Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 456 pp. Pb; $38.   Link to Eerdmans

Along with Collin’s Between Athens and Jerusalem, The Apocalyptic Imagination is a popular introduction to the literature of the Second Temple period. This third edition is more than 100 pages longer than the second, although Collins indicates in the preface most of the changes are in the bibliography (from 33 pages in the second edition to 54 collins-apocalyptic-imaginationin the third). Most of the changes between the second and third editions appear in the notes. For example, chapter two included 119 notes in the second edition, this is expanded to 166 in the third edition. The general contents are the same and there are no additional chapters in the third edition.

The book begins with an essay defining Apocalyptic similar to the essay in Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy (Eerdmans, 2015). Collins surveys the “matrix of the genre,” beginning with the “dawn of apocalyptic” in postexilic prophecy, interacting with Paul Hanson’s classic text on apocalyptic. Collins considers postexilic prophecy a source for the “codes and raw materials” of the earliest apocalypses, but Babylonian and Persian apocalyptic needs to be taken into consideration as well. These influences are of course mediated through the Hellenistic world, especially the heavenly (or hellish) journeys found in the earliest apocalypses.

Collins treats briefly the social setting of apocalyptic, especially the generally accepted view that apocalypses were born out of crisis. Writers attempted to deal with radical changes by using an ancient wise authority to comment on a crisis such as the Maccabean Revolt (The Animal Apocalypse in 1 Enoch) or the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 (4 Ezra, 2 Baruch).

Chapters 2-4 treat the early Enoch literature, Daniel and various Oracles and Testaments. It may surprise some readers that 1 Enoch predates Daniel, since Daniel appears in the Hebrew Bible. As Collins states, the second century date for Daniel 7-12 is “accepted as beyond reasonable doubt by critical scholarship” (110). The earliest part of the Enoch literature pre-dates the Maccabean period and was presupposed by the book of Jubilees. Collins argues Daniel conforms to the pattern of apocalyptic seen in 1 Enoch (142).

In the section on oracles and testaments, Collins covers the Third Sibylline Oracle, which he describes as a “highly propagandistic document” presenting Judaism to the Hellenistic world (155). Collins argued a closer connection between the Sibyls and apocalyptic in an article reprinted in Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. The Testament literature is also included in the chapter, although not all of the testaments can be described as apocalyptic. Since the often allude to the Enoch literature and have some messianic expectations, they are included in this volume.

The fifth chapter covers apocalyptic in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the second edition this chapter was entitled “Qumran,” perhaps a nod to the persistent question of the relationship of the Scrolls to the site at Qumran. In fact, this chapter has been re-written to take into account recent publications by Gabriele Boccaccini (beginning with Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism, Eerdmans, 1998).  Chapter 6 covers the latest layer in on 1 Enoch, the Similitudes (1 Enoch 37-71). This section has not been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and may be dated only as early as 40 BC based on a reference to the Parthians in 56:5-7. On the date of the Similitudes, see this post. Three texts written after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 are covered in chapter 6. Fourth Ezra, 2 Baruch and the Apocalypse of Abraham each use a great voice from the past to comment on the spiritual crisis of the destruction of the Temple. Chapter 8 Apocalyptic literature from the Diaspora, primarily the Sibylline Oracles (which are not entirely apocalyptic), 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham.

The final chapter in the book is a short reflection on Apocalypticism in Early Christianity. He begins with Jesus as an “apocalyptic prophet,” a view Collins ways is “not without basis” (324). Certainly the crucifixion implies Jesus was considered by the Romans to be a “messianic pretender.” But as E. P. Sanders warned, to say Jesus and his followers had an eschatological orientation does not necessarily mean the movement should be considered “apocalyptic” (326). For Sanders and Horsley, apocalyptic is resistance literature and anti-imperial, so that a restoration of Israel is simply the fall of Rome. Collins is less certain, since there is ‘no necessary opposition” between eschatological hopes for the restoration of Israel and a belief in “imminent cosmic catastrophe” (327).

Collins has a section on apocalyptic in Paul, only adding a short note on anti-imperial studies. He does not interact at all with Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God, which is subtitled “An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.” The only modification to the section on Revelation in this chapter is a paragraph on anti-imperial readings of Revelation.

