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In general, the term "eschatology" designates the doctrine concerning "the last things." The word "last" can be understood either absolutely as referring to the ultimate destiny of mankind in general or of each individual man, or relatively as referring to the end of a certain period in the history of mankind or of a nation that is followed by another, entirely different, historical period.


The Bible has no word for the abstract idea of eschatology. It does, however, have a term – ʾaḥarit ha-yamim – that often has eschatological connotations, at least in the broad sense mentioned above. It means literally "the end of the days," i.e., "the end of time." Just as the cognate Akkadian term, ina aḥrât ūmī (from the older ina aḥriāt ūmī), often shortened to ina aḥrâti, means simply "in the future" or "for [all] the future," so also the Hebrew term beaḥarit ha-yamim can sometimes mean merely "in the future, in time to come," without necessarily having any eschatological connotation (thus, e.g., Deut. 4:30; 31:29; cf. ʾaḥarit, "a future," in Jer. 29:11; et al.). In the Prophets, however, be-ʾaḥarit ha-yamim generally has an eschatological connotation (see below).

In the last few centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple, a new term with a strictly eschatological meaning in the absolute sense appears. This term, keẓ (qeẓ) ha-yamim, means literally "the term of the days" (Dan. 12:13b; cf. the similar term, ʿet qeẓ "the time of the term," Dan. 8:17; 11:35, 40; 12:4, 9).

Some scholars have sought to derive Israelite eschatological ideas from similar concepts of its ancient neighbors, Egypt and Babylonia. At most, there may have been some borrowings from these sources by the Prophets in the secondary details of their descriptions dealing with the horrendous conditions of the eschatological period. More likely, the features for which there are early extra-Israelite parallels were concepts common to the entire ancient Near East. Essentially, eschatology in Israel is an inner-Israelite development. Only in the very later period, i.e., in Daniel and the so-called intertestamental literature of the Jews, can a certain amount of borrowing from Persian sources be shown as probable.

It is difficult to date several eschatological oracles. In certain cases where, for instance, reference is made in a pre-Exilic prophet to Jerusalem as already destroyed and the people of Judah as already in exile, it is legitimate to suggest that such passages are later insertions into the pre-Exilic Prophets. However, when such criteria are lacking, the supposition should normally be that the eschatological oracles in question belong to the pre-Exilic prophet to whom they are attributed.

in the bible

For the sake of showing how eschatological ideas evolved in ancient Israel, it is useful to consider the preprophetic period, the early prophetic oracles, the later pre-Exilic Prophets, and the Exilic and post-Exilic Prophets.

Pre-Prophetic Period

In the age of the Patriarchs, of Moses and Joshua, and of the Judges, and in the first few centuries of the monarchy there is little evidence of true eschatology. Yet the basis of later Israelite eschatology was really laid down in that early age. From the time of Abraham on, those descendants of his who later called themselves bene Yisrael, "the Israelites," venerated their one and only God as a "living God," i.e., as one who took an active part in the history of His people. They were conscious of the fact that He had made them His "*chosen people." Since He was not only the special God of Israel but also the sole Lord of the entire world, Israelite religion combined a certain "particularism" as the "chosen people" with a certain universalism, which looked forward to their God's reign over all mankind. They regarded Him as a just God, who would reward or punish all men according to their morally good or evil lives. Because of His *covenant with His chosen people, He proves Himself to be faithful and loyal to His promises (thus showing His frequently praised ʾemet or ʾemunah, "faithfulness," and ḥesed, "mercy"); therefore in times of need He sends His people "saviors," such as Moses and Joshua, the various "Judges," and especially David, the ideal mashi'aḥ, "anointed" (see *Messiah) king, who was promised an everlasting dynasty (ii Sam. 7:11–16). The hope and expectation that this relationship between the God of Israel and His people would continue in the future led to the genuine eschatology that is found in the books of the so-called "writing" Prophets (as distinct from such earlier prophets as Elijah and Elisha). The essential origin of Israel's eschatology lay in Israel's belief in its election by God as the means by which He would establish His universal reign over all mankind, combined with His promise to Israel of its own land, "the Promised Land," "the land of Canaan," as His pledge guaranteeing this promise.

Early Pre-Exilic Prophets

Among all the prophets of Israel, only the recorded oracles of Amos and Hosea were uttered before the destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel (722 b.c.e.).


The prophetic activity of *Amos took place in approximately 750 b.c.e., during the brief period of peace and prosperity that both Israel and Judah enjoyed after Jeroboam ii, king of Israel (786–746), inflicted a decisive defeat (at an uncertain date) on the Arameans of Damascus (ii Kings 14:25–27). This prosperity led to various forms of social injustice, whereby the relatively small class of rich landowners and government officials oppressed the poor, as well as to an indulgence by many of the people of both kingdoms in the degrading practices of their pagan neighbors. With divinely inspired foresight, Amos knew that these evils would bring about a time of crisis when the wrath of God would condemn to inevitable doom (Amos 1:3, 6, 9; et al.) not only the pagan nations (1:3–2:3) but also Judah and especially Israel (2:4–6:14). The prophet based his prediction of Israel's and Judah's punishment on the much older concept of their election by God as His "Chosen People": "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (3:2).

In designating the time of God's future punishment, Amos was the first to call it "the *Day of the Lord" (yom yhwh), a term that was taken up, with further developments of the concept, by many of the later prophets (Isa. 13:6, 9; Ezek. 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:4; 4:14; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Mal. 3:23), with variations such as "the day of the Lord's fury" (Zeph. 1:18), "that Day" (ha-yom ha-huʾ, Isa. 2:11; Zeph. 1:15), or simply "the Day" (ha-yom, Mal. 3:19; cf. Ezek. 7:7). However, Amos did not invent the term; it is clear from his reference to it that it was already in popular use. Its origin is obscure, and at first it may have had a military connotation, "the day of the Lord's victory over the enemies of His people" (cf. the expression "the day of Midian" in Isa. 9:3, where, however, it refers to Israel's victory over the Midianites). In any case, at the time of Amos the common people were using the term to designate the time when their God would bring them complete victory over their enemies and thus lead them into the "light" of lasting peace and prosperity. The prophet turned this expectation of theirs directly against them: "Woe to you that desire the day of the Lord! Wherefore would you have the day of the Lord (yhwh)? It is darkness, not light.… No, the day of the Lord shall be darkness, not light, gloomy, devoid of brightness" (5:18, 20). In 8:9–10 Amos enlarges on this theme: "And on that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in the clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; and I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day." While Amos used the image of a midday eclipse of the sun merely in a figurative sense, the eschatological oracles of later prophets (e.g., Isa. 13:10) developed this image into vast cosmic disturbances, seemingly to be understood literally, that would accompany the Day of the Lord.

Although for Amos the event initiating the new historical era would be primarily one of punishment and destruction, he includes, because he is aware of God's fidelity to His promises, the hope that for those who "seek the Lord" (5:4–6) "it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph" (5:14–15). Here again there occurs the earliest use of a term, "the remnant" (she'erit; see *Remnant of Israel), that was reused and at times received a different connotation in later eschatological writings (Jer. 6:9; 31:7; Ezek. 9:8; et al.; sometimes also in the form sheʾar, Isa. 10:20–21; 11:11, 16; et al.). For Amos it designates those who will survive the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.

In order that the Book of Amos might end on a more positive note of hope, the last verses of the book (9:11–15), concerning the restoration of Israel, were apparently added by a post-Exilic editor. The later origin of this passage seems probable because it presupposes that the Davidic dynasty has come to an end and that the walls of Jerusalem have "breaches" and the city is in "ruins" (9:11).


It is generally agreed that *Hosea, the only "writing" prophet who was a native of the Northern Kingdom, was a contemporary of Amos, although apparently a younger one, for some of his oracles were probably delivered shortly before the fall of Samaria, although none after that date (722 b.c.e.). Like Amos, Hosea inveighed vigorously against the moral evils in Israel. Yet his vehement threats of terrible punishments (Hos. 2:3–7, 16–25; 5:14; 10:14–15; 13:7–8; et al.) are mingled with generous promises of forgiveness and future happiness (2:16–23; 6:1–3; 11:8–9; 12:6; 14:2–9; et al.); this is done with such sudden and confusing transitions that some scholars regard the book as a rather haphazard collection of Hosea's short oracles strung together by some later editor in complete disorder, while others see in this a reflection on the Lord's part of the prophet's own experience with his faithless wife (1:2–9; 3:1–3; cf. McKenzie, in cbq, 17 (1955), 287–289).

If eschatology is understood in the broad sense of a dramatic change from one historical period to an entirely different one in the future, Hosea no doubt shows genuine eschatological concepts. Some of these, which are original with him, played an important role in later eschatological writings. Such, for instance, is Hosea's concept of renewal of God's love for and covenant with Israel as in the days following the Exodus from Egypt (2:14–15; 11:1). The notable – and seminal – feature of this new covenant is that it has a built-in guarantee against Israel's ever giving cause for its dissolution as it did with the original covenant. With the covenant, Israel will receive a new nature which will render it incapable of breaking it (Hos. 2:21–22; see Jeremiah below). Another notable eschatological concept is the view of a future in which Israel will never again be attacked by human enemies from without and will live in peaceful harmony with all living creatures within its border.

Later Pre-Exilic Prophets

In the second half of the eighth century b.c.e. two prophets, Isaiah and Micah, were active in Judah, and some of their oracles are eschatological in the broad sense described above. Similar eschatological oracles are found in Zephaniah, Nahum, and Jeremiah, who lived about a century later.


The authentic prophecies of *Isaiah, who was active as a prophet from approximately 740 to at least 701 b.c.e., are found in the first 39 chapters ("Proto-Isaiah") of the long book (66 chapters) that is attributed to him; even in the first 39 chapters there are several sections, some rather long (e.g., the eschatologically important "Apocalypse of Isaiah" in 24:1–27:13), that are later additions to the Book of Isaiah. These, as well as "Deutero-Isaiah" (40:1–55:13) and "Trito-Isaiah" (56:1–66:24) – the question of a Trito-Isaiah is still, however, disputed – will be considered below for their eschatological import. Only those oracles with eschatological bearing that are clearly or at least probably from Isaiah or his disciples are treated here.

Isaiah lived at a time of national crisis for Judah: the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser iii (745–727) ravaged and annexed Syria and most of the northern kingdom of Israel, and under Shalmaneser v (727–722) and Sargon (722–705) subdued the rest of Israel and most of the Philistine plain; meanwhile the wicked Ahaz (735–715) and even the pious Hezekiah (715–687), kings of Judah, played the game of international politics rather than trust in help from the Lord. Filled with a deep sense of God's utter holiness by his call to prophesy, Isaiah fulminated against idolatry and general wickedness in Israel and Judah. Many of his vehement threats of the punishment that would come on "the Day of the Lord" have a genuine eschatological ring: they predict universal destruction, not only for Israel and Judah, but also for the pagan nations, especially those who were the "rod of His wrath," and these oracles often have the overtones of cosmic disturbances that became characteristic of later Jewish eschatology. Thus, for instance: "For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty.… And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the pride of men shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day" (2:12, 17); "You will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel … shall be like a dream, a vision of the night" (29:6–7).

A recurring theme with eschatological implications in Isaiah is that of the "remnant of Israel" (10:21–22; 11:11, 16; 14:30; 28:5; 37:32). To some extent this term implies a threat, as in Amos 5:15 (cf. "only a remnant" in Isa. 10:22), but usually it includes a consoling promise that at least a remnant of the people will be left with whom the Lord will be pleased (cf. "to recover the remnant of His people" in 11:11, and similar phrases in 4:3; 11:16; 28:5). There is no good reason for rejecting these passages as not authentic or for placing them in the Exilic or post-Exilic period, since there is mention of a son of the prophet with the symbolic name of Shear-Jashub (7:3), which means "a remnant shall return." (This, however, occurs in a third person story about the prophet, and its historicity is therefore not technically assured; but see Isa. 6:11–13.)

