Book Reviews
RelSt 535: Early Christian Apocalyptic (Fall 2005)

Robert Kraft, University of Pennsylvania


Sevile G. Mannickarottu

Alexander, Paul J.  The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985

Kat Korzow

Trevett, Christine.   Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy.   Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Adam Moore

Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism vol 1

Caroline Kelly

Collins, John J. The Sibyline Oracles of Egyptian Judaism, 1972. See also his article in 2004: "The Third Sibyline Revisited"

Alysha Hoven
Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World To Come: The Ancient Roots of  Apocalyptic Faith. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 [1993].

Christine Myers

John Gager, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity.  Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

C. Adrian Austin

Carrell, Peter R.  Jesus and the Angels: Angelology and the Christology of the Apocalypse of John, SNTSMS 95.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Liz Rosado

Hill, Robert Allan, An examination and critique of the understanding of the relationship between apocalypticism and gnosticism in Johannine studies (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen University Press, c1997)

Galina Movshovich

Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World To Come: The Ancient Roots of  Apocalyptic Faith. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 [1993].


Sevile G. Mannickarottu

Alexander, Paul J.  The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985

This book was published posthumously and was edited with an introduction by Dorothy deF. Abrahamse.  Alexander was a Professor of Byzantine Christianity at the University of California, Berkeley and he has published a number of books dealing with this topic.  This book primarily discusses apocalyptic works that are dated from the seventh through the eleventh centuries, and relate to the Roman/Byzantine Empire.  The book is divided into two parts, “Texts” and “Themes.”

Section by Section Summary:


As mentioned, the introduction was written by Dorothy deF. Abrahamse.  The editor tells us that the apocalypses written in this time include historical facts that transition into apocalyptic or eschatological events.  By observing these changes, the date of the apocalypse can be determined.  In addition, through careful “historical and philological detection,” Abrahamse explains that the author will establish the place and circumstances of the composition of these works.  Unfortunately, Alexander was unable to finish his work before his death, and so the editor only has the uncompleted manuscript published, along with hand written notes.  A third proposed part of the work, “Events,” does not exist in this publication.

Part 1: Texts

This part of the book discusses various texts, beginning with a Syriac text which Alexander dates to the seventh century and continues with texts through the eleventh century that relate to the Syriac text.  These texts involve the coming of a “Last Emperor” who will vanquish the children of Ishmael and destroy various evils.  Once accomplished, the Emperor will relinquish his rule to God.  Alexander attempts to date and historically place each document, based almost completely on the information given by the text itself. 

Chapter 1: The first chapter discuses the Syriac Apocalyse of Pseudo-Methodius.  After discussing the scholarship to date on this work, Alexander expands on this and reaffirms the work done by his predecessor in 1931.  He explains that the original work, which for many years was believed to have been written in Greek, was actually written in Syriac.   He explains that a copy of the original manuscript survives, that the author was from Mesopotamia and his writings reflect such traditions.  He discusses the political and military situation related to the Arabic Muslim conquests of the region, tying them to the apocalypse.  Alexander also explains that this work describes a Roman/Byzantine (Greek) Emperor, who will end the conflicts, just before the end times.  In addition, he determines the date of composition, which is in the seventh century.  Finally, the editor includes Alexander’s translation of the Syriac version of the Apocalypse.

Chapter 2: This chapter discusses the Greek version, or translation of the Syriac Apocalypse.  Alexander describes many of the odd translation issues (relating to quotations of the Peshitto, versus the Septuagint, perceptions of Alexander the Great and clergy, grammatical issues etc), and demonstrates how that reflects Byzantine Christian thought.  He determines that the work was probably composed soon after the Syriac, but no later than the eight century.

Chapter 3: Chapter three explains how the translation of the Pseudo-Methodius Apocalypse started a new trend in apocalyptic works, with reworkings in Greek and Old-Slavonic.  The various texts that he looks at are referred to as Visions of Daniel.  Alexander discusses four of these works, in a manner similar to his discussion of the original Greek translation.  He refers to the texts as the Slavonic Daniel, Pseduo-Chrysostom, Daniel Kai estai, and Last Daniel.  He explains that these works were composed in the eight to ninth centuries.

Chapter 4: Here, Alexander discusses two lost versions of the Visions which is quoted by Liudprand, Bishop of Cremona, of the Western Church.  Alexander analyzes this work in a similar fashion.  According to Alexander, this work, unlike earlier ones, sees a Western ruler as the last Emperor, based on the statement that the Emperor would be Byzantine but of Liudprand’s own race: “imperium vestrum et gens nostra.”  This would seem odd, especially coming from a Greek source.  Alexander explains that this is inspired by Louis II’s military accomplishments against the Arabs which were far greater than the accomplishments of the Byzantine ruler at the time.  His arguments for this connection are rather poor.  Alexander also tells us that the text was composed in the ninth century.

Chapter 5: The final chapter of this section on “Texts” discusses three additional works that are part of the lineage of Pseudo-Methodius’ Apocalypse.  These works are The Apocalypse of St. Andrew the Fool, The Cento of the True Emperor, and On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World.  Alexander analyzes these three works within their historical contexts and demonstrates how they ultimately borrow from the Syriac Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius.

Part 2: Themes

In this part, Alexander discusses three major themes in the apocalyptic works discussed earlier – The Last Roman Emperor, Gog and Magog, and The Legend of the Antichrist.  He ties in these themes with an earlier work of his on the Greek version of the Tiburtine Sybil, a sixth century apocalyptic work.

Chapter1: Alexander discusses the theme of the Last Roman Emperor.  There is an idea that at the end of time, the Roman Emperor would give up his rule to God.  Alexander demonstrates that the idea of the Last Roman Emperor changes from being a powerful person in the Syriac texts to being a weak person, who becomes strong through God’s help, in later Greek versions; this change occurring as a result of inaccurate translations from the Syriac.  The concept of a Roman Emperor in the texts is not supported with biblical quotes.  Rather, Alexander argues that the concept of a Jewish Messianic King is replaced by a Roman Emperor (after Constantine).  This idea is later enhanced with the advance of the Islamic Empire.

Chapter 2: Chapter two describes the legend of Gog and Magog in the apocalyptic works.  The texts explain that before surrendering his Empire to God, the Roman Emperor must fight Gog and Magog.  These are impure nations and are mentioned in Ezekiel and in the Revelation of John.  Tiburtine Sibyl discusses this, and later, Pseudo-Methodius inserts this battle after the Last Emperor defeats the Arab Empire.  Alexander describes the Jewish and non-Jewish origins of this theme, explaining that this concept was combined with the idea that Alexander the Great imprisoned these groups.

Chapter 3: The last chapter analyzes the concept of the Antichrist.  Alexander explains that similar to the discussed themes, this concept originated from Jewish tradition, but developed with its own unique Byzantine ideas.  However, since the Antichrist is discussed in Christian scriptures, very little is described about the Antichrist in these works.  The Antichrist will appear after the battles of Gog and Magog, and in some cases before the Emperor gives up his rule to God, or in other cases, afterwards.


Strengths of the Book:

  1. Alexander demonstrates an exceptional knowledge of Greek, Latin and Syriac grammar.  He is able to demonstrate when Greek and Latin texts use Semitic structures and expressions.
  2. The inclusion of several of the actual texts in translation is beneficial in understanding the references that Alexander makes throughout the book.
  3. The discussion of Roman, Byzantine and Persian history is brilliant as Alexander ties in the spread of the different works from Syriac to Greek and to Latin with their historical contexts.


  1. Alexander basis much of his analysis for dating and placing the text on internal evidence.  This leaves much doubt on the accuracy of his analysis, since it depends on the historical accuracy of the actual text.  In addition, some of Alexander’s historical connections seem to be quite weak.  He sometimes struggles to connect vague references in the text to the political and cultural situations of a specific place and time.  In one case, Alexander actually catches this himself, and the editor included Alexander’s hand written notes as a footnote, stating his later disagreement with the section (Part 1, Chapter 1 – his discussion on Pseudo-Methodius being Monophysite). 
  2. In Part 2, Alexander brings up the Tiburtine Sybil text without actually introducing it.  He also does not, in his discussion in Chapter 1 of Part 1, explain how this text might be connected to the Pseudo-Methodius text.
  3. The book itself is organized in a manner that makes it difficult to read.  Some of the chapters in Part 1 lack suitable introductions in order understand the texts that are about to be discussed within the Pseudo-Methodius tradition.

