Prophecy and Apocalyptic

As we have seen, the prophetic books are among the most complicated cases of the development from freely composed literature to fixed Scripture. Even the latest books, composed well after some others were already more or less

'canonical', show signs of having passed through several stages of redaction (e.g. Haggai and Zechariah); and some books, such as Isaiah, span several centuries. From about the third century a new kind of literature, 'apocalyptic', is generally held to have developed, as prophecy ceased to be written or even reworked (Rowland 1982).

This literature expresses a generally more deterministic and dualistic attitude towards the events of human history than the prophets had done, and though it is attributed to ancient sages and seers, it does not really derive from them as the prophetic books do (at least in their inner core). In a work such as Daniel—the only apocalyptic book usually recognized in the canon— predictions are attributed to Daniel, a figure said to have lived in the sixth century, a contemporary of Ezekiel. These predictions, however, do not concern the sixth century but the second, and it is clear that the book was in fact written during the Maccabean crisis around 165 BCE.

What is happening here is thus similar to the attribution of the Psalms to David, or of the Pentateuch to Moses. It could be said that Daniel is the only kind of prophetic book that could be written, once it had been decided that true prophecy derived from the time before Ezra. In early post-Ezra times this idea could be respected by adding new oracles to existing prophetic books; but by the second century these books existed as finished wholes, and the only available expedient was to invent a new 'ancient' prophet and write a fresh book, as a pastiche of those that already existed. This does not imply that the corpus of the prophetic books was closed in the time of 'Daniel'-perhaps the reverse, since if it had been, there would have been no point in the false attribution to a venerable figure from the past. What it does imply is that existing books could no longer be supplemented, and also that (avowedly) new prophecy was not credible—it must be attributed to an ancient figure.

The sense that all revelation, and hence all Scripture, lies in the past, was very strong in Judaism in the last pre-Christian centuries, and the development of apocalyptic literature is strong evidence for it. There are important theological questions here that must be faced by any religion that acknowledges a written holy book. Why should it be thought that revelation ceased at a given point in the past? And how, if it did, can God still communicate with the community and with individuals? Judaism and Christianity have both had to grapple with these issues, and the very form the canon has makes it possible to trace the stages by which such ideas developed.

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