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Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd ed., 1998)

John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998)

Chapter 1, “The Apocalyptic Genre”: Collins begins by setting forth his definition of “apocalyptic”; he adopts the Semeia definition without much revision (unsurprisingly, since he edited Semeia 14), then briefly surveys other scholars’ views on the subject.1 Ne notes that, while apocalyptic has affinities with some Babylonian prophetic material, and it developed after contact with Persian thought, it flourished and became a cohesive genre during the Hellenistic period, after contact with otherworldly journeys and eschatological prophecies in Greek literature. Apocalypses were written by élite scribes, but were meant to be disseminated; many (though not all) were meant to console a group facing a crisis.

Chapter 2, “The Early Enoch Literature”: Collins argues that the Enochic apocalypses mythologize their message, making it applicable outside their own contexts. They also represent “the ideology of a movement” (70), rather than that of an individual. The group behind 1 Enoch identified themselves as “the righteous,” who were struggling against “the wicked.” The movement had its roots in the third century and was fully formed by the Maccabean revolt in the second. The Qumran community was an offshoot of the Enoch group. Collins also notes that Jubilees inherited 1 Enoch and reworked it within the Mosaic tradition—Moses, for example, receives the revelations in Jubilees, not Enoch—portraying history as a series of Jubilees, leading up to the eschatological vindication of the righteous, which it predicts rather than portrays.

Ch. 3, “Daniel”: Collins begins by reminding the reader that the apocalypses in Daniel (chs. 7–12) were written during the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, continuing the traditions of the tales (chs. 1–6). He then discusses the different revelations in Daniel. The four kingdoms (Dan 2) is a Persian image that the author adapted to express his own point that God would set up an eschatological kingdom and rule the whole world. The visions in Daniel 7 adapt the traditions from Daniel 2 and the Canaanite myths of El, Ba’al, and Yamm to the situation under Antiochus IV. Daniel 9 is concerned with offering “an assurance that the predetermined period of Gentile sovereignty is coming to an end” (109). Daniel 10–12 is an apocalyptic review of the history of Hellenistic Palestine up through Antiochus IV, predicting Antiochus’ defeat—though it disparages the Maccabees—and the resurrection of the people who died fighting Antiochus.

Ch. 4, “Related Genres: Oracles and Testaments”: This chapter consists of two parts: oracles and testaments, as the title suggests. In the first part, Collins only treats Sibylline Oracle 3, which was a Jewish compilation of two centuries’ worth of oracles; it went on to “[inaugurate] a tradition of sibylline prophecy in Egyptian Judaism” (126). In the second part, he covers the Testament of Moses, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and, briefly, the Psalms of Solomon. The Testament of Moses was composed in two parts; it was first written in the second century BCE, in response to the crisis of Antiochus IV, and it was redacted in the early first century CE. As an apocalypse, it is most closely related to Daniel. It is not certain whether the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs were written by Jews or Christians, but they make extensive use of Jewish traditions nonetheless. They are not apocalypses per se, but they do contain eschatological sections; they also expect two messiahs: one kingly and one priestly. The Psalms of Solomon also expect two messiahs.

Ch. 5, “Qumran”: This chapter does not examine texts from Qumran directly; instead, it synthesizes them to give an overview of the apocalyptic strains of the Qumran community’s thought. They believed that nothing happened outside of God’s mandate, that there was a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil in which they were participants, that two messiahs (one priestly and one kingly) would come to restore Israel at the “end of days.” and that the community enjoyed the fellowship of angels on earth.

Ch. 6, “The Similitudes of Enoch”: The Similitudes were composed for a (perhaps persecuted) community that called themselves the “community of the righteous,” to assure them “that their destiny is secure in the hands of ‘that Son of Man’” (191), their heavenly representative, and that God will rescue them from the wicked.

Ch. 7, “After the Fall: 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham”: These apocalypses date after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Fourth Ezra is a cathartic book; the Ezra here is “a reluctant apocalyptist” (211) and questions God’s justice, “bring[ing] to expression the fears and frustrations of a sensitive and perceptive Jew in the wake of the catastrophe of 70 CE” (210). Second Baruch, written between the two Jewish revolts, argues that Jerusalem fell because the Jews did not study the Torah; not surprisingly, the book is linked to the nascent rabbinic Judaism of its day. The Apocalypse of Abraham deals with the origin of evil and the role of God’s people in the world; like 4 Ezra, it does not provide any definite answers to its questions

Ch. 8, “Apocalyptic Literature from the Diaspora in the Roman Period”: This chapter surveys the Sibyllines (except for Sib. Or. 3, which was covered in ch. 4), 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham. Sibylline Oracle 5 was composed in Egypt and is anti-Rome. Sibylline Oracles 1–2 and 4 were originally Jewish compositions, possibly from Phrygia; both divide history into 10 periods. 2 Enoch is hortatory literature, but it is also concerned with eschatology; the righteous become angels after death, and the cosmos is sharply divided “between the present world of normal human experience and the ‘other’ transcendent world revealed to Enoch” (247). 3 Baruch was written in Egypt after 70 CE; it describes a realized eschatology with individual judgment. The Testament of Abraham is intended to console people in the face of death.