I should point out that the editor chose to present the incomplete manuscript as it was, with minimal content editing.  Rather than include the handwritten corrections in the body of the text, she included them as footnotes.  She also chose not to add the third proposed section.  This allows the reader to appreciate Alexander’s own work.  However, many of weaknesses that I mentioned might be the consequence of the manuscript being incomplete.


D. Kristine (Kat) Korzow

Trevett, Christine.   Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy.   Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

About the Author

Christine Trevett teaches Biblical Studies at Cardiff University in the School of Religious and Theological Studies. Her research involves looking at women and prophecy in Christianity in the Roman empire between the 2nd and 3rd centuries and sectarians (especially Quakers) of the 17th century in England and Wales. The research for this book was done during the years of 1989 and 1994. In this book she proposes to give an overview of Montanist scholarship, "challenge a number of prevailing assumptions about Montanism," and to look at Montanism from a woman's perspective.

Chapter 1: Beginnings

In this section Trevett lays out the background of work done by previous scholars and the sources available for study. She addresses both the geographic and temporal locations for the origin of Montanism.

Part 1: The Study of Montanism

Montanism is a religious movement emerging within Christianity of the second century. It is based on the outpouring of the Spirit in the form of prophecy. There are many names used for the group, but the most likely name that the group used for itself is "The Prophecy" or "The New Prophecy." Trevett switches between Montanism and Prophecy as names for the group based upon when the sources date from. However for the sake of simplicity I will simply use Montanism through this entire review. This group clashes with catholic Christianity on "the nature of prophecy, the exercise of authority, the interpretation of Christian writings, and the significance of the phenomenon for salvation-history." The sources that we have are mostly from the 'winners' or anti-Montanists. On the Montanist side there are a few sources preserved, most notably Tertullian. Previous studies have often portrayed Montanism in what Trevett calls a 'negative light', she claims to argue that Montanism was "hostile to Gnostic thinking."

Part 2: Geography: Ardabau, Pepuza, and Tymion

There has been much work done to locate these places, but there is little evidence to prove any of the attempts are accurate. What we do know was that they are in Asia Minor in the area of Phygia. Ardabau is named as the place where they started, but it is similar to the name of the place where Ezra got his pivotal vision, thus it may not be an actual location, but a metaphorical one. Pepuza and Tymion were likely small towns to the east of Philadelphia. They are claimed to be the New Jerusalem where the Three preached. These areas were familiar with Paul and his views, but his is not the only influence on this area.

Part 3: Date

The beginning date of Montanism, like many other things about it, is not firmly set. She sets up an argument about dating the beginning of Montanism to at least the early 160s if not the late 150s. She believes that the 170s were a time of confrontation and thus the start of the movement must be earlier. She argues that Montanists did not start out as schematics, rather they felt that they were renewing the church, but their insistence on a voice of the Spirit made them a threat.

Chapter 2: The New Prophecy to Hippolytus and Tertullian

In this chapter Trevett speaks about the spread of Montanism from it's origin in Pepuza.

Part 1: The Prophecy in Asia Minor and Beyond

From Clement and Origin we hear that Montanism was a controversy which had distinctive teaching about the Paraclete and was zealous in religious obligation. Other Asian sources include the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Esebius, and Epiphanius. The central people involved with Montanism were Montanus, Maximilla, and Priscila. In addition there are other names which are known. Montanism spread and took hold in a wide variety of areas from Antioch to possibly Syria. The catholic sides eventually closed ranks and spoke out against Montanism.

Part 2: The Prophecy in Rome

It was known in Rome at about 170. There are recorded debates between Proclus (a Montanist) and Gaius (a catholic). Rome rejected Montanism before Asia did and before 217. It was officially condemned by Zephyrinus. Hippolytus states the the prophecy is not monolithic, but at the same time he does not condemn it as gnostic.

Part 3: Africa and Tertullian

Christianity appears in Africa around 180. African Montanism is a later phase. Tertullian was respected not only as a Montanist but as a catholic. There is no clear evidence for how Montanism spread to Africa, it could have come from Rome, but it also could have come from the East. There is also nothing to suggest that there was a schism in the Church in Africa during the early presence of Montanism in Africa. Tertullian is not rejected by the catholics even though he is openly Montanist. He is following on an early Montanist method and does not know about some of the doctrinal developments which are strange and represented in Rome, nor of the later developments of the East.

Chapter 3: The Teachings of the New Prophecy

In this chapter Trevett discusses the teachings of the early Prophecy.

Part 1: Montanus: The Man and The Oracles

Although we know no details of his ancestry, birth, or early life, he does have a Phrygian name. He first appears in Ardabau. What we know is that his method of prophecy was noteworthy in that it included possession, ecstasy and strange manners of speech. He allowed marriages to be annulled. He instituted new fasts. He also won followers and organized them to pay appointed teachers salaries for their work. His oracles have been compared to pagan oracles, however Trevett argues that this is just his opponents trying to paganize him, and his form of oracle was also known in Christian circles. The oracles that are preserved are not all authentic, especially those in the later texts, Trevett argues. The oracles state that God comes and speaks through the mouths of the Prophets. This is not just angelic messages or something, but the real presence of God. They use scripture to interpret their prophecy, and they speak in similar ways to the oracles/prophecies of the Hebrew Biblical Prophets and other books of the Bible (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Matthew, and Revelation). Montanus wants to interpret and proclaim scripture for his own generation. He proclaims the present coming and intervention of God to a dispirited people.

Part 2: Prophecy and Ecstasy

Catholic prophecy did exist however the issue was that Montanus was described as not being in full position of his intellect when prophesying. Although they did speak intelligently (We have oracles of their words) they probably also prophesied in glossolalia. Glossolalia was used in the early church as well as mentioned as a prophetic gift by Paul.

The prophetic figures of Montanism also functioned as the Paraclete of John's Gospel. This may or may not have actually been claimed in the lifetime of these prophets. The Paraclete is the link between Christ and the world, the prophet linked to the Spirit provided this Paraclete.

Part 3: Eschatology

There is less about eschatology than one might expect in the early Montanist writings. Montanus probably believed that Jerusalem would descend to earth near Pepuza sometime in the near future, however Trevett argues that there is little evidence to suggest a great amount of apocalyptic furor, at least not any more than the catholic Christians. They moved from a primarily futuristic eschatology (believing that Jerusalem would actually descend) to a more realized eschatology where the heavenly Jerusalem was already present for those whose "eyes were opened" during the lifetime of the Prophets. Maximilla does make mention of signs near the end, but Trevett claims that there is no reason to think that the Prophets thought Perusia was imminent, however there was a belief in the Lord's return which reflected the general Christian viewpoint of the time.

Part 4: Fasting and Feasting in the Prophecy

Three things are commented on in the criticisms of Montanism: fasting, marriage, and withholding of forgiveness. Tertullian said that gratification was deferred not forbidden, however there were long prescribed fasts. They were not extreme ascetics, but they did believe (based on Daniel and 4 Ezra) that fasting was preparation for vision and helpful for the soul. The catholic viewpoint was not that fasting was bad, rather that Montanism made it obligatory and pseudo-prophetic. They were upset because Montanism had a stricter discipline than their own.

Part 5: Fornication, Celibacy, and Marriage

Montanism allowed for annulment of marriages, however Trevett argues that this was not common and may have been limited to women prophets or just Maximilla and Priscilla. Priscilla was supposedly given the title 'virgin.' Trevett argues that they were not communities of ascetics and that along with many catholics they felt that while asceticism and celibacy were the best states, marriage was to be respected. Tertullian views remarriage as evil. This is something he was convinced of before converting to Montanism, but he affirms it as a Montanist teaching as well as his own.

Part 6: Forgiveness

Tertullian changes from allowing forgiveness for some sins post-baptism to not allowing any forgiveness post-baptism when he converts to Montanism. He cites and oracle which points to the idea that "hardening of the teaching on forgiveness as a discipline was generally in the earliest Prophecy."