A new theme in Isaiah is the prospect of a future ideal king of Judah. This occurs in the so-called Immanuel passages, although, apart from its use as an exclamation in 8:8, the name Immanuel, meaning "God is with us," occurs only in 7:14, and the literary form of third person narrative, among other things, raises doubts as to its historicity (see *Immanuel). When King Ahaz of Jerusalem is threatened with war by a coalition of the kings of Israel and Damascus if he does not enter into an anti-Assyrian league, Isaiah urges him to trust solely in the Lord and gives him this sign: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.… Before the child knows how to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted" (7:14, 16). Although the exact meaning of this passage is disputed, it is usually understood as referring directly to Ahaz' son and successor Hezekiah, who is here given the symbolic name "God is with us." Probably 9:5–6 is to be connected with this passage. Here, after singing of joyful peace following a great victory that the Lord has wrought for His people, the prophet continues: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder; and his name will be called Pele-Joez-El-Gibbor-Abi-Ad-Sar-Shalom ["Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace"]; of the increase of his government and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." Finally, connected with these two prophecies is that of 11:1–5: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow forth out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist and faithfulness the girdle of his loins." These passages are quoted here at length because in their description of the future ideal king of Judah, they laid the foundation for the so-called Royal Messianism in the post-Exilic period, an important element in late Jewish eschatology. There is no solid reason for denying the Isaian authorship of these prophecies; even though the pre-Exilic prophets may not have held the kingship of Judah, as they knew it, in high esteem, they must have been aware of the constant tradition based on Nathan's oracle concerning the perpetual endurance of the Davidic dynasty (ii Sam. 7:12–16; Ps. 89:20–38; see *Messiah).

Like Hosea 2:20, 23–25, Isaiah describes the peace of the Messianic age as a return to the happiness of the Garden of Eden, where all creatures, wild beasts as well as men, would live in tranquil harmony; "for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (11:6–9).


Contemporaneous with Isaiah, *Micah, a native of Moresheth in Judah, apparently had a much shorter prophetic ministry. Like Isaiah, he looked forward, in a broader eschatological sense, to an ideal ruler (the basis of Royal Messianism) who would be of the Davidic dynasty, coming from David'snative town of Beth-Lehem (5:1–3).

The theme of Mount Zion's eventually becoming the religious center of all mankind, which is further developed in later Jewish eschatology, is first enunciated in a prophecy that is given, in almost identical words, in both Micah 4:1–4 and Isaiah 2:2–4. Some scholars hold that this prophecy is not original in either Micah or Isaiah, but that it was inserted in both books from some common source by a later editor. Yet there is no solid reason for assigning a post-Exilic date to it. Interestingly enough, in the post-Exilic book of Joel, where there is a description of the eschatological war that will be waged between the Lord and His pagan enemies, the classical words of the earlier oracle describing universal peace are turned into the directly opposite sense: "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears" (Joel 4:10).


The prophet *Zephaniah probably uttered his oracles at about 640–603 b.c.e., in the first decade of the reign of King Josiah of Judah, a turbulent period when the idolatry and general wickedness of the people of Judah, combined with the political folly of Jerusalem's leaders in favoring the declining power of Assyria, led him to believe that "the great day of the Lord is near" (Zeph. 1:14). The bold imagery he used in describing this terrible "day" had much influence on later Jewish eschatological writings. After depicting the destruction of all the wicked on this day of doom (1:2–14), he cries out: "A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth" (1:15–18).

In genuine prophetic tradition, Zephaniah ascribes to the Lord phrases such as "the remnant of My people" and "the survivors of My nation" (2:9), adding "For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall take refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall pasture and lie down, and none shall make them afraid" (3:12–13). However, the final verses of the book (3:14–20) were probably added to it in the Exile or in the post-Exilic period since they speak of the gathering in of the scattered exiles of Zion.


Although the short Book of *Nahum, as such, consists essentially of a hymn of victory over the fall of Nineveh (612 b.c.e.), this hymn is introduced by an incomplete "alphabetic" psalm (Nah. 1:2–8), in which God's wrath is portrayed in the vivid colors that are later employed in describing the cosmic disturbances accompanying the great and terrible Day of the Lord.


In the broad sense of eschatology as the "end" of a given historical period that would be followed by a very different one, the Book of *Jeremiah, despite its seemingly disturbed sequence of poetic oracles and prose narratives combined with later scribal accretions, can be considered as practically eschatological throughout. Jeremiah clearly foresaw that the kingdom of Judah was doomed, because most of its people refused to give up their evil ways and their political leaders resisted the Babylonians whom God had sent to punish His people. One can almost speak of "realized eschatology" in Jeremiah, since for the prophet the doom was so imminent as to be felt as already present. Sixteen of his oracles begin with the expression hinneh yamim baʾim ("Behold, the days are coming when…"; 7:32; 9:24; 16:14; 19:6; et al.), which for Jeremiah is almost the equivalent of the eschatological term "at the end of days," when the imminent and actual invasion of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 15:1–4; 34:8–22; 37:3–10; et al.) will take place.

Yet even when the situation looked utterly hopeless for Judah, the prophet still believed that in God's mercy a remnant would survive the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (32:1–15), just as he had expected a reprieve for the remnant left in the Northern Kingdom (3:11–18) and a restoration of Judah's exiles taken to Babylonia in the first deportation of 597 b.c.e. (24:1–10). Like Isaiah and Micah a century before his time, Jeremiah looked forward to the continuity of the Davidic dynasty in an ideal king of the future (23:5–6). (In the symbolic name that the prophet gives to the new, ideal king, yhwhẓidekenu (ẓideqenu) (Heb. יהוה צִדְקֵנוּ), there is most likely an intentional allusion – with obvious inversion – to the name of the last, wicked king of Judah, Zedekiah (Heb. צִדְקִיָּהוּ).) Moreover, Jeremiah, obviously inspired by Hosea 2:21–22, foresaw that Israel's reestablishment would entail a renewal of the ancient Sinaitic covenant in such a way that it would bring about a true change of heart, a new, interior spirituality (31:31–34).

Exilic and Post-Exilic Prophets

During the Babylonian exile and in the centuries that followed the gradual return of the Jewish exiles to the land of Israel until the latest writings in the Bible, important developments took place in Jewish eschatological thought. This can be seen especially in the writings of Ezekiel, the so-called Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 40:1–55:13), the so-called Trito-Isaiah (Isa. 56:1–66:24), Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, Joel, the so-called Deutero-Zechariah (Zech. 9:1–14:21), the author of the so-called Apocalypse of Isaiah (Isa. 24:1–27:13), and finally in the Book of Daniel.


Since it can rightly be said that the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 b.c.e. formed the climactic turning point, not only in the political history of ancient Israel but also in its religious orientation, the prophet *Ezekiel is unique in many ways, particularly as he prophesied before that destruction (although already in Babylonia), as well as during the first few decades of the Jewish exile in Babylonia, where he had been taken in the first deportation of Jews by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 b.c.e. He shows a more intense sense than the older prophets both of the imminence of God's punitive judgment on the pagan nations (Ezek. 25:1–32:32) and of the restoration of God's chosen people to a holier state than before.

For Ezekiel, Judah's restoration would be almost as miraculous as the resurrection of the dead to life, which is illustrated in his well-known vision of the valley filled with dead men's bones that took on flesh and came back to life (37:1–14). Although the new religious life of Judah would be essentially based on a sincere inner conversion to the Lord (11:19–20; 36:26–27), it would be centered on an elaborately described worship in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem; this holy city, with its new symbolic name of "The-Lord-Is-There," would be in the center of the new land of Israel, with six of the twelve tribes of Israel living in parallel geographic strips to the north of it, and the other six in similar strips to the south (40:1–48:35).

Now that Judah no longer had its own king, Ezekiel kept alive the ancient expectation of a continuance of the Davidic dynasty – the basis of later messianism. However, for this prophet, Judah's future ruler as the Lord's viceroy would have the title of only "prince" (nasi, anciently "a tribal chief "), not "king" (44:3; 45:17; et al). He would be a true shepherd of the Lord's flock (34:11–24). Chastened Israel, though now scattered throughout the world, would be the Lord's means of establishing His reign over all the earth, and would thus fulfill the promise He made to the Patriarchs (36:1–38). A diligent elaborator of Jeremiah motifs, he conceived in his own way the motif of a change in Israel's nature – "a new heart and a new spirit," with variations (11:17–20; 16:60; 36:24–28) – which would guarantee the new covenant against dissolution as in the case of the first. However, he stresses in his inimitable manner (36:20–23, 29–31) the principle first clearly enunciated in i Samuel 12:22, according to which God's motive is not compassion for undeserving Israel, but His own prestige, since His name, because it is associated with Israel, is discredited in the eyes of the nations by Israel's misfortunes. That is why, even after proving that he is able to restore Israel to its land, He will further "prove Himself great and holy" in the eyes of the nations (38:23) by demonstrating through Gog and Magog that He is able to prevent their being subjugated again (39:22–29).

The fantastic word pictures drawn by Ezekiel, which he used directly only for describing eschatology in the broad sense, e.g., that of *Gog and Magog who represented for the prophet the hostile pagan nations of his time (38:1–39:20), were destined to find many echoes in later Jewish writers, who reused them in depicting their eschatology in the strict sense – the "end" of the world as men knew it.


The anonymous writer who composed Isaiah 40:1–55:13 and to whom modern scholars have given the name "Deutero-Isaiah" (the "Second Isaiah") is generally believed to have prophesied in the last years preceding the conquest of Babylon by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 539 b.c.e. Just as the prophet knew that the Lord had used the pagan kings of Assyria and Babylon to punish His sinful people according to the predictions of the earlier prophets (Isa. 1:21–31; Jer. 7:1–15; Ezek. 22:1–22), so he foresaw that the Lord would use the pagan king of Persia as His "anointed one" (cf. Isa. 44:28; 45:1 with Jer. 25:9; 27:6; 43:10) to liberate repentant Judah from its captivity. The prophet's preaching, therefore, is almost entirely one of consolation for his afflicted fellow exiles. From an eschatological viewpoint, Deutero-Isaiah is important for his clear perception of God's plan in directing man's history on earth; the Lord alone prearranged this history from beginning to end (Isa. 41:22–23; 42:8–9; 46:8–13; et al.). The prophet treats this history of man on a cosmic scale; the restoration of Judah is to be a "new creation" for all mankind as well as for the Jews (41:17–20; 42:5–7; 43:1; 45:8). This plan of God for the world's salvation would be carried out by the *Servant of the Lord (ʿeved yhwh), who both personifies Israel (49:3) and has a mission for Israel (49:5–6); his sufferings atone for man's sins, but his glorious exaltation brings peace and salvation to the world (52:13–53:12). With Deutero-Isaiah there begins a more transcendent concept of eschatology; climactic events in history are viewed not so much as the beginning of a new historical era brought about by human means, but rather as a transformation of the world on a cosmic scale produced by God's extraordinary intervention in man's history.

haggai, zechariah, and malachi

When Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah, was appointed governor of the small Persian province of Judah, the prophets *Haggai and *Zechariah temporarily saw him as the one who could continue the Davidic dynasty (Hag. 2:20–23; Zech. 4:6–7; 6:9–14 (emending "Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest," to "Zerubbabel" in v. 11; cf. "the Shoot" in 3:8)); thus they kept alive the messianic expectation in Judah. Moreover, the strange type of symbolism that first appears in Zechariah 1:7–2:13 and 5:1–6:8, connected with the concept of an incredibly enlarged Jerusalem (Zech. 2:5–9), was later reechoed in the eschatological imagery of Daniel and the later Jewish writers.

The book that bears the title *Malachi ("my messenger"), apparently borrowed from Malachi 3:1, was probably written about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (second half of the fifth century b.c.e.). This prophet predicts that the Lord will come to His temple preceded by His messenger, and will hold His Day of Judgment against the wicked (Mal. 3:1–6). In what is generally considered to be a later addition to the book, this messenger is identified with "Elijah the prophet [coming] before the great and terrible day of the Lord" (3:23). Since on the basis of ii Kings 2:11 it was commonly assumed that Elijah never died, a popular belief, later elaborated on in Jewish writings, held that he would return to earth as the precursor of the *Messiah (cf. Matt. 11:14; 16:14; Mark 9:11–13; Luke 1:17; John 1:21; et al.).


A terrible plague of locusts (Joel 1:2–20) was seen by the prophet *Joel, who probably prophesied between 400 and 350 b.c.e., to have eschatological significance in that it symbolized the forces hostile to God on "the day of the Lord…, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains …" (2:1–17). Yet the Lord would be victorious over His enemies (4:1–16) and bring salvation and blessings to His chosen people (2:18–3:5). This is eschatology in the strict sense, involving cosmic disturbances as the initiation of the new, transcendent era (3:1–4).

In the verse in which Joel has God say: "I will gather all the nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of My people and My heritage Israel…" (4:2), the term "valley of Jehoshaphat" has no geographic significance; it merely means "the place where the Lord judges." Later tradition identified it with the Kidron Valley to the east of Jerusalem, and consequently this valley and the Mount of Olives to the east of it became a favorite burial place, where one would be at hand at the resurrection of the dead for general judgment on the Last Day.


