Book Review: Dale C. Allison, Jr., Death Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things

Allison, Jr., Dale C. Death Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 194 pp. pb; $18.   Link to Eerdmans

This short book was developed from Allison’s Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary in October 2014. As he notes in his preface, these essays are edited and are more like a series of thoughts and reflections on life, death and the afterlife. As the book develops, there is a sense of Allison’s struggle as a scholar to deal some very basic issues allison-death-comesof human existence. On the one hand, Allison is an excellent scholar who wants to take into account a wide range of disciples including psychology, sociology, and biblical studies. But on the other hand, he is a real person who has been deeply affected by the experience of death and separation from loved ones. There is a very real personal struggle in this book. In fact, it is the tension between experience and academia that makes this book extremely intriguing. Allison quotes Princeton philosopher Mark Johnston who says “you either rehearse a scientifically establish materialism about life and death, or you preach” (70). In this book, Allison preaches.

Near the end of the book Allison comes to three possible options for understanding the future. One is to dismiss it as an intellectual anachronism and reject popular descriptions of heaven and hell as myth (or fantasy). The second approach is to search the Bible for information about the future on the presupposition God knows wants to reveal something about heaven and hell to us. The third approach is to explore what human experience, including psychology near-death experience is in those sorts of things. Whether by temperament or experience, I am less inclined to listen to near-death experience reports that Allison appears to be in this book. He certainly does not take them at face value and he does not seem inclined to accept the strange trend in popular Christian publishing toward heavenly (or hellish) experiences.

For Allison all three strategies are problematic. Although my preference would be for the second approach, Allison is certainly correct the Bible tells us less about the future than we might think. It seems as though most people understand heaven through the lens of popular media, primarily Dante and cartoons.

The first chapter deals with the fear of death, or in some examples, the non-fear of death. Allison describes his own fears after a near-death experience. After seeking answers in his theological education, he confesses “I’d been interrogating my religion more than benefiting from it, and fear and trembling assailed me” (13). Allison cannot agree with scholars like John Dominic Crossan who think the resurrection is an outdated myth. For Allison, “Christianity without hope beyond death is of reduced relevance and diminished interest” (16).

As for what the resurrection looks like Allison confesses he is not sure what to believe. He begins the second chapter by citing some absurd examples of why some people have rejected a literal resurrection and even immorality. For example, how can resurrected bodies be brought back together again after thousands of years, since the material remains are long gone and have been likely consumed and incorporated into other bodies? Questions of cremation and organ donation have caused Christians to rethink resurrection, but as Allison says graves and bones are irrelevant. Although belief in a literal resurrection has waned in recent years, and literal resurrection has been more or less abandoned by many scholars, a future hope in the resurrection has not been completely reversed. Although Allison rejects anything other than a biblical dualism (body and soul rather than body soul and spirit), several possible explanations for a resurrection body remain open. But in the end, he remains in agnostic on what the resurrected body might look like (37).

His third chapter concerns God’s final judgment. Like the previous chapter, he begins by surveying some of the more absurd views of what that judgment might look like. There is little wonder why most mainstream pulpits remain silent on the topic of eschatological judgment. For Allison, there is a cultural problem with the concept of judgment (we do not like it anymore), but also a theological problem. Theologically, many Christians stress justification by faith and therefore are less interested in having our lives reviewed by an “end times final judgment day.” Allison rightly points out some Western theological traditions take extended court room metaphors too far. This certainly applies to the eschatological judgment. The judge on the last day is not a detached enforcer of inflexible laws, rather he is the father in the prodigal son parable (67).

Although chapter 4 is entitled “ignorance and imagination.” it is on eschatology and ethics. The chapter quotes both pulp science fiction writer Philip José Farmer and John Lennon, Allison asks us to imagine what our ethical life might be like without a belief in heaven or hell. While unsatisfied with hundreds of-year-old sermons with title scary titles about the “efficacy of the fear of hell,” he makes the point that like most doctrines, Christians tend to take a predominantly self-interested point of view of heaven and hell. For Allison, thinking about the future is to use one’s imagination. Most portrayals of heaven and hell are artistic, they are symbols of what we hope or fear lies ahead. To be useful, this imagination must engage us where we are. Heaven looks like what we prefer in this life. Second, these imaginings of heaven need to be theologically sound (and they are usually not!) Just to Scripture says we do not know what to pray for beyond “Thy will be done, we also don’t really know what to hope for beyond “thy will be done” (92).

