Collins, John J. Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 399 pp. Pb; $34.   Link to Eerdmans  

Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy collects nineteen essays published by Collins in various journals and collections, some of which are expensive and difficult to find. Three of the chapters were originally presentations at conferences. The introductory chapter was presented at a symposium on Forms of Ancient Jewish Literature in Its Graeco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Setting, University of Manchester, January 19-21, 2009. Collins reconsiders the definition of the genre of Apocalyptic Collins developed in Semeia 14 in 1979. That volume represented a report on the first stage of the work of the Apocalypse Group of the SBL Genres Project and produced a “first stage” definition of an apocalypse:

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. (Semeia 14 [1979]: 9).

In Semeia 36, this definition was expanded to include “intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority” (Adela Yarbro Collins, Semeia 36 [1986]: 7). Near the end of this book, Collins cites T.S. Eliot, apocalypses are written for times when humankind cannot bear very much reality (324).

Collins-ApocalypseThis definition distinguished between apocalypses which featured an extended review of history and “otherworldly journey” apocalypses. Collins surveys some of the responses to this definition, beginning with the objection that genre cannot be defined, although “we know one when we see it” because of “a family resemblance.” Citing Wittgenstein, a genre like “game” covers everything from card games to the Olympic Games. Even though there is little resemblance between the two, we recognize them both as “games.”

Collins thinks this is “too vague to be satisfying” (11). A second challenge uses prototype theory to suggest a particular example is an ancestor of later similar members of the genre. All subsequent examples of the genre are really variations on the prototype, so that boundaries between genres are blurred. He goes on to offer two problematic examples. Jubilees and Joseph and Asenath. Both have sections which have been identified as apocalyptic, yet cannot be described as apocalyptic as a whole. Jubilees “belongs on the fuzzy fringes of the genre” (18).

The first section of this collection relates the genre of apocalypse to prophecy. In “The Eschatology of Zechariah,” (originally published as L. L. Grabbe and R. D. Haak, eds., Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic, and Their Relationship [New York: T&T Clark International, 2003]: 74-84), Collins argues the future expectations of Zechariah are eschatological in the prophetic sense, and even messianic, but not apocalyptic (33). In the second essay in this section Collins examines a common element in both apocalypse and prophecy, the end of the world (originally published as “The Beginning of the End of the World,” in John Ahn and Stephen Cook, eds., Thus Says the Lord: Essays on the Former and Latter Prophets in Honor of Robert R. Wilson [New York: Continuum, 2009]:137-55). In the Hebrew Bible and all examples of Jewish apocalyptic, the end of the world always leads to restoration and renewal (53). The only exception Collins finds is Sibylline Oracles 5.512-31, and even this example is debatable.

The third essay in this section discusses the shift from classic prophecy to apocalyptic (originally delivered as the Johannes Munck Lecture: “Apocalypticism and the Transformation of Prophecy in the Second Temple Period,” University of Aarhus, October 10, 2013). During the post exilic period prophecy shifted from a spoken form to a textual form, which had the effect of unmooring a prophecy from a historical context (63). For example, Daniel 12:1-4 makes six references to Isaiah 53. Daniel is “drawing on the linguistic resources of Isaiah” to react to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes (65). This is a new text, not a pesher (interpretation). For Collins, the apocalyptic prophets were not simply creating a pastiche of older texts, they were “engages in wide ranging bricolage drawing on many sources” (67), transforming prophecy, wisdom and myth in the face of cultural disruption (69).

The essays in the second section concern “variations on a genre.” First in this section is an evaluation of Gabriele Boccaccini’s “Essene Hypothesis” (originally published as “Enochic Judaism: An Assessment,” in Adolfo D. Roitman, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Shani Tzoref, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture: Proceedings of the International Conference Held at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (July 6-8, 2008) [STDJ 93; Leiden: Brill, 2011] 219-34). Although Collins agrees with Boccaccini that the Enoch literature is a distinctive form of Judaism, it is still a movement with Judaism and it is not clear the Essenes were distinct because of their use of Enoch.