Part 7: Observations on Montanist Discipline

The problem with Montanism was not that it supported doctrinal heresy or millennial teaching or militant apocalypticism rather the problem was in the fact that the Spirit could speak personally renewing the discipline of the Church. Montanism disagreed with catholic teaching on interpretation of Scriptures, who has authority in the Church, and the amount of discipline.

Part 8: Confession and Martyrdom

Trevett argues that there is nothing that points to Montanist as being any more zealous martyrs than catholics, however martyrdom was highly respected. Most likely Montanism encouraged readiness for martyrdom and discouraged flight in persecution. In any event it is very unlikely that the Prophets died martyr's deaths.

Part 9: The Controversy About Scripture and Revelation

Montanism used the scriptures extensively. Some of the texts they used were the Gospels of Matthew and John, The Seer's Letter to Philadelphia, Revelation, Genesis, Numbers, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Psalms, 4 Ezra, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Shepherd. They did have their own writings as well, which we don't possess. The main controversy over scripture however concerned Paul. They fought over whether in the post-apostolic age there could be prophecy. The main issues of the fight were: apostolic succession vs. prophetic succession, writings of the past vs. new insights, Rome vs. Asia, and "the reliability of sober, learned, male, catholic leaders" vs. "prophetic and other charismatic powers possessed even by women."

Part 10: What Then was the New Prophecy

Montanism regarded itself as the New Israel. The Jews were no longer God's people, the Christians were. Montanism was a conservative Christianity practiced by Gentiles, but with a conscious heritage of Christian Palestrian beginnings. They are influenced by Johannine traditions and Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts. They are linked with branches of sectarian Judaism and while distinctly Christian they were influenced by Jewish tradition. They did not begin as a revolt against the catholic tradition. Their differences were mostly in degree, but authority was at stake and soon both sides were entrenched in their positions.

Chapter 4: Montanism and Women

In this long chapter Trevett speaks about the role of women as prophets, preachers, and equals in Montanism.

Part 1: The First Women Prophets

There were two women at the outset of Montanism, Priscilla and Maximilla. Later Quintilla appears. Trevett argues that Quintilla was a later prophet after the original Prophets were dead. These were not the first women prophets that caused problems for the catholic tradition, they stem from a line of women prophets. Montanism embraced women as well as men as full partners in faith. Women could be presbyters or bishops as well as prophets. At the outset the women prophets were considered 'mad' or 'victims of the devil.' In fact there are many recorded cases of catholics trying to exorcize Montanist women, but ironically they never tried this on Montanist men.

Part 2: Priscillianism or Montanism: Who Founded and Led the New Prophecy

Anne Jensen suggests that Priscilla was the leading and founding figure of Montanism. However Trevett argues that there is not clear evidence for this position. She says that Montanus was the organizer as well as a prophet (although probably not the most prolific prophet). The Three (Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla) were equally revered in Montanist circles. While there is no evidence that Montanus was not the founder, there is evidence that the women were not dependent on Montanus.

Part 3: The Oracles and Visions of Priscilla, Maximilla, and Quintilla

Priscilla seems to be concerned with "continence, holiness, visions, and carnality (those who deny the resurrection of the body). Maximilla seems to have had to defend herself more than the other prophets and portrays herself as sent for the task as an interpreter of the covenant. She also speaks of the end and the promises of the New Jerusalem. Quintilla seems to be a later prophet. Trevett feels that it is to her that Christ appears as a woman and imparts wisdom.

Part 4: Ongoing Female Prophecy and Witness

We do not know if prophecy continued after Montanus although it is likely that it did for both Tertullian and Origin speak about it. Montanist women were wholly disciples and seen in the public sphere in regards to religion.

Part 5: Ideal Woman, Ideal Martyr

The Passio Perpetuae is the earliest extant writing by a Christian woman. It is the prison diary of the martyr Vibia Perpetua. She died with others in 202-3. She has visions and speaks out publicly about her faith and condition. She is probably Montanist.

Part 6: The Clericalisation of the Women

Montanism had women clergy. While women were equal to men in the spiritually sphere, there are no extact writings about how they faired on the other spheres or in the household. Montanists probably did not think of themselves as feminist, but as Christian and in Christianity women and men were equal.

Chapter 5: The Fate of Montanism

In this short chapter Trevett discusses the heresies which begin to arise and the demise of Montanism.

Part 1: Later Montanism: Ecclesiology and Epigraphy

Like with most Montanism there is little evidence. They had churches and common meals, public and private worship, and Quartodeciman practice for Easter. Although there was great diversity between communities they did have contact with each other and probably saw the patriarch in Pepuza as their head. There was a shrine in Pepuza to the Three where their bones were buried, and this was a site of pilgrimage.

Part 2: Montanism and the Heresies

Post-Constantine few if any of the anti-Montanist writers had ever met or spoken with a Montanist. Doctrinal heresy begins in Rome with arguments that the Father, Son, and Spirit were one person not three. In addition there is evidence from both sides that at least some Montanists were baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Montanus. Also there are various heresies surround the female figures of Eve and Mary the Mother of Jesus. The Council of Laodicea required rebaptism for Montanists and the Council of Constantinople condemned Montanists as Monarchists.

Part 3: The Destruction of Montanism

There is no single end point for Montanism, it died a lingering death. The death began with Constantine which started proscription, banishment, book-burning, heresy-hunting, confiscation of Churches, imprisonment for capital offenses, and legal impediments such as restriction from trade, making wills and holding public office. Between 527 and 531 things got worse when Justinian made enforced conversion legal. The Crusade of John of Ephsus in the 6th century destroyed the shine in Pepuza and the bones of the Three. In 721 Leo III ordered that all Jews and Montanists be forcibly baptized. The record is that the Montanists consulted prophecy and then locked themselves in a church and burned themselves to death rather than being baptized. These actions led to the dying out of Montanism in Africa by the 4th century, in Rome by the early 5th, and Phygia by the 6th for the most part. By the 8th century they are gone.


Trevett's book was very informative about Montanism. However for reading in an Early Christian Apocalyptic class it was lacking in the Apocalypse. Trevett feels that although Montanists have often been portrayed as very apocalyptic, they were in fact no more so than any of the other Christian sects during the same time period.

There were three other things that Trevett could have improved upon. First she changes languages and quotes in other languages especially Greek, Latin, and French without translation. This makes it difficult for those without language backgrounds to understand key quotes used in the book. Second, the organization is slightly confusing. She sets out a structure, but I found parts of the book repetitive. In addition in the early chapters she jumped around in the time line of Montanism quite freely which led to some confusion. Last, she opens with a thesis about how Montanists are not Gnostics, however that is not the theme. Rather the corollary to that statement becomes her theme. Montanists are very close to catholic Christianity. I felt that her lack of clarity at the beginning led to some confusion throughout the book.

Adam Moore

Collins, John J., et. al., ed. The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism Volume I: The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity. New York: Continuum, 1998.

Given the fascination of the "end times" with the recent turn of the millennium, the three of volumes of this work are especially timely in presenting a synopsis of all things apocalyptic in the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The first volume, which I am reviewing in this essay, was a pleasure to read as I plunged into the earliest origins of apocalypticism in ancient literature. >From the introduction, apocalypticism is well-defined as "the belief that God has revealed the imminent end of the ongoing struggle between good and evil in history." (Collins, vii) As these themes purvey the Judeo-Christian early writings, the editors direct our attention to important aspects of development in this genre.

This volume of work was amazingly easy to read, especially considering the difficultly of the material. In each essay, multiple points of view were explained with knowledge and thoroughness. Each essay falls well within the mainstream of scholarly opinion, and is fair in summarizing points of dissent within the academic community.

This first volume is broken into four main parts, including an epilogue. The first three parts deal with the following important foundational ideas: Apocalypticism in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World, Apocalypticism in Ancient Judaism, and Apocalypticism in Early Christianity. The Part Four: Epilogue contains one essay entitled "Apocalyptic Temporality and Politics" which focuses on a specific theme tied to many apocalyptic texts.

