch. The title is found in some Jewish apocalypses from the late first century ce (e.g., 2 Baruch and 3 Baruch ), but may have been added by later scribes. The ancient usage is not entirely reliable. The title was never added to some major apocalypses (e.g., those contained in 1 Enoch ) and it is occasionally found in works of a different genre (e.g., the Apocalypse of Moses, which is a variant of the Life of Adam and Eve ).
The Jewish Apocalypses
The genre is older than the title and is well attested in Judaism from the third century bce on. The Christian apocalypses, beginning with the Book of Revelation, are modeled more or less directly on Jewish prototypes. The Jewish apocalypses are of two main types. The better known of these might be described as historical apocalypses. They are found in the Book of Daniel (the only apocalypse in the Hebrew scriptures), 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and some sections of 1 Enoch. In these apocalypses, the revelation is given in allegorical visions, interpreted by an angel. The content is primarily historical and is given in the form of an extended prophecy. History is divided into a set number of periods and, most importantly, is coming to an end. The finale may include the national and political restoration of Israel, but the emphasis is on the replacement of the present world order by one that is radically new. In its most extreme form the eschatology of this type of apocalypse envisages the end of the world, as, for example, in 4 Ezra 7, where the creation is returned to primeval silence for seven days. These apocalypses often had their origin in a historical crisis. The Book of Daniel and some sections of 1 Enoch were written in response to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes that led to the Maccabean revolt (c. 168 bce). 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch were written in the aftermath of the Jewish war against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem.
The second type of Jewish apocalypse is the otherworldly journey. In the earliest example of this type, the "Book of the Watchers" in 1 Enoch (third century bce), Enoch ascends to the presence of God. Angels then take him on a tour that ranges over the whole earth to the ends of the universe. More characteristic of this type is the ascent of the visionary through a numbered series of heavens. The standard number of heavens was seven, although three (in the Testament of Levi ) and five (in 3 Baruch ) are also attested. More mystical in orientation, these apocalypses often include a vision of the throne of God. The eschatology of these works is focused more on personal afterlife than on cosmic transformation, but they may also predict a general judgment.
These two types of apocalypse are not wholly discrete. The Apocalypse of Abraham, an ascent-type apocalypse from the late first century ce, contains a brief overview of history in set periods. The Similitudes of Enoch, a Jewish work of the mid-first century ce, combines allegorical visions with an ascent and is largely concerned with political and social abuses. Both types are found in the collection of writings known as 1 Enoch, which is known in full only in Geez (Ethiopic) translations, but is now attested in Aramaic fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to the second century ce.
If apocalypse is conceived as a literary genre, in the manner described above, then the primary corpus consists of Jewish and Christian texts that date from the Hellenistic period to the early Middle Ages, although some instances can also be found in other traditions. The importance of apocalypse in the history of religion, however, is not confined to the instances of the literary genre. The kinds of ideas that find their classic expression in apocalypses like Revelation can also occur in other works, whether they are represented as revelations or not. This analogous phenomenon is called apocalypticism, or sometimes apocalyptic. So, for example, in ancient Judaism, the "Community Rule" in the Dead Sea Scrolls describes a world divided between the forces of light and darkness, where history is divided into periods and there will be a final judgment when God will put an end to wickedness. This view of the world is clearly influenced by the apocalypses of Enoch and Daniel, and is similar to the typical content of apocalyptic revelations, but it is not presented in the form of a vision or other revelation. It is simply presented as dogmatic teaching.
Again, early Christianity is often said to be "an apocalyptic movement," although the only apocalypse in the New Testament (Revelation ) is one of the latest writings in the corpus. The Gospels and the Pauline epistles share basic features of the apocalypses, especially the expectation of judgment from heaven followed by the resurrection and judgment of the dead, so that we may speak of a common worldview. In modern colloquial usage, the word apocalypse is often associated with the end of the world, or with some great catastrophe. This analogous usage of the word apocalyptic is inevitably imprecise, as resemblance is a matter of degree. In the Western world, the case for this broader usage is strengthened by the pervasive influence of the literary apocalypses, especially the Book of Revelation. The expectation of an "end" of history, or of a new era of radical change, has been enormously important in Christian tradition, but also in Judaism and Islam, and while it is often the subject of a vision or a revelation it can also be communicated in many other ways. Moreover, these ideas have also been appropriated by secular culture.