The epilogue has been re-written after the first two pages to include comments on “modern apocalypticism.” Here Collins briefly mentions several failed calculations of the end (William Miller, and Harold Camping) before commenting on premillennial dispensationalism. Sadly, he only mentions Hal Lindsey’s almost fifty year old Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series, works of fiction based on Lindsey’s dispensationalism. He seems unaware dispensationalism is not always an apocalyptic movement and often has more to say about the nature of the church and how to read Scripture than wild-eyed apocalyptic predictions or overly literal readings of the biblical apocalyptic. He has perhaps confused an apocalyptic worldview of Left Behind or The Road with serious scholarship of Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising or Dale DeWitt.

Conclusion. Even if you have the second edition of The Apocalyptic Imagination, this new volume is worth the price for the expanded bibliographic material. Although I am thankful for the extended bibliography and occasional updates and clarifications in the chapters, I am disappointed the book was not expanded to cover other apocalyptic literature. Nevertheless, The Apocalyptic Imagination will remain a reliable textbook for the study of this genre for years to come.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 1-3, this post for oracles 4-7.

Sibylline Oracles Book 8. The eighth oracle is a composite of two works. The first half of the book (lines 1-216) has been described as entirely Christian (Geffcken) or Jewish (Rzach), although it is probably best to see the section as a Christian redaction of a primarily Jewish work, probably under the influence of the book of Revelation (OTP 1:415-416). The first half can be dated during sibylline-4the reign of Marcus Aurelius (d. 180) since line 148 appears to predict Nero’s return in the reign of Aurelius (year 948 of Rome.) The second half of the book (217-500) appears Christian, possibly relying on the Christian section of Sibylline Oracles 2 (OTP 1:416). Lactantius used the second half of the book extensively, but there is nothing in the section to help fix a date prior to A.D. 300.

Sibylline Oracles Book 11-12. The last four of the sibylline books form a unit since they are a continuous outline of history. The later books appear to have appended to bring the outline of history “up-to-date.” Book eleven may end at the death of Cleopatra, although this is a challenged point (Compendia rerum Iudaicarum, 375-376, OTP 1:431-432). A date of the “turn of the era” is the best, but there is no doubt in Collins mind the book comes from Egypt because of the prominence of Cleopatra. If books 11 and 12 form a continuous unit, then the date needs to be pushed back to the third century since the book ends with Alexander Severeus (A.D. 218-235).

Sibylline Oracles Book 13. The beginning of this book appears lost since the history resumes with Gordianus (A.D. 240-244). Since it ends without mentioned the death of Odenath of Palmyra, the book is to be dated “with confidence” to A.D. 265 (Odenath took the title “king” when Valerian I was captured, Collins OTP 1:458, note d2). Like the previous two books, it was likely written from Alexandria, Egypt. The book has very little theological content, making a decision on Jewish / Christian authorship impossible.

Sibylline Oracles Book 14. This last oracle is described by Collins as a reductio ad absurdum for the whole sibylline genre. He cites Geffcken’s assessment: the writer was “a Phantast . . . an ignoramus who knew nothing except names of people, countries and cities, and arbitrarily mixes them . . .” (OTP 459; Note 7 references Boussett in Real-Encyclopedia who assumes the work is Christian without arguing the case).

The book probably comes from the seventh century, written by an Alexandrian Jew with no hint of Christian redactions. W. Scott thought the book referred to the Arab conquest of Egypt, placing the date in the seventh century (W. Scott, “The Last Sibylline Oracle” Classical Quarterly 9 (1915), 144-166; 207-228, 10 (1916) 7-16).

Sibylline Fragments. Collins lists eight fragments of oracles which are found in Theophilus Ad Autolcycum 2.36 (fragment 1, 3) and 2.3 (fragment 2). Lactantius has fragments 4-7 and fragment 8 is referenced in Constantine’s “Speech to the Saints” The authenticity of the Theophilus fragments has been doubted. Geffcken thought Theophilus forged them himself (OTP 1:467).

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 1-3, this post for oracles 8-14.

