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Jewish eschatology

The first writings labeled a “Jewish apocalypse” were produced in Palestine in the third and second centuries BCE (Cohn 163).   Like the Book of Revelation, which would recycle many of the apocalyptic motifs set down in the Hebrew Bible, the works are difficult and full of symbolism, but from them one can gather three basic eschatological concepts: the new world to come, the resurrection of the dead human body, and the Messiah (Novak 114).

Ezekiel, the first of the Jewish apocalypticists, wrote shortly after king Nebuchadnezzar had leveled the Temple at Jerusalem and had taken thousands of Jewish captives back to Babylon.  Ezekiel reported a vision of another attack on Jerusalem by Persia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the mysterious Gog, Magog, Meshech, and Tubal, an invasion to be repelled by divine intervention and followed by a Jewish return to their homeland and their God.

The Book of Daniel was written in the second century BCE, but is set in the same time as Ezekiel, Daniel’s author borrowing the authority of a long-dead prophet (Guyatt 62-66).  The book is full of surreal visions of giant statues and monsters with horns, and mini-horns that attack, dreamt by Nebuchadnezzar and interpreted by Daniel as portents of the inevitable destruction of every empire and the establishment of a kingdom ruled by God “that will never be destroyed, nor…left to another people (Dan. 2:44).  Other passages of apocalypse—Daniel, Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 37, Joel 3, Zechariah 14, I Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Book of Jubilees—are full of similarly dense visions (Collins vii).

Jewish apocalypticists cast a wide net, drawing on biblical prophecy (though Jewish apocalypticism predates Christianity, they later developed alongside one another), Mesopotamian and Zoroastrian traditions, and ancient Israelite myths.  Though the visions change, the basic familiar framework remains the same: the dead are resurrected; every human being are judged and meted out his proper reward; God’s enemies are destroyed; the Kingdom of Heaven is established on earth.

Personal and social eschatology are closely tied together; the journey of the individual soul is not complete until the world’s life cycle is finished, as well.  Humans are resurrected and judged, and it is only after the world has ended and God’s Kingdom established that individuals will enjoy the fruits of their righteousness in life.

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