Analogous ideas and movements can also be found in many other cultures. One thinks, for example, of the cargo cults of Melanesia or the Ghost Dance of the American Indians in the late nineteenth century (although in the latter case there was some influence of Christian ideas). The historical type of apocalypticism is difficult to distinguish from millennialism, a term that is itself derived from the expectation of a thousand-year reign in Revelation 20, but which has come to mean the expectation of radical change and a utopian future. Strictly speaking, apocalypticism should imply a claim of supernatural revelation, which may or may not be the case with millennial expectation. Also related to apocalypticism is messianism, or the expectation of a messiah or savior figure. This term also derives from Jewish and Christian tradition, and originally referred to the restoration of native kingship in Judea. Some apocalypses accord a central role to a messiah (e.g., Christ in Revelation, or the Jewish messiah in 4 Ezra ). The earliest Jewish apocalypses, however, in 1 Enoch and Daniel, have no place for a human messiah. Conversely, a messiah may be expected to restore the political order on earth, rather than bring about the kind of cosmic upheaval described in the apocalypses. Messianism and apocalypticism, then, overlap, but the two categories are not identical.
Origins of the Genre
This genre appears relatively late in Judaism, and its origins remain obscure. Several key apocalyptic motifs can be found at much earlier times in the ancient Middle East and in the eastern Mediterranean world. Many ancient myths describe a climactic battle in which a good god defeats the forces of chaos. This battle is sometimes associated with the creation of the world, as in the Babylonian Enuma elish, where the god Marduk defeats and kills the primeval monster Tiamat. In Canaanite tradition, the fertility god Baal defeats the primordial sea, Yamm. These ancient myths are echoed in the climactic battles in apocalypses such as Daniel and Revelation, but the conflict is projected into the future.
Descriptions of journeys to the heavens or the netherworld were fairly common in antiquity. Examples can be found as early as book 11 of Homer's Odyssey. A whole tradition of such revelations can be found in Greek and Roman philosophical texts (e.g., the "Myth of Er" in Plato's Republic, book 10; Cicero's Somnium Scipionis in the last book of his Republic ), in what would seem to be a secondary use of the genre. The Greek material exercised some influence on the Jewish journey-type apocalypses and on the Christian development of the genre, but it was not a primary model. There are also traditions of ascent to heaven and descent to the netherworld in Babylonian tradition, although they are sparsely attested. Especially noteworthy here is a "Vision of the Netherworld" from the seventh century bce, in which a man descends to the netherworld in a dream vision. The ascent of the soul after death was an important motif in Persian eschatology from early times. The only Persian example of a thoroughgoing ascent-type apocalypse is the ninth-century ce Book of Arda Viraf, or Ardā Wirāz Nāmag, but there seems to have been a native Persian tradition of heavenly ascent. These ascent traditions (Greek, Babylonian, and Persian) were independent of each other, but all may have influenced the Jewish and Christian apocalypses to some degree. The judgment of the dead, a central apocalyptic motif, is widely attested in ancient Egypt. We can scarcely speak of an apocalyptic tradition in Egypt, however, although there are several predictions of times of chaos, and there are some oracles from the Hellenistic period about the restoration of native Egyptian rule (most notably, the Potter's Oracle ) that bear some similarity to the historical apocalypses.
