Starting Cook’s Prophecy and Apocalypticism

I started Stephen Cook’s Prophecy and Apocalypticism: The Postexilic Social Setting.  I have four items:

1.  On page 24, Cook mentions characteristics of apocalyptic literature.  They include “an imminent inbreaking of God inaugurating a future age qualitatively different from this age”, dualism, a “visionary manner of revelation” that often uses “extraordinary and exotic images”, “predetermined stages” of history, and other elements.  Whether Cook believes that a work has to have all of these characteristics to be apocalyptic, I do not yet know.  I’d say that these characteristics fit Daniel, I Enoch, and Revelation quite well.  But this book will be focusing on Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 1-8, and Joel, and my impression is that these three pieces differ from Daniel, I Enoch, and Revelation in areas.  But I’ll see how Cook interacts with these books in terms of the label of apocalyptic.  I know that Paul Hanson argued in Dawn of Apocalyptic that Zechariah 9-14 had rudiments of these sorts of characteristics: stages of history, exotic images, etc.  (UPDATE: On pages 34-35, Cook accepts the label of “proto-apocalyptic” for Persian Period Jewish religious texts that overlap with full-blown Hellenistic and Roman Period Jewish apocalyptic, with differences.)

2.  Cook states his thesis on page 2: “My thesis is that the following proto-apocalyptic texts are not products of groups that are alienated, marginalized, or even relatively deprived.  Rather, they stem from groups allied with or identical to the priests at the center of restoration society.  First, the proto-apocalyptic description of the end-time assault of ‘Gog and Magog’ in Ezekiel 38-39 expresses the same central-priestly motifs and concerns as the rest of the book of Ezekiel.  Second, proto-apocalyptic texts in Zechariah 1-8 appear to have been written in support of the Second Temple establishment.  Zechariah’s visions aim at establishing a postexilic temple-centered community and are infused with central-cultic images and theology.  Third, the early apocalyptic descriptions of cosmic upheaval and of the pouring out of the Spirit in the book of Joel also look like literature from the priestly center of postexilic society.  The book is replete with central-cultic terms and motifs, and it calls for implementation of central-cult practices.”

Cook is arguing against those who view apocalyptic as the product of marginalized groups, and he seeks to prove his thesis by demonstrating that Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 1-8, and Joel are from the establishment.  One of the figures with whom Cook is contending is Paul Hanson, whose Dawn of Apocalyptic I blogged about the last five days.  The thing is, however, that Hanson would agree with Cook on Ezekiel 38-39 and Zechariah 1-8, for Hanson argued that these were works that either the Zadokite establishment loved, or that supported the Zadokite establishment.  (UPDATE: Actually, I am only partly right on this, for Cook quotes Hanson arguing that Ezekiel 38-39 was an apocalyptic insertion into Ezekiel.)  In the case of Haggai and Zechariah 1-8, Hanson contends that visionary elements were present in these pieces in order to revivify the establishment’s agenda of restoration and to steal the thunder of the anti-establishment visionaries.  Cook does quote a statement of Hanson asserting that the establishment would not produce apocalyptic literature because it would not support the dissolution of the present order to make way for a new order, which (for Hanson) is an essential component of apocalyptic.  I can see Hanson’s point here, for why would the establishment support its own dissolution?  Consequently, I wonder if Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 1-8, and Joel indeed do this.  If so, why?  If not, then can they truly be classified as “apocalyptic”?

3.  Cook’s history of scholarship on apocalyptic was interesting, for I learned that Hanson was not the first to deny that apocalypticism arose from Persian influence, and to seek socio-historical explanations for apocalypticism within post-exilic Israelite society.  This was going on since the late 1950’s.  What Hanson did was flesh out a socio-historical scenario more, and (echoing Frank Moore Cross) to highlight the role of Canaanite myth (i.e., the Divine Warrior defeating chaos) in apocalyptic.

What also intrigued me was how early scholars such as Wellhausen, Gunkel, and others were embarrassed by apocalyptic and did not know quite what to do with it.  This surprised me because my own religious background was quite apocalyptic, and it highlighted areas in which Jesus focused on the apocalypse.  But I suppose that people who viewed the Kingdom of God primarily as a spiritual and ethical kingdom—rather than as the dramatic displacement of this present world order with a new order—would be taken aback by apocalyptic.  But, as Cook documents, such factors as the recognition of Jesus’ apocalypticism as well as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls made scholars friendlier to apocalypticism.

4.  I will not go into detail on this fourth point, but I will say that I liked reading Cook’s discussion of Native American apocalypticism, which (for those who are interested) is on pages 26-29.  I do not want to lump all of the Native American apocalypticisms together, but I will say that elements that Cook discusses include a Messiah figure, destruction of the white man, resurrection of the dead, and a repopulation of the land with game.  This does prompt some questions.  A point that Hanson makes is that Jewish apocalypticism arose from post-exilic inner-Israelite disputes, and he contrasts this with classical prophecy and Second Isaiah’s proto-apocalypticism, which focus on Israel as opposed to the other nations.  But does apocalyptic have to relate to disputes within a society?  Could a nation wish for God to dissolve the present order and replace it with a new one, and yet do so in reaction against other nations or people-groups, not disputes among people within herself?  The Native Americans appear to have done this (only they called their gods by different names than “God”), unless there is more that I do not know.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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