Frederick Murphy, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World: A Comprehensive Introduction

This past semester I taught a course on the New Testament and Jewish apocalypses. For the required texts, along with reading the Jewish apocalypses themselves, I required John Collins' The Apocalyptic Imagination and the recent award-winning and posthumously published Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World by Frederick Murphy. I have a book review of Murphy coming out in next Trinity Journal, but I wanted to make some comments here that I was not able to include in the more traditional book review.

My students found Murphy more readable and accessible than Collins. I suspect that this is because Murphy has written in a style that an undergraduate can more easily grasp, and I think the fact that Murphy summarizes more familiar (biblical) material than Collins (Jewish apocalypses) also made Murphy seem more friendly.

One challenge with using a book like Murphy is that it is a long textbook that summarizes a lot of primary material, while highlighting specific themes throughout. If you want to read (or you want your students to read) the primary material and have another book summarizing it along side your reading, Murphy is helpful with this. However, some may find this to be a lot of extra reading. However, some undergraduates need or prefer this sort of guidance through the primary material, particularly if the material is not familiar to them -- e.g., the murky world of Jewish apocalypses.

As you read Murphy, you should be aware that throughout the book, the word "apocalypticism" is essentially used synonymously with "eschatology." What Murphy is focusing on throughout the book are the roots of eschatology in Judaism, its growth in the Second Temple period, and the influence that eschatology has on early Christianity. There is almost no interest in apocalypticism as having to do with revelation or the revealing of heavenly things (cf. Christopher Rowland and Christopher Murray-Jones, The Mystery of God). The focus is quite significantly on the end-of-the-world and the events connects with it, such as judgment. However, it is striking that in pages 8-11, where Murphy lists the primary features of "apocalypticism," eschatology and judgment are not listed or at least not high up the list.

Throughout Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World, Murphy provides discussions of apocalypticism in the prophets and the NT books, but sometimes, as I have just hinted, these elements often have little connection to apocalyptic literature...apocalyptic eschatology, yes; apocalyptic literature (and angelic revelation of heavenly mysteries), no. For example, in his discussion of Romans, Murphy provides an extensive discussion of Paul's Adam Christology. I still have not figured out how Adam Christology is relevant to an apocalyptic worldview...unless we are talking about eschatology and some sort of two-age schema, on which the Jewish apocalypses do not have the corner market and which I personally do not consider "apocalyptic."

NT passages such as the angelic announcements to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, Paul's ascent into third heaven, the revelation of the Father by the Son in John's Gospel, the Watcher tradition in 2 Peter and Jude (not to mention the citation of 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude), and the mystery of the gospel hidden for long ages but now revealed are obvious (at least to me) apocalyptic elements in the NT that largely go unmentioned or are given short shrift in Murphy's book. As long as the reader understands that apocalypticism is something broader and that Murphy is primarily using it to refer to apocalyptic eschatology, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World can be a helpful introduction to the NT's connection to the OT and the thought world of the Second Temple.

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