As suggested in the introductory essay, Jubilees is problematic for a definition of apocalyptic. In the third essay in this section Collins suggest Jubilees is an hybrid work which does not fit into any one category (originally published as “The Genre of the Book of Jubilees,” in Eric F. Mason et al., eds., A Teacher for All Generations: Essays in Honor of James C. VanderKam [JSJSup 153/2; Leiden: Brill, 2011]: 737-55). He critiques Hanneken’s suggestion that Jubilees imitates apocalypses on the surface level, but the basic elements of an apocalyptic worldview are “caricatured, inverted and refuted” (103). But as Collins points out, if this is irony it is humorless in the extreme.

The fourth essay in this section examines another genre which is not apocalyptic, yet has some elements of the genre, the Sibylline Oracles (originally published as “The Sibyl and the Apocalypses,” in David E. Aune and Frederick E. Brenk, eds., Greco-Roman Culture and the New Testament [Leiden: Brill, 2012]: 185-202. There are some common features such as universal world history (and often violent destruction), but the Sibylline Oracles were not modeled on the apocalypses (125).

The fifth essay in the section critiques a recently published text sometimes called The Gabriel Revelation (originally published as “Gabriel and David: Some Reflections on an Enigmatic Text,” in Matthias Henze, ed., Hazon Gabriel: New Readings of the Gabriel Revelation [SBLEJL; Atlanta: SBL, 2011] 99-112). This text describes an eschatological attack on Jerusalem and refers to an “evil branch” as a kind of Antichrist and a messiah from Ephraim, the son of Joseph rather than David. Collins carefully works through Knohl’s argument and concludes it is problematic on many counts, not the least of which is the uncertainty of this particular text.

Finally in this section Collins discusses the apocalyptic theology of 4 Ezra (originally published as “The Idea of Election in 4 Ezra,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 16 [2009]: 83-96). Although 4 Ezra is certainly an apocalypse, it is quite different from other representatives of the genre. The book has three long dialogues between Ezra and an angel which become increasingly concerned with the election of Israel. Because of the book’s unique view of election, Sanders considered the book as an exception to his “covenantal nomism” and Bruce Longenecker described book as “ethnocentric nomism” (148). Collins suggests the book is in dialogue with wisdom tradition (especially in the laments), but has an “apocalyptic solution” to the problem of covenant theology and the fall of Jerusalem. God’s chosen people will survive, a theology which would serve to “reassure a relatively small and powerless people” (155).

The third section of the book develops themes in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. First, “Jerusalem and the Temple in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period” (originally a presentation at Bar Ilan University in 1998 (International Rennert Guest Lecture Series). Although many Jews in the Second Temple were satisfied with worship at the Temple, “apocalyptic visionaries, by definition, wanted something more” (177). Daniel and the Animal Apocalypse respond to the Maccabean crisis by looking forward to a “more spectacular restoration” than Judas Maccabees provided (165). Collins also examines the Song of Sabbath Sacrifice and the Temple Scroll from Qumran and concludes “the Dead Sea sect evidently expected some kind of restoration of the temple before the new creation” (173).

In “Journeys to the World Beyond in Ancient Judaism” Collins focuses on the earliest ascent apocalypses (originally published in Martin McNamara, ed., Apocalyptic and Eschatological Heritage: The Middle East and Celtic Realms [Dublin: Four Courts, 2003]: 20-36). He considers Bousset’s view these heavenly journeys were an anticipation of the ascent of the soul to heaven after death as an “overgeneralization” (195). There is a real interest in life after death, whether to encourage righteous behavior or warn against punishments to come.  The third article in this section is related to this topic, “The Afterlife in Apocalyptic Literature,” (originally published in A. J. Avery Peck and J. Neusner, eds., Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part 4: Death, Life-After-Death, Resurrection and the World-to-Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity [Handbuch der Orientalistik; Leiden: Brill, 2000]: 119-39. Collins repeats the well-known fact that a belief in actual resurrection of individuals was not accepted until the Persian period (199). This belief is developed in several Second Temple apocalypses so that 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch look forward to a general resurrection at the end of history. Collins concludes, however, the more typical apocalyptic description of afterlife is the heavenly ascent (216).

The fourth section of three essays is devoted to pseudepigraphy in apocalyptic literature. First, Collins explores the importance of pseudepigraphy for group formation (originally published as “Pseudepigraphy and Group Formation in Second Temple Judaism,” in E. G. Chazon and M. Stone, eds., Pseudepigraphic Perspectives: The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls [Leiden: Brill, 1999]: 43-58). He surveys apocalypses written in the name of Enoch, Daniel and Moses and concludes these names provide legitimization for the group by creating prophecy ex eventu supporting the group. By way of contrast, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not use pseudepigraphy because of the authority of the Teacher of Righteousness. Rather than create prophecies in the style of some ancient authority, the DSS practice exegesis on prophecy to legitimatize the group (the pesher on Habakkuk, for example).