Richard J. Clifford starts off the volume with a good foundational essay entitled "The Roots of Apocalypticism in Near Eastern Myth." He brings up Hermann Gunkel's argument that Genesis 1 is recycled in early Christian apocalyptic literature as Revelation 12. Gunkel further argues that this material is borrowed from Akkadian combat myths. (Collins, 4) Clifford goes on to explain recurring elements and themes of early ancient apocalyptic texts such as animal names for people, and the destructive power of the sea. Many of these elements and themes have made their way into Judaic and early Christian literature, and are therefore, fundamental in understanding the origins of these texts. Other relevant genres that may explain biblical apocalyptic literature include the vaticinia ex ventu ("prophecies after the fact") and the dream vision. (Collins, 4-5)

Anders Hultgard's essay entitled "Persian Apocalypticism" is extremely relevant to early Judaic apocalyptic texts. Israel's Babylonian captivity and subsequent rule by the Medes and Persians are very important in understanding some of the earliest apocalyptic writing. Apocalyptic images in Daniel are set in this very time in history. Hultgard asks a poignant question, "Could it be that the entire worldview of Western Apocalypticism up to the present time ultimately derives from ancient Iran?" (Collins, 39) His article makes a strong case in the affirmative.

John J. Collins converts from editor to writer in his essay "From Prophecy to Apocalypticism: The Expectation of the End." His first sentence acknowledges the "popular consciousness" of apocalypticism is wrapped up in is the idea of the end of the world. (Collins, 129) He refers back to the earliest starting point, the Near East and its combat myths. Subsequently, Judaic writers adapted these myths to evoke the "judgment of God." (Collins,129) Collins relates these ideas with the major and minor prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. He directs us to the Jewish prophet Amos from the eighth century B.C.E., as he was the first to announce an impending end by referring to "the day of the Lord" which would lead to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (Collins, 129) He also touches on Isaiah's prediction of the fall of Babylon. (Collins, 130) Collins moves fluidly from the post-exilic period, to the Hellenistic period, to the Roman period. Six hundred years are covered with relative ease as he concludes that the apocalyptic genre arose in response to "challenges of the Hellenistic and Roman periods." (Collins, 157)

Adela Yarbro Collins provides an agreeable introductory overview of the book of Revelation. She provides an appropriate set of possible dates and authors for the book. Her claim is that it is possible that Revelation was attributed to John, the son of Zebedee, by mistake or purposely to increase its authority. (Collins, 385)

She states that John's association of the emperor with the beast is John's way of saying that honoring the emperor is betraying God. (Collins, 396) I was very interested in her explanation of the apocalyptic images of Nero in Revelation. The 666 and 616 computations of Nero's name provide excellent clues into the mind of early Christian writers. I personally prefer this assessment and am happy to see it stated so simply and convincingly. (Collins, 398)

Yarbro Collins argues that John's thinking was dualistic in that it pitted God and Satan (and their allies) in a cosmological struggle. (Collins, 398) Although she did qualify the term, it appears to me that "dualistic" should be reserved for the teachings of Zoroastrianism and Zen thought, because it is clear from the outset of the Revelation, that this struggle is in fact no struggle at all. In this writing, one figure is not equal to or even slightly less than the other. Although there are two main figures, Jesus and Satan, it is clear that John believes that the events of Revelation are necessary for God's plan, and that God has allowed these events to take place to fulfill a cosmological purpose.

"4bGrace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth." (Revelation 1:4b-5a)

"17But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this." (Revelation 1:17-19, italics mine)

She further argues that the major purpose of Revelation was to discourage the reader from buying into the "ideology of the provincial elite." (398) I disagree with the idea that John accomplishes this through the imagery of the beast, which she claims represents an imperial symbolic system. I would suggest that his focus rather was that of Rome being a wicked empire, which would be judged in the near future. Of course, Rome could be a wicked, elitist empire, but I think it makes more sense, considering Rome's persecution of Christians, the occupation of Israel, and subsequent destruction of the Second Temple, for this imagery to refer to God's judgment on the wickedness of the Roman Empire. I am unaware of any texts referring to Christians being sucked into the culture of the Roman world, and thereby turning away from their Christian faith. Yarbro Collins does remind us that the prophetic writings of the Old Testament personifies cities (especially Jerusalem) as harlots, but fails to make the connection of previous accounts with the idea of sin, wickedness, and disobedience to God's law in this case.

The thirteen essays contained in the first volume to The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism provide a broad foundation for study in the apocalyptic genre. Although, by no means was any one topic exhausted, there have been provided many jumping off points for further study. Another reviewer of this body of work claimed that apocalypticism was "simply too narrow a field to require the production of an encyclopedia that could be in any sense considered indispensable for a wide readership." (Madigan, 216) I must disagree, for I believe that most encyclopedias are profitable for the scholar and layman alike, and this work is just that.


Collins, John J., et. al., ed. The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism Volume I: The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity. New York: Continuum, 1998

Madigan, Kevin. Review of The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism: Volume 1, ed. by John J. Collins. Religious Studies Review July. 2000: 211-216.

Caroline Kelly

Collins, John J. The Sibyline Oracles of Egyptian Judaism, 1972. See also his article in 2004: "The Third Sibyline Revisited"

Alysha Hoven
Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World To Come: The Ancient Roots of  Apocalyptic Faith. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 [1993].

              Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come is a book in which the ancient roots of apocalyptic faith are examined.  The common belief that one day good will finally conquer evil and the world will be made perfect was once a concept unimaginable and unheard of.  Norman Cohn thoroughly examines many ancient beliefs throughout the Near East and when and how apocalyptic faith first originated.  Cohn describes the religious beliefs and practices of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Vedic Indians, and the Israelites before 1500 BC.  He then describes Zoroaster and the role he played in the period of transition to apocalyptic faith sometime between 1500 BC and 1200 BC.  Cohn does an excellent job noting the impact that Zoroaster had on apocalyptic literature and the formation of the Jewish and Christian religious sects.

             The ancient world-views before 1500 BC of many Near Eastern countries were mainly characterized by “cosmos vs. chaos”.  Cosmos represented the order and goodness in the world controlled by the gods and the peoples’ government.  The state, which was almost always a monarchy, gave the people laws and rules to help them maintain a sense of order.  These societies’ views were also very ethnocentric in the fact that they placed themselves at the very center of the “ordered world”.  Chaos stood for the demonic forces and evilness constantly battling to eradicate order in the world.  Disruption of the land and its’ fruits, as well as defeat in battle, were all forms of chaos that these people experienced.  Common belief was that cosmic battle was never-ending and un-changing.  “At the heart of every Near Eastern world-view was a sense of immutability.” (pg. 3)

              Throughout Egypt from the Archaic Period and the Old Kingdom (3050-2160 BC) to the New Kingdom (1540-1070 BC), its’ people maintained a strong sense of awareness order and what threatened it.  The Egyptians did not believe that the world was created from nothing by a god who had always been alive.  They viewed the beginning state as an immaterial, boundless ocean of chaos, which they termed “Nun”.  Light and order was later brought into the world by a figure known as the “demiurge”, or the sun-god Ra, who then multiplied and “made himself into millions.”  He created the world, other gods, humans, animals, and all other material things.  Ra controlled “ma’at”, which was an expression of everything harmonious and regular in the world.  All the other Egyptian gods had some of the same limitations as the human beings, such as mortality.  The gods either lived in the heavens or the netherworld, but never had contact with humans on earth.  However, it was believed that “little gods” and spirits watched over individual human beings to protect them from evil spirits and demons.  Human beings were in awe and loved the gods, and the Pharaoh was known as a semi-divine being who was the source of communication between the two and helped maintain ma’at and justice on earth.  “What we have called a religious world-view could just as well be called a political ideology…The values and attitudes of the men who created it were the values and attitudes of the court.  They felt it their sacred duty to ensure that the monarchy, and the state constructed around the monarchy, would endure.” (pg. 18)  The Egyptians believed that order, or “ma’at”, was constantly threatened by demons and monsters that resided in the netherworld.  Apophis was the evil god and “an embodiment of primordial chaos”.  At death, one was judged on their “negative confessions”, or rather what chaos they had brought into the world.  Bliss was awarded in the after-life to one who had not added evil, while eternal pain and suffering with the demons came to those who had.  For the Egyptians, this cycle and constant battle between good and evil was to be never-ending.