bosch-hellPerhaps chapter 5 will be the first most contemporary Christians read, since everybody wants to know whether there is a literal hell. Allison interacts with some of the major problems with hell found in contemporary literature on the topic. The real problem, Alison suggests, is that we just do not like torture anymore and we cannot imagine a good, loving and kind God sending people to a Dante-style hell against their wills to torture them with ironic and macabre punishments. All that used to make for effective preaching, but not anymore.

First, Allison says God does not send people to hell against their will. People who have rejected God also reject heaven. Second, hell is not a torture chamber, in fact Allison thinks hell cannot be objectively described. At best we can make theological assertions about it or construct useful parables about it. But we do not have any “precognitive snapshots” or what hell is really like (103).

One strategy for rejecting hell is to argue Jesus did not teach there is a hell. But as Allison says, even if you could detach Jesus from hell, that would not get the doctrine off the other pages of the rest of the New Testament. As a historian, Allison is not convinced Jesus would not believe in a hell. It is difficult to separate eschatological judgment from Second Temple theology. Another strategy is an emphasis on human freedom. But for Allison an over-emphasis on human freedom moves God to the wings. Modern Americans don’t like a God who decides their fate and might send them to hell. Somehow we have turned heaven and hell into a kind of Christian version of karma.

Bosch-heavenThe final chapter is on heaven, a topic Allison notes some pastors do their best to dodge. For many pastors a biblical teaching on heaven is too minimalistic to be good preaching. Once again Allison makes a few comments on the absurdity of most popular pictures of an eternal heaven.  What does one do for all of eternity? Eventually boredom must set in. He briefly comments on N. T. Wright’s dismissal of “going to heaven” as a tag for what happens after death. It is well known Wright does not think heaven is eternal floating around in another world; For Wright, heaven is a renewed body living on a renewed earth. This is similar to Moltmann, who insisted the eternal kingdom of God will be a this-worldly kingdom. The meek after all, will inherit the earth.

Allison spends a large section of this chapter dealing with the view did humans become in some way angelic in the next life, examining Second Temple Jewish texts as well as some early Christian documents. Although there may be nothing to this tradition, Allison observes that angels are never described as having private lives. They are in fact thoroughly theocentric beings. Perhaps if our view of heaven was as theocentric as possible, our personal questions would become far less important.

Conclusion: This book is not a textbook on personal eschatology. There is no sustained argument for a resurrection, or against a literal hell in this book. Instead, the reader is treating to the careful reflections of a respected New Testament scholar who is still looking for satisfying answers to these ultimate questions.

Late in this book, Allison observes that are thinking about the afterlife has become less geocentric and more anthropocentric. He observes that hymns from the nineteenth century seem to look forward to the “Sweet Bye and Bye” in which Heaven is a reunion with loved ones across the stormy Jordan. But is anthropocentric view of heaven (or hell) biblical? We naturally ask questions about what our personal bodies will be like, or what we will be doing for all eternity. But our personal fate is not the point a biblical teaching on death and resurrection, heaven and hell.

Instead, these our thinking about heaven and hell ought to focus squarely on God and his glory alone.


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 July 28, 2016 on Reading Acts.

An Extract from Pseudo-Phocylides – Sibylline Oracles, Book 2.56-148

Phocylides was a sixth century B.C. poet who was, in the ancient world, well-known as an author of maxims and proverbs applicable to daily life. Charlesworth has a separate section for Pseudo-Phocylides in the second volume of OTP.

