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The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature

, 1998
ISBN: 9780802843715

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Apocalyptic literature evokes an imaginative world that is set in deliberate counterpoint to the experiential world of the present. Apocalypticism thrives especially in times of crisis, and it functions by offering a resolution of the relevant crisis, not in practical terms but in terms of imagination and faith.

The Apocalyptic Imagination by John Collins is one of the most widely praised studies of Jewish apocalyptic literature ever written. And this second edition of Collins’s study represents a complete updating and rewriting of the original work. Especially noteworthy is the chapter on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which now takes into account all of the recently published texts. Other chapters discuss apocalypse as a literary genre, explore the phenomenon and function of apocalypticism in the ancient world, study a wide range of individual apocalyptic texts, and examine the apocalyptic character of early Christianity.

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Top Highlights

“the presence of an angel who interprets the vision or serves as guide on the otherworldly journey” (Page 5)

“If a message has to be communicated in the face of distractions or ‘noise,’ the communicator must use ‘redundance’ by repeating the message several times in slightly different ways. In this way the basic structure of the message gets through. No one formulation exhausts the total message. This use of redundance is crucially important for our understanding of apocalyptic language. It implies that the apocalypses are not conveying a ‘literal’ or univocal truth that can be expressed precisely in one exclusive way. Rather, they share the poetic nature of myth and allude symbolically to a fullness of meaning that can never be reduced to literalness.” (Pages 107–108)

“In the New Testament the Son of Man is repeatedly associated with the angels (Matt 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 13:27, 41; Luke 9:26). In Rev 14:14 ‘one like a son of man’ appears, seated on a cloud, who is evidently an angel and is not identified with Christ. This development of the tradition is most readily intelligible if the expression was originally understood to refer to an angel.” (Page 104)

“it is the most complex of the tales and the one which has the most obvious affinities with the apocalyptic visions.” (Page 90)

“discourse or dialogue and occasionally by a heavenly book” (Page 5)

A very useful guide to the Jewish apocalypses and related literature... One will not find a better or more up-to-date survey of this material, which expresses a way of thinking that was so influential on formative Christianity, than in Collins's book.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

This is an updated and rewritten edition of a highly acclaimed book that appeared in 1984. In it Collins expertly explains the apocalyptic genre and then examines the Enoch literature, Daniel, various oracles, testaments, and apocalypses, as well as the Qumran material. In the final chapter he addresses the presence of such thinking in early Christianity. Though this is primarily a study of literature, the various pieces are placed within their historical contexts in order to show how they are imaginative responses to events in history. Collins argues that apocalyptic material did not effect change in history, but offered a way to deal with it in a manner that is both courageous and faithful. The book provides important information about an important yet little known corpus of material. It is a valuable resource.

The Bible Today

  • Title: The Apocalyptic Imagination
  • Author: John J. Collins
  • Series: Eerdmans Biblical Resources Series
  • Publisher: Eerdmans
  • Publication Date: 1998
  • Pages: 350

John J. Collins was a professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Chicago from 1991 until his arrival at Yale Divinity School in 2000. He has published widely on the subjects of apocalypticism, wisdom, Hellenistic Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. His books include the commentary on Daniel in theHermeneia seriesThe Apocalyptic Imagination, and Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora. He has served as editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature and as president of both the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature.


5 ratings

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  1. Ian Carmichael
    3rd edition now in print. Any delivery time for Logos?
  2. Allen Browne

    Allen Browne


  3. Donovan Neufeldt
    I had to read this book cover to cover for my apocalyptic literature class. It is written from an extremely liberal bias, and assumes that Daniel and Revelation are basically no different than the pseudepigrapha. He things Daniel was written around the time of the maccabean revolt, and that the stories and prophecies were made up after the fact... I guess God incarnate got it wrong when He assumed Daniel was a real historical person foretelling future events. There are a ton of over-generalizing statements and assumptions that are wrong or misleading. The audacity of some people to stand over the word of God and act like the judge of it is really astonishing to me, especially when they call themselves Christians.
  4. Matthew K.

    Matthew K.


  5. Glenn Crouch

    Glenn Crouch


    This is a good technical coverage of Apocalyptic Literature - and I especially enjoyed the Author's coverage of Enoch and other Pseudopigrapha. I am more conservative then the Author, and thus don't except all his assumptions about the Book of Daniel - however I did like that the Author at least gave some reasons for why he doesn't accept the Conservative approach rather (as far too many do) just being dismissive. I also found his examination of the Apocalyptic in the Early Christian Sphere quite enlightening and gave me a fair bit to think about - once again I have a far more conservative view to the Gospels than the Author, but he does help to paint a better picture of First Century Christianity. His examination of Revelation was good, but I think a little short - I would've appreciate a bit more coverage of the imagery - but what the Author does include and how he compares to Jewish Apocalyptic is most interesting. Not a book for the beginner, but a worthwhile edition to the Library of any serious Bible Student - and I found the book to be a pleasant read :)
  6. Jonathan Romig


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