The last six chapters of the Book of Zechariah (9:1–14:21) differ in so many respects from the first eight chapters that many modern scholars attribute them to a later writer (or even to two later writers – one for 9:1–11:17, and another for 12:1–14:21), who apparently lived some time between Joel (c. 400–350 b.c.e.) and Ben Sira (c. 180 b.c.e.). Rejoicing over the fall of Syria and the coastal cities of Palestine (9:1–8), perhaps as the victorious army of Alexander the Great advanced toward Egypt in 332 b.c.e., the prophet saw in their fall a sign of the imminent coming of the Messiah as a prince of peace: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble, and riding on an ass …" (Zech. 9:9). In describing the new, transcendent era, the prophet develops the symbolic language of the older prophets, especially that of Ezekiel, but it already has more of the fantastic imagery that is characteristic of *apocalyptic literature. A theme that later receives further development is that of the sufferings that God's people must still endure (14:1–2, 13–14a) before "the Lord will become King over all the earth" (14:9).


Many scholars hold that the last 11 chapters of the Book of Isaiah (56:1–66:24) form a unit quite distinct from both Proto-Isaiah (1:1–39:8) and Deutero-Isaiah (40:1–55:13). This section probably consists of a collection of writings composed by different men at various times in the post-Exilic period (even though 57:3–13a may possibly be of pre-Exilic origin). From an eschatological viewpoint, the passages in Isaiah 60:1–62:12; 65:17–25; 66:7–17, depicting the glory of the new Jerusalem and the joy of all the earth, and the passage in 66:18–21, describing the gathering of all the nations of the earth for God's final judgment on mankind, are of particular importance. (On the bearing of the "unquenchable fire" (66:24), together with Jer. 7:30–8:3; 19:6; 31:40, for the later eschatological concept of the eternal fire of Gehenna, see below.)

"apocalypse of isaiah"

Isaiah 24:1–27:13 is so different from the rest of Isaiah that it seems to have been written by some anonymous prophet distinct from all the other prophets whose prophecies have been gathered together in the large compilation now known as the Book of Isaiah. The hymns of praise (24:14–16a), thanksgiving (25:1–12), and supplication (26:1–19) that are interspersed among the various prophecies of doom and blessing suggest that this section once formed a sort of "liturgy." Nowhere in the section is there any reference or even allusion to an historical event that could be used for dating the composition. Yet in the descriptions of the devastation of the entire world (24:1–13), of the concomitant cosmic disturbances (24:19–23a), and the salvation of the "remnant" (26:20–21), the style and language are so similar to later apocalyptic writings that this section is commonly called "the Apocalypse of Isaiah," and the date of its composition is generally placed not long before the composition of the genuinely apocalyptic chapters in the Book of Daniel. Concepts that play a large role in the later apocalyptic writings, such as the eschatological banquet (Isa. 25:6) and the resurrection of the dead (26:19, perhaps to be understood here in the literal sense as distinct from the symbolic resurrection of the dead, signifying national resurrection, in Ezek. 37:1–14) appear here for the first time (see the Book of *Isaiah).


The first section of the Book of *Daniel is a compilation of six (or five, the first being merely introductory) aggadic stories about Daniel and his three companions, who are presented as living in Babylon in the sixth century b.c.e., toward the end of the Neo-Babylonian empire and the beginning of the empire of the Medes and Persians (Dan. 1:1–6:29); the second section contains four visions or revelations (7:1–12:13) that Daniel is said to have received and which foretell the history of the Near East from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (605–562 b.c.e.), to that of Antiochus iv Epiphanes, king of Syria (175–164 b.c.e.). This compilation was made in its present form shortly before the death of Epiphanes, at a time when Judaism in Palestine was suffering a severe crisis both from defection toward pagan Hellenism from within, and from violent persecution from without by Epiphanes to make the Jews forsake their ancient religion.

The older aggadic stories were retold in the book for the sake of encouraging faithful Jews to withstand persecution; as the Lord had come to the rescue of Daniel and his companions, so also would He intervene in the present crisis by putting an end to the pagan empires and establishing His reign over all the earth by means of His chosen people, for He is the Lord of history, who "changes times and seasons; he removes kings, and sets up kings" (2:21).

The second half of the book (7:1–12:13) contains the earliest preserved form of apocalyptic literature in the strict sense, a type of writing that was frequently imitated and developed by Jews at least until the destruction of the Second Temple. This type of writing, in brief, purports to be a revelation (Greek apocalypsis, literally an "uncovering") of the future, especially the final destiny of the world, which was given to some ancient worthy centuries or even millennia earlier, but was left "hidden" (Gr. apocryphon – hence many of these writings are called "*apocrypha") until the present time of crisis.

Persian influence on the apocalyptic writings can be seen, not only, e.g., in their more elaborate *angelology, but especially in their division of history into various distinct eras or "monarchies." The Persians divided their history of the world into three "monarchies": the Assyrian, the Median, and the Persian. In the Hellenistic period a fourth "monarchy" was added – their own Greek "kingdom," which as far as Palestine was concerned, consisted of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty in Syria, with the capital at Antioch. The Jews adapted this four-monarchy theory of history to their own situation by substituting the Babylonian empire (as better known to them) for the Assyrian empire, and by adding a fifth "kingdom" – the universal reign of God on earth, based on His chosen people, Israel. This last kingdom would be "an everlasting kingdom" (3:33) – a concept that is eschatology in the strict sense. In Daniel this view of world history is presented in two places: first, in the aggadic story of Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the gigantic statue made of four different materials (symbolizing the four successive pagan empires), that was smashed by a rock hewn without hands from a mountain, which itself "became a great mountain and filled the whole earth," the kingdom of God, "which shall never be destroyed…, and it shall stand for ever" (2:31–45); secondly, in the apocalypse of chapter 7, where four beasts (each with a characteristic number to show the number of rulers) representing the four successive pagan empires are destroyed by God, and in their place "one like a son of man" receives from the Lord "dominion, and glory, and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed" (7:13–14).

In Daniel, the "one like a son of man" (a Semitism meaning simply "one like a human being") is a symbol, as stated explicitly, representing "the people of the saints of the Most High" (7:27); that he "came with the clouds of heaven" (7:13), i.e., had his origin from God, is said primarily to contrast him with the four great beasts that "came up from the sea" (7:3), i.e., from the realms of chaos (cf. Gen. 1:2). However, as will be shown below, this purely symbolic figure of "one like a son of man" was soon regarded as a real person, the Messiah.

Daniel contains the first unequivocal affirmation of a belief in the eschatological resurrection of the dead: "There shall be a time of trouble…; and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (12:1–2). This does not necessarily imply a universal resurrection of all mankind at "the end of the world"; the expression "many of those" hardly means "all men, numerous as they are." But it does offer a solution to the age-old problem of divine retribution, why the just suffer and the wicked seem to prosper in this life. The Book of Job struggled in vain with this problem; yet even the well-known passage in Job 19:25–27, where the text itself is not clear, seems merely to have the sufferer reassert his firm belief that God would some day vindicate Job's righteousness. Belief in the resurrection of the dead may have been adumbrated in the "Apocalypse of Isaiah" (Isa. 26:19; see above) and in the pious hope of the Psalmist (Ps. 73:23–26), yet it appears in Daniel 12:1–2 with startling suddenness. Perhaps there is some influence here from the Zoroastrian religion of the Persians, which had such a belief. However, the occasion for the expression of this belief in Israel was apparently due to Israel's conviction, on the one hand, of God's justice in rewarding the good, and on the other hand the martyrdom of so many innocent Jews in Antiochus Epiphanes' persecution.

Another important trait in the eschatology of Daniel is the attempt by the author of the apocalypse contained in chapter 9 to show that "the end" was to come in the near future; he does this by interpreting the 70 years of exile that had been foretold by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11; 29:10) to mean 70 weeks of years or 490 years, and to argue from this by his own strange chronology that only three and a half years still remained before the end would come. The author may well have been the compiler of the entire book, for the references to the remaining three and a half years before "the end" in the other apocalypses (7:25b; 8:14; 12:7) seem to be insertions made by him. Later on, additions were made to the book in 12:11 and 12:12, in order to lengthen the period of waiting when the earlier predictions failed to be fulfilled.

in the intertestamental literature

Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

Certain Jewish writings that were composed after the completion of the latest book of the Hebrew Bible (probably Daniel, c. 165 b.c.e.) and before the completion of the books of the New Testament are commonly referred to as the "intertestamental literature." With the exception of some fragments that have been found at *Qumran, these writings have been preserved in Greek (or in secondary translations made from the Greek), although most of them were originally written not in Greek but in Hebrew or Aramaic. None of these books is included in the Jewish or Protestant canon; but seven of them, which are found in the *Septuagint, are included in the Bible of Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. These seven books – Tobit, Judith, Baruch, i and ii Maccabees, the Wisdom of Ben Sira, and the Wisdom of Solomon – are called "deuterocanonical" (i.e., belonging to the "second canon") by the Catholics; Protestants call them "the *Apocrypha," and the rest, "the Pseudepigrapha." Some of these books – the Ethiopic and the Slavonic Books of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Ezra, the Syriac and the Greek Apocalypses of Baruch, the Jewish Sibylline Oracles, etc. – are primarily apocalyptic and of prime importance for the eschatological concepts of the period in question. However, even the pseudohistorical writings (Jubilees, Life of Adam and Eve, Ascension of Isaiah, etc.) and the moral-didactic writings (Wisdom of Solomon, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Psalms of Solomon, etc.) provide much information concerning eschatological ideas of the Jews in the last two centuries before, and the first century after, the destruction of the Second Temple. Almost all the intertestamental writings have come down in copies or translations made by Christian scribes, who often interpolated new passages containing Christian concepts into the older original Jewish compositions. However, it is generally not difficult to discern which passages are Christian interpolations.


Although Jewish eschatology, including that of the intertestamental literature, was always theocentric, i.e., concerned basically with the ultimate triumph of God and His justice, it combined this with certain preliminary events that would precede the establishment of God's universal reign over all mankind on "the Day of the Lord." Chief among these preliminary events would be the reign of the *Messiah (i En. 45:3; 105:2; 28:29; 13:32–35; 14:9). Not only from the intertestamental writings but also from Josephus (Wars, 2:6, 12; Ant., 13:9) and the New Testament (Matt. 23:23–24; etc.), it is clear that in the last two centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple and even in the succeeding generations, e.g., at the time of the revolt of Bar Kokhba (132–135 c.e.), belief in the imminent coming of the Messiah was widespread in Judaism. During that period more than one contender arose to claim the title of Messiah (cf. Acts 5:36; 12:38). The intertestamental literature naturally reflects this belief, but not always in a uniform fashion.

Some of these writings speak of certain personages who would precede the coming of the Messiah. On the basis of Deuteronomy 18:15 ("A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up into thee…, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken"), some of the apocalyptic writers of this period predicted that a special prophet, or even Moses himself, would come to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jeremiah, "a friend of his brethren, who prays much for his people and for the holy city" (ii Macc. 15:14) and highly respected by the Jews of the period, was sometimes identified with this precursor of the Messiah. However, the chief candidate for the office of the precursor of the Messiah was the prophet Elijah, in keeping with the oracle of Malachi 3:23–24; by his miracles and his preaching he would reform the people and make them ready to receive the Messiah (cf. e.g., Ecclus. 48:10–11).

Reckoning Eschatological Times

In imitation of the attempts made in Daniel to calculate the time remaining before "the end of time" (cf. Ass. Mos. 1:18; iv Ezra 3:14), the apocalyptic writers of the intertestamental period devised various methods for reckoning "the times of the Messiah," Yemot ha-Mashiah. Jubilees, for instance, divided the history of the world into a great number of "jubilees" (period of 50 years each) in order to establish when "the end" would come. Other writings divided the history of the world into 12 periods of 400 years apiece (iv Ezra 14:11; Test. Patr., Abraham a 19, b 7; Life of Adam and Eve 42). Some reckoned by millennia and maintained that the reign of the Messiah itself would last for a thousand years, referring to "the Messianic millennium," a period of peace and happiness on earth before the final Day of the Lord.

Birth Pangs of the Messiah

In general, the intertestamental literature depicts the period preceding the coming of the Messiah as one of terrible distress: plagues and famine, floods and earthquakes, wars and revolutions, accompanied by such cosmic disturbances as the darkening of the sun and the moon and the falling of the stars from the sky. In part, these ideas were derived from contemporary events, such as the dispersion and persecutions suffered by the people of Israel, and in part from the descriptions of the Day of the Lord found in the writings of the earlier prophets. The purpose of these terrifying pictures was to encourage the faithful in Israel to bear their afflictions patiently as God's will for them, for only when the cup of evil was filled to the brim would the Messiah come to bring salvation. These sufferings, therefore, are commonly called "the pangs of the Messiah," ḥevlo shel Mashiaḥ, meaning that Israel, like a mother, was to bring forth the Messiah in the pangs of childbirth.