Pseudo-PhocylidesIn the first century B.C. it appears a diaspora Jew created 230 lines of poetry in the name of Phocylides in order to demonstrate to the gentiles that Judaism is a rational religion. The point was not to convert, but to create “sympathizers” among the gentiles (OTP 2:566). In the Sibylline Oracles, these lines are used as “criteria” for the judgment just described (Collins, “Sibylline Oracles,” in ABD 6:4). There is a “frame” at the end of this section which returns to the idea of a context (lines 149-153). Since these lines will be covered in more detail in the section on Pseudo-Phocylides, suffice here to simply note the themes covered:

  • On Justice (56-77)
  • On Mercy (78-94)
  • On Moderation (95-108)
  • On Money (109-118)
  • On Honesty and Moderation (119-148)

The material following the Pseudo-Phocylides insertion returns to the theme of apocalyptic judgment and associated signs. Lines 154-173 give another series of prodigies which signal the last generation: children with grey temples from birth, famines, pestilence, war, changes of time, lamentations, and many tears. The time is near, we are told, when false prophets arise and do many signs (cf. Mt. 24:11, 24, Mk 13:22). Even Beliar will appear and do many signs, confusing even the holy and faithful men (Mt. 24:14, even the elect may be deceived by false Christs). Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. The Jews of the first century seem to have been looking closely at the signs performed by Jesus in order to determine if they were true (i.e. from God) or false (i.e satanically inspired.)

After the kingdoms of the world are judged (172-173) the Hebrews will rule over the world (174-186). The most high will “spread” [sic] over all men at that time. Elijah will come driving his chariot from heaven and display three signs (187-195). Then the fiery river of heaven will pour out on the earth and destroy nearly everything (196-213). Stars will fall from the sky (cf. Is. 34:4, Mk. 13:25, Mt. 24:29) and men will gnash their teeth (cf. Matt 8:12, 13:42, 50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, Luke 13:28). The archangels will lead people into judgment (214-220).

The gates of Hades will then be broken and all the dead will be raised to life (221-251). Christ himself will come on a cloud of glory and sit on the right hand of the Glorious One to judge all of the dead. The dead will be divided into the wicked and the righteous (252-282); the wicked are punished (283-312) and the righteous are rewarded (313-338), all quite parallel to the eschatological judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46. In this parable-like conclusion to the Olivet Discourse, the punishment of the wicked is also described as “a place of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Unlike Matthew 25, people in the place of torment will request mercy from God in vain for “seven days of ages,” then they will come into repentance because of the intercession of the holy virgin. This last line is obviously a Christian idea, probably assigning a role to the “holy virgin” played by Ezra in 4 Ezra 7:101 (OTP 1:353, note a3; in much of the Ezra material, as the prophet witnesses some sinner tortured, he prays to the Lord for mercy on the sinner).

The righteous are rewarded with equality – there will be no more kings and leaders, no more rich and tyrants, “all will be on a par together” (324). Creation will also have an “equality” – there will be no more seasons. There will be no more marriage, death, sales or purchases, no sunset, no sunrise, etc. The righteous will enter into eternal life which is described as the Elysian plain and the Archerusian Lake (where Odysseus entered Hades).


Bibliography: P. W. Van Der Horst has four short articles on Pseudo-Phocylides:  “Pseudo-Phocylides” in OTP 2:565-582; ABD 5:347-348; “Pseudo-Phocylides and the New Testament,” ZNW 69 (1978) 187-202; “Pseudo-Phocylides Revisited.” JSP 3 (1988): 3-30).

The Tenth Generation – Sibylline Oracles, Book 2.1-55

After a short five line introduction, we read the fate of the tenth generation. Because of the Christian interpolation, the eighth and ninth generation are lost, and perhaps the beginning of the description of the tenth. Lines 6-39 describe a number of “apocalyptic signs” such as thunder, lightning, frenzied wild animals and other prodigies (blood from heaven and general strange events).

Sib.Or. 2.15-24 Then indeed the tenth generation of men will also appear after these things, when the earth-shaking lightning-giver will break the glory of idols and shake the people of seven-hilled Rome. Great wealth will perish, burned in a great fire by the flame of Hephaestus. Then there will be bloody precipitation from heaven … but the entire world of innumerable men will kill each other in madness. In the tumult God will impose famines and pestilence and thunderbolts on men who adjudicate without justice.

David Aune has a lengthy excursus on prodigies, “unnatural or extraordinary occurrence or phenomenon understood as a sign warning of divine anger” in Roman culture. See, for example, Thucydides 1.23.3, a list of disasters that affected the Athenians during the Peloponnesian war: earthquakes, eclipses, droughts, famines, and pestilence (Revelation 2:402; 2:416ff).