Sibylline Oracles Book 4. Collins describes this book as a “political oracle from the Hellenistic age updated by a Jew in the late first century A.D.” (OTP 1:381. In Compendia rerum Iudaicarum 363, Collins says lines 49-401 are “substantially older”, probably the oldest in the Sibylline Oracles. It has been re-worked at a later date to include Rome and a prediction of the downfall of Rome). The earliest layer is quite early since there are no clear references to historical events after the time sibylline-3of Alexander the Great nor to the rise of Rome. It seems anti-Macedonian since Alexander does not bring in the golden age. The redaction “updates” the text sometime after A.D. 80. For example, line 116 refers to the destruction of the temple; lines 119-124, 138-139 refer to the Nero Myth, and 130-135 refer to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (A.D. 79). Collins speculates the text was used in a Jewish baptizing context, such as the Ebionites or Elcasaites due to the emphasis on baptism as a requirement for salvation and a rejection of temple worship (line 383).

Sibylline Oracles Book 5. This book cannot be dated earlier than 70 because of the numerous references to the Nero Myth in all but the very first section, but not much later than 80. The first section has favorable comments about Hadrian, which Collins uses to argue for a date for the first section prior to the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132 (OTP 1:391). There are a number of references to destroying pagan temples, possibly a reference to the Jewish Diaspora revolt of A.D. 115. That the book originated in Egypt is clear from line 53 (the Sibyl is a friend of Isis) and the interest in Cleopatra found throughout the book. Collins comments that despite the similarities to Sibylline 3, the eschatological perspective is quite different.

Sibylline Oracles Book 6. This short 28 line text is clearly a Christian “hymn to Christ” (OTP 1:406). There is no Jewish or pagan elements to the book, and very little to help date it either. The latest date is fixed since it is used by Lactantius about A.D. 300, but an earlier date is impossible to determine. Since the book has an interest in baptism and the Jordan River, some suggest an Ebionite origin, but Collins dismisses this as unlikely (OTP 1:406).

Sibylline Oracles Book 7. Collins describes the seventh books as “disorderly” and “loosely structured” (OTP 1:408). It appears to be entirely Christian, any Jewish elements are not distinctly so. The book is also used by Lactantius; a date in the second century is commonly given for the book. The origin of the book is also difficult to trace, Collins suggests Syria because of a slight interest in the region and in the baptism of Christ (OTP 1:408).

Because the “books” of the Sibylline Oracles are from different periods it is necessary to briefly note the date and provenance for each. See this post for oracles 4-7, this post for oracles 8-14.

Sibylline Oracles Books 1-2. The first two books of the Sibylline Oracles form a unit. Lines 1-323 are a Jewish oracle which begin to recount the “ten generations” of human history. The first seven periods are covered in this section, but lines 324-400 are clearly Christian. After a brief transition in 2.1-5, 2.6-33 finished the “ten generations” theme. The eighth and ninth generations are missing; book two picks up with the tenth generation. SibOr 2.34-347 describes eschatological sibylline-2crisis and judgment. It is Jewish, but there are a number of lines which are Christian interpolations, especially in lines 45-264. The Jewish section of the book has been dated from 30 B.C. to A.D. 250 based on the dominance of Rome in the text. There is no reference to the fall of Jerusalem nor the Nero Myth (a frequent motif in later oracles.) Collins concludes that the Jewish sections date to pre-70, while the Christian interpolations date after 70, but no later than A.D. 150. There are numerous parallels between the second and eighth oracles, implying some literary dependence (which, assuming oracle eight used the second, implies the second was written first.) The Jewish section probably comes from Phrygia based on the reference in 1.196-198 to the ark landing in that country.

Sibylline Oracles Book 3. Lines 1-96 are probably a conclusion to another book. Lines 97-349, 489-829 are the “main book,” with an “Oracles against the nations” section inserted in 350-488. The main section expects God to intervene during the reign of the seventh king of Egypt (lines 193, 318, 608).  The mostly likely candidates for the seventh king are Philometor (186-164, 163-145 B.C.), Neos Philopater (145-144 B.C.) and Physcon / Euergetes II (170-164, 164-163, 144-117 B.C.). Collins cites Valentin Nikiprowetzky, La Troisiéme Sibylle, (Paris: Mouton, 1970) as arguing the seventh king is Cleopatra VII (Athens, 85). As can be observed from the dates of these three kings, there are some co-regencies which complicate the chronology. Collins dates the book to 163-145 B.C. based on the prominence of Rome after 175 B.C. The book is definitely written after the battle of Magnesia, 190 B.C., (OTP 1:355).