On the basis of Ezekiel 38:1–39:20, the pre-messianic wars are presented as the Lord's fight against Gog and Magog, symbols of the powers of evil in the world. The leader of these evil forces bears such names as Satan, Belial (or Beliar), Maste Din (or Mastema), and (in the Greek versions) the Anti-Christ. However, it should be noted that this pre-messianic warfare is to be understood primarily as a spiritual, not a military, one; and the Lord's use of Israel in establishing His reign over all mankind is not intended to imply an Israelite political empire.

Son of Man

Besides such titles as "savior" and "redeemer," which are given to the expected Messiah in the intertestamental writings, a special title is given to him in the (Ethiopic) Book of Enoch (i En.; written shortly after Daniel) and in the Apocalypse of *Ezra (iv Ezra; written c. 30 years after the destruction of the Second Temple), that of the "son of man." This title is clearly borrowed from Daniel 7:13. Although in Daniel the term is purely symbolic (see above), the intertestamental books use it in reference to an actual person, the Messiah. According to these writings, the "son of man," who stands "at the throne of God" in heaven, existed "before the sun and the stars were created" (i En. 46:1–3); he will bring salvation at the end of the ages, when he will be enthroned as king of the world (iv Ezra 13:26).

4th world to come

The apocalyptic writings after Daniel (though in this book the terms themselves are not used) divide the time after God's great eschatological interventions as "this (present) time" (olam ha-zeh) and "the time to come" (olam ha-ba, lit. "the coming time"; cf. i En. 23:1; iv Ezra 7:30, 43; Test. Patr., Abraham 19, B 7). It is only in the latter period – the eschatological period in the strict sense – that full retribution for good and evil is meted out by God to every man.


Israel always had firm faith in the Lord's justice, in His rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. However, in Israel there was a definite development of this concept in two important points: (1) from collective responsibility and retribution to individual responsibility and retribution, and (2) from full retribution in man's mortal life to full retribution only "in the world to come (*olam ha-ba)," i.e., after man's death.

Although even in the oldest periods of biblical theology Israel often expressed the belief that God rewards and punishes each man according to his own deeds (cf. e.g., i Sam. 26:23), as can be seen in the numerous cases of divine punishment meted out to individual sinners (Cain, Lot's wife, Miriam, Er and Onan, etc.) and as frequently stressed in the wisdom literature, in pre-Exilic Israel the emphasis was placed primarily on collective retribution; the whole group (family, tribe, nation) was responsible for the deeds of its members. It was Ezekiel in particular who shifted the concept of divine retribution from a collective to an individual one (cf. especially Ezek. 18; Jer. 31:29–30 is probably a later addition, borrowed from Ezek. 18:2–3). However, the principle that every man is rewarded or punished in this life for his good or evil deeds seemed to be contradicted by ordinary experience; and the problem of why the innocent suffer and the wicked prosper in this life, as presented especially in *Job, appeared to be an insoluble mystery, best left to God's wisdom.

Resurrection of the Dead

A solution to this problem was finally found in the belief of the resurrection of the dead (teḥiyyat ha-metim), i.e., in the notion that the dead would come back to life, both in body and in soul, on the Day of the Lord. The earliest clear expression of this belief is in Daniel 12:12, and subsequently it was often expressed by many writers of the intertestamental literature (ii Macc. 7:9, 11, 14, 23; 12:43; 14:46; Jub. 23:30; Test. Patr., Men. 98:10; iv Ezra 7:29–33; etc.). Some of these writings speak of all men, good and bad alike, rising from the dead for judgment on the Day of the Lord; others maintain that only the just will rise to life, since the condemnation that the wicked receive at God's tribunal can scarcely be called "life" (so apparently even in Dan. 12:2). Moreover, some of the apocalyptic writings (e.g., ii En. 66:5) speak of two resurrections: the first only of the just, at the beginning of the Messianic millennium; the second of the wicked, at the final Day of the Lord, which is for the wicked a "second death."

A special concept of a future life immediately after death is seemingly found in the Wisdom of *Solomon, a Greek composition (c. 75 b.c.e.) by an Alexandrian Jew, who was influenced by the Greek philosophical concept of the immortality of the human soul (cf. Wisd. 3:1–9). Yet the author of this work really follows the common Hebrew concept of life as truly human only when man's body and soul are united.

In the last two centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple the *Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, whereas the *Sadducees did not (Jos., Ant., 18:14; Wars, 2:14; cf. also Mark 12:18; Acts 23:8).

Until the last two centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple the Jews retained the ancient Israelite concept of *Sheol, the dark abode in the nether world of all the dead, good and bad alike (thus still Ben Sira: e.g., Ecclus. 14:16; 28:21; 51:6, 9). However, when the concept of individual retribution after death developed in Judaism during this period, the concept of Sheol underwent various changes in the different intertestamental writings. According to some of these writings there are various levels in Sheol (e.g., six: iv Ezra 7:36–37), so that even before the resurrection of the dead the wicked are tormented in various degrees in Sheol's lower levels, whereas the good enjoy bliss in its highest level. According to other writings Sheol is replaced by *Gehinnom (Gehenna), the place where the damned are in torment, whereas the just, either immediately after death or only at the resurrection, have the delights of an eschatological *Garden of Eden or Paradise.


The word "Gehenna" is the Greek form of the Aramaic Gehinnom for the Hebrew Ge (Bene) Hinnom ("the Valley of (the sons of) Hinnom"), the ravine in the south of ancient Jerusalem (Josh. 15:8; 18:16). Since it had been defiled by being the site of the Topheth worship of Molech (ii Kings 23:10; Jer. 32:35; etc.), Jeremiah cursed the place and predicted that, at the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, this valley would be filled with the corpses of the city's inhabitants, to be burned there and rot like "dung upon the face of the earth" (Jer. 7:32–8:3; 19:6; 31:40). Trito-Isaiah (Isa. 66:24) clearly alludes to these sayings in Jeremiah, even though he does not use the word "Gehenna," when he speaks of the eschatological punishments of the wicked: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence unto all flesh."

The intertestamental writings add further gruesome details to the torments suffered by the wicked in this fiery pit, where their bodies burn eternally, although, incongruously, they are, at the same time, rotting away with worms and maggots (cf. iv Ezra 7:36; i En. 27:2; 48:9; 54:1; 90:26–27; 103:8; Ass. Mos. 10:19;ii Bar. 85:12–13).

Eschatological Paradise

The term "paradise" is from the Greek word that the Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew term, Gan Eden ("the Garden of Eden"). Since the earlier prophets had depicted, in figurative terms, the eschatological bliss of "the new earth" as a return to the original peace and joy of the Garden of Eden before Adam's sin (cf. Isa. 11:6–9; 51:3; Ezek. 36:35), the intertestamental writers call the place where the righteous are to enjoy endless bliss "the Garden of Eden" (iv Ezra 4:7; 7:36, 123; 8:52;ii En. 42:3; 65:10). It is not identical with "heaven" as God's abode. But just as Gehenna is pictured as having several levels, one lower than the other, so the eschatological paradise has at least three levels (i En. 8), one higher than the other, the uppermost being nearest to God's abode in heaven. As in the case of Gehenna, so also in regard to the eschatological paradise there is inconsistency in these writings concerning the time when the just enter this place of paradisiacal bliss, whether immediately after death, or only at the resurrection.

One of the features of the eschatological paradise, at least during the "messianic millennium," is the participation in the messianic banquet (based on Isa. 25:6; cf. the Qumran literature below, and Matt. 8:11). A special privilege at this banquet in the world to come is to be seated at the side of Abraham (Test. Patr., Abraham 20; cf. Luke 16:26; the poor man Lazarus in "Abraham's bosom").

Dead Sea Scrolls

The writings composed by the *Essene community that lived at Qumran from approximately 150 b.c.e. to 68 or 70 c.e., generally called "the *Dead Sea Scrolls," can from a merely chronological viewpoint be classified with the intertestamental literature; yet, because of their unique importance for revealing the specifically Essene concepts of eschatology, they are here given separate treatment.

imminence of the end of days

The presumably Essene community of Jews that had its headquarters at the site now known as Khirbat Qumrān, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, was very concerned with eschatology. Its life was organized by austere rules, especially by an exact observance of the various precepts of the Torah, particularly those concerning ritual purity, so that this would hasten the coming Day of the Lord and, at the same time, make the members of the community ready to stand at God's awesome tribunal on that day. They lived in the barren Desert of Judah, not merely because they had fled from Jerusalem and its Temple on account of what they considered the illegitimacy of the Hasmonean high priests and their successors who were appointed by the conquering Romans, but more particularly because they thus sought to carry out literally the command (originally intended merely in a metaphorical sense) of Isaiah 40:3: "Clear ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord" (cf. 1qs 8:12–14; 9:19). They were convinced that they were living "at the end of the era of wickedness" (cd 6:10, 14; 12:23; 14:19), which was soon to be followed by "the era of (divine) favor" (1qh 15:5). They believed that they were living in the "last days" foretold long ago by the ancient prophets; and, therefore, they held that their anonymous founder, whom they called the Moreh Ẓedek "Teacher of Righteousness" (probably to be understood as "the right teacher," i.e., the one who explained the Torah correctly), had been raised up by God "to make known to the later generations what He would do in the last generation" (cd 11:12). Their pesher ("commentary") on Habakkuk 2:1–2 says: "Its interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the secrets of the words of His servants the prophets" (1qphab 7:4–5). The Qumran community apparently expected "the end" to come 40 years after the death of their founder (cd 20:14–15), during which period the wicked in Israel would be destroyed by God (cd 20:15–16). However, when the members of the community were disappointed in the nonfulfillment of this expectation, they admitted that only God knows when the end will come. So the writer of the pesher on Habakkuk 2:3a says: "Its interpretation is that the final end may be prolonged, indeed longer than anything of which the prophets spoke, for the secrets (or mysteries) of God are for wondrous fulfillment" (1qphab 7:7–8). The interpreter, therefore, says on Habakkuk 2:3b: "Its meaning concerns the men of truth, who carry out the Law (Torah) and do not let their hands grow too weak to serve the truth, despite the final end being long drawn out; for all the limits set by God will come in their due time, as He has set for them in His mysterious wisdom" (1qphab 7:10–14).

eschatological war

Before "the end" there will be, according to the Qumranites, a great eschatological war, waged not only against the powers of evil but also against all wicked men, not excluding the wicked of Israel. In fact, the Qumranites placed in the latter class all the Jews who did not belong to their community. They alone were "the remnant of Israel" (cd 1:4–5), God's "chosen ones" (1qm 8:6). They called themselves "the Sons of Light"; all others were "the Sons of Darkness." This ethical dualism, perhaps influenced by Persian thought (though not foreign to the older Hebrew Scriptures), is typical of Qumran theology: "He [God] created man to rule the world, and He set for him two spirits by which he would walk until the appointed time of His visitation; these are the spirits of truth and perversity" (1qs 3:17–19).

The eschatological war, besides being referred to in other Qumran writings, is described at great length and in great detail in a fairly well-preserved scroll of 19 columns to which the title "The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness" has been given. This document is a strange mixture of sound military tactics combined with idealistic warfare, in which God and His angels fight on the side of the Sons of Light against Belial (Satan) and his evil spirits, who come to the aid of the Sons of Darkness. The good fight is waged also against Gog and Magog (cf. Ezek. 38:1–39:20), here merely symbols of the powers of evil. It seems, therefore, that this eschatological war is to be viewed as waged on a transcendental plane, despite the elaborate rules based on mundane battles; the Essenes of Qumran, like their predecessors the Hassideans of Hasmonean times (cf. i Macc. 7:13–17; and perhaps Dan. 11:34), were not militarists. They trusted more in the power of God than in the force of arms. In the end God would be victorious, and then the messianic age would begin.


The "Teacher of Righteousness" did not regard himself, nor did his disciples regard him, as a Messiah. In fact, there is little messianism in the earliest Qumran documents. However, when the 40 years had elapsed after the death of their founder and "the end" had not yet come, the Qumran writers speak more often of the ultimate salvation that would come with the appearance of the Messiah: "the coming of the prophet and the Messiahs (meshiḥe – note the plural) of Aaron and Israel" (1qs 9:11; cf. 4qtestestimonia).

For the Jews of that time the Hebrew term, ha-Mashi'aḥ, "The Messiah" (lit. "the Anointed One"), did not have the same connotations that its Greek translation, Christos, had for Christians. From certain other passages, in the Qumran writings it appears quite certain that this community, which was fundamentally a priestly one, expected an especially anointed high priest ("the Messiah of Aaron") as well as an especially anointed lay ruler ("the Messiah of Israel"). It should be noted that in the Cairo Damascus Document (cd 7:20) the royal Messiah is not called a "king," but a "prince" (nasi, in keeping with Ezek. 34:24; 37:25; etc.). The concept of two Messiahs, one royal and one priestly, probably goes back to Zechariah 4:14: "These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth" (said of Zerubbabel of the Davidic line and of the priest Joshua). On the presence and precedence of the royal Messiah and the priestly Messiah at the eschatological "messianic banquet," see below.

