In apocalyptic visions, prophets see ahead to the end time. Humankind's salvation lies in the future, and the meaning of the present is obscured in the chaos of survival on the Earth's plane. In apocalyptic thought, humankind's destiny is viewed as steadily unfolding according to a great design of God. The present is a time of trial and tribulation, and its meaning will only be made clear in the last days before the final judgment occurs. Placing the ultimate revelation of God at the end time seems to imply a history for God, as well as for his creation—or at least an evolution, or transformation, from one sphere of activity to another.
In the Jewish tradition, apocalyptic thought presupposes a universal history in which the Divine Author of that history will reveal and manifest his secrets in a dramatic end time that with finality will establish the God of Israel as the one true God. The "end of days" (acharit ha-yamin ) is bound up with the coming of the Messiah, but before his appearance governments will become increasingly corrupt, religious schools will become heretical, the wisdom of the scribes and teachers will become blasphemous, young people will shame their elders, and members of families will turn upon one another. Then, just prior to the arrival of the Messiah, the righteous of Israel shall defeat the armies of evil that have gathered under the banner of Gog and Magog, and the exiles shall return to the Holy Land. The world will be at peace and all people will recognize the one true God. With the advent of the Messiah will come the great Day of Judgment in which the dead shall rise from their graves to begin a new life. During the period known as the World to Come (Olam Haba ), the righteous will join the Messiah in partaking of a great banquet in which all foods, even those previously judged impure, shall be declared kosher. All the many nations of the world will communicate in one language; the Angel of Death will be slain by God; trees and crops will produce fresh harvests each month; the warmth of the sun shall heal the sick; and the righteous will be nourished forever by the radiance of God.
To most orthodox Christians, the profound meaning of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ (c. 6 b.c.e.–c. 30 c.e.) will one day return in the Last Days and his Second Coming will prompt the resurrection of the dead and the Final Judgment. The heart of the gospels is eschatological, or end-oriented. The essential theme of Jesus and the apostles is that the last stage of history, the end time, was being entered into with his appearance. In Matthew 24:3–44, Jesus speaks to his disciples at great length concerning false Messiahs and prophets who will deceive many people with their rumors about the end of the world. He makes reference to the prophet Daniel and his warnings concerning the end times and the Antichrist, and he admonishes the disciples not to chase after false teachers who will produce great miracles and signs to trick God's chosen ones. No one knows when the Son of Man shall appear again coming on the clouds of heaven, Jesus tells them, not even the angels.
As in Jewish apocalyptic tradition, Christians also recognize that there must come the terrible time when the Antichrist, summoning great powers of evil, will triumph for a period over the righteous believers and that there will be one last awful clash between the forces of good under the banner of Christ and his angels and the minions of evil under the banner of Satan. Before that final battle in the valley of Armageddon, the faithful may look for various signs to alert them that the end time, the Apocalypse, has begun. Drawing upon the apocalyptic traditions of his Jewish background, John the Revelator, presents in Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, a guidebook for the Christian on what to expect during the Apocalypse, the time of Tribulation. Specifically, the book was written for the members of the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea in order to prepare them for what John believed to be a fast-approaching time of persecution and the return of Jesus Christ.
The first of Seven Seals to be opened (Revelation 6:1–2) by the Lamb (Christ) discloses a conquering king astride a white horse, the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Scholars disagree whether this triumphant king represents Christ returning to do battle with Satan or the Antichrist emerging to summon the forces of evil to oppose Christ and his angelic army. The Second Seal (6:3–4) reveals the red horse, representing civil war; the third, the black horse, symbolizing famine (6:5–6); the fourth, the pale horse, representing the suffering that follows war and famine. The Fifth Seal to be opened by the Lamb yields a vision of the persecution of the Church throughout history and during the Last Days. When the Sixth Seal is revealed, it displays the coming signs of a great Day of Wrath at hand when there will be Earthly upheavals, a darkened sun, stars falling from the heavens, mountains and islands removed, and more strife and revolution throughout the nations. The Seventh and final Seal releases seven trumpets that sound the triumphant blast signaling the approach of the final and everlasting victory of Christ over the kingdoms of the world.
