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 in 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.
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