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B 224: Apocalyptic Literature Instructor: Tim Beech, Ph. D.
Donovan Neufeldt 21 May, 2010
-2Collins’ book, The Apocalyptic Imagination, helped me to understand the broader framework of Judeo-Christian Apocalyptic literature, and has allowed me to acknowledge that framework in the reading of biblical apocalyptic texts. Despite the authors views, however, I think that similarities and relation of the biblical apocalyptic to the non-biblical texts and the genre as a whole was stressed far too much, so as to possibly force consistency when there is none and neglect discussion of some distinctive. The “framework” or the “mold” of the apocalyptic genre ought not to be set as the standard into which texts containing some consistent features are forced; a more honest approach acknowledges the characteristics of a text, then groups the works based on consistent features. If the biblical texts do not entirely fit the mold (either by existential evidence or by theological necessity), the texts should be re-classified, or the genre should be redefined. One such example is the defining of biblical book of Daniel as a historical apocalypse and thus saying it contains ex eventu prophecy and pseudonymity. Collins was helpful in introducing be to apocalyptic thought communities, and texts that I had been formerly unaware of. This includes much of the Enochic literature, the Sibylline Oracles, the Testament of Moses, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and the extrabiblical apocalyptic writings of the first century AD. In the expounding I found it helpful and interesting to see the messianic expectations and the apocalyptic eschatology of some Jewish communities prior to the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. I found the book to be a very difficult read because of such high level vocabulary, jargon, and narrow semantics, and because much of the chapters on extra biblical apocalypses made reference to and expounded upon text that I have never read, without much explanation of the content of original text itself. The chapter about the book of Daniel was very easy to follow for me, however, because of familiarity to the book itself as well as familiarity with scholarly discussion concerning the book of Daniel. Although I understood the chapter very well, I was
-3very troubled by many of the thing the author said so as to discredit the Bible and attack/undermine the inerrancy of scripture, which is a part of the Christian doctrine Word of God. Without assurance of the truth and authority of scripture the Christian faith itself crumbles to pieces. We are left to guesswork and a halfhearted hope concerning the eternal destiny of ourselves and the rest of mankind. Collins begins the chapter by acknowledging that an agonized attempt has been made to disassociate the canonical book of Daniel with the rest of the genre, and that all these attempts should by now be discredited (Collins, 85), yet he does not tell us why they should be discredited. By the simple fact that it is in the cannon of scripture, it is distinctive from other non-canonical text (thought they may have similar content). We do not treat a letter from our pastor the same way we treat a letter from the apostle Paul, despite that there may be many similar features. This is equivalent with saying a certain theology is wrong and should now be discredited simply on my own authority, without appealing to some evidence, whether that is scriptural or existential. More justice would be don if the main points of the opposing view were presented and responded to, rather than a simple “every good little school boy and school girl knows that Daniel is basically the same as the rest of second temple apocalyptic literature” type of approach (Collins, 88). Rather than presenting the views, strengths and weaknesses of both conservative and liberal scholarship on the authorship of Daniel, only the liberal position is given and assumed with occasional attacks on the ignorance of dogmatic conservative scholars. Collins overtly takes sides with the neo-platonic philosopher Porphyry who postulated that Daniel was written during the Maccabean crisis using ex eventu prophecy to explain all the accurate “predictions” that had taken place prior to Antiochus, and that all predictions following were inaccurate and did not come to pass (87). Jerome exposed porphyry as a pagan and a heretic who was fueled by a desire to discredit the scriptures, as well as an anti-supernatural bias that
-4does not allow for accurate predictive prophecy. Picking up where Porphyry left off, Collins hold to the same theory and attacks the canonical book of Daniel by stating that the tales “bristle with historical problems” citing the case of Darius the Mede (86) (who supposedly did not exist, although Daniel 6:28 states that Darius is another name for Cyrus). My issue, then, with the textbook is his assertion of error in the cannon, by saying Daniel contains fraud, historical problems, false prophecies, adaptation of traditional folktales presented as history, literary fiction, and myth. The issue here is “the veracity of the Word of God as literalists construe it” (Collins, 86), and may not be dismissed in the name of Genre. To make Daniel so inextricably linked to the apocalyptic genre so as to dismiss it from the necessity of meeting canonical criterion is absurd. It is for this reason that the prayer of Azariah, the story of Sazanna and of Bel and the Dragon are not included in the Christian Bible: the y do not meet the criteria of cannon. It is also odd to me that the section discussing the Son of Man in Daniel 7 defends the position that the Son of Man figure is simply some angel, and “not identified with Christ” (or messiah) despite Jesus’ clear identification of himself with the Son of Man of Daniel 7 (Mark 13:24-26, 14:61-62). It is helpful that he develops the Christian theology of “Son of Man” in chapter 9, but to suggest that the text actually refers to an angel creates biblical inconsistency. Jesus would have made no sense to Pilate or the Jews by answering the question, “Are you the Messiah, Son of the Blessed One?” with, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” If Son of Man was understood to be an angel, the response of the Jews in Mark 14:63-65 would be completely illogical. The only thing I really appreciated about the chapter was the affirmation that the book is the work of one single author. Otherwise, it exemplified an anti-Christian hermeneutical bias against the inerrancy of the Bible. Even if one dismisses these assertions as excusable due to genre, the consistent attack on the Word of God is shown as clearly as ever when the author says
-5that 2 Thessalonians was written pseudonymously after Paul’s death (Collins, 266). This is an absurd suggestion, as the letter states, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. ” (2 Thess. 3:17). This is equivalent to saying that the New Testament Cannon contains fraud (and error), in a context that cannot be excused by apocalyptic genre. Surely this man’s materials ought not to be taught in any institution that calls itself Christian. In the same way, the Maccabean hypothesis of Daniel’s authorship and dating is incompatible with Christianity as it contradicts the Doctrine of the Word of God, and asserts that Jesus was a liar (Matt. 24:15). I am glad that the book gives a little more respect to the book of Revelation, despite the preteristic hermeneutic. Collins does well do acknowledge that the book is an apocalypse and a prophecy as well, and also assert its distinctiveness from much of the genre in its form as a circulated letter (even denying pseudonymity and ex eventu prophecy). I found it quite odd and irrelevant, however, that the question is brought up as to whether or not John was trying to bring transformation to the genre (Collins, 272). The debate about the definition of genre was completely foreign to that time and context, and would be the last thing on his mind. This question also assumes that John did not have the experiences as recorded but formulated them with an agenda (Collins, 275). Both the latter half of Daniel as well as the book of Revelation present themselves as encounters that happened to them, not just words formulated by them for a personal agenda. Again, the issue of the Bible’s authenticity is brought into question. Collins’ concluding remark that Revelation is mere symbols to express fundamental hopes and fears (Collins, 279) was disappointing; it is way more than that and surely all events will come to pass. To believe that appreciating Biblical apocalyptic material “entails an appreciation of the great resource that lies in the human imagination…” (Collins, 283) as the book concludes, would decimate all appreciation for the Biblical apocalypses that I now have.
-6Works Cited Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
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