This view has been challenged, however, by Rieuwerd Buitenwerf. He points out the numbering of Ptolemaic kings did not exist in antiquity. They were identified by “title.” The number seven is used three times in the context of the prediction of a seventh king, all figuratively according to Buitenwerf (cf. Erich Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998], 277). The writer of the oracle can only be said to believe that Roman rule will end when an Asian king conquers Egypt, signaling the appointed time for God to intervene in history. Therefore, the historical seventh king in the Ptolemaic dynasty does not matter for dating the book. Although he accepts the number seven may have been chose as an ideal number, Collins disagrees that the seventh king has no bearing on the date. The prediction of God’s intervention when the seventh king reigns is meaningless if it is known there have been more than seven kings (Collins, Athens, 83-84, interacting with Erich Gruen).

Buitenwerf points out there is no hint of a Roman invasion of Palestine nor an end to the Ptolemy dynasty, therefore the book must be written some time before Actium, 31 B.C. He finds confirmation for this date in the paraphrase of Book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles by Alexander Polyhistor on the tower of Babel. His citation of lines 3.91-107 are preserved in Eusebius’ Chronica and Josephus’ Antiq. 1.118-119, although Josephus probably also used Polyhistor. Polyhistor began to write about 880 B.C. and died about 40 B.C.

Collins believes the main section of the book to be pro-Ptolemaic and therefore argues the book is the product of a diaspora Jew living in Egypt. This too has been challenged by Buitenwerf, calling the evidence for an Egyptian origin “extremely meager” (Buitenwerf, 131). He considers Collins’ evidence of a pro-Ptolemaic author as saying nothing of the sort and considers the topographical details as a reflection of “general education” (Buitenwerf, 132). He argues for an Asian origin for the book based on the frequent mention of Asian locations and (more importantly), the prediction that an Asian king will invade Egypt. Lines 367-380 predicted this Asian king will usher in a time of bliss for Egypt, then again in lines 601-623 an Asian king invades and God intervenes in the world. The prophetess identifies herself as the Erythraean Sibyl, a very famous Asian prophetess. He concludes the author was a Jewish inhabitant of the Roman province of Asia. Collins agrees the “oracles against the nations” need to be dated a bit later, likely before the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., but the main section of the book, in Collins opinion, is earlier (Compendia rerum Iudaicarum 368-369). These are “gentile oracles” included to bring book three up to date and add to the sibylline flavor.

The first section is different from the rest of the book and is to be dated at least after Actium (line 46 seems to refer to the second Triumvirate.) Lines 75-92 refer to Cleopatra. Lines 63-92 are the most difficult to date, and ought to be considered separately from the rest of the introduction since they refer to the coming of Beliar. This looks like a Christian interpolation. The identity of Beliar may be Simon Magus as an anti-messiah, who was from Samaria (Herod’s renamed Samaria “Sebaste” in honor of Augustus in 25 B.C.)

A second and more likely possibility is the phrase describing Beliar ek Sebasttenon means “from the line of Augustus,” making Beliar Nero. This is in keeping with the Nero Myth and the common association of the return of Nero with an end-time villain. If the second option is accepted, then the date must be after A.D. 70 (when the Nero myth began to circulate), possibly later. The use of the Nero Myth in Revelation 13 is a bit controversial since most scholars date Revelation to the mid 90’s A.D. This would mean the Nero Myth was still common knowledge nearly 30 years after his death.

Hill, Carol, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney, eds. The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. 468 pp. Pb; $39.   Link to Kregel

I will confess my knowledge of “Karst hydrology of Grand Canyon” is limited, but I have quite extensive experience with various forms of creationism over the years. I grew up reading Institute for Creation Research publications, such as Henry Morris and Duane Gish. I have good friends who have fed me a steady diet of Hugh Ross books over the years, and in college I read Howard Van Till’s The Fourth Day, a book which was quite scandalous at the time since it advocated for an ancient universe yet was written by a Christian.

grand-canyone-noahs-floodI have also been perplexed by the rise of Ken Ham as the chief spokesperson for Young Earth Creationism in recent years. He has become a kind of prophet for many conservative Christians, so much so that his word is not to be doubted if you want to maintain your standing among conservative Christians. Even to suggest the earth is slightly more than 6,000 years old is to invite anger from people with Creation Museum season passes. Other Young Earth creationists who accepted perhaps a creation some 20,000 years, or progressive creationists like Hugh Ross are heading down a slippery slope toward liberalism.

