Who were the apocalypses written for?

Who were the apocalypses written for? June 5, 2012

At Jesus Creed, Drew J. Strait provides an overview of a new(ish) study from Anathea Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism.

This seems like a pretty dense book, aimed at a scholarly reader rather than the general public. But the subject matter relates to something we discuss quite a bit here, at least on Fridays — exploring what apocalyptic literature meant for the people who originally wrote and read it.

What can we say about other Jewish apocalypses that preceded the composition of John’s Apocalypse? Was Jewish apocalyptic a genre of politically charged resistance literature from its inception? What is the relationship between apocalypse and empire? Young sets out to answer these questions by evaluating three early Jewish apocalypses, all written, according to Portier-Young’s assessment, under the terror and domination of the Seleucid Empire (200-130s BCE). Contrary to the popular notion that apocalyptic represents a flight away from reality and suffering, Portier-Young argues that apocalyptic visionaries urged public confrontation of their persecutors through a message of faithfulness and hope.

One of those early Jewish apocalypses she discusses is the book of Daniel. Readers of this blog are likely familiar with how “Bible prophecy” enthusiasts like Tim LaHaye regard Daniel — which is second only to John’s Apocalypse in importance to their End Times predictions.

But if LaHaye’s is the wrong way to read Daniel, what’s the right way? Or, at least, what’s a better way?

Portier-Young provides a helpful framework for reading this book, as Strait writes:

Chapter 7 argues that the Book of Daniel resists the Edict of Antiochus through an alternative vision of reality where Yhwh is King and Antiochus is not. Portier-Young argues that Daniel is written by a group of wise teachers who are calling the Judeans to a life of prayer, fasting, penitence, teaching and preaching, and covenant faithfulness even in the face of death. These embodied disciplines are exemplified by Daniel, Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego who serve as a paragon of faithful resistance. Even in the face of death, they “defy the king’s edict, refuse to worship any God but Yhwh, proclaim their faith out loud and in public, and surrender their bodies to death, not to apostasy” (261). … Daniel’s alternative vision of faithful witness is rooted in the prophetic story of Israel. By evoking echoes and reinterpretations of Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy and the suffering servant poem of Isaiah, the wise teachers create an eschatological timetable for the end of Antiochus’s empire and a model for faithful witness.

For LaHaye and for many conservative evangelicals, everything about that paragraph would be perceived as a threat to their literalistic, “inerrantist” reading of the Bible. The book of Daniel, they say, must have been written by Daniel during the time of Nebuchadnezzar. You know, just like The Once And Future King was clearly written by Arthur during his reign in Camelot. Duh.

It might not seem like a directly related subject, but let me wrap this up by pointing to vorjack’s discussion today of the folk song “Stagger Lee” (or “Stackolee” or “Stackerlee”) and of the 1895 incident that inspired it.

The conclusion of that discussion contains some wisdom for those studying the book of Daniel:

Whether or not Lee Shelton was such a man is questionable, but Stagger Lee was a bad, bad man.

Browse Our Archives