Ch. 9, “Apocalypticism in Early Christianity”: Jesus’ message was (at least partially) apocalyptic, and the earliest Christians “had an eschatological orientation” (260), though they were not an apocalyptic group. Paul expected an imminent eschaton, because he believed that the Messiah had already come. Revelation is different from other contemporaneous apocalypses in that it takes the form of a circular letter, it is not pseudonymous, and it does not review the history of the world up through the eschaton, but it does employ traditional apocalyptic images, like the Son of Man and Ancient of Days from Daniel 7.

1 The Semeia definition: apocalyptic is “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” See John J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre (Semeia 14; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979).


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Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah, 2nd ed. (2005)

George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction (2nd ed.)

This book is a textbook on (mostly) non-canonical Jewish writings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (i.e., the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and the DSS). The Introduction sets forth his interpretive paradigm (he wants to explicate the texts’ internal stories and logic) and contains a brief overview of the problems with the terms apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. The Prologue is a brief overview of Israelite and Judahite history from the sack of Samaria under Shalmaneser V in 722 BCE and the sack of Jerusalem in 586, through Cyrus’ decree in 538, the return from exile, and the establishment of the Jewish diaspora.

Chapter 1, “Tales of the Dispersion,” covers texts written by Jews in the Babylonian and Assyrian diaspora. It includes Daniel 1-6, the additions to Daniel (Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men), 1 Esdras 3-4 (the Story of Darius’ Bodyguards), Tobit, and the Epistle of Jeremiah.

Chapter 2, “Palestine in the Wake of Alexander the Great,” gives a summary of the foreign powers who ruled over Palestine from the Persian period through the Hellenistic period. The chapter then examines the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries (1 Enoch 72-82), the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), and Sirach. This chapter also discusses apocalypticism in 1 Enoch.

Chapter 3, “Reform—Repression—Revolt,” summarizes the events in Palestine from 198 BCE (when Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemies) through the end of the Hasmonean revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164. In his survey of texts from the period, Nickelsburg discusses the apocalyptic responses to Antiochus IV and the war in Palestine: Jubilees, the Testament of Moses, Daniel 7-12, and 1 Enoch 83-90 (the Animal Vision).

Chapter 4, “The Hasmoneans and Their Opponents,” covers the rulership of the Hasmonean period and the Hasmoneans’ relations with the Seleucids and Romans. The texts from this period are Baruch, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, and the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 92-105). Nickelsburg also outlines the literary development of 1 Enoch as it stands today.

Chapter 5, “The People at Qumran and Their Predecessors,” covers the major works among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the Damascus Document; the pesharim to Habakkuk, Psalms, Nahum, and Isaiah; “three thematic exegetical texts” (132), viz. 1QFlorilegium, 11QMelchizedek, and 4QTestimonia; the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHab and 4QH); the Community Rule; the War Scroll; 4QMMT; the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa); the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; the Temple Scroll; Aramaic Levi; the non-canonical psalms in 11QPsa; 4QInstruction; the Genesis Apocryphon; and The New Jerusalem. This chapter is by far the longest in the book.

Chapter 6, “Israel in Egypt,” starts with a brief discussion of the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt, then covers the major Jewish texts from Hellenistic Egypt: the LXX, book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles, the Letter of Aristeas, 3 Maccabees, the Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo’s writings, and 2 Enoch.

Chapter 7, “The Romans and the House of Herod,” gives a significant amount of space to the leadership of Judea under Roman rule, namely Herod the Great and his heirs. The texts from this period are the Psalms of Solomon, the revisions of the Testament of Moses, 1 Enoch 37-71 (the Similitudes of Enoch), and 4 Maccabees.

Chapter 8, “Revolt—Destruction—Reconstruction,” deals with the period between the death of Herod Agrippa I (44 CE) and the end of the Jewish War in 70 CE. Reactions to the events of 70 are the Book of Biblical Antiquities (Pseudo-Philo) and the apocalypses 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham. The chapter also covers the life and writings of Josephus.