All this leads me to a new book from Kregel Academic on what the Grand Canyon teaches about the age of the earth. As the authors point out in their foreword, “to deny an old age for the Earth, while embracing other aspects of science, is essentially a statement that science only works when we agree with the outcome” (11). The same science that developed the medicine and technology we rely on today also understands the geological record of our planet as implying at least a 4.5 billion year history.

The intent of The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth is clear from the title, but the authors are clear they are not arguing against the fact God created the Earth (23), but they are equally clear the Young Earth explanation of the formation of the Grand Canyon is wrong and unscientific.

The contributors to this book are all scientists with earned doctorates in their fields from serious universities. Most are also Christians, some with undergraduate degrees from schools like Wheaton or Calvin College. Several are associated with BioLogos (Gregg Davidson and Ralph Stearley), an organization committed to “harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”

There is a somewhat paranoid assumption by some conservative Christians that scientists are all atheists trying to cover up the truth in order to destroy the accuracy of the word of God. Some Young Earth Creationists consider an old earth to be a required step in supporting biological evolution, and if one accepts biological evolution in any form, there is no Adam and the Gospel collapses. In fact, secular media tends to run to the most extreme form of young earth creationist they can find in order to create the impression all Christians believe the same anti-science propaganda.

This assumption absolutely false, and this book gives evidence that Christians can do good science and be a faithful Christian. For example, Carol Hill co-published an article with Victor Polyakto on “Age and Evolution of the Grand Canyon Revealed by U-Pb Dating of Water-Table Type Speteothems” in Science in 2008. The article argues a western part of the Grand Canyon preceded the Colorado River and dated to 17.6 million years ago.

View of the Grand Canyon from Moran Point. (Photo by Mike Koopsen)

View of the Grand Canyon from Moran Point. (Photo by Mike Koopsen)

The book consists of a series of short, richly illustrated essays by various experts in their fields. The introductory four chapters define flood geology and describe some of the problems with the view that Noah’s flood created the Grand Canyon in the recent past. The flood is typically dated some 4500 years ago or about 2304 B.C. This date requires a revision of world history, since Egyptian chronology is fairly certain back to about 3000 B.C. There is nothing polemic in the author’s presentations of Young Earth views, they simply list the main elements of Young Earth views widely available in their literature.

The rest of the book is a mini-textbook on geology as it relates to the Grand Canyon. The second part, “How Geology Works,” includes three chapters are devoted to the formation and dating of sedimentary rocks, three chapters on dating the geological column, and two chapters on plate tectonics. Throughout the section the authors deal with the alternative views of Young Earth creationists, such as their suspicion of radiometric dating and their reliance on Mount St. Helens as an analogy for the flood.

The third section consists of three chapters on fossils. The Grand Canyon is a sort of textbook on dating fossils, since the lower levels have no fossils and the fossils progress in complexity as they appear higher in the geological column. The same observations can be made for fossils of flora and fauna in the Grand Canyon.

Part four of the book covers the carving of the Grand Canyon in three chapters. Although this is usually presented as either a long slow process of a fast result of a global disaster (the Flood), but Helble and Hill show that it too both a long time and a great deal of water to carve the canyon. Analogies to Mount St. Helens are inadequate. In fact, not the canyons produced by rapid flooding are not really the same as the Grand Canyon because the layers which were carved there were already rock when the Canyon was formed. Mount St. Helens carved a canyon through loose debris below the mountain, not solid rock.

In the two conclusion chapters, the authors point out that flood geology advocates begin with a particular view of the Bible and force geology into that view. This results in a convoluted explanation of physical evidence which is both unscientific and unbiblical (208). According to Romans 1, the Creator’s divine nature is clear from what has been made; for the authors of this book, the standard geological view does in fact point to a Creator.

Conclusion. Undoubtedly Young Earth Creationists are not going to like the conclusions this book draws. This is a popular level introduction to the geology of the Grand Canyon and is exactly the sort of popular science book one might find in a gift shop near the Grand Canyon. There are, however, occasional paragraphs and sidebars engaging the claims of Young Earth creationists. Usually the authors point out the Young Earth advocates are only telling “part of the story.” For example, the sidebar on page 143 or the chapter on radiometric dating.