The second article in this section is closely related to the first. Collins asks why anyone would choose to write in the name of Enoch or Ezra (originally published as “Enoch and Ezra,” in Matthias Henze and Gabriele Boccaccini, eds., Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall [Leiden: Brill, 2013]: 83-97). Enoch seems an obvious candidate since all that is known about him is he “walked with God” or “walked with angels.” But Ezra is a well-known character from the Old Testament. Collins suggests 4 Ezra transforms Ezra into a kind of Moses, subverting the covenant theology of the past “almost beyond recognition” (245).

The final essay in this section focuses on the use of the Sibylline oracles as a pseudepigrapha (originally published in Eibert Tigchelaar, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures [BETL 270; Leuven: Peeters, 2014]: 195-210). Collins argues a non-Jewish person would be unimpressed by the Sibylline Oracles, knowing them to be forgeries. A Jewish (or Christian) reader, however, may have been impressed to find a prophetic voice in the Greek world which rebuked paganism (266). As such, the oracles function as an expression of anger toward a colonial oppressor.

The final section in this volume concerns ethics and politics in apocalyptic literature. First, Collins disagrees with a common opinion that there was a distinct “apocalyptic Judaism” responsible for the collect of books now known as 1 Enoch (originally published as “Ethos and Identity in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature,” in Matthias Konradt and Ulrike Steinert, eds., Ethos und Identität. Einheit und Vielfalt des Judentums im hellenistisch-römischer Zeit [Munich: Schöningh, 2002]: 51-65). The apocalyptic genre could be used by diverse groups often motivated by a desire for higher (or hidden) wisdom and an interest in another life beyond this one.

Collins’s article “Apocalypse and Empire” (originally Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 76 [2011]: 1-19) evaluates another common view of apocalyptic, namely that it is a kind of resistance literature. This view was popularized by Richard Horsley, who claimed the problem behind both Daniel and 1 Enoch was oppressive violence by foreign rulers. But to describe this literature as “opposition to empire” is “simplistic and misses the nuances of the mode of resistance” and “obliterate the generic that are essential for nuanced interpretation” (306-7).

In “Cognitive Dissonance and Eschatological Violence: Fantasized Solutions to a Theological Dilemma in Second Temple Judaism”(originally published in Nathan MacDonald and Ken Brown, eds., Monotheism in Late Prophetic and Early Apocalyptic Literature [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014]: 201-17), Collins explores potential links between apocalyptic literature and violence in monotheistic religions. He takes as a starting point the recent claim that monotheistic religions lead to acts of violence like 9/11. He surveys several Old Testament examples of “violent fantasy” and combat myth, such as Isaiah 63:3-4. The claim these violent texts contribute to the Jewish Revolt in A.D. 70 is an open question, since Josephus states “deceivers and imposters” were the cause of the rebellion (322), but Josephus may be more interested in exonerating the majority of the Jewish people after the war was over. Although this literature may fuel a revolutionary spirit, Collins points out that “imagining an alternative universe can be therapeutic in times of crisis” (324).

Finally, Collins engages the embarrassing legacy of apocalyptic millenarianism such as Hal Lindsey and Left Behind (“Radical Religion and the Ethical Dilemmas of Apocalyptic Millenarianism,” originally published in Zoe Bennett and David B. Gowler, eds., Radical Christian Voices and Practice: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012]: 87-102). In Collins’s view, the ambiguity of the genre of apocalyptic and overly simplistic interpretations of apocalyptic has generated many unfortunate views hoping to “decode the text” of Daniel and Revelation. As in the previous essay, Collins points out that violent fantasies common in these interpretations are often cathartic. Apocalyptic literature itself can be “harnessed for good or evil” (342).

Conclusion. Eerdmans has done a great service for Jewish apocalyptic scholarship by bringing these essays together in a single, affordable volume. Readers interested in apocalyptic Second Temple literature will find Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy to be a valuable resource.


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

Published on May 24, 2016 on Reading Acts.