It is not clear what the Qumranites meant by the "prophet" who precedes these two Messiahs. He may be the "prophet like Moses" foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, since the Qumranites believed they were living or were to live under a "new covenant" (cd 8:35 – the term, no doubt, borrowed from Jer. 31:31); or he may be Elijah (on the basis of Mal. 3:23), in whom the Qumranites were interested.

future life

Although the Qumran community possessed and, therefore, apparently prized several of the books of the so-called intertestamental literature mentioned above – Jubilees, Enoch, Testaments of Levi and Naphtali, etc. – its own compositions, at least as far as now known, betray relatively little concern with the future world after death. They do not use the terms, "this world," and "the coming world," to designate the present and the future eras. There is no explicit mention of the resurrection of the bodies of their deceased members, but neither is there any denial of such a belief. Perhaps it was taken for granted, or it was left as one of God's mysteries about which they should not speculate. However, they do say the righteous "will share the lot of God's Holy Ones," i.e., the angels (1qh 11:11–12), and they are to enjoy "everlasting" bliss (see below).

The Qumran writings often speak of "the end" (Keẓ), i.e., of the present era (1qs 3:23; 4:18, 25; cd 4:9–10; 20:15; 1qphab 7:2; etc.). The end will be preceded by the "pangs" of the premessianic era (1qh passim), by cosmic storms (1qh 3:13–16), and by a cosmic conflagration (1qh 3:29–31; cf. 1qm 14:17). At "an appointed time of decisive judgment" (mo'ed mishpat neḥerashah: 1qs 4:20) God will judge both angels and men (1qh 7:28–29), for in the present era there are both good and evil spirits (1qs 3:20–22).


Whereas the writings of the Qumran community do not mention either a "Gehenna" for the wicked or a "Garden of Eden" for the just in the afterlife, they do, apparently, speak of the punishment of the wicked as an everlasting death, and reward of the just as an eternity of bliss: "The doors of the Pit will be closed upon those who are pregnant with wickedness, and the bars of eternity upon all the spirits of worthlessness" (1qh 3:18). "But the reward of all those who walk in it [the way of truth] will be a healing remedy and abundant well-being in a long life and a fruitfulness of seed, together with all the blessings of eternity and everlasting bliss in life forever, and a crown of glory with a recompense of majesty in light everlasting" (1qs 4:6–8).

new temple

Because of God's promise of "new heavens and a new earth" (Isa. 65:17), the apocalyptic writings sometimes speak of a new Jerusalem with its new temple as coming down from heaven to the earth. Since the Qumran community was basically a priestly one, it was naturally interested in a new temple for the messianic age of bliss on earth. Even the so-called War Scroll gives instructions on how the priests and levites are to function in the new temple (1qm 2:1–6). But, surprisingly, the new temple of the Qumranites is not thought of as coming down ready-made from heaven, but as built by themselves according to a new plan revealed by God.

The *Temple Scroll, like the Torah, is written as if dictated by God to Moses. Besides giving various precepts concerning ritual purity, festivals, sacrifices, etc., it presents detailed prescriptions for the construction of the new temple and its surrounding courts. The resulting construction differs from all the previous temples – of Solomon, of Zerubbabel, and of Herod, and even from the idealistic temple of Ezekiel 40:1–42:20.

To understand the relationship between this proposed man-made temple and "the house that He [God] will make for you at the end of days," as mentioned in certain Qumran pesharim, one must remember that the Qumran community lived a quasi-sacramental life: their cultic acts both prepared for, and symbolized, the full reality that would come to pass in the messianic age. This is likewise the case in regard to the so-called messianic banquet at Qumran.

messianic banquet

The midday and evening meals at Qumran were cultic acts. Those who were ritually unclean or who were penalized for various faults could not be present at them. The Davidic Messiah and the Priest (or Aaronic Messiah) are depicted as already present at these repasts, even though this would not be actually true until "the end of days."

The protocol of these eschatological meals is described in 1qsa 2:11–22: "This is the (order of the) seating of 'the Men of the Name who are invited to the Feast' (a phrase based on Num. 16:2, but with Qumranite interpretation) for the council of the community, if … [?] the Messiah with them. The priest shall come in at the head of the whole assembly of Israel, and all the ancestral leaders of the Aaronide priests…; and they shall take their seats, each one according to his rank. After that, the Messiah of Israel shall come in; and the head of the thousands of Israel shall take their seats, each one according to his rank." The text then continues with instructions on the blessing of the bread and wine by the priest, who is the first to partake of them, followed by the Messiah of Israel, and finally by "all the assembly of the community." This rite is to be observed when at least ten men are present. One striking element in this ritual is the precedence given to the priestly Messiah over the royal (lay) Messiah – which would be expected in such a sacerdotally oriented community. Another important feature is that this ceremony is to be observed even when only a minyan is present. This ritual meal, therefore, is both a foreshadowing and a quasi-sacramental anticipation of the great eschatological messianic banquet that is often referred to in other religious writings of the period (e.g., the New Testament).

From its earliest beginnings in God's promises to the patriarchs until the dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple, Israel always kept alive its eschatological hopes and expectations, based both on a belief in God's justice and on an optimism that, with God's help, good would ultimately triumph over evil in the world.

[Louis F. Hartman]

in the talmudic period

The eschatology of the Talmud and the Midrash is based upon that of the Bible and is very similar to that of the Apocrypha. A distinction is generally made between "the days of the Messiah" and "the world to come." The former is regarded as the transition stage to the world to come, and various periods are mentioned for it: 40, 70 ("those generations"), 365 ("as the days of the solar year"), and 400 years (Sanh. 99a; Sif. Deut. 310) as in Esdras (iv Ezra). A late baraita states that this world will exist for "6,000 years, of which the first 2,000 will be a period of desolation, 2,000 of Torah, and the last 2,000 the messianic era" (Sanh. 97a–b; Av. Zar. 9a). There is also a view that "4,291 years after the creation, the world will be orphaned"; when there will break out "the war of the great sea-monsters" (almost certainly referring to the civil wars of the Roman Empire during the period of its decline and fall), "the war of Gog and Magog," etc.; "And the Holy One Blessed Be He will renew his world only after 7,000 years" (Sanh. 97b). Not only the year of redemption but even the very month and day was fixed by those "who calculated the end" (ibid.) – the 14th day of Nisan, according to R. Joshua (Mekh., Pisḥa 14) whose view is accepted in preference to that of R. Eliezer.

Since, however, these calculations did not prove true, the scholars proceeded to enumerate among "the seven things hidden from men" "when the Davidic dynasty will return, and when the guilty kingdom will fall" (Pes. 54b; Mekh., Va-Yassa 5). Moreover the Messiah was included among the "three things that will come unawares" (Sanh. 97a). When Jonathan b. Uzziel wanted to reveal the "messianic end" in his translation of the Hagiographa "a heavenly voice was heard to say 'enough!'" (Meg. 3a). There is an even more striking saying from a period later than that of the early tannaim: "May the bones of those who calculate the end rot. For they say: Since the time has arrived and he has not come, he will never come" (Sanh. 97b). At a still later period it was enunciated that: "All the calculated times have gone and everything depends upon repentance and good deeds" (ibid.). Moreover the children of Israel were even placed under an oath "not to make known the end, and not forcibly to hasten the advent of the end" (Ket. 111a).

[Joseph Gedaliah Klausner]

in kabbalah


Apart from basic ideas concerning reward and punishment, life after death, the *Messiah, redemption, and resurrection, there is hardly a commonly held belief among the Jews regarding eschatological details. This lacuna provided an obvious opportunity for free play for the imaginative, the visionary, and the superstitious, and so became the field in which the kabbalists left their mark: for they dealt extensively with just these concepts. It is understandable that with such scope they could never arrive at a decision which was acceptable to all, and thus various trends developed. From fairly simple beginnings, eschatological teaching developed in the *Zohar, and in the kabbalistic works which followed it, and it had many ramifications.

Life after Death

Of great importance here are the views of *Naḥmanides in Sha'ar ha-Gemul on the Zohar, and of the Lurianic school as they are crystallized in the great summary of Aaron Berechiah b. Moses of Modena, Ma'avar Yabbok. Generally speaking, they stress, after the time of Naḥmanides, the differing fates of the three parts of the soul, which are separated from one another after death. The nefesh (the lowest part) remains below by the grave, and suffers punishment for transgressions after the first judgment, which is called ḥibbut ha-kever ("punishment of the grave") or din ha-kever ("judgment of the grave"). The ru'aḥ is also punished for its sins, but after 12 months, it enters the earthly Garden of Eden, or "the Garden of Eden below." The neshamah returns to its source in "the Garden of Eden above"; for, according to the Zohar, the neshamah is not liable to sin, and punishment falls only upon the nefesh and the ru'aḥ (although other opinions exist in early Kabbalah). In certain cases the nefashot ascend to the category of ruḥot, and ruḥot to the category of neshamot. The ẓeror ha-ḥayyim ("the bond of life"), in which the neshamot are stored, is interpreted in various ways. It is the concealed Eden, prepared for the delight of the neshamot; it is the "treasury" beneath the throne of glory in which the neshamot are stored until the resurrection; or it is one of the sefirot, or even their totality, into which the neshamah is gathered when it is in communion and bound up with God. There are a large number of descriptions in kabbalistic literature of the details and the various degrees of punishment in the abodes of Gehinnom, and of pleasure in the Garden of Eden and its various standards. They dealt with the problem of how the ruḥot or the neshamot could have any experience without physical faculties; what kind of garment the ruḥot wore, and the method of their survival. (According to some, the garment of the ruḥot was woven of the commandments and good deeds, and was called haluka de-rabbanan ("the garment of the rabbis").) Naḥmanides called the domain of pleasure after death olam ha-neshamot ("the world of souls"), and distinguished it absolutely from the olam haba ("the world to come"), which would be after the resurrection. This distinction was generally accepted by the Kabbalah. In the "world of souls," the neshamot are not incorporated into the Divine, but preserve their individual existence. The idea of punishment in Gehinnom (which was envisaged as a subtle spiritual fire which burned and purified the souls) conflicted to no uncertain way with the idea of atonement through transmigration (*Gilgul). There was no settled opinion on the question of which sin was punished by Gehinnom, and which by transmigration. One can only say that with the development of the Kabbalah transmigration took on an ever more important role in this context. Both the Garden of Eden and Gehinnom were beyond this world, or on the borders of it, whereas the theory of transmigration ensured reward and punishment in large measure in this world. Kabbalists sought various compromises between these two paths, but they came to no agreed solution. Attempts were also made to remove the whole subject of Gehinnom from its literal sense and to interpret it either according to the view of *Maimonides, or metaphorically as referring to transmigration. The eschatology of the Kabbalah, and particularly that of the Zohar, was greatly influenced by the idea of the preexistence of souls. The existence of the soul in "the world of souls" is nothing more than its return to its original existence before its descent into the body.