             Around 3000 BC, the people of Mesopotamia had also created a similar world-view.  To the Mesopotamians, the world was governed by gods and goddesses who fought against the demons to maintain order and moral rightness on earth.  Gods were imagined to have human forms, as well as human needs.  The Mesopotamians felt that their sole duty on earth was to serve the gods.  The gods were feared and thought to treat the humans cruelly and act very destructively occasionally.  The king of a Mesopotamian state however was regarded as a greater being, sent to control the state and its’ people.  He also served as a connection between the gods and the people, and worked to maintain order.   “A Mesopotamian state was the supreme expression on earth of the divinely appointed order, and the task of the Mesopotamian king was to ensure that within his realm that order was sustained.” (pg. 38)  Immortality was solely for the gods, while humans were forced to go to the lowest level of the world, where no happiness or goodness existed but only darkness and silence.  The Mesopotamians too did not believe that this cycle of life would ever have an ending.

              Around 1500 BC, The Indus Valley was occupied by people known as Indo-Aryans, or the Vedic Indians, whose “world-views centered on a divinely appointed order that was basically timeless and un-changing, yet was never wholly tranquil”. (pg. 57)  The Vedic Indians too believed that the world was once created of chaos until the god Indra intervened in the war between the Adityas (benevolent beings with magical power) and the demons.  Indra then confined Vritra (his arch enemy), his demons, and the chaos beneath earth, so that the cosmos could exist due to the principle known as “rita” (the universal control over nature, moral order, and the order of human life).  The gods and the humans were seen as completely dependent on one another.  The humans needed the gods to maintain order, and the gods needed the humans to perform sacrifices in order to give them strength to maintain that order.  Human beings were able to “ally” themselves with the demons to perform evil acts, and were thus condemned to the bottomless pit of complete eternal darkness at death.  Other Vedic Indians were believed to have spirits that left the body at death, but were soon reunited in heaven, which was thought of as a “blissful realm full of radiant light, harmony, and joy” (pg.76).  These fortunate people were free from the chaos for eternity; however, the moral battle on earth was believed to be eternal.

              While each of these Near Eastern communities created their own original beliefs and practices, they shared common themes, such as polytheism, good and evil forces, they all created some sort of heaven and hell to separate the two, all created temples in honor of the gods, all used the act of sacrifice to worship the gods, and each had some type of doctrine which recorded their beliefs, laws, and tales.  The main theme of each belief system was based on a certain type of myth, “conventionally known as ‘the combat myth’, that tells how a god has defended the ordered world against the onslaughts of chaos” (pg. 42).  Also, these separate world-views shared in the belief that this battle between the good and evil forces was never going to end.  It was not until the middle of the sixth century when the Iranian prophet Zoroaster challenged this way of believing.


             Zoroaster was a trained priest of an older religion who eventually left the church to preach his modified version of faith.  Zoroaster was the first human who “came to see all existence as the gradual realization of a divine plan.  He foretold the ultimate fulfillment of that plan, a glorious consummation when all things would be made perfect once and for all.  Zoroastrianism was soon realized as the official religion in all of Iran, and lasted from the second century BC all the way through to the seventh century AD. Zoroastrianism had sacred scriptures, called the “Avesta”, which outlined Zoroaster’s beliefs and prophecies of the end of times.  Zoroaster believed that there was only one “wholly wise, just, and good” god, Ahura Mazda.  Ahura Mazda was seen as the creator and guardian of the ordered world, while his antagonist Angra Mainyu, was known as the “spirit of destruction” and evil.  “In Zoroaster’s thought the twin spirits embodied the forces that maintained cosmos and the forces that strove to undermine it.” (pg. 82)  Ahura Mazda was also believed to create six Holy Immortals, which were seen as guardians of the physical world, and held the highest spiritual value.  Though Zoroastrianism shared the idea of a great cosmic war with the ancient Near Eastern religions, the apocalyptic notion came with the belief that there would eventually be an end, and evil would once and for all be defeated, and chaos would no longer exist.  Human beings were thought to be very important to Ahura Mazda and the Holy Immortals by offering valuable services, such as sacrifice and obedience to the laws.  Free will was a very central theme in Zoroastrianism, and humans could chose to either assist the good or evil spirits in the cosmic war.  At death, each individual was judged by their “ethical achievement” during life, and was either welcomed into the paradise of heaven until the end of “limited time” when there was to be a “universal bodily resurrection”, or sent to the joyless netherworld of Angra Mainyu.  At the end of “limited time”, there will be a great judgment on all human beings who ever lived; the world will undergo a transformation and cleansing of everything that is evil.  The “making wonderful” will create a world of total peace and love, absent of any imperfections, and governed by an unchallenged supreme god for all of eternity.  “What Ahura Mazda does goes far beyond anything known to the traditional myth.  The war he fights is a spiritual war, and its aim is not simply to ensure fertility of the land and the military victory of his people, it is not even the mere maintenance of the ordered world.  It is to remove every form of disorder from the world, wholly and forever; to bring about a state in which cosmos will no longer be threatened by chaos.” (pg.114)  This transformation to apocalyptic faith lived on through Zoroaster’s followers, and is even thought to have influenced aspects of the Jewish and Christian faiths.

              The Israelites around 1000 BC during the times of the monarchy, also shared the ancient world-view of the eternal cosmic war on earth.  They were polytheistic, but eventually adopted Yahweh as their patron god.  Change came once an entire group of prophets insisted that Yahweh must be worshiped alone.  “The Book of Hoasea portrays an official religion that is polytheistic, and which is therefore abominated by Yahweh: ‘…they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols… I am Yahweh your God since your days in Egypt you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.’” (pg.142)  The Israelites conformed to monotheism, following the Ten Commandments sent through Moses, and keeping the laws of the Torah as their central importance.  This resulted in a transformation of people from Israel, to the Jewish religion.  “It was this view of their god as ‘lord of history’ that led certain adherents of the Yahweh-alone movement, around 600 BC, to break out of the age-old world-view in which both order and disorder were accepted as permanent realities and to look forward, impatiently, to a glorious consummation when all things would be set to rights.” (pg.147)  Throughout the writings of the Jewish apocalypses, the end is seen as the time when God will “assert his absolute authority” and bring the idea of history to a close with victory over evil and everlasting salvation for his faithful followers.  An example from the Book of Daniel: “And it is God himself who bestows everlasting sovereignty over the whole world on ‘the one like son of man’… Hitherto rightness has been largely absent from earth, only in heaven has it obtained fully.  With the realization of the kingdom of God rightness will obtain on earth also, the divinely appointed order will have become all-embracing”. (pg.172-173) The apocalyptic writings of I Enoch and the Book of Jubilees acknowledge the Jewish belief that Satan was not the evil power, but an angel.  The evil spirit was known as Mastema, who actively opposed God’s plan for the earth and mankind.  The Jews believed that in the final days, before the ultimate establishment of God’s eternal kingdom on earth, there would be a great judgment of each individual to determine if they would be part of God’s kingdom based on the goodness or evil they created during their lifetime. 

              Between 200 BC and 100 AD an apocalyptic sect known as Qumran existed.  It is from this sect that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in the Judean desert between 1947 and 1956, were created.  This was a small group of people that regarded themselves as the true Israel, and created a “new covenant”, which was thought to be “a new and final form of the eternal alliance between God and the people of Israel” (pg.188).  This was a hierarchical group who strove to be “men of perfect holiness” by following all the laws and living in purity.  They believed that the final victory over evil would take place when “time came to an end” and God judged the people, expelling those who rebelled against him, resurrecting the righteous people to share his glory.