But rising out of the abyss to block Christ's triumph at Armageddon is a monstrous army of demons, some resembling locusts and scorpions, others a repulsive mixture of humans, horses, and lions. These demons are soon joined by 200,000 serpentine-leonine horsemen capable of belching fire, smoke, and brimstone. Led by Satan, the once-trusted angel who led the rebellion against God in Heaven, the Prince of the World sets his legions upon the faithful to make their lives as miserable as possible in the end time. To make matters even more complex for those who serve God, the Antichrist appears on the scene pretending to be the Lamb, the Messiah. John the Revelator is told that this man, this beast in lamb's clothing, can be recognized by a name, the letters of which, when regarded as numbers, total 666.
Although the term "Antichrist" is frequently used by those Christians who adhere to the New Testament book of Revelation as a literal guide to the end of days which they feel is here, the word is nowhere to be found within its text. Traditionally, it was believed for many centuries that the apostle John, the one especially loved by Jesus, was the author of Revelation. Contemporary scholarship generally disputes that St. John was the lonely visionary on the Island of Patmos who foresaw the time of great tribulation. It is, however, likely that the apostle John is the first to mention the Antichrist. In 1 John 2:18, he declares that the "enemy of Christ" has manifested and that many false teachers have infiltrated the Christian ranks. In verse 22, John names as the Antichrist anyone who would deny Jesus as the Christ and the Father and the Son as the Antichrist, and in 2 John verse 7 he declares that there are many deceivers already at work among the faithful.
According to Revelation, Christ and his angelic armies of light destroy the forces of darkness at Armageddon in the final battle of good versus evil. Babylon, the False Prophet, and the Beast (the Antichrist) are dispatched to their doom, and Satan, the Dragon, is bound in a pit for a thousand years. With Satan imprisoned and chained, the Millennium, the Thousand Years of peace and harmony, begins.
Although Christ's Second Coming is said to be mentioned over 300 times in the New Testament, the only references to the Millennium are found in Revelation 20:2–7. Christian scholars disagree whether or not there will be an initial resurrection of the just at the advent of the Millennium and a second one a thousand years later immediately prior to the Final Day of Judgment. While many Christian theologians link Christ's Second Coming, the Resurrection, and Judgment Day all occurring after the defeat of Satan and the beginning of the thousand years of peace and harmony, others maintain that the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment of God will not take place until after the Millennium has come to a close.
For some rather incomprehensible reason, Satan is released from the pit at the conclusion of the Millennium; and true to his nature, he makes a furious attempt to regain his earthly kingdom. His former allies, the Beast (the Antichrist), the False Prophet, and the hordes of Babylon, were destroyed at Armageddon, but there were some demons who escaped annihilation at the great battle who stand ready to serve their master. In addition to these evil creatures, Satan summons Gog and his armies of the Magog nations to join them in attacking the saints and the righteous followers of God. Although the vast multitude of vile and wicked servants of evil and grotesque monsters quickly surround the godly men and women, God's patience with the rebellious angel has come to an end. Fire blasts down from heaven, engulfing and destroying the satanic legions and the armies of Gog and Magog. Satan himself is sent to spend the rest of eternity in a lake of fire.
And now (Revelation 20:11–15) comes the Final Judgment, the time when God shall judge the secrets of all men and women (Romans 2:16). This Judgment will be complete. Every person from every age and nation will be there. And there shall only be classes: the Saved and the Lost. The Book of Life will have the names of the Saved. For those whose names do not appear on those heavenly records, there is the final doom: to be sentenced to join Satan and his angels in the place where the fire is never quenched. When the Judgment has been completed, the first heaven and Earth shall pass away and a new heaven and new Earth shall be established for those Saved to occupy with their glorified, incorruptible, spiritual bodies.