The Messiah and Redemption

The Messiah receives a special emanation from the sefirah malkhut ("kingship"), the last of the sefirot. However, there is no trace of the concept of the divinity of the Messiah. The picture of the personal Messiah is pale and shadowy and does not add much to the descriptions of him in the Midrashim of redemption which were composed before the growth of the Kabbalah. In the Zohar, there are a few new elements. According to the Zohar, the Messiah dwells in the Garden of Eden in a special palace, called kan ẓippor ("the bird's nest"), and he will first be revealed in Upper Galilee. Some believed that the soul of the Messiah had not suffered transmigration, but was "new," while others contended that it was the soul of Adam (the first man) which had previously transmigrated to King David. The letters of Adam (alef, dalet, mem) refer to Adam, David, and the Messiah – a notarikon found from the end of the 13th century. There is possibly some Christian influence here because, according to Paul, Adam, the first man, corresponds to Jesus, "the last man" (Rom. 5:17). Descriptions of redemption in the Zohar follow in the footsteps of the Midrashim with the addition of some points and certain changes in theme. The redemption will be a miracle, and all that accompanies it miraculous (the stars sparkling and falling, the wars of the end of time, the fall of the Pope, who is called symbolically in the Zohar "the priest of On"). The idea of the pangs of redemption is greatly stressed, and the condition of Israel on the eve of redemption is pictured in terms which reflect the historical conditions of the 13th century. Descriptions of the redemption became more numerous at times of crisis, and particularly after the expulsion from Spain. However, in the later Kabbalah (Moses of *Cordovero and Isaac *Luria), their importance declined. On the other hand, the mystical basis of redemption was emphasized – the basis that developed from the time of Naḥmanides and his school and which centered on the midrashic view that redemption would be a return to that perfection which was sullied by the sin of Adam and Eve. It would not be something entirely new, but a restoration, or a renewal. Creation at the time of redemption would assume the form that was intended from the beginning by the eternal intellect. Only at the redemption would there be a revelation of the original nature of Creation which has become obscured or impaired in this world. Hence, the extreme utopian character of these ideas. In the Divine realm, the state of redemption is expressed as the end of the "exile of the Shekhinah," the restoration of the divine unity throughout all areas of existence. ("In that day the Lord shall be One, and His name One" – hence the view that the true unity of God will be revealed only in the time to come, while during the years of exile it is as if sin had rendered His unity imperfect.) At the time of redemption there will be a continuous union of king and queen, or of the sefirot Tiferet and Shekhinah; that is to say that there will be an unceasing stream of Divine influence through all worlds, and this will bind them eternally together. The hidden secrets of the Torah will be revealed, and the Kabbalah will be the literal sense of the Torah. The messianic age will last approximately a thousand years, but many believed that these years would not be identical with human years, for the planets and the stars would move more slowly, so that time would be prolonged (this view was particularly current in the circle of the Sefer ha-*Temunah ("Book of the Image"), and it has origins in the Apocryphal books). It is obvious, on the basis of these theories, that the kabbalists believed that the natural order would change in the messianic era (unlike the view of Maimonides). As to the problem of whether the redemption would be a miracle or the logical result of a process already immanent, kabbalistic opinion was divided. After the expulsion from Spain, the view gradually prevailed that the appearance of the Messiah would be a symbolic event. Redemption depended on the deeds of Israel, and on the fulfillment of its historic destiny. The coming of the redeemer would testify to the completion of the "restoration," but would not cause it.

Resurrection at the End of the World

The Kabbalah does not cast any doubt on the physical resurrection of the dead, which will take place at the end of the days of redemption, "on the great day of judgment." The novel expositions of the kabbalists revolved round the question of the fate of those who were to be resurrected. Naḥmanides taught that after a normal physical life the resurrected body would be purified, and be clothed in malakhut ("the garments of the angels"), and, thereby, pass into the future spiritual world, which would come into being after the destruction of this world; and this new world would appear after the resurrection. In the world to come the souls and their "spiritualized" bodies would be gathered together in the ranks of the sefirot, in the true "bond of life." According to Naḥmanides, the souls, even in this state, would preserve their individual identity. But afterward other views emerged. The author of the Zohar speaks of "holy bodies" after the resurrection, but does not state his specific view of their future except by allusion. One widespread view identified the world to come with the sefirah Binah and its manifestations. After the life of pleasure experienced by the resurrected, this world would be destroyed, and some say that it would return to chaos ("waste and void") in order to be recreated in a new form. Perhaps the world to come would be the creation of another link in the chain of "creations" or shemitot ("sabbaticals"; according to the view of the author of Sefer ha-Temunah) or even the creation of a spiritual existence through which all existing things ascend to reach the world of the sefirot, and return to their primeval being, or their "higher source." In the "Great Jubilee," after 50,000 years, everything will return to the bosom of the sefirah Binah, which is also called the "mother of the world." Even the other sefirot, through which God guides creation, will be destroyed with the destruction of creation. In contrast to the teaching of the author of Sefer ha-Temunah concerning the creation of worlds according to a fixed cycle (*Baḥya ben Asher speaks of 18,000 jubilees), most of the kabbalists maintained that there would be only one creation, and, correspondingly, only one eternal "world to come." The contradiction of having two judgments on man's fate, one after death, and the other after resurrection, one of which would appear to be superfluous, caused some kabbalists to restrict the great Day of Judgment to the nations of the world, while the souls of Israel, in their view, would be judged immediately after death.

[Gershom Scholem]

in islam


From the beginning of Muhammad's prophetic career, he was impressed with eschatological ideas about the descriptions of the occurrences which were to take place on the last day. Contending that the "insured children of Abraham [the Jews]" did not feel the crushing terror of God's last judgment, J. Wellhausen concluded that Muhammad must have been greatly influenced by Christian eschatological ideas, especially the descriptions of the punishment of the sinners as they were spread in Arabia by monks and hermits who lived in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula. However after a thorough examination of Koranic material, T. Andrae concluded that Wellhausen's assumption has no foundation in the Koran. No decisive judgment can be made as to which religion – Judaism or Christianity – was more influential in Muhammad's formulation of an eschatology. In any event, it may be added that the same ideas are to be found in the poems of Jews in Arabia, and the works of the *ḥanīfs and contemporary pagan poets. The texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls show that these ideas were familiar to Jewish circles in pre-Christian times. Thus, it is probable that the beliefs about resurrection, the last judgment, paradise, and hell were current in Arabia among Jews, Christians, and Arabs alike. It is therefore not astonishing that Koranic eschatological descriptions and beliefs have parallels in the Apocrypha, the aggadah, and the apocalypses.

The Day of Judgment

On many occasions Muhammad repeats the descriptions of yawm al-qiyāma ("the day of resurrection"), an expression which occurs 70 times (e.g., 2:79, 107; 16:125; 58:19; 75:1–35), and al-sāʿa ("the hour"), 40 times (e.g., 6:31, 40; 79:42). He also uses many other names for that day, e.g., yawm al-ḥisāb ("day of reckoning"; 38:15, 25, 53), and describes it in many different fashions. On that day all men come back to life to be judged (28:85; 77:13–14); it will be a day of great calamity, when everyone will try to flee, so that "the leg shall be bared" (68:42; i.e., the loins will be girded for flight); on that day the trumpets (of resurrection) shall be blown (6:73). According to Sura 69:13, "the trumpet shall be blown with one blast," but Sura 39:68 states that the trumpet shall be blown twice: at the first sound "those who are in the heavens and in the earth shall swoon, save whom God pleases. Then it shall be blown again and, lo! they shall stand up and look on." This āya ("verse") was of great importance for later descriptions of the last judgment: the sound of the trumpet will be followed by an earthquake (78:18); all this will occur "as the twinkling of an eye, or nigher still!" (16:79); at the second sound all the dead will return to life and gather at the al-maḥshar ("the gathering place"). Later Muslim tradition states that this gathering will take place in Jerusalem (see below): Allah will come to the judgment with a host of angels; the scales will be set up for the exact weighing of the good deeds (7:7–8) and "no soul shall be wronged at all" (21:48); the books of the deeds of every individual will be opened and the reckoning made (10:62; 80:11–15; 89:7–12); Allah himself will judge or every sinner will bear witness against himself (17:14–15; 36:65; 69:19, 25–27; 89:13, 23); the ṣirāṭ (37:23), the way to hell, will lead the sinners to their place of punishment. The prevailing opinion in the Koran is that intercession (shafā ʿ a) will not avail the sinner (2:45, 255; 74:49; cf. Ps. 49:8) because man must face his Judge alone. Nevertheless, the Judge, Allah, the Merciful, can allow intercession (2:256; 19:90). According to the *ḥadīth Muhammad can intercede for the believers and his intercession will be helpful.


Descriptions of the last day are related to those dealing with the lot of the sinners and the righteous: on that "overwhelming day" the sinners shall be "humble, laboring, toiling – shall broil upon a burning fire; shall be given to drink from a boiling spring! no food shall they have save from the foul thorn, which shall not fatten nor avail against hunger! [But the faithful] shall be comfortable … in a lofty garden wherein they shall hear no foolish word; wherein is a flowing fountain; wherein are couches raised on high, and goblets set down, and cushions arranged, and carpets spread" (88:1–16; cf. also 67:7–8). In some suras the bright and large-eyed virgin maids (the houri) are mentioned. They take part in the banquets arranged in paradise and some are wedded to the pious (e.g., 44:54; 55:70–74; 56:15–22).

Muhammad was greatly concerned with the concept of hell (jahannam; Heb. gei-hinnom, cf. Josh. 15:8; 18:16), but his descriptions of it are not clearly defined. Jahannam is seen as something mobile, possibly a monster which swallows the sinners (cf. 67:8; 89:23–24). Muhammad's conception of paradise (usually called janna ("garden"), but twice named firdaws or jannat al-firdaws, 18:107; 23:11) is much clearer, and is of a very material nature. Later Muslim traditionalists and theologians found in his descriptions many difficulties which had to be elaborated, explained, and adapted to philosophical and ethical trends.


Among the signs of the resurrection the hadīth mentions the appearance of the Dajjāl – the arch foe of the true Believers – and the descent of ʿĪsa (Jesus Christ) at the "hour" (cf. Sura 43:61). Later eschatological descriptions assign a special role to the Temple Mount, the Valley of Hinnom, and the Mount of Olives. According to ʿAbdallah ibn Salām, a Jew from Medina who embraced Islam after Muhammad's arrival in that city, the ṣirāṭ – the narrow bridge over the Valley of Hinnom which all creatures must cross on judgment day – extends between the Mount of Olives and the Temple area (where the Lord will take His stand on that day); according to the basic writings of Islam it is a real bridge, which a Muslim is required to believe in. A certain area of the Mount of Olives is called sāhira, where men will assemble at the hour of resurrection – its soil is white and no blood has ever been shed on it. Obviously, these places are particularly suitable as burial places of prophets, as they relieve them of the necessity of performing the "subterranean journey" to Jerusalem and enable them to be the first to be resurrected. According to Islamic tradition, many Muslim mystics, saints, and heroes were buried near the Temple Mount or on the Mount of Olives, evidently so that they, too, might be among the first to rise on the day of resurrection. A special place in eschatological descriptions is reserved for the Dajjāl, Allah's enemy (the *Armilus of the Jewish legend and the *Antichrist of Christianity), and for the War of Yājūj and Mājūj (*Gog and Magog). These legends embody many reminiscences of Jewish and Christian stories. The Dajjāl will wage war and conquer the entire world, except three cities – Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem; the battles of the Dajjāl will be similar to the battles of Yājūj, which will be fought in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. In eschatological descriptions, Muslim writers created many new legends. Though devoting a great deal of space to this subject, the Koran never mentions any definite place. Tradition filled the gap by assigning the locale to Jerusalem and its surroundings. Books are extant – outstanding among them are the Kitāb al-Zuhd ("Book of Asceticism") and the Kitāb Aḥwāl al-Qiyāma ("Book of the Phases of Resurrection") – which mainly consist of descriptions of the resurrection: the angel Isrāfil will sound three trumpet blasts, whereupon all mankind will assemble at the gathering place on the Mount of Olives. Gabriel will move paradise to the right side of Allah's Throne and hell to the left side. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad will stand to the right of the scales of justice; the angel Raḍwān will open the gates of paradise and the angel Malik will open the gates of hell. The bridge (ṣirāṭ) which all men must cross is long and slippery and narrower than a hair, sharper than a sword, and blacker than night; it has seven arches, and on each arch men are questioned about their deeds. Particularly interesting – in view of parallels in later midrashic literature – are the four mountains associated with the day of resurrection: Khalīl (i.e., Hebron), Lebanon, Ṭūr (the Mount of Olives), and Jūdī (Ararat), each of which will shine like a white pearl, with incomparable splendor, between heaven and earth. They will stand at the four corners of the Temple. With the exception of those concerning the ṣirāṭ, which seems to be of Persian origin, these legends are based on Jewish or Christian conceptions (e.g., i En. 26–27; Av. Zar. 2b).