Blood from HeavenThis list of apocalyptic events is drawn from the stock imagery of the Old Testament, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel in describing the horror of the fall of Jerusalem (Jer 14:12; 21:9; Ezek 6:11; 12:16, 14:21; 1QpPsa 1-10 and Dio Cassius 69.1-2, describing the fall of Jerusalem after the Bar Kohkba Rebellion). In the midst of the judgment of the tenth generation, God will be a savior to the pious (27-28) and will show a great sign from heaven for “no small number of days” (34-38).

Entry into heaven is described as a “contest” in which people should strive for rather than a crown of silver. The “holy Christ” will make awards to those who are worthy (45-46), especially the martyrs. Those who are virgins, perform justice, live piously, love marriage and refrain from adultery will receive the reward of immortality.

The image of entry into heaven as a “contest” is found in 2 Tim. 4:7-8: Paul has “fight the good fight and finished the race,” and is looking forward to his “crown of righteousness” to be awarded him by the Lord, the righteous Judge. Like the author of this oracle, Paul sees this reward as connected to the consummation of the age.

The Christian Interpolation – Sibylline Oracle, Book 1.324-400

The last section of the first Sibylline Oracle was inserted by a Christian. The section is a clear description of Jesus Christ, “the son of the most high, immortal God” (1.331). The goal is to add a prediction of the events of the life of Jesus into this oracle-prophecy.

Depiction of a Sibyl by Domenichino, c. 1616-17

Depiction of a Sibyl by Domenichino, c. 1616-17

Since the book is missing the eighth and ninth generations, it is hard to know if this was the most appropriate place to insert these Christological predictions. As with the riddle on God’s name earlier in the book (lines 137-146), we are given a short riddle on the name and number of the son of God’s name (lines 327-329). “I will state explicitly the entire number for you. For eight units, and equal number of tens in addition to these, and eight hundreds will reveal the name.” This adds up to 888, the number of the name Iēsous.

Lines 334-335 allude to the wise men, “Priests will bring gifts to him, bringing forward gold, myrrh, and incense.” Lines 336-339 refer to John the Baptist, “But when a certain voice will come through the desert land bringing tidings to mortals, and will cry out to all to make the paths straight and cast away evils from the heart” and his death by Herod, “    a man with barbarous mind, enslaved to dances will cut out this voice.”

The Jews will stumble against this coming son of God, but Gentiles will be gathered to him (lines 346-347).  Jesus’ ministry and miracles are summarized (347-361) and the writer blames the Jews for the crucifixion with a string of anti-Semitic invectives (lines 360-371).

Then indeed Israel, with abominable lips and poisonous spittings, will give this man blows. For food they will give him gall and for drink unmixed vinegar, impiously, smitten in breast and heart with an evil craze, not seeing with their eyes, more blind than blind rats, more terrible than poisonous creeping beasts, shackled with heavy sleep.

Later in the interpolation the writer blames the fall of Jerusalem as a judgment for killing Jesus: “Then when the Hebrews reap the bad harvest, a Roman king will ravage much gold and silver… since they committed an evil deed.”

After three days the Son of God will raise from the “house of Adonis” (i.e., Hades) and return to heaven on the clouds (376-382). The Christian church is described as a “new shoot” named after him (Christians) sprouting for the nations lead by wise leaders but with a cessation of prophets (lines 383-386). The section ends with a dire prediction of the destruction of the Jews at the hands of the Romans because they have committed an evil deed in rejecting the son of God (lines 387-400).

There is little here that is unique, although the obvious forgery of a Sibylline article by a Christian in order to support orthodox Christian theology is significant. Several items are worthy of some attention. First, in the retelling of the story of Jesus, John the Baptist is still important enough to have his career and death summarized. Even in the New Testament there are some hints of John’s lingering importance, this Christian interpolation indicates John’s life and death were still part of the Gospel story.

Second, the section describing Jesus’s miracles tracks with the Synoptic Gospels (healings and exorcisms, walking on water feeding the 5000). There are no non-biblical miracles mentioned, and there are small details included (John is killed by someone addicted to dance, twelve baskets after the feeding miracle). The details seem to be drawn from all four Gospels. This is an obvious attempt to wedge the Gospel story into an existing “ancient” prophecy, but it is remarkable there are no allusions to non-canonical stories. For example, the only reference to the birth of Jesus is the visit of the Magi, indicating a familiarity with Matthew (or a similar tradition). Yet there is no virgin birth, canonical or non-, and there is no mention of popular stories about Jesus as a child.