Abanes, Richard. End-Time Visions. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1998.
Goetz, William R. Apocalypse Next. Camp Hill, Penn.: Horizon Books, 1996.
Shaw, Eva. Eve of Destruction: Prophecies, Theories and Preparations for the End of the World. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1995.
Unterman, Alan. Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
Wheeler, John Jr. Earth's Two-Minute Warning: Today's Bible-Predicted Signs of the End Times. North Canton, Ohio: Leader Co., 1996.
Apocalypticism is the belief in the end of the world and time as we know them, usually through violent upheaval. It is a contradictory phenomenon characterized by order and chaos, hope and terror, faith and despair. Because of its urgency and violence, apocalypticism is a powerful ideology that can be both destructive and creative. Apocalyptic beliefs can serve as incentives for social change, but they can also result in despair and apathy. Many historical eras and particular cultures, as diverse as Hindu and Hopi, adopt urgent messages or prophetic myths about a cataclysmic end of the world or a large-scale transformation of consciousness. For centuries Western cultures believed that apocalyptic transformations would come about as a result of divine intervention in the human world. In contemporary American apocalypticism, catastrophes are the result of human action as well as divine plan; examples are nuclear annihilation, plagues, and ecological destruction. Americans blend beliefs derived from biblical texts with the post–World War II possibility of nuclear destruction.
Apocalyptic religious movements and individuals draw on past frameworks of meaning to address contemporary problems and issues. "Apocalypse" comes from a Greek word meaning "revelation" or "unveiling," which in the biblical tradition is linked to the unveiling of God's plan and includes such themes as the Last Judgment, an unveiling of each person's ultimate destiny. The biblical texts that inform the Western tradition are Ezekial and Daniel in the Hebrew Bible and the Revelation of John in the New Testament, which offer different versions of the end times. In the biblical imagination, large-scale catastrophes wreak havoc on the earth as God battles Satan before bringing about a new heaven and a new earth.
The Christian apocalyptic tradition identifies images of catastrophe and redemption with the second coming of Jesus Christ and the millennium during which many Christians believe Christ will reign. Millennial ideas emerge in the Christian world when apocalypticism is linked with a numerical theory about the end of the world through interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Christian apocalypticism developed certain characteristics that influenced contemporary American apocalyptic thinking: date-setting; connections between current events or signs—identification of the Antichrist, for instance—and the end times; and the desire for catastrophe that results in purification or redemption. America has played a special role as a "redeemer nation" in the apocalyptic scenarios of European explorers, Catholic missionaries, and radical Protestants (Ernest L. Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: America's Millennial Role, 1968). The sermons of Puritan ministers, full of warnings of doom and destruction, predate contemporary televangelist prophets of the apocalypse. Apocalyptic predictions have fueled important political events such as the American Revolution as well as religious movements such as the Great Awakening in the 1740s. Religious movements characterized by apocalyptic thinking flourished in the nineteenth century. Prophet William Miller and his followers gave away their possessions and eagerly awaited Christ's coming in the year 1843. But other religious communities, such as the Shakers (also known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing), took a less passive approach and attempted to institute heaven on earth by establishing utopian communities.
The Civil War marked a turning point in the American apocalyptic imagination. The war itself was experienced as an apocalypse because of the death and destruction it wrought, highlighting the role of Americans as agents of both destruction and redemption, as President Lincoln implied in the Gettysburg Address (1863). Two and a half decades after the Civil War the apocalyptic Ghost Dance movement, which spread among Plains Indians because it promised a violent cleansing of white people from the land followed by peace and cultural restoration, was tragically extinguished at Wounded Knee when more than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children were brutally slaughtered by the 7th Cavalry in 1890. Wounded Knee continues to function as an American Indian apocalyptic symbol of the loss of land and culture under the pressure of colonialism and Christianization.