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]


general: J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1956); A.H. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel (19592). in the bible: L. Černý, The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems (1948); C. Steuernagel, in: Festschrift fuer Alfred Bertholet (1950), 479–87; G.A.F. Knight, in: Scottish Journal of Theology, 4 (1951), 355–62; T.C. Vriezen, in: vt Supplement 1 (1953), 199–229; idem, An Outline of Old Testament Theology (1958), index; G.W. Buchanan, in: jnes, 20 (1961), 188–93; G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology (1962), index; R.H. Charles, Eschatology (1963); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (1964), index; H.P. Mueller, in: vt, 14 (1964), 276–93; O. Ploeger, Theocracy and Eschatology (1968); Scholem, Mysticism, index. in the talmud: G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 2 (1927), 275–395; A. Kohut, in: zdmg 21 (1867), 552ff.; R.H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life… (1899); W. Bousset, Der Antichrist in der Ueberlieferungdes Judentums (1895). in the intertestamental literature: D.S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (1964), with very good bibliography; B. Vawter, in: cbq, 22 (1960), 33–46; S. Mowinkel, He That Cometh: The Messianic Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism (1956); J. Bloch, On the Apocalyptic in Judaism (1952). in the dead sea scrolls: H. Ringgren, The Faith of Qumran (1963); E.F. Sutcliffe, The Monks of Qumran (1960), 83–90; R.E. Brown, in: cbq, 19 (1957), 53–82; P. Grelot, in: Revue de Qumran, 1 (1958–59), 113–31; A.M. Habermann, Megillot Midbar Yehudah (1959). in islam: Tor Andrae, Der Ursprung des Islams und das Christentum (1926), 83ff.; J. Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidentums (18972), 240; K. Ahrens, Muhammed als Religionsstifter (1935), 23, 59; J.W. Hirschberg, Der Dīwān des as-Samauʾal ibn Ādija (1931), 10, 19, 24, 48, 54–56, 58–59; idem, Juedische und christliche Lehren… (1939), 73–78, 139–62; idem, Yisrael be-Arav (1946), 208–14, 240–1; idem, in: Rocznik Orientalistyczny, 17 (1952), 342–8; M. Wolff, Muhammedanische Eschatologie (1872; containing K. Ahwāl al-Quiyama); R. Leszynsky, Mohammedanische Traditionen vom juengsten Gericht (1909; containing K. al Zuhd); J. Horovitz, Das koranische Paradies (1923); A. Eichler, Die Dschinn, Teufel und Engel im Koran (1928); I. Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, 2 (1890), 308ff.


views updated May 21 2018


The concept of eschatology was created by the Lutheran theologian Abraham Calov (16121686) and became popular through the works of the Prussian Reformed theologian F. D. E. Schleiermacher (17681834). It is derived from a sentence in Jesus Sirach: "In whatever you do, remember your last days [Greek: ta eschata ], and you will never sin" (Sir. 7:36). Calov's concept is nothing but a new name for the traditional genre of Christian dogmatic treatises about "the last things" (Latin: De novissimis or De extremis ). Generally, it can be said that eschatology deals with death and the things that, according to Christian doctrine, happen after death: the resurrection, the last judgment, and the eternal life in the Beyond. Relatively recently scholars in religious studies have begun to apply the concept of eschatology to the teachings about death and immortality in virtually all religions. But a continuous tradition of eschatological doctrine exists only in Christian theology.

Jewish Roots

Christian eschatology emerges from Jewish apocalypticism. The early Jewish apocalypses, such as those in the biblical book of Daniel, were written in the Hellenist period, when the Ptolemaic, the Seleucid, and later the Roman empires ruled Palestine. A growing number of Jews no longer believed in the coming of a messiah who would renew the glorious kingdom of David. Having seen one empire follow another, they believed the Jewish people had successively lost the ability to establish an independent kingdom. The gap between their consciousness of being God's elected people and political reality led to a deep crisis of the Jewish self-understanding (best described in the apocryphal Fourth Book of Ezra). The crisis was solved by the discovery of the Beyond. Modern historians of religion emphasize that Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and other historical influences played a role in this intellectual process, but the apocalyptic authors themselves describe the paradigm shift as a revelation (apokalypsis ), gained in visionary experiences. They often give detailed accounts about the journeys they made into the Beyond.

The basic ideas of Jewish apocalypticism live on in Christian eschatology, in orthodox doctrine as well as in the preaching of sects and heretical groups. Mankind and the world are in a pathological state, for they are corrupted by original sina hereditary disease that cannot be cured. Therefore God will destroy this world and create a new one. But he will save the just believers and transfer them into the perfect order of the Beyond. Since the apocalyptics had lost all faith in national messianism, the decisive question is no longer whether a believer belongs to the elected people of Israel. The Jews might have a certain prerogative, but no guarantee of salvation. God is no longer the God of Israel but the ruler of the universe; the structure of world history is predetermined by his unchangeable plan. All the empires and political orders, the tyrants and the warlords are tools in the hand of God used to test the believers. The just ones must not partake in the political and military struggles of the corrupted world but must stay strong in their faith and wait for the annihilation of all evil and the beginning of God's kingdom.

All features of Christian eschatology that differ from Jewish apocalypticism are related to the experience of Christ. Although there is a variety of sometimes contradictory meanings of the word "Christ" already to be found in the New Testament, they all agree on one point: the presence of Christ among sinful mankind moderates the sharp distinction between this world and the Beyond. Christ answers the Pharisees, a Jewish group of apocalyptic intellectuals, who were waiting for dawn of the new eon: "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:2021).

According to Christian experience, the presence of the Savior introduces an anticipation of the Beyond; it signifies a breakthrough of the future into the present. The eschata, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, and the creation of the new world, are therefore the completion of a process already started by Christ in this world.

Pauline and Augustinian Contributions

The most influential interpretation of the experience of Christ was given by the Apostle Paul. He preached that Christ's incarnation, passion, and crucifixion redeem from sin anyone who becomes a member of the church (ekklesia ), the mystical body of Christ. Paul's concept of the church points to two specific features of Christian eschatology. First, collectivity: The eschaton is not a personal event. Salvation from death is available only for the members of Christ's mystical body. On judgment day, the dead members of the church will be resurrected and unite with the living to form a single community of salvation (1 Thess. 4:1317). Throughout Christian history, Hellenist-influenced theologians challenged Paul's collective eschatology by emphasizing the individual ascent of the immortal soul. They could justify their view with some quotations from the Gospels. Paul, however, clearly rejects the idea of the soul's solitary ascent and insists on the resurrection of the spiritually transformed body. Second, processuality: in this world the church already collects all the citizens who will establish the heavenly citizenship (politeuma ) of the Beyond (Phil. 3:20). Therefore the creation of a new world is not a single event at the end of history but can be observed now in the church (2 Cor. 5:17). The establishment and growth of the church already belongs to the eschata. Christian existence is an eschatological existence between "already now" and "not yet." The Holy Spirit transforms the "inward man" of the members of the church, but a purely spiritual existence will be achieved only in the Beyond, after the "outward man," the carnal and mortal body, has died (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:6; Phil. 3:21).

The Gospels and the letters of Paul show that the early Christians awaited the final events in the imminent future. Yet the church became a historical reality and, after the Roman emperors turned to Christianity, a powerful institution in this world. This new experience led to two different variations of Christian eschatology. First, theologians such as Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263c. 339) worked out an imperial eschatology. The basic dogma was that God chose the Roman Empire to spread Christianity all over the world. Church and empire seemed to melt together under the rulership of the Constantinian dynasty. According to Eusebius, the Roman emperors succeeded Christ to fulfill the divine plan on earth; and at the end of history, Christ would return and succeed the emperors. The eschaton, the kingdom of God, appears as the perfection of the Roman Empire. Second, other Christians returned to apocalypticism and insisted that only the just ones who did not collaborate with the worldly powers would be saved. The chiliasts, who also appeared in later epochs of Christian history, believed that Christ would return in the near future and, after the destruction of all worldly empires, would establish a kingdom lasting a thousand (Greek: chilia ) years. The Revelation of John, which was incorporated into the canon of the New Testament, seemed to confirm their view (cf. Rev. 20:4).

In the early fifth century, when the decline of the Western empire became obvious, empirical reality seemed to speak in favor of the apocalyptics. But the church father Augustine (354430) rejected the imperial theology as well as apocalypticism by reformulating the Pauline eschatology as a theology of history. In his view, all of the electedthose who had received the grace of Godform the true body of Christ, the City of God (civitas Dei ). And all wicked ones form the body of the devil, the earthly city (civitas terrena ). Sacred history is nothing but the struggle between these two cities. Augustine calls the two cities mystical communities, since they are not identical with any empirical society. Even the Catholic Church is not identical with the City of God, but a corpus permixtum, a mixed body, composed of just and wicked human beings. The elect are only pilgrims in this world and its political orders. Only after the final judgment, after the separation of the just and the wicked, will the mystical societies become visible. The citizens of the City of God will be seen going to heaven and the others, to hell.

The Joachimite Turn

Augustinian eschatology governed the self-understanding of the Catholic Church until it was heavily shaken by the theology of an Italian abbot, Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135?1202) and the numberless movements that referred to him. Joachim was convinced that God had revealed to him a new understanding of the Bible. He predicted the beginning of a third age (tertius status ) of the Holy Spirit that would follow the first age of the Father, as described in the Old Testament, and the second age, which ran from the incarnation of Christ to Joachim's present. The abbot taught that the Trinity reveals itself in three progressive stages. The revelation of the Father had formed the patriarchal society of Israel; the revelation of the Son had formed the church of the clerics. And soon the revelation of the Holy Ghost would create the new spiritual church (ecclesia spiritualis ), a church dominated by monks. In Joachim's view, the third age appears as an anticipated realization of the perfect order of the Beyond.

Several scholars of the twentieth century, such as Karl Löwith (18971973), Eric Voegelin (19011985), Norman Cohn (1915), and Jacob Taubes (19231987), claimed that Joachim of Fiore started a process in which Christian eschatology was "immanentized" (Voegelin) or "secularized" (Löwith). The four authors recognized the transformation of Christian eschatology into ideologies of inner-worldly progress as the decisive formative power of modernity. The third stadium of Auguste Comte's positivism was to be seen as a modern transformation of Joachim's third age, as well as the Third Reich of the National Socialists and the Marxist realm of freedom.

See also Christianity ; Judaism ; Millenarianism ; Mysticism .



Augustine. The City of God against the Pagans. Ed. and trans. R. W. Dyson. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol 1. Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. New York: Doubleday, 1983.

McGinn, Bernard, trans. Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-en-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.


Bultmann, Rudolf Karl. History and Eschatology. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957.

Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Löwith, Karl. Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

Reventlow, Henning Graf, ed. Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Taubes, Jacob. Abendländische Eschatologie. Munich, Germany: Matthes and Seitz, 1991.

Voegelin, Eric. Modernity without Restraint, edited by Manfred Henningsen. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Matthias Riedl


views updated May 29 2018


Ideas about a possible end of time have inspired hope in some historic situations and fear in others. Handel's Messiah proclaims in majestic tones, "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15). Yet in works of art from many centuries, faces show terror before a final judgment. What array of ideas could lead to such widely divergent responses?

Eschatology is about end times or last things. Therefore it concerns the future, but it almost always also has a connection with the present. In many forms, its social-psychological meaning is in the longing for a transformation of present conditions of life and the social order. It is one way by which people of religious faith have come to terms with the experience and the theological problem of suffering. An eschatological vision of reality, especially seen as the destiny or goal of humanity, affects the way people view and live their lives in the present. Beliefs about history's end in the kingdom of God have fueled movements of social reform, while some apocalyptic groups who expect destruction to come have sometimes brought it about.

The overall category of beliefs labeled "eschatology" includes many variations. Most scholars agree that ideas about the kingdom of God are an integral part of any eschatology. Millennialism claims that the end will mean a thousand-year reign of Christ within history and is especially prevalent among American Evangelical Christians. Apocalyptic beliefs involve an extreme crisis or catastrophic end. Whether the end refers to human history, to the planet Earth, or to the universe is not usually specified.

Ideas about an end of time pertain especially to Western monotheistic religions and accompany a linear view of history. Eschatology is highly significant in American Christian thought and is also central to many religions that have begun in America, such as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many other movements.

Historically, some aspects of eschatological belief are derived from the ancient religion Zoroastrianism. Its founder, Zarathustra, taught that ethical behavior is connected to judgment at the end of the world. The dominant way that the idea of a radical historical change came to influence Western religious thought was through the Hebrew prophets. Isaiah wrote of a time when there would be no more suffering, when the lion would lie down with the lamb. Other prophets, such as Amos, wrote of the Day of the Lord, a time of judgment and punishment for unjust or merciless acts. Prophetic thought influenced later Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in differing ways. The prophets warned that unless the poor and the oppressed were treated with justice, destruction would follow. They also promised that suffering would cease someday. It is with the later prophet Daniel that visions of apocalyptic events come to the fore.

It is likely that apocalyptic Jewish beliefs prevalent at about the time of Jesus influenced his teaching as well as that of early Christianity. The idea that Israel had God as its ruler is the other major source of the idea of the kingdom of God in Jesus' teaching, where it is key. Scripture scholars have debated the meaning of the kingdom or reign, especially in the past several centuries. With Jesus' promise to return, many Christians in the early movement trusted that the event would take place in their own generation. Ever since, there have been speculations about "the day and the hour," though in the gospels Jesus warns against this. In some New Testament passages it appears that the kingdom of God is fulfilled in Jesus' life and ministry. Others indicate that it is within each person, while others suggest that it is still to come and will arrive like a thief in the night.

Varying interpretations have been given differing emphases depending on the time and place. St. Augustine developed the idea of two cities, the city of God and the city of humanity. More than a millennium later, the reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) wrote of the two kingdoms. Christian thinkers of all times have tried to understand the relationship between the kingdom of God and the political realm in which they lived. Always the debate has included consideration of ethics: How are we to live? How are we to relate to the society around us? How do our acts relate to our destiny?