Chapter 9, “Texts of Disputed Provenance,” examines the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job, the Testament of Abraham, the Greek and Latin Lives of Adam and Eve, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Prayer of Manasseh. Each of these text have only been preserved in Christian editions, and so it is difficult to date them and to determine which parts of the texts are Christian in origin and which are Jewish.

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Dead Sea Scrolls Online

The Israel Antiquities Authority has a new website, the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, produced in partnership with Google. It has high-resolution photos of almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls, mostly in black-and-white, but some in color. It is notably lacking some of the major scrolls, though — 1QIsa(a) and 1QpHab are missing entirely; 1QS and 1QM only have fragments, though 11QSefer haMilhamah is included; and there are extensive fragments of 11QT. (I suspect it’s a copyright issue; the Israel Museum’s Digital Dead Sea Scrolls, also a Google collaboration, has high resolution, color photography of 1QIsa(a), 1QpHab, 1QS, 1QM, and 11QT.)

Anyhow, even though it lacks some of the major scrolls, it’s still a fantastic resource, because — to trot out clichés — it puts facsimiles of the scrolls in the hands of anyone with an internet connection; no airfare to Jerusalem or access to a university library required.

More information here.

(HT: reddit)

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Isaiah 40:7-8 in the Ancient Versions

I’m trying to work out the/an original text for Isaiah 40:7-8, which is proving to be quite a puzzle. Here are the ancient versions in roughly chronological order (in English, for those who can’t read the various languages).

The Versions

1QIsa [The Great Isaiah Scroll]
ca. 150-100 BCE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
(Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,)
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text in parentheses is written in a second hand in the margins of the scroll. It was either a haplography that was corrected by a second scribe, or the second scribe added it to make 1QIsa match the text of a different exemplar. At any rate, the uncorrected text matches LXX, while the corrected text matches MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and Targ. Isa.

Septuagint (LXX)
ca. 140 BCE

The grass dries up and the flower falls,
But the word of our God remains forever.

Notes: The text of the LXX matches that of the uncorrected 1QIsa, except for “the flower falls” versus 1QIsa’s “a flower fades.” It is worth noting that LXX and 1QIsa are more or less contemporaneous, though they come from quite different places.

Targum Isaiah (Targ. Isa.)
2nd cent. BCE-1st cent. CE

The grass withers, its flower fades, because the wind from before YHWH has blown upon it. Therefore, the wicked among the people are counted as grass. The wicked dies, his thoughts perish, but the word of our God abides forever.

Notes: Targ. Isa., being an Aramaic explanation of a Hebrew poem, is necessarily in prose, and I have reflected that here. (Translation is modernized from Stenning’s.) And, though the translator has taken some liberties, it’s clear enough that the Hebrew text behind Targ. Isa. corresponds with MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and corrected 1QIsa.

1st-2nd cent. CE

The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely this people is like the grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Notes: Translation is Lamsa’s. The text matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Vulgate, and MT.

390-405 CE

Hay dries up and a flower falls,
Because the breath of God blows on it.
Truly the people are hay.
Hay dries up and a flower falls,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: Hay, of course, is dried-up grass, so the variant reading isn’t all that important. Vulgate has “flower falls,” like the LXX, over against 1QIsa, Peshitta, and MT.

Masoretic Text (MT)
Fixed 10th cent. CE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text of MT matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Peshitta, and Vulgate.


I find it interesting that the two oldest texts in the tradition — LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa — both contain the short reading. Moreover, the two are from different provenances: 1QIsa from Palestine and LXX from Alexandria. In my opinion, the age and geographic separation of the two texts argues against simple haplography, instead presenting evidence of a consistent textual tradition. I’ll call this tradition the “shorter tradition”

However, the tradition in corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa, Peshitta, Vulgate, and MT dates to roughly the same time as LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa. I’ll call this tradition the “longer tradition.”

Dating of manuscripts will not help us decide which of the traditions is original, since they are both reflected on the same manuscript (1QIsa). The style of the two traditions argues in favor of the longer, as it is the more difficult reading (a brief survey of the commentaries is more than enough to bear this notion out). However, the length of the two traditions argues in favor of the shorter, because shorter readings are to be preferred over longer ones.

In the end, I prefer the shorter tradition because of its geographical diversity. The longer tradition is confined to Palestine, while the shorter tradition was in both Palestine and Alexandria at the same time. In addition, though the phrase “Truly the people are grass” could be read as a refrain or as part of a call-and-response, its main purpose is to make explicit the metaphor of humans as grass; in other words, it looks very much like an explanatory gloss, which should therefore be rejected.

Thus, I find that the shorter tradition of Isaiah 40:7-8 is more original.

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