Book Write-Up: Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature, by Richard A. Taylor

Richard A. Taylor.  Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Richard A. Taylor teaches Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Apocalyptic literature can include such features as visions, a human taking a trip to heaven, revelation from an angel, predictions of eschatological salvation and the defeat of evil, the usage of symbols (i.e., beasts), and past or current events written as if they were foretold long ago as prophecies.  Apocalypses often seek to reassure suffering people that God will intervene, defeat evil, and vindicate the righteous.  According to Taylor, apocalyptic literature “contains a significant proportion of those features that define an apocalypse, whether or not the writing in question fully qualifies as an apocalypse” (page 202).   Examples of apocalyptic literature are I Enoch, the biblical Book of Daniel, and the Book of Revelation.

The advantages of Taylor’s book are many.  Taylor’s book can provide an introduction to apocalyptic literature, as it discusses its features, summarizes apocalyptic books, and interacts with specific passages from the literature itself.  Taylor also refers to secondary literature, translations, and language guides (i.e., to Hebrew and Aramaic), explaining what those resources are and, in some cases, their reception within scholarship (i.e., is the resource considered out of date?).  This can assist those who want to go deeper and explore apocalyptic literature further.  At the same time, Taylor’s book itself has depth, in areas, as Taylor summarizes and evaluates scholarly debates about such topics as the definition, milieu, and origin of apocalyptic literature.  His Appendix, “Antecedents of Apocalyptic Literature,” is especially noteworthy, as Taylor identifies, explains, and evaluates scholarly ideas about the sources for apocalyptic literature, which includes the following proposals: Canaanite mythology, Akkadian prophecy, Mesopotamian traditions, Egyptian apocalypticism, wisdom literature, different theological views about the Temple (i.e., should it be rebuilt, or will God provide a new Temple from heaven?), Hellenistic syncretism, Persian religion, opposition to imperial authority, and prophetic literature.  Many believe that Jewish apocalypticism resulted from Persian influence, but Taylor explains the limitations of that view.  Also, Taylor provides a helpful glossary at the end of the book.

In terms of critiques, I have a few.  Taylor spent a lot of space defining and illustrating grammatical concepts such as metaphor and simile, and I questioned how necessary that was to understanding apocalyptic literature.  Taylor had a chapter on preaching about apocalyptic texts, but he seemed to avoid theological questions that might trouble conservative Christians.  Does apocalyptic literature contain wishful thinking and unfulfilled prophecy, a hope for an eschatological salvation that would soon materialize but actually did not?  Does that show that biblical apocalyptic literature is the work of human beings rather than divine revelation?  Is apocalyptic literature a pious fraud, since it is attributed to people who lived a long time ago but did not actually write it?  Such questions are not only relevant to whether one should see biblical apocalyptic literature as sacred or as divinely-inspired, but they also raise interesting questions about apocalyptic literature itself: Did, for example, the authors of apocalyptic literature believe what they were writing, as they wrote history as prophecy and attributed their writing to a figure of the past, or were they writing the document as a pious fraud that would give people some hope, or influence them to behave in a certain way?  The book would have been better had Taylor explored such issues.

In addition, while Taylor briefly mentioned the difference of opinion between Paul Hanson and Stephen Cook, Taylor should have explored that territory further.  Instead, Taylor often assumed that apocalyptic literature came from marginalized and suffering communities, whereas Cook presented a case that it could come from establishment circles.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I 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. 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.
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