In modern times, especially with the influence of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and the Enlightenment, the kingdom of God came to be seen as an ethical kingdom and was sometimes associated with the culture of the day. Emphasizing a truly historical and future-oriented ("consistent") eschatology, thinkers such as Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) and Johannes Weiss (1863–1914) brought a crisis to the biblical theology of their day. For if Jesus believed that God would bring about an imminent apocalypse, he was wrong and, according to the thought of the day, this called all of his teaching into question. It was not long before scholars began to write of a "realized eschatology," suggesting that the kingdom was fully present and realized in Jesus' life and ministry. Though the varying interpretations of the kingdom of God have been debated, most major theologians of the twentieth century agree on the importance of eschatology for Christian thought, many emphasizing some combination of the above interpretations.

In American religious thought, ideas about the coming kingdom of God have played a highly significant role and have influenced American social and political history. From the landing of the Puritans on the North Atlantic shore, religious and political leaders inspired the English-speaking settlers with the idea that it was their mission to build the new kingdom of God in America. They used biblical images such as "city on a hill" and phrases such as "witness into the wilderness." Belief that America was the new Israel in a promised land contributed to ideas about the manifest destiny of the United States.

The Social Gospel movement, led by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918), carried forward the American religious ideal of transforming human society into the kingdom of God and called on the churches to fight the forces of evil in society. In 1937 H. Richard Niebuhr (1894–1962) published the book The Kingdom of God in America. In this book he outlined the history of the idea and its importance in relation to American social and political life.

In the latter half of the century, eschatology and the kingdom of God played a role in the social justice and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s and in the various liberation theologies and came to the fore in the theology of hope. The civil rights movement, which began long before the 1960s, had at least some roots in eschatological hope, a hope that was not just for the far-distant future. Martin Luther King, Jr., emphasized the idea of the kingdom of God and drew upon the writings of Rauschenbusch. King developed the idea of the "beloved community," the ultimate goal of the Christian church. The primary aim was to seek reconciliation and the formation of a community based on love. King's speeches were filled with eschatological imagery, which is one of the features that gave them such power: "I have seen the promised land." Other justice movements combined religious and secularized versions of "bringing in the kingdom" with general religious and secular motivations for justice and equity.

Beginning in the late 1960s, various versions of the theology of hope became popular in American churches and seminaries. Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Johannes Metz were three of the German theologians associated with this eschatological theology, and many of their books were quickly translated into English. The philosopher Ernst Bloch and his major work, The Principle of Hope, influenced both Moltmann and Pannenberg. Metz's eschatologicalpolitical emphasis influenced the development of liberation theologies, especially Latin American theology.

Pannenberg drew upon the eschatological emphasis in New Testament scholarship to call attention to the coming reign of God as a future event that influences the present. For Pannenberg, meaning in history comes only with the whole of history, including its ending. So the end of time, seen in the gospels as the promise of God's reign of love, is that which not only ends history but also brings it to fulfillment and completion. The promised coming of Christ is related to the belief in Jesus' resurrection, as the "inbreaking" of the kingdom of God in history. The end of time is thus related proleptically to the resurrection and to the community of believers. The future of God draws the present world toward itself in love and anticipation. Moltmann's widely read Theology of Hope placed similar emphasis on the future and God's reign of love.

In the environmental movement, the contemporary wave of which began in the 1960s, apocalyptic images have been used to motivate people to change their behavior in regard to environmental issues. In fact, at the end of the century, the fear of environmental catastrophe rivals the fear that a nuclear holocaust will end the world. At the same time, the belief of millennialists and apocalypticists that the world will end by God's plan anyway has been blamed for careless and irresponsible attitudes and behaviors regarding the world ecosystems. Along with others, several theologians such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and Catherine Keller have raised questions about apocalypticized eschatology, and instead emphasize human relatedness to all of creation and the need to nurture and care for all of life, so that we will not hasten its demise.

Finally, an important development since the 1960s in American religious thought (associated with an international movement) that is pertinent to eschatological beliefs is the growing dialogue between religion and science. For many theologians who also believe that it is important to understand the natural scientific descriptions of the world, scientific cosmology offers a challenge to teachings about the end of the world or of the universe. Theologian-scientists such as Robert Russell and others consider what scientific cosmology and theological cosmology have to offer one another.

For popular culture, the end of the world may mean the latest box-office thriller. But there are also many Americans whose lives are given meaning and purpose through the belief that the end and goal of history are in God's love and promise.

See alsoApocalypse; Bible; Future of Religion; Millennialism; Second Coming.


Keller, Catherine. "Women Against Wasting the World: Notes on Eschatology and Ecology." In Reweavingthe World: the Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein. 1990.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, translated by Margaret Kohl. 1996.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. The Kingdom of God in America. 1937; reprint, 1988.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. "Theology and the Kingdom of God." In Theology and the Kingdom of God, edited by Richard John Neuhaus. 1969.

Russell, Robert John. "Cosmology from Alpha to Omega." Zygon 29 (1994): 557–577.

Stone, Jon R. A Guide to the End of the World: PopularEschatology in America. 1993.

Lou Ann G. Trost


views updated May 17 2018


"Eschatology" is a doctrine or theory (logos ) of the end (eschaton ). "End" here can have two meanings. First, it can mean the end of each individual human life. Second, it can mean the end of the worldor, more narrowly, of the human race. In the first, the individualistic, sense eschatology is an account of the destiny that awaits each person after death. In the second, the cosmic or social, sense it is a description of a goal (telos ) in which history will be fulfilled. This goal may be of either a this-worldly or an otherworldly kind.

The distinction between these two senses is important, for it is possible to have an eschatological doctrine in one sense without having any in the other. Plato held that the soul, being immortal, would face judgment after death, that it would receive rewards and punishments according to the goodness or badness of its earthly life, and that it would be given an opportunity to choose the condition of its next existence (Republic 608c to end). However, he did not believe that there was any purpose to history as a whole. Conversely, a Marxist believes in a purpose of history although he disbelieves in personal survival.

It is doubtful whether eschatology in the second sense is to be found anywhere outside Zoroastrianism and Judaismtogether with the religious and philosophical systems that have drawn inspiration from them: Mithraism from the first, Christianity and Islam, and Western thought in general, from the second. According to Greek and Indian thinkers history moves in cycles. Just as the seasons recur within each solar year, so all events recur in a sequence of "Great Years." By contrast, the Persian Zend-Avesta and the Bible state that history is nonrepeatable and that it is destined for a divine fulfillment in which good will triumph over evil.

In the Bible the second sense predominates. The Old Testament contains only a few vague references to a personal afterlife. But it often refers to a future time when God will establish his everlasting reign of righteousness and peace (for example, Isaiah 11:19). The New Testament affirms that this divine end or goal has been reached by the exalted Christ, who defeated the powers of evil on the cross (see, for example, Acts 2:1436; Colossians 2:815; Ephesians 2:1122; Hebrews 2:518). Those who believe in Christ have eternal life here and now (John 3:36; 5:24). While living in "this age," this spatiotemporal order that is still subject to sin and death, they have a foretaste of "the age to come," a renewed cosmos that will be wholly subject to the will of God.

This view of history stands in contrast, first, to the Greco-Roman theory of recurrent cyclesa theory condemned by Origen and Augustinesecond, to the humanistic dogma of inevitable social progress, and, third to Marxism. Although the Marxist philosophy of history owes its form to G. W. F. Hegel's dialectic, its content has often been called a secularization of Christian eschatology. Materialistic determinism would be equivalent to a personal providence, the proletariat to the "chosen people," and the "classless society" to the kingdom of God.

During the early centuries of the church most theologians taught that there will be a universal resurrection of the dead for a final judgment at the end of history, when Christ will appear again "in glory." As a result of this judgment, it was also generally taught, some, the saved, will pass to paradise, where they will enjoy the beatific vision, but others, the damned, will be punished with everlasting torment. Four comments on this scheme are necessary:

  1. One must distinguish between belief in the immortality of the soul and belief in the resurrection of the body. The first belief is derived from Plato, who held that the soul will survive in an incorporeal state. The second belief is based on biblical revelation. Thomas Aquinas held both beliefs. He considered the immortality of the soul to be rationally demonstrable. He also thought that the dogma of a bodily resurrection could be rationally justified on the ground that since soul and body constitute (as Aristotle taught) a single substance, the soul requires the body for its self-expression and beatitude. (To account for the obvious fact that the flesh decays at death, Origen proposed the theory that although the resurrected body will have the same "form" as its earthly counterpart, it will have a different "matter.")
  2. Origen maintained that all spiritual creaturesangels, humans, and devilswill be saved in a final "restoration" (apocatastasis ). But although his doctrine (known as Universalism), which was shared by Gregory of Nyssa, could claim biblical support, it was attacked by Augustine and formally condemned.
  3. Even orthodox Christian Fathers (such as Irenaeus), as well as Gnostics and Montanists, were millenarians. They believed that Christ would reign on Earth for a thousand years before the end of terrestrial history. But since the fifth century millenarianism has been almost wholly confined to minor sects.
  4. Although Clement of Alexandria and Origen spoke of a fire that would purge guilty souls, the full doctrine of purgatory (as a place of temporary punishment preparatory to the beatific vision) was not developed until the Middle Ages.

In the twentieth century there was a new attempt to understand the eschatological teaching of the New Testament (especially in the light of Albert Schweitzer's thesis that Jesus expected an imminent end of history and therefore intended his moral teaching solely for an interim). On the other hand, Rudolf Bultmann attempted to "demythologize" biblical eschatology, to restate it in existentialist terms that will make it intelligible to modern man. These instances indicate a twofold revival of interest in eschatology among professional theologians.

See also Augustine, St.; Bultmann, Rudolf; Clement of Alexandria; Death; Eternity; Gregory of Nyssa; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Marxist Philosophy; Origen; Plato; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Zoroastrianism.


Bultmann, R. History and Eschatology, the Presence of Eternity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1957.

Charles, R. H. Eschatology. London, 1913. The standard work on Jewish and early Christian eschatology.

Corcoran, Kevin, ed. Soul, Body, and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Cullmann, O. Christ and Time. Translated by Floyd V. Filson. London, 1951. An excellent study on the New Testament.

Flew, Antony. The Logic of Mortality. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

Hick, John. Death and Eternal Life. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

Penelhum, Terence. Survival and Disembodied Existence. New York: Humanities Press, 1970.

H. P. Owen (1967)

Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005)


views updated Jun 11 2018


Eschatology, from the Greek word eschaton (the last), is the theological study of the last things, the final state of each individual, of the community of all individuals, and of reality itself. Thus, traditionally eschatology has dealt with the themes of death, judgment, heaven, hell, purgatory, the resurrection of the dead, the end of the world, and "the new heavens and the new Earth." Generally, eschatology deals with the ultimate destiny of individuals and creation, and what it is legitimate to hope for. For Christians, that destiny is envisioned as the resurrection of each individual with Christ and the transformation and unification of all things with him in God forever. In theological reflection since late 1960s, there has been a shift in stress to the present realities, which through God's active presence in the risen Christ and in the Spirit are considered the seeds or partial realizations of this ultimate destiny (realized eschatology). Full flowering and completion will only be achieved after death and the "final consummation" of the universe.

It is at this point that the natural sciences have a contribution to make. Biology, paleontology, geology, and astronomy help one appreciate the transience and fragility of all that exists, even though nature is continually bringing new things and new life out of dissolution and death. No individual entity or species continues forever. Cosmology assures that the observable universe itself will eventually become sterile and evanesce as it expands forever, undergoing heat death. The natural sciences are, of themselves, unable to discern anything beyond physical dissolution and biological death. However, because theologically there must be a continuity between present reality and its final transformation at the eschaton, certain key characteristics of reality, such as relationality and pattern, will undoubtedly be the enhanced basis for its eschatological completion.

See also Death; Eternity; Life After Death


polkinghorne, john, and welker, michael, eds. the end of the world and the ends of god: science and theology on eschatology. harrisburg, pa.: trinity press international, 2000.

william r. stoeger


views updated Jun 27 2018

es·cha·tol·o·gy / ˌeskəˈtäləjē/ • n. the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.DERIVATIVES: es·cha·to·log·i·cal / eˌskatlˈäjikəl; ˌeskətl-/·cha·tol·o·gist n.


views updated May 14 2018

Eschatology (Gk., eschatos, ‘last’). That which is concerned with the last things, the final destiny both of individuals and of humanity in general, and of the cosmos. The word was first used in the 19th cent., in discussing the Bible, but it refers to a concern in those religions which have a sequential (from a beginning to an end) understanding of time, and by application to religions which envisage an end to this particular cosmic cycle.


views updated May 14 2018


This entry consists of the following articles:

an overview
islamic eschatology


views updated May 29 2018

eschatology the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind (the four last things).


views updated Jun 08 2018

eschatology XIX. f. Gr. éskhatos last + -LOGY.