Just as Wounded Knee has become a symbol for the apocalyptic scale of the destruction of Native cultures and languages, so the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki served as a warning to all Americans of their own destructive power. According to folklorist Daniel Wojcik, atomic fear and fatalism have profoundly marked American culture since the 1950s, beginning with popular films such as On the Beach (1959) and Dr. Strangelove (1964). War movies such as Apocalypse Now and horror films such as The Omen feature an evil Antichrist and allow viewers to vicariously experience apocalyptic chaos from the safety of a theater seat. Other apocalyptic responses to environmental and political problems in contemporary America include radical environmentalists such as Earth First!
At the same time, more specifically religious forms of apocalypticism have permeated the American landscape in the second half of the twentieth century. One signpost of increasing interest in apocalypticism is the best-selling The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey (1970). Conservative evangelical Protestants have found that their brand of apocalypticism—premillennialism—reaches a broad audience in postatomic American culture. Premillennialist Christians look toward the Rapture as an event that will save them from the catastrophes about to be unleashed on the world. The growth of other apocalyptic Protestant traditions, such as Pentecostalism, are due in part to the urgency with which many contemporary Americans look to the end times. Apocalyptic Christians watch for signs of the coming apocalypse in political events, disasters such as floods, and diseases such as AIDS.
Late twentieth-century Catholics have their own response to life in the atomic age in the rise of Marian apparitions, in which the Virgin Mary warns of impending doom and destruction, such as Veronica Lueken's visions of the Virgin Mary in Bayside, New Jersey (beginning in 1970). In her messages to visionaries, Mary points to many of the same symptoms identified by conservative evangelical Protestant preachers as signs of the coming apocalypse; abortion and AIDs are two examples of contemporary issues that can be made sense of in an apocalyptic framework. These religious choices provide clear moral guidelines in the midst of what their adherents describe as an evil, decaying civilization. As they imagine that meaningless chaos is taking hold, they can look to the biblical apocalyptic tradition for explanations of current events and social conditions.
Alongside these Protestant and Catholic manifestations of apocalypticism, new religious movements such as the Branch Davidians draw on the Adventist tradition, which originated with the nineteenth-century followers of William Miller, as just one of many examples of the continuity of the apocalyptic imagination in American society. Contemporary survivalist and militia groups are characterized by the same kind of certainty that large-scale destruction will be visited on Americans in the not-so-distant future. Many of these communities and individuals follow the theology of Identity Christianity, which teaches that the world is on the brink of a final apocalyptic battle between Aryan whites and Jews. The New Age Movement provides a contrasting apocalyptic scenario in which a gradual transformation of consciousness will be brought about without the kind of violence anticipated by other expressions of apocalypticism. But the New Age movement carries forward the kind of dualistic thinking that has always seemed to characterize apocalyptic movements. Although New Age is a loosely networked movement with no central doctrine, some New Age writers believe that those who advance into the new era of consciousness are the chosen, while others will remain in utter darkness.
Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Beliefin Modern American Culture. 1992.
Detweiler, Robert. "Dancing to the Apocalypse." In Uncivil Rites: American Fiction, Religion, and the PublicSphere. 1996.
Gould, Stephen Jay. Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown. 1997.
Robbins, Thomas, and Susan J. Palmer, eds. Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements. 1997.
Strozier, Charles B. Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America. 1994.
Wojcik, Daniel. The End of the World As We Know It:Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. 1997.
Sarah M. Pike
The word apocalypse has many meanings. In religious usage, it identifies the last book of the Christian Bible, the Revelation of John; a genre of ancient Judeo-Christian visionary literature; or doomsday, the destruction of the world at the end of time prophesied by the Apocalypse. In more popular usage, it identifies any catastrophic or violent event, such as the Vietnam War (e.g., the movie Apocalypse Now ). Apocalypticism is the religious belief system that interprets human history from its origins to the present as signs of the imminent end of the world. It is one feature of Christian eschatology, the branch of theology dealing with the state of the soul after death, purgatory, hell, and heaven.