This book is beautiful, the photography is excellent and the charts provide clear explanations of extremely complicated topics. The Bible is honored and accepted as true, yet there is respect for real science in this book. The geology of the Grand Canyon is taken seriously, leading to the conclusion that the canyon was carved through millions of years of geological layers, the standard scientific view of the Grand Canyon.

One constructive criticism, however. Since one of the goals of the book is to show that Young Earth Creationism is not supported by a straightforward reading of Genesis, I would have appreciated a biblical scholar (or several) used to write sections on the Bible.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The genre of the Sibylline Oracle is well known in the ancient world. The Sibyl is always an elderly woman who delivers strange sayings as if from the gods. Ovid tells the story of a woman who asked Apollo to live as many years as there are sands on the seashore. The wish was granted, but she did ask the god to keep her from aging, so she is forced to live as a shriveled old hag. Various cultures have versions of this story – the Jewish legend calls her Sabbe or Sambethe and made her a daughter of Noah (Collins, OTP 1:317-38)

Erythraean Sibyl, Michelangelo

Erythraean Sibyl, Michelangelo

There were many sibyls by the fourth century B.C., but by the first century B.C. the most important was the Roman Sibyl. Her sayings were kept in Rome and consulted in times of crisis. These books were destroyed in 83 B.C. when the temple of Jupiter was burned. When it was rebuilt in 76 B.C., sibylline books from all over the empire were brought to Rome to be housed at the temple. Roman sibylline texts were filled with omens and prodigies, so too the Jewish oracles.

When something strange happened, the Oracles were scoured to give potential meaning to the event. The books could function as propaganda since a king could confirm his action by pointing to an arcane sibylline line which “predicted” his birth or some other key event. The obscurity of these works made them easy to manipulate and fabricate (Cicero, De divinatione 2.54.110; Plutarch, De pythiis oraculis, 25, cited by Collins 1:320, note 38). Eventually Augustus destroyed thousands of Roman oracles because he considered them politically subversive (Collins, OTP 1:320, citing Suetonius, Augustus 31.1.

The collection of oracles titled Sibylline Oracles in most collections of the pseudepigrapha are Jewish or Christian creations which mimic the style of Roman oracles in order to provide some additional validity to Jewish (or Christian) worldviews. These Sibylline Oracles are not single work from any one time. They range from Jewish works of the first century to late Christian theologies. To complicate matters, there are Christian interpolations into some of the Jewish oracles. This is a real problem for using this material: what is (early) Jewish as opposed to (later) Christian?

Sometimes this is obvious since the writer is clearly referring to Jesus Christ. For example, in the eighth oracle, lines 217-250 “an acrostic poem that spells out with the initials of each line the words Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr Stauros, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, Cross.” As Collins points out, the first five of these letters spell Ichthus, “fish,” a famous Christian cryptogram (OTP 1:416).

Other times it is possible we may have a vague reference to a messianic figure or the messianic age which could be either Jewish or Christian. For example, in Oracle 3, some elements seem Jewish, such as lines 573-75, “There will again be a sacred race of pious men who attend to the counsels and intention of the Most High, who fully honor the temple of the great God.” But a few lines later there is a description of a restored kingdom which sounds like Christian descriptions of a millennium: “And then God will give great joy to men, for earth and trees and countless flocks of sheep will give to men the true fruit of wine, sweet honey and white milk and corn, which is best of all for mortals (3.-619-622).

Many times these “either/or” sections are not important (praise of God, for example), but in eschatological contexts it is very difficult to tell the Jewish from the Christian. This is the case because early Christian eschatology is very similar to Jewish eschatology since both developed out of the Hebrew Bible.

Hart_Leaves Upon the Wind_wrk02.inddHart, David Bentley. A Splendid Wickedness and Other Essays. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 309 pp. Pb; $35.  Link to Eerdmans

Almost all of the 52 essays in this collection appeared in First Things. They are all more or less brief reflections on a wide variety of topics. In fact, this is the kind of book one reads “now and then” rather than straight through from cover to cover. There are essays on philosophy (“”The Gnostic Turn”), literature (“the Poetry of Autumn”, culture (“America and the Angles of the Sacré –Coeur”), and even baseball (“Brilliant Specialist” and “A Perfect Game”). One essay offers examples of poetry from Hart’s great uncle Aloysius Bentley, another comments on Gnostic themes the (original) BBC series The Prisoner.

