Not Just a Belief of the Marginalized

I’m continuing my way through Stephen Cook’s Prophecy and Apocalypticism: The Postexilic Social Setting.  In my reading today, Cook does two things:

First, he looks at believers in apocalypticism throughout history—Native American and African tribes, Jewish Messianism in Europe, the Puritans, even Ronald Reagan—and he notices that there are many cases in which apocalyptic sentiments come from powerful elements of society, casting doubt on the scholarly claim that apocalypticism is solely a view held by the disenfranchised, or that it originated among people who felt powerless and marginalized.  Why do the powerful embrace apocalypticism?  Some believe that they must enact an agenda to prepare the way for the eschaton.  Some become insecure as a result of revolutions or wars.  Some (such as the Jainist aristocrats) are disgusted by their own social status.  In the case of Ronald Reagan, perhaps he just found end-times prophecy to be interesting, an intriguing way for him to view the world.  (Cook doesn’t say this about Reagan, but that’s my guess.)  And, having grown up in an apocalyptic movement, and knowing people who experienced a more authoritarian version of it, I can add another reason: social control.  Threatening people that God won’t preserve them in the eschaton but will punish them unless they adhere to a particular authority structure can scare people into submission.

Second, Cook argues that Ezekiel 38-39 and Zechariah 1-8 are examples of apocalyptic from the establishment.  Cook argues that both of these are apocalyptic, appealing to such factors as a belief in God’s direct intervention to effect a new creation, and other things.  Ezekiel 38-39 present God defeating Gog and Magog, and Zechariah 1-8 depict God’s heavenly forces having some effect on the earth, as well as despairs about earthly effort (although Cook discusses apocalypticisms that acknowledge a human role, in warfare, for example).  Cook contends against Paul Hanson’s argument that Zechariah 1-8 is non-eschatological and primarily supports a practical program that exalts the Zadokites and the Davidids.  Cook’s view is probably that Zechariah 1-8 may have supported the Zadokites and the Davidids, but it had an apocalyptic view regarding God’s direct intervention in the course of human events.

I have not yet read Cook’s argument about Zechariah 1-8 being an establishment piece, but I doubt that he has to work too hard in supporting that point, since Zechariah 1-8 endorses Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor.  Regarding Ezekiel 38-39, Cook argues that it is from the Ezekiel school, against those who say it was a later apocalyptic insertion into Ezekiel, and he maintains that it comes from a priestly perspective.  Cook sees verbal and theological correspondences between Ezekiel 38-39 and the rest of Ezekiel, and he believes that Ezekiel 38-39 fits into Ezekiel quite well: within the book, Ezekiel 38-39 is about God protecting Israel from her enemies, after she has been restored from an exile that commenced when God delivered her into the hands of her enemies.  Ezekiel 38-39 also manifests a priestly concern for the purity of the land of Israel after God’s defeat of Gog and Magog.

But Cook’s treatment of Ezekiel 38-39 is not just synchronic, for he does believe that the chapters contain stages.  One stage marked apocalyptic intensity, and Cook says this occurred when restoration appeared to be an impending reality and the Zadokites had high hopes.  A second stage was more realistic, if you will, and it projected the battle of Gog and Magog into a more distant future, while supporting practical attempts to deal with the present.    

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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