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Michael Stone, Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

ISBN 978-0-8028-6636-3. 256 pages, $30.00. 2011.
Reviewed by Jim West

Chapter ThreeApocalyptic Historiography

No subject, it seems to me, is less understood than apocalyptic. Too often those unfamiliar with its origins, sources and purposes make ruin of it. One need only think of the most recent example named Harold Camping, whose apocalyptic views were followed by thousands who, consequently, ruined their lives. Naturally no one, especially me, expects people like Camping and those inclined to follow him and his ilk to read Stone’s work (or anything remotely academic- which explains, doesn’t it, why their theories and views are so skewed to the wrong). But those with more sense and a greater desire to understand apocalyptic would do well to read this chapter. Stone makes a number of valuable points. To wit It is the apocalyptic literature that first strives to embrace the whole span of time, to comprehend the overall structure of history in a pattern from the beginning to the eschaton (p. 60). Stone suggests that this is done in two ways: periodization and pattern. And when the system broke down (as it often did), … periods which overran their stated limits were adjusted by recalculation (p. 67). Stone illustrates his point fully by examining the 70 years of Jeremiah and what becomes of it in apocalyptic literature which developed later. The relatively limited assertions deriving from Jeremiah’s 70 years became statements about the whole span of history (p. 70). But, Stone asks, what are the origins of apocalyptic as a genre? Dismissing the notion that it springs from Iranian religion, S. sees it as arising in dialogue with the Deuteronomistic philosophy of history (which insists that the good are rewarded and the evil punished). To paraphrase what Stone appears to suggest - apocalyptic answers with a hearty ‘not so fast there, Dtr. There’s got to be more to it than that!’ Stone continues, then, writing

Since redemption and vindication were major motivating elements, the apocalypses were written from the perspective of pressing concerns. Apocalyptic eschatology was characterized not by a discursive discourse, but by the literary expression of a powerful sense of urgency (p. 86). And Through pseudepigraphy, past history was presented as prediction. This vaticinium ex eventu presented the past as leading inevitably to the actual prediction that followed it. Moreover, because past history was presented as future prophecy, the part of the discourse that was really future prophecy gained verisimilitude (p. 87). What all of this means is that Meaning came to be sought not in the events of history but in its consummation. Vindication is beyond this time and often beyond this space (p. 88). In these few pages Stone does students a real favor by summarizing the issue so carefully and clarifying it so well that there can be no doubt that he is correct. What does he do with vision materials and pseudepigraphy? That’s next.