The adjective apocalyptic also has many meanings, from attitudes characteristic of apocalypticism (e.g., the world is so evil it will soon be destroyed), to features of literary apocalypses (e.g., the seven-headed dragon of Apoc. 12), to cultural references to apocalyptic expectations (e.g., the movie Armageddon ), to exaggerated fears of a crisis (e.g., the apocalyptic reaction to the Y2K "bug").
Apocalypticism is a feature of all three monotheistic religions. The Book of Daniel describes the Hebrew prophet's vision of the end, and messianism has regularly flared up in Jewish diaspora communities, as when Sabbatai Sevi (1626–1676) predicted the end of the world. In the twentieth century apocalypticism influenced responses to the Holocaust and supported religious Zionism. In Islam, the resurrection, day of judgment, and salvation are apocalyptic features of orthodox belief as evident in the Koran, and apocalypticism influenced expectations of an Islamic messiah in Sunni belief, Iranian Shi'ism, and the Bahá'í faith. Apocalypticism, however, is most common in Christianity, probably because of the continuing influence of the biblical Apocalypse, which has informed not only the eschatology of Christianity but also its art, literature, and worship. Its rich, otherworldly symbolism and prophecies of the end of time are well-known and include the Four Horsemen, Lamb of God, Whore of Babylon, Mark of the Beast (666), Armageddon, Last Judgment, and New Jerusalem.
Apocalyptic belief has been associated with heretical and extremist movements throughout history. For example, the Fraticelli, Franciscan dissidents of the fourteenth century, accused Pope John XXII of being the Antichrist; Thomas Müntzer, an apocalyptic preacher, was a leader in the German Peasants' War of 1525; the American Millerites left crops unplanted, expecting Christ to return in 1844; and David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians before the conflagration that destroyed their Waco compound in 1993, claimed to be the Lamb of the Apocalypse. Nevertheless, there is nothing necessarily unorthodox or radical about apocalypticism, which the theologian Ernst Kaseman has called "the mother of all Christian theology" (1969, p. 40). The sermons of Jesus (e.g., Matt. 24) and the theology of Paul are filled with apocalyptic prophecies, and Peter identified Pentecost—the traditional foundation of the Christian church—as a sign of the end of time (Acts 2). Furthermore, the creed followed by many Christian faiths promises the return of Christ in majesty to judge the living and the dead, and many Protestant denominations, such as Baptists and Adventists, have strong apocalyptic roots that support a conservative theology.
The expectation that Antichrist will appear in the last days to deceive and persecute the faithful is based on apocalyptic interpretations, and during the Middle Ages and Renaissance this belief informed drama, poetry, manuscript illustrations, and paintings, from the twelfth-century Latin Play of Antichrist to Luca Signorelli's compelling fresco at Orvietto Cathedral (1498). The twentieth century, with its numerous wars and social upheavals, has thinly disguised the figure of Antichrist and integrated other apocalyptic images into its literature (e.g., William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming") and popular culture (e.g., the movie The Omen ). Apocalyptic notions also pervade religious polemic; during the debates of the Reformation, for example, Protestants and Catholics identified each other as Antichrists, a term still used by some fundamentalists attacking the papacy.
Another expectation derived from the Apocalypse is the millennium, the thousand-year period of peace and justice during which the Dragon is imprisoned in the abyss before the end of time. More generally, the term millennium refers to any idealized period in the future. Communism, for example, has been described as a millenarian movement because of its promise of a classless society; like the Russian Revolution of 1917, millenarian movements have often been associated with violence of the sort that occurred during the Brazilian slave revolts in the 1580s. The Center for Millennium Studies at Boston University maintains a database of contemporary millenarian movements.