Like most good essay writers, Hart is able to begin with one topic, often some real-life experience most can understand, and turn it into a discussion of philosophy or theology. As it turns out, I happen to be a huge baseball fan and count The Prisoner as one of my all-time favorite television shows (like Hart, I prefer the original). Yet in any given essay, readers might encounter Heidegger, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Jung, etc.

The essay used for the title of the volume, “A Splendid Wickedness,” traces the trajectory of the “moral oaf” Don Juan from the character’s origin in a cautionary seventeenth century Spanish play to his unanticipated popularity in the Romantic age as a popular and glamorous hero who goes to Hell defiant and unrepentant. His wickedness was “just not brute impulse, but the darkly distorted image of an angelic liberty” (135). This is the reason Don Juan has vanished from the cultural landscape; the modern world has reduced humanity to a spiritless machine, making the splendid wickedness of someone like Don Juan unimaginable. The sad thing, for Hart, is that whatever common cultural character which will emerge from our culture will be “too damned boring, and more precisely, too boring to be damned” (136).

I usually do not review a book until I have read it through, but in this case I have only read a few of the essays. I plan on slowly reading through the book, one or two chapters at a time, in order to allow myself some time to digest them.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

fire-tortureThe final section of 3 Enoch contains several heavenly features in a somewhat random order. Metatron reveals these “secrets of the cosmos.”

  • Chapter 41 describes the letters by which the world was created. These letters are not identified in this section, but in chapter 44 the letters of the Torah are specifically mentioned so it is not unlikely the letters that created the universe are the Hebrew letters of the Torah.
  • Chapter 42 describes the raqia’, the firmament of Genesis 1 and the power of the name of God, who is an everlasting rock and everlasting fire.
  • Chapter 43 describes a storehouse of souls of the righteous. Some of these souls have returned and others have not yet been created.
  • Chapter 44 describes the wicked in Sheol and lists the angels in charge of the place as well as the souls of the patriarchs who pray before the Holy One. Souls are brought “to punish them with fire in Gehinnom, with rods of burning coal” (v. 3). There is a hint at purgatory in this section, since these tortured souls “are tainted until purified of their iniquity by fire.”
  • Chapter 45 describes the “curtain of the Omnipresent One.” On this curtain are printed each generation of the world, which are listed from Adam until the time of the Messiah. There appear to be two messiahs here, one who is the son of Joseph and one who is the son of David (verse 5). There are a number of potential rabbinical sources for the “nebulous figure” of the first messiah, son of Joseph, as a forerunner of the Davidic messiah (OTP 1:298 note t).
  • Chapter 46 describes the “the spirits of the stars” which live in the raqia’. The section specifically quotes Psalm 147:4 (God counts and names all of the stars) and Psalm 19:1 (the heavens declare the glory of God), and there are allusions to several other texts from the Hebrew Bible.
  • Chapter 47 describes the ministering angels who are punished by the fiery coals whenever they “do not recite the song at the right time or in a proper and fitting manner.”

Chapter 48A is the most eschatological section in the book. This chapter describes the right hand of God which created the 955 heavens. This right hand is “banished behind him” because of the destruction of the Temple. When it weeps five rivers flow out of it and split the earth in five ways, five times. When the Lord reveals his arm to the world, Israel will be saved from the Gentiles (verses 9-10). This re-gathering of Israel is described as a banquet and even the gentiles will share in this eschatological with Israel and the Messiah. This final eschatological statement may also allude to the banquet on Zion in Isaiah 25:6-8, but this is not as clear as Isaiah 66:20.

3 Enoch concludes by drawing together Isa 52:10, Deut 32:12 and Zech 14:9 to show the Lord will rule over the whole world, both Jew and Gentile. If the 3 Enoch is the product of a ninth century Christian monk, it is strange that Israel would have first place in the kingdom since by this point Israel has been theologically replaced by the Church as God’s people and eschatology such as this played down or allegorized.  This eschatological conclusion seems to imply an early tradition present in 3 Enoch, although it is impossible to know how old this tradition is.