Apart from the Jewish and Christian apocalypses, the most important apocalyptic tradition in antiquity is undoubtedly the Persian. This tradition is found primarily in the Pahlavi literature that was compiled in the late Sassanian and early Islamic periods (sixth to twelfth centuries ce). This literature is priestly in character, and it provides compendia of authoritative teaching. It does not preserve independent literary revelations or apocalypses such as are found in Jewish and Christian literature, with the arguable exception of the Bahman Yasht, which describes a vision of Zoroaster in which the branches of a tree represent the periods of history. One of the most important of these compilations is the Bundahishn, which deals with cosmogony and cosmology and has important sections treating eschatology. Another is the Dēnkard, which contains, among other things, a systematic description of the apocalyptic events from the fall of the Sassanian empire to the restoration of the world. Other important Persian writings for this subject include the Wizīdagīhā ī Zādspram (Selections of Zādspram, a late ninth-century author) and the Dādestān ī Dēnīg (compiled by a brother of Zādspram). The latter composition contains questions and answers on such topics as the resurrection and the renewal of the world. Also cast in the form of question and answer is the Dādestān ī Mēnōg ī Xrad (Judgments of the spirit of wisdom) in which a fictive figure called Dānāg (literally, "wise, knowing") addresses questions to the Spirit of Wisdom. Some of these questions concern eschatological matters.
These traditions may be described as apocalyptic because they share some of the characteristic features of the historical apocalypses, such as the division of history into a set number of periods, the final destruction of evil, and a restoration of the world that involves the resurrection of the dead. The most complete account is found in the Bundahishn. From the beginning, there were two cosmic spirits of light and darkness. The decisive battle between them is postponed for nine thousand years, and during that time they share the sovereignty. The nine thousand years is divided into three ages of three thousand years each. At the completion of the last period, evil is eliminated, the dead are resurrected, and the world is restored. The last three thousand years is divided into three millennia with similar characteristics. The first begins with the appearance of Zoroaster. Each of the others also starts with a savior figure, Ušēdar and Ušedarmāh. Each millennium ends with trials and tribulations. The final savior, who ushers in the restoration, is Sōšans. Two other messianic figures, Kay Wahrām and Pišyōtan appear at the end of the millennium of Zoroaster.
There is endless debate as to the antiquity of these traditions. The Pahlavi literature was compiled from the sixth to twelfth centuries ce, but it certainly preserves older traditions. The Bahman Yasht is a commentary on a lost book of the Avesta, which is itself of uncertain date. Some key apocalyptic motifs, such as the final battle between the forces of good and evil in the end-time, and the judgment of the soul after death, are found already in the Gāthās, the hymns of Zoroaster, which may date to as early as 1000 bce. Belief in a savior figure and in the resurrection of the dead was developed already in the Avesta. Important glimpses of early Persian beliefs are provided by an account preserved by Plutarch (On Isis and Osiris 47, attributed to Theopompus, who lived in the fourth century bce), and by the Oracle of Hystaspes, a pre-Christian Persian work that is cited in Latin by Lactantius. Both of these sources mention the division of history into periods and the resurrection of the dead. Plutarch recounts the original opposition of the two spirits of light and darkness. This dualistic view of the world seems to have influenced a Jewish sect of the first century bce, whose views are reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nonetheless, the dating of Persian traditions is fraught with difficulty and remains controversial. It is clear that there was a native Persian tradition of considerable antiquity, which had a view of history that is quite similar to what we find in Jewish and Christian apocalypses of the historical type. Notable points of affinity include predeterminism, periodization, the importance attached to millennia, the role of savior figures, and the hope for resurrection. Most of these features (with the exception of savior figures) were novel in Judaism in the Hellenistic period. Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether the development of the apocalyptic genre in Judaism was due in any significant way to Persian influence, because of the difficulty of dating the Persian materials.
The Genre in Christianity
Apocalypticism in the broader sense was a major factor in the rise and spread of Christianity. While the intentions and self-understanding of Jesus of Nazareth are a matter of endless debate, he is portrayed in the Gospels as an apocalyptic prophet, who predicted that the "Son of man" would come on the clouds of heaven to save the elect and judge the wicked. (See, for example, Mark 13; the title "Son of Man" alludes to a vision in Daniel 7.) After Jesus' death, his followers quickly came to believe that he had risen from the dead, and that this, in the words of Paul, was the first fruit of the general resurrection. Paul told his followers that Jesus would return on the clouds while some of them were still alive. This expectation lent urgency to his attempt to spread the Christian gospel to the end of the earth.