               During the time of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, a Jewish sect arose, by the name of Christians.  Christians believed that Jesus was the divine son of God who had come to earth to preach the coming of the kingdom, heal the sick, and offer forgiveness of sins.  Jesus affirmed the apocalyptic belief of the end of times when God would destroy all evil and create a new heaven on earth for the righteous.  The core of the early Christian belief was based on Jesus’ death and resurrection, which symbolized the salvation and expulsion of sins from those who believed in him.  The Book of Revelations, written around 95 AD, was a detailed prophecy of the end of times which Jesus had preached about.  It describes the coming day of the Last Judgment when all that is evil is defeated once and for all by God and Jesus, how all the dead will be resurrected, judged, and sent to either heaven or hell, and what the final kingdom of God will be like.

              In Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come, Norman Cohn does an excellent job of providing detailed insight to the faith and world-views of ancient civilizations, and pointing out how, when, and where those beliefs transitioned into apocalyptic faith.  It was interesting to see how intertwined the common beliefs and practices were of these ancient civilizations, how they influenced each other, and most importantly, how they have affected faith and the world-views of today.


Christine Myers

John Gager, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity.  Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

John G. Gager is a professor of Religion at Princeton University and began teaching there in 1968.  Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity was published in 1975 by Prentice Hall.  Gager has written several other books: Moses in Greco-Roman Paganism, The Origins of Anti-Semitism, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World; and Reinventing Paul.

Gager started the book by defining religion and millennial cults as “world building, establishing rituals, scriptures, and ecclesiastical offices” and to “justify human nature in terms of eternal nature.”  He also emphasizes that the idea of a “social world” is a process rather than a finished product, as this changing of the social world is what plays a major role in his theory.

Gager claims that Christianity was a revitalization movement and millennial.  He goes on to say that the definition of a cult has four parts: “promise of heaven on earth–soon,” major change in social order, “emotional energy,” and “a brief life span of the movement” (21).   Based on his claim that Christianity was a millennial cult, there is an inherent contradiction.  The definition claims a brief life of cults, and yet Christianity was certainly not short-lived.  His explanation of this is that, “Christianity survived, but not as a millenarian cult” (21).

Gager then makes the argument of those that were depraved or outsiders found a new home in Christianity.  He makes the link between the depraved and millennial cult membership, like that most new converts in the beginning were those that felt disadvantaged.  The future oriented outlook and community based nature of millennial cults was particularly appealing to these people.  There is also a strong ethic of poverty, which judges wealth as corrupt, calling up binary moral judgment, “poor-rich, good-evil, pious-hypocrite, elect-damned” (25).

According to Gager, Jesus, as well as his disciples fit in with the description of these early converts, as they themselves were outsiders.  He also mentions that in these discussions he is not concerned with the “historical Jesus” but the “images of Jesus,” how people perceived him at that time (22).  Jesus reverses the categories of insider-outsider.  He fits the model of a millennial movement prophet, condemning the old and creating a new social order.  Gager also notes that he was not entirely unique, as criticism of the temple was common at the time, which was a “typical feat of prophetic authority” and a “deliberate fulfillment of scripture” (31).  He also describes the charisma of the prophet not as a personality trait, but as a social relationship, noting the importance of millennial activity as a “communal venture” (32).  Paul’s own ministry was one of stressing the congregation over the individual, an important emphasis in a movement that sought to tear down social distinctions, and draw in those that were in liminal places, those that had the status of being outsiders (33).

Gager then takes up the issue of Christian Missions and a “theory of cognitive dissonance” (37).  The fundamental question he was addressing here was “Why… should the death of Jesus and the expectation of the kingdom have led to mission?”  He notes that a common answer to this question is that it is largely the anticipation of the end, as the community turned outward to the world.  Gager says that this is not enough and jumps into the theory of dissonance.  This theory says that proselytizing follows disconfirmation as a way of reducing dissonance.  He cites five conditions for this to take place: “deep conviction” with “relevance to action,” “have taken some important action that is difficult to undo” (such as the death of Jesus or the direct failure of statements about the end coming true), must be “concerned with the real world,” disconfirming evidence “must be recognized by individual,” and social support (40).  Gager claims that by 150 C.E. Christianity was not longer eschatological, but rather regarded such movements as threats.  He also said there might have been partial fulfillment which allowed them to move on through “sacraments, meditation, asceticism, and mystical visions” (49).

Gager went on to talk about the legitimacy of the movement and its consolidation.  He stated that in order for such a movement to survive, it must reach a settles state and energies had to be redirected to things like martyrdom, asceticism, bureaucracy, and antiheretical activities (67).  He largely talks about this last action of controlling “heretics.”  There was an establishment of the order of teaching in orthodoxy, even if it originated in other sub-movements, such as Gnosticism.  This order was Jesus to the apostles to local leaders to everyone else.  Though, Gager notes that everyone claimed to follow some version of this and those considered heretics were none other than the losers in the battle for legitimacy (78).

The main argument that follows is about the positive function of heresy.  According to Gager, heresy served to strengthen and solidify the identity of orthodox Christianity.  There were three main conflicts that served this purpose, the third of which was a heretical conflict, as it dealt with conflict between those who claimed to represent Christianity.  Those conflicts are Judaism’s “claim to represent the true Israel,” conflict with paganism over possession of “true wisdom,” and conflict among Christians of true understanding of Jesus and faith.  The closer the relationship, the more intense the conflict between the two.  Judaism and Christianity in the first century were very similar, and once they had someone resolved things they were much more distinguished from one another.  And the threat of other Christian groups was often times the most serious precisely because they were so close to one another, and virtually indistinguishable to many outsiders.  In a large way these conflicts helped early Christianity transition in the second and third centuries from a movement of opposition to the “world” to the creation of its own semi-accepted world.

In the fourth chapter, Gager gets into the meat of his argument, in which he declares the social context of early Christianity to have played a major role in its shape and success.  Within this argument he discusses the different social classes of Roman society in this time frame, including the fact that it was birth and legal status that determined social status rather than wealth, education, or ethnic origin.  The classes he discussed were the aristocracy, equestrian order, municipal bureaucracies, plebs, freedmen, and slaves.  The importance of the aristocracy was that they were in a period of transition themselves.  Though they were largely loyal to the old pagan gods, which had allowed them their social status, they also had loyalties “divided between Rome and their native lands,” allowing a new face to religion to develop.  The equestrian order administered smaller provinces and they were not limited by number or by heredity.  The importance for early Christianity was that it was people of this order that governed Judea 6-41 C.E. and 44-66 C.E.  Plebs, freedmen, and slaves were all on the lower end of the social scale, and thus more open to a future-oriented religion, as opposed to the pagan gods seen as upholding the current “social world.”  Particularly the plebs were open to Christianity as they had a hard time finding work, with so many slaves around, and thus were often idle and the economically the worst off.

Two factors were especially important for the transition to take place into legitimacy and eventual success.  The first was over the issue of wealth.  Christianity was brought closer to the center of society by saying the misuse of money rather than money altogether was “a barrier to salvation.”  The second factor was that the aristocracy was becoming more provincial and democratized and thus more open, and there were many on the lower end of the social scale desperate for change.  Christianity offered both hope for the future and a community of support.

Gager goes on to ask why Christianity not only survived but flowered when others failed to survive let alone grow.  First, he reflected on some central characteristics of early Christianity.  By mid-forth century, Christianity had become urban, non-Jewish, and largely middle class and Christian faith and Greek philosophy had been synthesized (122).  Also, Judaism and Christianity were the only exclusive religions, where adherence to them precluded recognition of the gods of Rome, which served as a strength, making their positions stronger.  For Christianity this exclusive position also set itself against the social system of Rome.  Rome’s initial toleration allowed Christian communities to develop quietly with little disruption, and Rome’s subsequent persecution make Christians in general more fervent about their new found religion.  Also, “the ‘Old Testament’ provided Christianity with a sacred Scripture of divine origin and unparalleled antiquity.  No pagan cult could make even a similar claim.”

