Episode 50: John J. Collins on Apocalyptic

Some time in the second century CE, somewhere in the Hellenistic Jewish diaspora, a peculiar work appeared. Now known as the Book of Enoch, and the start of a rambling, complex body of textual variants and traditions, 1 Enoch is the first known apocalypse, a type of writing presenting a new kind of divine revelation: a human witness is taught the secrets of the divine otherworld, often by an angelic messenger. This is not exactly prophecy, nor is it exactly the type of visionary ascent found in the Hekhalot texts; what we see in 1 Enoch, and in the revelatory texts which came after it – collectively known as ‘apocalyptic’ – is a new form of revelation of divine secrets. Western religion, and western esotericism would never be the same again.

In this episode we interview a major figure in the study of apocalyptic, Professor John J. Collins. He lays out the basics of the genre, discusses key texts, and generally blows one’s mind. Apocalyptic introduces some important ideas into Judaism – notably, the ideas of a meaningful afterlife, of a judgement of the living and the dead, and the theme of cosmic eschatology – and thereby plays a centrally-important role in the formation of some of Judaism’s cousins, notably Christianity and Gnosticism. We also see fleshed out for the first time in apocalyptic the figure of the angelic mediator who delivers revelations.

Interview Bio:

John J. Collins is Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale University. He has published widely on the subjects of apocalypticism, wisdom, Hellenistic Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Works Discussed in the Episode:

  • Elijah taken up to heaven in the Bible: 2 Kings 2:11: ‘And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven’.
  • Enoch (probably) taken up to heaven in the Bible: Hebrews 11:5: ‘By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God’.
  • Esler, P., 2017. God’s Court and Courtiers in the Book of the Watchers: Re-interpreting Heaven in 1 Enoch 1-36. Cascade Books, Eugene, OR.
  • Homer: the katabasis to the underworld can be found in Book 11 of the Odyssey.
  • Smith, M. (1983). ‘On the History of ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΠΤΩ and ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ’. In: Hellholm, D. (Ed.), Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East: Proceedings of the International colloquium on Apocalypticism, Uppsala, August 12-17, 1979, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck): ‘thick and fast they came at last, and more, and more, and more’.
  • Vergil: Book 6 of the Æneid has the extraordinary ‘Orphic’ katabasis story.

Recommended Reading:

  • Charles, R. H., 1913. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English. Clarendon, Oxford. Still a standard work for approaching extra-testamental writings as a whole.
  • Charlesworth, J. H., 1983. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Doubleday, Garden City, NY, and London.
  • Collins, J. J. (Ed.), 1979. Semeia 14. Society of Biblical Literature. This collection of essays is a milestone in the history of defining the apocalyptic genre, and has helped spark a fascinating, decades-long process of consideration and refinement among scholars of this material.
  • Collins, J. J., 1993. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Fortress, Minneapolis.
  • Collins, J. J., 2016. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. 3rd edition. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Collins, J. J.; McGinn, B. and Stein, S. J., 1998. The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. Continuum, New York.
  • Collins, J. J., 2014. The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature. Oxford Handbooks, Oxford.
  • Collins, J. J., 2015. Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI.
  • DiTommaso, L., 2001. A Bibliography of Pseudepigrapha Research, 1850–1999. Sheffield Academic, Sheffield, UK.
  • Hellholm, D. (Ed.), 1983. Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East: Proceedings of the International colloquium on Apocalypticism, Uppsala, August 12-17, 1979. J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen.
  • Himmelfarb, M., 1985. Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature. Fortress Publishers, Augsburg.
  • Himmelfarb, M., 1993. Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses. Oxford University Press, New York, NY/Oxford.
  • Nickelsburg, G. W., 2001. 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1–36, 81–108. Fortress, Minneapolis.
  • Nickelsburg, G. W. and VanderKam, J. C., 2011. 1 Enoch 2: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 37–82. Fortress, Minneapolis.
  • Orlov, A. A., 2005. The Enoch-Metatron Tradition. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, Germany.
  • Reed, A. Y., 2005. Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York.
  • Rowland, C., 1982. The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Christianity. Crossroad, New York.
  • Sacchi, P., 1997. Jewish Apocalyptic and Its History. Sheffield Academic, Sheffield, UK.
  • Sparks, H. F., 1984. The Apocryphal Old Testament. Clarendon, Oxford.
  • Stone, M. E., 1990. Fourth Ezra: A Commentary on the Book of Fourth Ezra. Fortress, Minneapolis.

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