These social movements indicate the tremendous influence of the Apocalypse and the ways in which religious apocalypticism has been secularized. Secular apocalypticism is manifest in popular appropriations of physics that, in one way or another, predict the extermination of life, with references to entropy and the infinite expansion of the universe until it fizzles into nothingness or recoils into a primal contraction. It is also evident in environmentalist forecasts of the extinction of species and the greenhouse effect, in predictions of famine and hunger arising from the exponential increase in world population, and in responses to the devastations of the worldwide AIDS epidemic. Modern secular apocalypticism was particularly strong during the cold war in predictions of nuclear destruction, as evident in Ronald Reagan's references to Armageddon in the 1980s and popular culture (e.g., the movie Dr. Strangelove and the ABC television film The Day After ).
Although the term apocalypse brings to mind images of destruction and violence, and although the sociologist Michael Barkun has linked millennarian hopes to various forms of disaster, the biblical Apocalypse includes many promises of peace and assurances of rewards for the faithful, including a millennium ushered in by Jesus—a far cry from dire predictions of bloody revolution and disaster. For Christians, the apocalypse need not be negative, because the New Jerusalem follows the destruction of an evil world, and life in heaven follows death. In an increasingly secular world, however, the apocalypse summons lurid visions of individual or mass death.
See also: AIDS; Extinction; Nuclear Destruction
AHR Forum. "Millenniums." American Historical Review 104 (1999):1512–1628.
Funk, Robert W., ed. "Apocalypticism." Special issue of Journal for Theology and the Church 6 (1969).
McGinn, Bernard, John J. Collins, and Stephen J. Stein, eds. The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. New York: Continuum, 1998.
Patrides, C. A., and Joseph Wittreich, eds. The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature: Patterns, Antecedents, and Repercussions. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984.
Strozier, Charles B., and Michael Flynn. The Year 2000: Essays on the End. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
RICHARD K. EMMERSON
See Good Death, The.
APOCALYPSE (Gr. ἁποκαλυψις; "revelation"), term which, strictly speaking, denotes the Jewish literature of revelations which arose after the cessation of prophecy and the Christian writings that derived from this Jewish literature.
The major purpose of apocalyptic writings is to reveal mysteries beyond the bounds of normal knowledge: the secrets of the heavens and of the world order, the names and functions of the angels, the explanation of natural phenomena, and the secrets of creation, the end of days, and other eschatological matters, and even the nature of God Himself.
The term "Apocalypse" as the title of a book first appears in the "Apocalypse of John" and from the second century c.e. Christians applied it to similar writings. In the baraita, the term gillayon apparently refers to apocalyptic writings: "These writings and the books of the heretics are not to be saved from a fire but are to be burnt wherever found, they and the Divine Names occurring in them" (Shab. 116a). But it is hardly credible that the tannaim had such an attitude to Jewish apocalyptic writings such as Syriac (ii) Baruch or iv Ezra, which abound in moral and religious piety and the reference is apparently to Christian and Gnostic apocalyptic works. The verb ἁποκαλύπτω is generally used in the Septuagint as a translation of the Hebrew galeh ("reveal"), which occurs in Daniel and in the Dead Sea Scrolls in passages where apocalyptic matters are under discussion, e.g., "to conduct themselves blamelessly each man toward his neighbor in all that has been revealed to them" (1qs 9:19). Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls also use ḥazon ("vision") in the same way (cf. 1qh 4:17f.). The classical period of Jewish apocalypse, a highly developed literary phenomenon in its own right, is from the second century b.c.e. to the second century c.e. Its basic assumption is that prophecy, which had ceased, would be renewed only at the end of days. Therefore, the apocalyptic authors generally attributed their teachings to men who had lived in the period of prophecy, i.e., from Adam to Daniel. The Dead Sea Scrolls, teaching that God made known to "the teacher of righteousness," the leader of the sect, "all the mysteries of the words of his servants the prophets" (1qp Hab. 7:4f.), are an exception to this view. The apocalypse came into being because of its authors' consciousness that theirs was "the last generation" (1qp Hab. 2:5 ff.). Consequently, eschatology constitutes one of its central themes. Apocalyptic history divides itself into "this world," subject to the rule of wickedness ("the government of Belial"), and the "next world," in which "wickedness will be forever abolished and righteousness revealed as the sun." The "end of days" is conceived as a cosmic process accompanied by upheavals in nature, and the events on the earth in those days will be a mere echo of the final war between cosmic forces, when "the heavenly host will give forth in great voice, the foundations of the world will be shaken, and a war of the mighty ones of the heavens will spread throughout the world" (1qh 3:34 ff.). Thus in the apocalyptic vision Israel's redemption assumes a form much further removed from historical reality than in the prophetic works. The Messiah, for example, often becomes a superhuman figure. Since the apocalyptic vision emphasizes the imminence of the "end," leaving little time for normal historical development, it does not allow for the possibility of the alteration of the course of history through repentance. Of course, a moral lesson is contained in the cosmic vision of the end of days, namely, the final victory of good over evil (the apocalyptic vision having come into being to allay contemporary misfortunes), but this morality finds full expression only in the culmination of the process and not at any one of its earlier stages. This explains the fatalistic mood often manifest in the apocalyptic writings. The apocalyptic vision as a whole is not limited to questions concerning the end of days – rather, universal history becomes a process governed by its own special laws. It speaks not only of the future but also of the distant past. It conceives of world history as a chain of the histories of specific kingdoms, the spans of whose rule are predetermined. Moreover, in many cases it sees the end of days as a return to the events of creation.
In the apocalypses, mysteries are most often revealed by an angel, but occasionally the human hero himself is said to travel in the heavenly realm or to see it in a vision. The mysteries are revealed in the form of strange symbols, and historical personalities are not called by their own names. Some scholars have suggested the Persian influence on Jewish and Christian apocalypse; but basically the Jewish apocalypse is a unique phenomenon, integrally linked with the apocalyptic literature.
The only apocalyptic book included in the Bible is *Daniel. Its apocalyptic portions date from the early days of the Hasmonean revolt, and its visions and symbols became the prototype for all later Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings. Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls) were apparently written from the time of John Hyrcanus onward. These works reflect the beliefs of a religious apocalyptic movement, which later found expression in the Qumran sect, which was identified by scholars with the *Essenes. Possessing a completely apocalyptic view of life, the movement gave a prominent place in its scheme of history to the war between good and evil (the demonic forces), and also seems to have formulated the myth of the fallen evil angels, and to have developed a psychology and moral code of its own. The works of this movement (particularly the Book of Enoch and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) contain the earliest references to Jewish mysticism.
In the Roman period apocalyptic writings dealing especially with the question of national suffering and redemption appeared in increasing number. The Psalms of Solomon speak of the Romans, of Pompey and his death, and of the messianic kingdom in typical apocalyptic symbols. According to the Assumption of Moses, the Redeemer is none other than the God of Israel. iv Ezra and ii Baruch reflect the spiritual upheaval which followed the destruction of the Temple. Apart from those apocalypses, the chief intent of which is national and political, the first two centuries c.e. saw the composition of writings centered on the revelation of the secrets of God and the universe, such as the Slavonic book of Enoch. Similar also are the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (apparently 150–200 c.e.), the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Testament of Abraham (first or second century c.e.), the Life of Adam and Eve, and the Testament of Job.