From here Gager takes a look at three other religions at the time to explore why they did not grow like Christianity did.  The first religion Gager describes is Mithras, one of the pagan cults.  According to Gager, the demise of Mithras was as quick as its ascent.  He blames this largely on two factors.  The first was that women were excluded.  The second was that it was largely members of the army that were in it, and therefore it confirmed the social order rather than setting itself against it.  The second was not a religion, but largely functioned as such.  The philosophical schools, most notably the neoplatonic schools never really disappeared, but rather just continued under guise of Christianity.  Also, it did not continue on its own strongly as it was limited in social appeal and required some at least some education.  The third, Judaism, was the most similar to Christianity, and also was the one of the three that did survive even if it failed to grow.  First of all, Judaism had its conflicts in 70, 115, and 135 C.E. hurt it as an alternative.  And then there was a dynamic of conflict between Hellenistic Judaism, the Judaism that reached out to non-Jews, and nationalistic Judaism.  Hellenistic Judaism died as Judaism differentiated itself from Hellenistic Christianity by leaning closer to its nationalistic tendencies.

In summary of Gager’s book, both external circumstances of a changing social world and the internal factors of a future-oriented, community centered outlook allowed Christianity to develop and grow from its original millennial self.

Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity is a well-written book, which seeks to give some credit to social context for the development and growth of early Christianity.  His use of others’ anthropological work with recent developing cults, especially the work of Kenelm Burridge and Victor Turner, offers some insight into the liminal nature of early converts, but he does not make a strong case for adding much to the understanding of early Christianity.  The real insights come from looking at the social context gathered from historical data and the role that played in the dynamics of the growing movement of early Christianity.


C. Adrian Austin

Carrell, Peter R.  Jesus and the Angels: Angelology and the Christology of the Apocalypse of John, SNTSMS 95.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

About the Author

Peter Carrell received his undergraduate degree from Otago University (New Zealand) in the canonical texts of Jewish scripture and Christian scripture. He received his PhD from the University of Durham in the UK and is an ordained Anglican minister. This work is based on his PhD dissertation.

In his monograph Jesus and the Angels, Peter Carrell ventures to support one main point that he conveniently summarizes on page 226 of his book. Carrell's point is "Angelology has influenced the christology of the Apocalypse in such a way that one of its important strands is an angelomorphic christology which upholds monotheism while providing a means for Jesus to be presented in visible, glorious form to his church"(226). In other words, Jesus is presented as having the form of an angel in the Apocalypse of John but the writer of the Apocalypse does not intend to imply that Jesus is an angel.

Carrell presents this argument in a rather meticulous manner. First he references numerous apocalyptic texts in the Jewish Scriptures and Pseudepigrapha. Then, he proceeds to closely examine three sections of text in the Apocalypse, 1:13-16, 14:14, and 19:11-16. He examines these texts and uses the background statements that he makes concerning the Jewish Scriptures and parabiblical material that he examines to support his views concerning the Apocalypse of John. The book can be roughly divided into two sections, and the first section can be further divided into two sections. In order to provide athorough synopsis of the monograph, I will briefly discuss each section.

Chps 1-2
In these two chapters, Carrell introduces his argument and primarily provides an analysis of pertinent verses in three books of Jewish Scripture, Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. His analysis primarily concerns the angelic imagery in these books, but in these chapters, Carrell also explicitly refutes a previous argument made by Christopher Rowland that verses 1:26 and 8:2-4 in Ezekiel describe a type of religion in which a powerful angel is worshipped alongside God. Carrell's primary argument is that the figures in the two verses are not one and the same, and thus, Rowland's argument is invalid.

Chps 3-5
In these three chapters, Carrell presents and argues his views for the conceptions of angels in pre-Christian and early Christian times. His main arguments are as follows. An angel being described with theophanic imagery in Jewish Scriptures does not imply that the angel has divine status. If angels were worshipped before the second century CE, then this worship most likely did not have an influence on the worship of Jesus in the Apocalypse. Furthermore, just because an exalted human is described with theophanic imagery, this human is not considered to be divine, just pseudo-divine. As Carrell states, "Just as angels could appear to be human, so humans could become like angels"(111).  Also, Carrell posits that the Logos of God could be manifested as an angelic figure. Finally, he claims that even though Jesus is described as an angel in early Christian writings, Jesus should not be considered to be an angel. He merely takes on the form of an angel from time to time.

Chps 6-11
In these chapters, Carrell gets into the heart of his argument. In Chapter 6, he presents the argument that the Apocalypse is strictly monotheistic but this monotheism allows for Jesus to be worshipped with God since they both share the divine throne of God. Furthermore, Carrell argues, that the revealing angel that is mentioned numerous times in the Apocalypse works very closely with Jesus since they both provide revelatory material to the writer of the Apocalypse. In Chapter 7, Carrell closely examines Revelation 1:13-16 and concludes that even though Jesus takes on the form of a glorious angel in the Apocalypse, his divinity in the Apocalypse is unquestionable. Carrell cites the fact that the living creatures that surround the throne God bow to Jesus as evidence of His divinity (Rev 5:8). Chapter 8 also examines Revelation 1:13-16, but in this chapter he chooses to illustrate how earlier apocalyptic texts have influenced Revelation. He specifically cites imagery in Daniel and 1 Enoch.

Chapter 9 concerns Revelation 14:14 and in this section, Carrell posits that the figure mentioned here is Jesus and he states, "the angelic features of his portrayal can be understood in terms of a temporary separation from the divine throne and the temporary assumption of angelic form and function"(224). With this chapter, Carrell continues his argument that Jesus takes on the form of an angel temporarily in the Apocalypse.

In Chapter 10, Carrell presents the final section of his argument and centers his discussion on Revelation 19:11-16. His primary argument is that the Rider mentioned in these verses is clearly Jesus and this imagery reflects imagery that was previously written in the Jewish Scriptures. One specific example that he cites for this argument is that Jesus/the Rider has taken up the position of Michael as leader of God's armies Furthermore, Carrell once again continues his argument that even though Jesus is described in terms that have previously been attributed to angels, his divinity is still unquestionable. He cites the fact that Jesus is referred to as the Logos in Revelation in support of this argument.

Chapter 11 is merely a conclusion, in which Carrell reiterates his points and provides suggestion for future study in the field.

Critique and Commentary
Carrell presents his argument very well via his meticulous and numerous textual references and analyses. I did find a few problems with the work though.  Primarily, Carrell spends a large part of the first third of the book refuting claims that have been made by Christopher Rowland concerning Ezekial 8 and whether or not this work of Jewish scripture reflects a bifurcation of God.  Carrell refutes Rowland so many times that it almost becomes comical and clearly demonstrates an academic rivalry between them. Also, Carrell frequently cites the passages that he wishes to discuss in Greek and then centers his argument on grammatical issues presented in the Greek. I found this extremely difficult to follow since I cannot read Greek. Finally, it is clear that Carrell is writing this work from a Christian perspective. This is evident in the fact that in the first chapter, Carrell makes the assumption that the writer of the Apocalypse had real visions and needed an interpretative framework in which to present these visions. Overall, I think Carrell presents a very strong argument and I would recommend this work to anyone looking for a strong textual analysis of the portrayal of Jesus as an angel in the Apocalypse.


Liz Rosado

Hill, Robert Allan, An examination and critique of the understanding of the relationship between apocalypticism and gnosticism in Johannine studies (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen University Press, c1997)

Galina Movshovich

Norman Cohn, Cosmos, Chaos and the World To Come: The Ancient Roots of  Apocalyptic Faith. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 [1993].

In his book, Norman Cohn lays out a history through which cosmos and chaos, good and evil, have led a similar battle in the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and ultimately, the Christian religion.

Both the Egyptians and Mesopotamians viewed the world as something that came out of the preexisting chaos.  The existing world was itself a struggle between order and chaos.  The battle between the two took place through all sorts of “good” and “bad” gods.   