The apocalyptic genre declined in Judaism after the first century ce, although heavenly ascents continued to play an important part in the Jewish mystical tradition. By contrast, the genre flourished in Christianity. The Book of Revelation in the New Testament has its closest analogies with the Book of Daniel and the historical apocalypses, but it is exceptional in not being pseudonymous. The convention of pseudonymity was quickly adopted, however, and apocalypses of Peter, Paul, and others proliferated into the Middle Ages. These apocalypses were primarily, but not exclusively, of the ascent type, and were mystical rather than political in their orientation. The expectation of cosmic change depicted in the Book of Revelation was viewed with suspicion by church authorities, although the main outline was incorporated in Christian dogma. The church fathers tended to interpret apocalyptic symbols with reference to the present. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 ce) interpreted the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 as referring to the time of the church, and held that the first resurrection is spiritual and takes place in this life. This line of interpretation was widely influential, and defused the role of apocalyptic expectation in the mainline church.
A distinctive variant of the use of apocalypses in the Christian tradition can be seen in the Gnostic codices found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, which date from about 400 ce. The corpus includes apocalypses of Adam, Peter, Paul, and James. The Gnostic apocalypses differ from the Jewish and Christian ones in their emphasis on salvation in the present through gnōsis, or saving knowledge, and their lack of interest in cosmic transformation, although some Gnostic apocalypses envision the destruction of this world. The Gnostic apocalypses also are distinctive in their emphasis on the spoken word. Often the revelations take the form of dialogues or discourses, rather than visions. The origin and fall of humanity is a prominent theme. The most important transformation of the genre, however, lies in the focus on the present rather than the future as the time of salvation.
The mystically oriented ascent-type apocalypse continued to exist in Christianity quite apart from Gnosticism and left an imprint on world literature in Dante's Commedia. The historical type of apocalypticism was more widely influential in the Middle Ages. Apocalyptic expectations played a role in launching the Crusades. A crucial figure in medieval apocalypticism was Joachim of Fiore, a twelfth-century abbot who looked for a new age of the Holy Spirit, to be ushered in by the defeat of the antichrist. Historical apocalypticism merges easily into millenarianism, where the emphasis is less on supernatural revelation than on the coming utopian age. Apocalyptic expectations of the overthrow of the present world order fueled radical Christian movements in the late Middle Ages, notably Franciscan dissidents and early reformers such as John Wyclif (late fourteenth century) and his followers, the Lollards. These radicals often viewed the papacy as the antichrist. Apocalyptic hopes also provided the ideology that inspired a whole series of peasant revolts, and there was an outpouring of apocalyptic prophecies in connection with the Reformation. In Germany the radical preaching of Thomas Müntzer culminated in the Peasants' Revolt in 1525, and the Anabaptists established the New Jerusalem in Münster, under a messianic "king," John of Leyden (1534). In England, a century later, the Puritan revolutionaries saw themselves as "the saints of the Most High," who were mentioned in the Book of Daniel, while Gerrard Winstanley, and the Diggers and Levellers whom he inspired, drew on the Book of Revelation to advance a more radically egalitarian view of Christianity.
The Puritans brought their apocalyptic beliefs with them to North America, and inaugurated a tradition of studying biblical prophecy with a view to discerning the signs of the end-time. While interest in apocalyptic timetables was prominent in American Protestantism from the seventeenth century onward, it was given a boost in the early nineteenth century by a Church of Ireland minister, John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), who developed a system of "dispensational premillennialism." History was divided into a series of distinct stages or dispensations, in each of which God dealt with humankind in different ways. The millennium, or thousand-year reign, was not the time of the church but was still to come. Darby rejected any form of historicist interpretation and held that the last events of prophetic significance occurred in the time of Jesus. Darby's followers developed into the sect of the Plymouth Brethern, but he was widely influential among evangelical Protestants. One of his most distinctive beliefs was in the rapture, when believers would be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (see 1 Thess. 4:16–18). Dispensational premillennialism was popularized in the early twentieth century by the Scofield Reference Bible, which provided prophetic interpretations for the entire King James Bible.