There are many points of contact between the apocalyptic and talmudic literatures. The apocalyptic historical and cosmic dualism of this world and the next was accepted by all Israel. Many eschatological views are common to both the Talmud and the apocalypses. Thus the Talmud contains apocalyptic views on Paradise and Hell, the fate of the soul after death, the Messiah, and descriptions of the seven heavens with an angelology – all themes of apocalyptic eschatology. The divine mysteries (ma'aseh merkavah) and those of the creation (ma'aseh bereshit) became in time topics reserved for groups of mystics, who did not publicize their teachings. In i*Enoch there occurs the earliest description of the "throne of glory," which played a central role in the Merkabah literature. In early Jewish mysticism Enoch himself became an angel and was later identified with Metatron. The heikhalot literature contains, beside its central theme, the ma'aseh merkavah, various descriptions of the "end of days," the period of Redemption, and calculations of the "end" (see *Merkabah Mysticism). The central figures of these books are the tannaim, just as biblical figures were the heroes of earlier pseudepigraphic apocalypses. Apocalyptic works of the type of i Enoch, apparently through translations, exercised an influence on Midrashim, such as Genesis Rabbati, Midrash Tadsheh, Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, and Midrash va-Yissa'u. This influence was not restricted solely to apocalyptic matters, and it extended ultimately to the Zohar and the books based on it. (The Book of Enoch is mentioned several times in the Zohar.) The apocalypse is important, therefore, even for an understanding of Kabbalah and Ḥasidism.
J. Bloch, On the Apocalyptic in Judaism (1952); D. Roessler, Gesetz und Geschichte: Untersuchungen zur Theologie der juedischen Apokalyptik… (1960); H.H. Rowley, The Relevance of Apocalyptic: A Study of Jewish and Christian Apocalypses… (19472); D.S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic… (1964); D. Flusser, Mavo la-Sifrut ha Ḥizonit ve-ha-Hellenistit al Ḥazon ha-Keẓ ve-ha-Ge'ullah (1966); Waxman, Literature, 1 (1960), 25–44; F.C. Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (1914). add. bibliography: The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (19982).
apocalypse (əpŏk´əlĬps) [Gr.,=uncovering], genre represented in early Jewish and in Christian literature in which the secrets of the heavenly world or of the world to come are revealed by angelic mediation within a narrative framework. The genre seems to have arisen in Palestine in the 3d cent. BC, perhaps as a protest against an oppressive and dominant establishment, either Gentile or apostate Jewish. The writing is characterized by otherworldly journeys, visions, animal imagery derived from the common fund of ancient Middle Eastern mythological imagery, and number symbolism. Apocalyptic eschatology is marked by the conviction that God will intervene decisively in the present evil age and vindicate his suffering elect over their oppressors, raising the dead, consigning the wicked to eternal destruction, and establishing a new creation. In the Bible, apocalyptic elements are present in the books of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, and Daniel. The collection known as the Pseudepigrapha contains a number of early Jewish apocalypses, including 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. In the New Testament the book of Revelation is often called the Apocalypse.
See C. Rowland, The Open Heaven (1982); E. Weber, Apocalypses (1999).
- behemoth king of animals whose flesh will provide feast for chosen when Messiah comes. [Jew. Tradition: Leach, 132]
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse four riders symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death. [N.T.: Revelation 6:1–8]
- Gog and Magog giant leaders in ultimate battle against God’s people. [N.T.: Revelation 20:8]
- Götterdämmerung day of great battle between Teutonic gods and forces of evil. [Ger. Folklore: Leach, 461]
- leviathan sea monster; symbol of apocalypse. [Jew. Tradition: Leach, 67]
- Revelation final book of the New Testament discussing the coming of the world’s end. [N.T.: Revelation]
In Christianity, the controlling example is the Book of Revelation, although apocalyptic words are attributed to Jesus: thus Mark 13 is often referred to as ‘The Markan Apocalypse’. Because apocalyptic is often concerned with catastrophic events, e.g. the end of the world, it lends itself to such titles as Apocalypse Now, a film exploring the Vietnam War on the basis of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
a·poc·a·lypse / əˈpäkəˌlips/ • n. (often the Apocalypse) the complete final destruction of the world, esp. as described in the biblical book of Revelation. ∎ an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale: a stock market apocalypse. ∎ (the Apocalypse) (esp. in the Vulgate Bible) the book of Revelation.