John on Patmos, Memling
FROM the perspective of Christian spiritual theology the genre of Jewish Apocalyptic is important, not only as a literary precursor to such Christian apocalyptic texts as the Book of Revelation, but also because it may well represent a primordial theology of contemplation that, although underappreciated, was as significant for the development of Christian mysticism as later Platonic and Neoplatonic understandings of contemplation.
This is illustrated by the increasing importance of the vision of God's chariot or throne and the heavenly places (hekhalot - “palaces”) in the later prophetic literature, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel but especially in the Book of Enoch. By the time of Christ the definition of a prophet had shifted from a chosen (called) person who received and then transmitted God’s message (e.g. Amos and Hosea), into one who had also been granted a vision of - and sometimes an ascent into - the Divine Presence.
The significance of this literary genre for Christian, and especially Christian monastic understandings of contemplation and spiritual vision has been studied in detail by (Heiromonk) Alexander Golitzin, several of whose seminal articles are available in Scrinium vol. 3, “The Theophaneia School: Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism” (http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/scrinium3.pdf)
Golitzin points to both Augustine and the anthropomorphite controversy of Theophilus of Alexandria as examples of attempts to reject and suppress a theology centered on mystical vision of the Divine Presence:
The opening books of [Augustine’s] De Trinitate, for example, comprise a sustained attack against the teaching of the theophanies of the Penteteuch and prophets as, in any sense, true theophanies. For Augustine, the divine manifestations are instead angelophanies or even mere symbolophanies. (De Trinitate I—III and Epistles 147148.) He does not allow for any visio dei gloriae on this side of the eschaton, nor for any transfiguration of the human being, however temporary.[...] On the other hand, it seems never (or, at least, very rarely) to have occurred to Eastern Christian monastic writers to deny the possibility of the visio dei luminis in the present life, or even of momentary transformation as a pledge and foretaste of the world to come. Eastern saints, particularly ascetic saints, have a tendency to «light up» in hagiography to the present day. The brilliant faces and luminous forms familiar from the angels of the old apocalypses are virtually standard fare.
“The Demons Suggest an Illusion of God’s Glory in a Form: Controversy Over the Divine Body and Vision of Glory in Some Late Fourth, Early Fifth Century Monastic Literature”. Alexander Golitzin, Scrinium, Revue de patrologie, d’hagiographie critique et d’histoire ecclésiastique ed. Lourié, B & Orlov, A., (St. Petersburg, 2007), vol. 3 “The Theophaneia School: Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism” ISBN 978-5-88483-063-9, pp. 49-82.
He also describes analogies between the “chariot” (merkabah) mysticism of Jewish apocalyptic and Christian monastic traditions of exegesis and vision, both Macarius homily 1.2. and]: “[Jacob of Serug’s] homily on the chariot (markabta) of Ezekiel, [reveals] echoes of the Rabbinic-era, Jewish mysticism of the merkavah.” “The Image And Glory of God in Jacob of Serug’s Homily, ‘On That Chariot That Ezekiel The Prophet Saw’” Alexander Golitzin, St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 47:3-4 (2003) 323-64, p. 325.
THE word ‘apocalypse’ (ἀποκάλυψις) means a ‘revelation’ or ‘unveiling’, so that an apocalyptic book claims to reveal things which are normally hidden and to unveil the future. The Jewish Apocalyptic books belong approximately to the period from 200 BC to AD 100 and deal with the end of the present world order and with the next world. Whereas the Israelite Prophets were primarily preachers, concerned with current problems of their own generation and nation, the Apocalyptists were pre-eminently writers, directing their attention towards the end of things and to the destiny of the world in general. The origins and growth of this literature reflect the history of Israel’s conflicts with other nations and the conviction that trust in military power was useless. As the nation continued to be subjected to foreign domination, it despaired of ever attaining political supremacy, and the conclusion was drawn that God would eventually intervene, destroy Israel’s enemies, and set up His Kingdom on earth. Some scholars have argued that the Apocalyptic literature, at least in part, represents the protest of visionaries excluded from power by the priestly group which controlled the Temple after the Exile.
Apocalyptic literature proper begins with the Book of Daniel, probably written during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (175–164 BC) to comfort the Jews in their distress and to assure them of the approaching Divine intervention. However, the beginnings of Apocalyptic tendencies can be seen in the prophetic writings (e.g. Joel 2, Is. 65, Amos 5:16–20, 9:11–15, Is. 24–7, Zech. 9–14, Ezek. 38, 39), where there are frequent references to the approaching ‘day of the Lord’. The Apocalyptic writings appear to be indebted also to certain elements of the ‘Wisdom literature’, and even to foreign influences, esp. those of Persian religion. They are almost always pseudonymous and written in the names of Israel’s past heroes, a circumstance which is perhaps to be ascribed to the fact that, owing to the supremacy of the Law (which was regarded as containing the complete and final revelation of the Divine will), the only way to secure a hearing after the formation of the earliest form of the OT Canon in about the 3rd cent. BC was to attribute these writings to some famous person of remote times.
Important Jewish Apocalyptic writings outside the OT are the First and Second Books of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Fourth Book of Ezra (2 Esdras), the Assumption of Moses, the Book of Jubilees, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.
In the NT, the element of Apocalyptic appears in various places. The two most important Christian Apocalypses are Revelation and the (non-canonical) ‘Apocalypse of Peter’. Whatever interpretation the Lord Himself wished His disciples to put upon His apocalyptic utterances, it is clear that, at least in the earlier part of the Apostolic age, a speedy Second Coming of Christ was expected (see e.g. Mt. 24 and 25, Mk. 13, Lk. 21, 1 Thess. 4, 1 Cor. 15 for typical Apocalyptic passages). 2 Peter and Revelatiom probably belong to a slightly later period, when severe persecution was troubling the Church.
Eng. trs. of most of the Jewish Apocalyptic writings not in the OT will be found in R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (2 vols., Oxford, 1913); J. H. Charles-worth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols., 1983–5); and H. F. D. Sparks (ed.), The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford, 1984). H. H. Rowley, The Relevance of Apocalyptic: A Study of Jewish and Christian Apocalypses from Daniel to Revelation (1944); D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (1964); P. D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Philadelphia ); C. Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (1982); J. J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (New York, 1984; 2nd edn., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cambridge ). Id., B. McGinn, and S. J. Stein (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism (3 vols., New York, 1998). G. Lanczkowski and others in Theologische Realenzyklopädie 3, ed. G. Krause, G. Müller, and others (Berlin etc., 1977 ff.).3 (1978), pp. 189–257, s.v. ‘Apokalypten/Apocalypsen, I–IV’, with extensive bibl..