The most colorful episode in American apocalyptic tradition occurred in the 1840s. A farmer named William Miller, from upstate New York, calculated, on the basis of the book of Daniel, that the second coming of Christ would occur in 1843. When that year ended uneventfully, some of his followers recalculated the date as October 22, 1844. They assembled in expectation, and suffered a crushing disappointment. That scenario has been replayed many times by small groups on the fringes of American Protestantism. Nonetheless, this kind of literal interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy continues to flourish at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Millerites eventually evolved into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, under the leader of a visionary and prolific writer, Ellen G. White (1827–1915).
The emergence of a modern Pentecostal movement in the early twentieth century gave another boost to fundamentalist apocalyptic interpretation. In the latter part of the twentieth century, dispensational premillennialist interpretation was popularized by such writers as Hal Lindsey, whose best-seller, The Late Great Planet Earth (1973), sold millions of copies. Unlike Darby, Lindsey readily identified prophetic allusions to contemporary events, and even suggested that the rapture might come in 1981. Since the 1980s, this kind of apocalyptic interpretation has become identified with the religious right wing in American politics, particularly through the activism of such people as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. It also continues to thrive on the fringes. The Branch Davidians who died in the conflagration in Waco, Texas, in 1993, were a heretical offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists and spiritual descendants of the Millerites, with their own apocalyptic prophet, David Koresh. There has also been a revival of apocalyptic and messianic expectations in some circles within Judaism, inspired by the rebirth of the land of Israel after the disaster of the Holocaust.
Apocalyptic Traditions in Islam
Apocalyptic expectations played a significant role in Islam from the beginning. These expectations include the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment and salvation, and damnation in the end-time. They also include preparatory events leading to the resurrection, including the coming of the mahdī (an Islamic messiah). Already in the Qurʾān, there are several references to "the Hour," which is the time of calamity that precedes the resurrection. There is considerable interest in the signs of the end. These ideas were influenced by Jewish, Christian, and Persian traditions. Jesus retains an important role in the eschatological scenario: he will return to Jerusalem and kill the antichrist. Much more apocalyptic material entered Islam after the death of the Prophet, and it grew in popularity in times of war. By the Middle Ages there was a developed science for the calculation of the predetermined future, which involved astrology. These predictions are not typically presented as visionary revelations, in the manner of the Jewish and Christian apocalypses, but rather as teachings, in the manner of the Persian tradition. There have been numerous movements in the history of Islam that have employed apocalyptic or messianic rhetoric to proclaim the dawn of a new era. There was an upsurge of such rhetoric in connection with Islamic fundamentalism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Modern Adaptations of Apocalypticism
The terms apocalypse and apocalyptic are used widely and loosely in modern culture, often in ways that have little in common with the ancient apocalypses. Continuity is clearest in the case of fundamentalist Christians who look for literal fulfillment of the biblical prophecies, and try to identify the signs of the times in current political events. There are also secular groups (such as survivalist movements in the American west) that believe that a cosmic disaster and a change of world order is imminent. These people often cling to what Michael Barkun has called "spurned knowledge" (ideas that are rejected or despised by the society at large) and consequently see themselves as a persecuted minority. They are characterized by a kind of esotericism, or insider-belief, that bears some analogy to the revelations of the ancient apocalypses. There is some justification for calling such groups apocalyptic, admittedly in an attenuated sense. More questionable is the widespread use of the term apocalyptic in connection with modern literature. The English poet William Blake (1757–1827) made extensive use of the Book of Revelation, but he looked for a revelation initiated not by God but by humans, which would entail a change in our perception of the world. Some critics, however, use the term apocalyptic for any "revelation" or transformation of perception, even if there is no use of traditional apocalyptic imagery. In contemporary literature, the writing that has most in common with ancient apocalypses is science fiction, insofar as it is an imaginative exploration of worlds that are outside normal human experience. But here again the analogy is limited, as science fiction is not presented as revelation and lacks the religious and instructional dimensions of the ancient apocalypses.