Martinez-DSScrolls-Trans_PB_Reprint07.qxdTwo weeks ago I opened a giveaway context for a slightly used copy of Florentino Garcia Martinez’s The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English (Leiden; Grand Rapids. Mich.: Brill; Eerdmans, 1996). Since then there have been 29 comments. I placed the names in a spreadsheet, randomly sorted, the rolled a random number at, and the winner is:

Jenna O

Looks like Jenna’s favorite scroll is the Damascus Document. Congrats, and please contact me via email (plong42 at with a shipping address and I will get this right out to you.

Thanks to everyone who participated, nice to see some people use at least a part of their summer to read the blogs!


The book has a higher view of the man Enoch that the previous Enoch pseudepigrapha. We learn in chapter 4 the angel Metatron is actually Enoch himself, having been elevated by God himself to the level of an angel (6:1-2). Enoch is described as the “choicest of all” and worth all of the rest of humans in righteousness. He is brought up to heaven angel-of-firein the Shekinah glory of God and brought into the divine presence itself (chapter 7). He is blessed with 1,365,000 blessings, his body is enlarged and he is given 72 wings, each wing is large enough to cover the whole world, and he is given 365,000 eyes each like the Great Light (the sun, chapter 9). The number 365 repeats throughout the book in a variety of forms (hundreds, thousands, etc.)

This is based on Enoch’s age when taken into heaven, and probably reflects the 365-day calendar theme from the early Enoch literature. Enoch is given a throne in glory at the door of the seventh palace and the Lord commanded that all should obey him (chapter 10). Enoch was given a name (“little Yahweh”), a robe and a crown (chapter 12-13). This crown is inscribed with “the letters by which heaven was created.”

All of the angels worshiped him, and their names are listed in 14:4 along with their responsibility in the order of creation. He is finally transformed into fire (chapter 15). In Chapter 16 Metatron is dethroned, but this is likely a secondary addition since it is entirely out of place in the context of the glorification of Enoch. (OTP 1:268, note a).

In chapters 17-40 there is a detailed listing of the names and responsibilities of the angels and other personnel in heaven. This material goes far beyond the biblical teaching on angels. There is a mind-boggling level of complexity for the hierarchy of the angelic beings!  The seven honored princes of heaven are listed as Michael, Gabriel, Šatqiʾel, Šaḥaqiʾel, Baradiʾel, Baraqiʾel, and Sidriʾel; each are attended by 496,000 myriads of ministering angels. In addition to these are several princes in charge of “special angels.” These are all described like the angelic beings in the Hebrew Bible, majestic and powerful and unimaginably huge: The height of ʾOpanniʾel’s body is “a journey of 2,500 years.”

  • The princes of the “wheels” (the throne-chariot from Ezekiel), Rikbiʾel YHWH, “the great and terrible Prince.”
  • The prince of the holy creatures (the four-faced creatures from Ezekiel), Ḥayliʾel YHWH. The holy creatures are described in chapter 21 and they are far more amazing than Ezekiel 1. Each of their four wings covers the whole world, that their faces are crowned with 2000 crowns, each like a rainbow.
  • The prince of the cherubim, Kerubiʾel YHWH. This angel is described in terms similar to the angelic being in Daniel 10,
  • The prince of the ophanim, ʾOpanniʾel YHWH. This angel has 16 faces, and has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year.
  • The prince of the seraphim, Śerapiʾel. This creature wears a crown with the name “Prince of Peace.”
  • The heavenly archivist, Radweriʾel YHWH. This being has a sealed scroll box containing heavenly records

Chapters 29-40 describe the Watchers and other angelic beings in a “heavenly law court.”  These scenes contain the typical rivers of fire, thundering voices and earthquakes. Like the overly fantastic sizes of the angels, the numbers of the angels in this section are innumerable: 496,000 myriads of camps of angels with 496,000 angels in each camp (someone else can do the math!) There are seven rivers of fire 365,000 parasangs long (about 1,360,802 miles each), and they are 248,000 myriads of parasangs deep.

All of these overwhelming descriptions overwhelm the reader with the unimaginable greatness of heaven and the heavenly creatures. Although much of the imagery is drawn from the Hebrew Bible (especially Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-3, and Daniel 10), the book multiplies these descriptions to infinity and beyond.


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