Although the exact dates are disputed, it is believed that the Iranian prophet Zoroaster lived some time between 1500 and 1200 BCE.  A priest of the traditional Iranian religion, he never sought to abolish the religion of his ancestors, but his convictions led him to proclaim that in the beginning there had only been one god.  This god, Ahura Mazda, was himself uncreated, but gave rise to every being and was himself the cause of asha, everything humanly or divinely good. This was definitely a novel concept.  The Zoroastrian scripture Avesta includes the Gathas, or 17 hymns composed by Zoroaster himself in the praise of Ahura Mazda.  Of course, following the tradition of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians before him, Zoroaster also conceded to the concept of druj, a false, antagonistic power that took on the form of Angra Mainya, a spirit of active evil.  Thus, these two “twins” embodied the same struggle as before – order versus chaos.  The world was their battlefield.  The battle between them was expressed in creation and counter creation.  Originally, Ahura Mazda created powerful beings to stand by his side and then brought the ordered, physical world into being.  Angra Mainya was tempted by this, and the limited time during which he attacked the established order was known as “the time of mixture.”  He sprinkled some chaos in all parts of the world.  For example, the water was contaminated and became salty, the soil was invaded and some became desert, and fire was defiled by the presence of smoke.  In response, Ahura Mazda created plants, animals, and humans, all whom were to carry out his fight in the struggle against Angra Mainya.  Because they were the maintainers of the order, Zoroastrianism placed a vital role upon all people.  Through thoughts and deeds that permeated all of life’s aspects, they were expected to choose good and thereby to foster the well-being of Ahura Mazda’s world. Zoroastrians were also expected to abide by purity laws and rules of daily living to protect against the weakening of order. Every human fault like envy, sloth, anger, and sickness were attributed to the enemy and known as the demons of Angra Mainya.   Before Zoroaster, the Iranians believed that only the royalty deserved paradise.  Zoroaster modified this concept – each individual would be judged independently as the good was compared to evil.  If good prevailed, the individual would dwell with “the luminaries of the sky” and if not, they were assured the dark netherworld.


Zoroaster preached the end of “limited time,” when the divine beings whom Ahura Mazda creates to be his allies win the final victory over Angra Mainya.  This transformation is called “the making wonderful,” and it will change everything.  All people who ever lived will be judged and the evil eliminated. The world will forever be a peaceful one and the supreme god’s authority remain unchallenged forever.  Zoroaster was certain that this would all occur in the near future, but with his death, his followers were to be deeply disappointed.  They consoled themselves by viewing their prophet as a messenger of Ahura Mazda and believed in a future savior, in whom Zoroaster would be reincarnated.  This “future benefactor” was known as the Saoshayant. 

In the 6th century BC, Zoroastrianism became the religion of the Iranian empire.  At that point, it was imperative for Zoroastrian eschatology to be modified because a great empire like that could “ hardly be impatient for a total transformation of the world.”   The great transformation would be put off. In this new form of Zoroastrianism, Zoroastrian priests helped the Archaemenian monarchs find an ideology suited to their needs.    

In a train of other religions, Zoroastrianism proved unique.  At its core lay the usual combat myth, but the concept of just one god was new.   Even more novel was the fact that a traditional myth had been transformed into an apocalyptic faith.  In this, dissenting individuals found hope.  They awaited a time when the existing, often oppressive order would be abolished and they would be vindicated and exalted.  Such eschatology would be assimilated by non-Zoroastrians on a grand scale. 

Norman Cohn contends that Jews were the link between the Zoroastrian religion and the apocalyptic notions of the Early Christians.  Scholars believe that a credible story about a unified people known as Israelites begins around 1000 B.C.  Cohn writes that by the time the Jews became aware of themselves as a people, they had adopted Yahweh as their patron god.  He seems to think that this god was originally subservient to another god of the Jews and that polytheism was widespread along all tiers of Israelite society.  Cohn proposes that the “Yahweh alone” movement arose among the Jews as a response to situations of fear and insecurity.  He asserts that in response to internal political upheaval and the destruction caused by the Assyrian and Babylonian empire, the Israelites needed a hopeful explanation.  The concept of “Yahweh alone” provided them with what they needed.  Perhaps all were sorrows were the result of their patron god Yahweh punishing them for their lack of devotion.  Furthermore, the Israelites came to see every tragedy they encountered as further proof of Yahweh’s richteousness.  To say that their god was punishing them for “recurring national apostacy” and actually loved them and wanted them to repent was unlike anything else encountered in the ancient world.  These were the right kinds of beliefs for a people desperately in need of encouragement.  Moreover, the Jews effused Yahweh into their everyday lives and firmly, more than anyone before them, believed that “Yahweh’s operation in the field of history was more constant… than anything that was attributed to any other god.”  And, after the exile of Jews by the Babylonians, the Israelites needed to be reassured that they were still Yahweh’s people and that they would again be rescued from their enemies.  In response, prophets, like Ezekiel and Isaiah began to promise that the present crisis would be over and that Yahweh would return them back to Judah, where the Temple would be rebuilt, the Israelites comforted forever.  Of course, all this applied only to those who devoted themselves to Yahweh alone.


“Polytheism declined and so did the tradition of prophecy. But, what was said could not be unsaid.  Confronted with the destruction of the temple, nation and monarchy, Ezekiel and Second Isaiah and their followers had found a highly effective response… that had produced imaginings of a glorious future, to be enjoyed by an elite, that were to remain a living force for centuries after the situation which originally inspired them had lost all actuality ( P. 162).”


So, how did this newly inspired Jewish apocalypse differ from the usual prophecy associated with the Old Testament? Prophecy foretold that human beings can affect their own future through obedience or disobedience, whereas the apocalyptic held that the future was already inscribed in a heavenly book, awaiting for the final judgment. To prophets, God spoke directly, but apocalyptics were usually taken to heaven by messengers, like angels. Cohn divides Jewish apocalyptic literature into two sets.  The first is composed of the Book of Daniel.  The second consists of 1Enoch and the Book of Jubilees. The themes of both are focus on the battle between good and evil, in which the righteous will triumph during the Great Judgment.

So, how did all this translate into the apocalyptic faith of Early Christians?  A number of sects like the Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees had long been brewing under the Jewish traditions.  Norman Cohn refers to the Jesus Sect as the sect of the Jews which adopted new beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth.  Most information about the life of Jesus and his followers comes from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Both Mark and the Q material portray a Jesus who was fervently hoped for the coming of the “kingdom of God” and expected its imminent arrival.  Actually, dualist eschatology was central to the mission of Jesus and his followers.

In earlier versions of combat myths, the demons always expressed their power through disaster and sickness.  Here, there was little difference. By giving Jesus the power to heal, God had in fact given him the power to wage war against the dark forces of the world. In fact, when Jesus sent out his disciples and told them to expel demons, heal, and forgive sins, he was actually viewed as extricating people from the dominion of Satan. Each success Jesus had in the field of miracles was viewed as “driving out the demons.”  And, these were not just any miracles – they were all paving the way for the coming of the kingdom. The early Christians trusted Jesus to bring relief from the rule of demons, end of all ails, and provide them with the connection to a loving, forgiving, almighty God.

In Jesus’s vision, the downtrodden and those who cared for them would be exalted in the new kingdom.  Anyone who clung to their wealth and mistreated others would not be welcomed.  Additionally, Jesus expected Jews to be at the center of this “kingdom,” while the gentiles would stream to the Temple once they recognized the truth.  Along with this prophecy, Jesus also foretold a period of tribulation that would precede the final salvation – it would be a sign that the end was near.

But, after all was said, something paradoxical occurred.  No Messiah arrived and no “kingdom” came.  Furthermore, Jesus was executed by the Romans.  And yet, somehow the Jesus sect not only survived but also developed into one of the world’s major religions.  “Applied to Jesus, the notion of a transcendent, supernatural Messiah was indeed well adapted to explain and justify the paradox of his wretched death.”  By the 1st century C.E., early Christians believed that although Jesus died, that was not the end.  His life was simply a prelude to the second coming, a period of mass resurrection and glorification that would fix all the embarrassment he suffered during his lifetime and provide his followers with the ultimate rewards.  Although stories of Jesus appearing resurrected cannot be historically proven, they began to circulate after his death and contributed to the above beliefs. 

All of the roots of Jewish apocalyptic faith existed.  Only two aspects differed a bit.  The Early Christians viewed themselves as entrusted by God in the task of proclaiming that Jesus had been crucified.  And, for those who believed that Jesus was their savior, resurrection was promised during the coming of the kingdom.  In fact, the early church saw itself as the prototype of this new kingdom, almost paving the way for the future.  As for the Jews, their fate was clear.  They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah and thereby lost their chance to be the elect and it was not them but the Christian Church who would benefit from salvation.


[last updated 14 December 2005]