For a comprehensive survey of apocalypticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, from ancient to modern times, see John J. Collins, Bernard McGinn, and Stephen Stein, eds., The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 1, The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity; vol. 2, Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture; vol. 3, Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age (New York, 1998), condensed into one volume as The History of Apocalypticism (New York, 2003). The first volume includes articles on the ancient Middle Eastern, Persian, and Greco-Roman apocalypticism. Less comprehensive but representative is Abbas Amanat and Magnus T. Bernhardsson, eds., Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America (London, 2002).
An overview of apocalyptic writing as a genre in antiquity can be found in Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre, a special issue of Semeia 14 (1979). This volume contains essays on material from various cultures: Jewish (John J. Collins), Christian (Adela Yarbro Collins), Gnostic (Francis T. Fallon), Greco-Roman (Harold W. Attridge), rabbinic/later Jewish (Anthony J. Saldarini), and Persian (John J. Collins); it also includes extensive bibliographies. Essays on apocalypses and related material from several ancient cultures can be found in Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East, edited by David Hellholm (Tübingen, Germany, 1983). Other studies of the ancient apocalypses include Christopher Rowland's The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (New York, 1982) and John J. Collins's The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1998). The influence of the apocalypses on Jewish mysticism is explored by Ithamar Gruenwald in Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden, 1980). The later Jewish tradition is discussed in several works by Gershom Scholem; see especially The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York, 1971) and Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition, 2d ed. (New York, 1965).
The roots of apocalyptic traditions in the ancient world, especially in Persia, are explored by Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, 2d ed. (New Haven, 2001). Ancient traditions about the judgment of the dead, especially in Egypt, are described by J. Gwyn Griffiths, The Divine Verdict: A Study of Divine Judgment in the Ancient Religions (Leiden, 1991). For relevant Mesopotamian traditions, especially the "Vision of the Netherworld," see Helge S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and of the Son of Man (Neukirchen, Germany, 1988). Apocalyptic traditions from Hellenistic Egypt are discussed in A. Blasius and B. U. Schipper, eds., Apokalyptik und Ägypten (Leuven, Belgium, 2002). Comprehensive overviews of Persian apocalypticism are provided by Anders Hultgård, "Persian Apocalypticism" in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 1, pp. 39–83, and Philip G. Kreyenbroek, "Millennialism and Eschatology in the Zoroastrian Tradition" in Amanat and Bernhardsson, eds., Imagining the End, pp. 33–55.
For the medieval Christian material, see especially Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (New York, 1970) and Bernard McGinn's studies: Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (New York, 1979); Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montieren-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola (New York, 1979); and The Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (San Francisco, 1994). For apocalyptic traditions in modern America, see Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1992).
On apocalypticism in Islamic tradition see Saïd Amir Arjomand, "Islamic Apocalypticism in the Classic Period" in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 2, pp. 238–283; Abbas Amanat, "The Resurgence of Apocalyptic in Modern Islam" in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 2, pp. 230–264. On the resurgence of apocalypticism in modern Judaism, see Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism (Chicago, 1996).
On modern adaptations of apocalypticism see the essays in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 3, especially the essays of Stephen O'Leary, "Popular Culture and Apocalypticism" (pp. 392–426) and Michael Barkun, "Politics and Apocalypticism" (pp. 442–460).
For examples of scholarly application of the notion of apocalypse to a much broader range of religious traditions, see Jonathan Z. Smith's "A Pearl of Great Price and a Cargo of Yams," History of Religions 16 (1976): 1–19, which examines the applicability of apocalyptic and Gnostic patterns of revelation to the Babylonian Akitu festival and a cargo cult in the Moluccas. See also Bruce Lincoln's article "'The Earth Becomes Flat': A Study of Apocalyptic Imagery," Comparative Studies in Society and History 25 (January 1983): 136–153, which begins with a consideration of Plutarch and the Iranian Bundahishn and compares these with Chinese and Japanese materials, as well as with colonial rebellions. On the Ghost Dance and analogous phenomena, see Weston La Barre, The Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion (New York, 1970).
John J. Collins (1987 and 2005)