Third, the Jews are blamed for the crucifixion and they are now feeling the “raging wrath of the Most High” (362) and they “will weep for each other on receiving the wrath of the great” (399). This reflects an unfortunate anti-Jewish theology which will result in a great deal of persecutions throughout the Christian era.


Seven Generations of the World – Sibylline Oracles 1.1-323

I dealt with the introductory material for the first two Sibylline Oracles in a previous post. The first 323 lines of Book One of the Sibylline Oracles are a Jewish summary of biblical history through the “seventh generation.” This section is dated from 30 B.C. to A. D. 250, possibly originating from Phrygia based on the reference to the Ark in 1.196-198.

Sibyl by Francesco Ubertini, c. 1525

Sibyl by Francesco Ubertini, c. 1525

This Jewish section of the collection periodizes history after the fall into seven generation. In lines 1-37 the writer describes the wonders of the pre-fall world. Adam and Eve are wondrously beautiful when created and placed in the garden. They speak wisdom to one another and had no evil thoughts at all. Lines 38-64 are an interpretation of the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Rather than blaming sin on Adam (as in Romans 5:12-21), It is the woman who is the first betrayer, having persuaded Adam to sin (cf. 2 Enoch 31). Genesis 3:14 is interpreted as literal enmity between snakes and humans. There is no messianic imagery at all in this retelling of the story.

  • The First Generation (65-86). The first generation of humans was noble, but they went to Hades anyway because they were polluted by sin and made war.
  • The Second Generation (87-103). This generation is inventive and skillful, described as “watchers” because of their sleepless minds (not as fallen angels, as in 1 Enoch). They too died and went to Tartarus and are “guarded by unbreakable bonds, to make retribution, to Gehenna of terrible, raging, undying fire.”
  • The Third Generation (104-108). This generation was “overbearing and terrible men” and the period is marked by “wars, slaughters, and battles destroyed these continually, men of proud heart.”
  • The Fourth Generation (109-119). This generation “shed much blood” and neither respected God nor man. Some were killed in war and went to the netherworld, others God took from the world in his wrath.
  • The Fifth Generation (120-282). The fifth generation was “far inferior” men, insolent and crooked, even more so than the giants. Noah is command to prepare for the flood (125-136) and he preaches to his generation (147-198). There is a riddle in lines 137-146 which promises to give the name of God, nine letters with four syllables. These clues are reminiscent of Rev. 13:18 and the “number of the beast,” and probably just as impossible to figure out! This sermon lists the sins of the generation and describes them as evil-hearted and fickle. He is jeered for this preaching (171-172), therefore he enters the ark with his family and other creatures God wished to save (199-216). The flood begins (217-261) and the ark lands on Ararat in Phrygia as opposed to Armenia (262-283).
  • The Sixth Generation (283-306). This generation is described a noble and blessed one, righteous and hard working. During this generation, “the earth will rejoice, sprouting with many spontaneous fruits, overladen with offspring. Those who give nourishment will be ageless, always” (lines 297-299). They too enter Hades, but they are still blessed because “Sabaoth gave a noble mind” (304).
  • The Seventh Generation (307-323). The seventh generation is the generation of the Titans (cf., Hesiod, Theogony, 687–735). The Lord makes war against them and shuts them from the world.

As Collins suggests, the main interest of this section of the Oracle is the schematization of history into a series of “generations.” Along with the Christian interpolations, history passes through ten generations, five before the flood and five after. The world is destroyed by water in the fifth generation and fire in the tenth. This is not exactly a modern dispensational timeline, but there is a long history of creating a series of periods through which humanity passes before the final judgment.

Although there are clear signs of Christian redaction in the first two books, it is important to observe an apocalyptic theme which connects the flood and a future apocalyptic destruction (or re-creation) of the world. Similar imagery appears in Revelation; 1 Peter 3:19-22; 3:11-13.

Book Review: John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination. Third Edition

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.

Dating the Sibylline Oracles, Books 8-14

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 been 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).