"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vielhauer on "Apocalyptic"

In his 1964 introduction to "Apocalyptic," P. Vielhauer defines apocalyptic as primarily focused on eschatology or the imminent expectation of the end ("Introduction," in E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha (W. Schneemelcher, ed.; R. McL. Wilson, ed. ET; vol. 2; London: Lutterworth Press, 1965) 581-607). The majority of scholars of apocalyptic literature today would not define "apocalyptic" as essentially eschatology. The following quote highlights some of the difficulties of defining "apocalyptic" and the contents of apocalypses.

"'For the youth of the world is past; the strength of the creation has long ago come to its end, and the approach of the times is (already) at hand and (indeed already) passed by. For the pitcher is near to the well, the ship to harbour, the caravan to the city, and life to its conclusion' (syr. Bar. 85:10).

"This cosmological statement makes it clear that the conviction concerning the nearness of the End is rooted in the deep levels of the apocalyptic understanding of the world" (p. 593).

For Vielhauer,  this "apocalyptic understanding of the world" includes the doctrine of two ages, pessimism and hope of the beyond, universalism and individualism, and determinism and imminent expectation. However, to me, this quote from 2 Baruch is not necessarily apocalyptic in the revelatory sense nor even apocalyptic eschatology. It seems like a common human view of the world. What part of this statement could not be said by the pessimistic, cynical caricature of the crotchety old man? The world is in decline. It has gone to hell in a hand basket, and we will all eventually die. Isn't this primarily a human idea, that the golden days are past, the present state is unable to be fixed, and so we must suffer through until our end? What makes this "apocalyptic" apart from its placement in an apocalypse? The old man on the porch is not necessarily breathing apocalyptic eschatology.

Again, this only highlights the difficulty of definitions.

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