Prophecy and apocalypse in the Old Testament
Pearson, Cecil Eli
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The purpose of this dissertation is to study prophecy and apocalypse in the Old Testament. They are approached as two types of literature which reveal distinctive characteristics of thought and method. Throughout the dissertation there is a careful handling of the biblical material. The prophetic and apocalyptic sections are placed in their proper literary and historical backgrounds, and then analyzed in a manner designed to clarify their significance. It is assumed that the roots of both prophecy and apocalypse may be traced back to the early beginnings of Semitic religion, that they were subject to long and gradual development, and that the spiritual nourishment which made their growth possible was drawn primarily from the soil of the Hebrew religious genius. The nature of their growth was determined by the changing times and by the personalities of the husbandmen who tilled the soil. The first two chapters outline the developments of pre-exilic and post-exilic prophecy, and the next two deal with apocalypse, while chapter five draws together the points of comparison and contrast. The early Hebrews were extremely conscious of spiritual influences about them. In order to discover truth they made use of necromancy, divination, clairvoyance, and ecstasy. As mouthpieces of the divine being, the prophets gained much from the religion of the patriarchs who had enjoyed personal relationship with God, They learned gradually how to interpret the divine will through the inner response of their own souls. Hosea, Elijah, and others of the early prophets directed attention to worship, moral principles, national affairs, and human needs. They spoke with fearless authority, and were regarded with respect. During the days when Syria was declining and Assyria was growing in power there was a golden age of prosperity in Palestine. Rapid economic and social changes introduced a host of evils against which the prophets struggled. Each one made his own contribution to religious understanding. Amos taught a practical monotheism, had little use for ritual, and established the truth that religion means righteousness; Hosea, quickened in sympathetic understanding by an unfortunate family experience, made clear the unfailing love of Yahweh; Isaiah, during and after the years when Samaria was crumbling, insisted that Judah might remain free through repentance and trust; Micah directed attention to the interests of the common man; and Jeremiah, a sturdy and sensitive soul who warned the people against impending disaster, turned away from legalism to find a basis for individual relationship with Yahweh in the New Covenant. All of these men stressed the necessity of righteousness, moral conduct, faith, and human responsibility. The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B. C. fulfilled the gloomiest expectations of the prophets. The temple was broken down. National sovereignty was brought to an end. Possibly one fourth of the people were carried away into captivity. The exiles in Babylon were a transplanted people, but not slaves. They became the founders of the New Judaism which laid emphasis upon piety and the Law. Many Jews migrated to Egypt where they built a temple. Jerusalem continued to be a religious center, even though the people there were poor and discouraged. In 538 B. C. Cyrus conquered Babylon, in accord with a liberal policy he decreed that the Jewish exiles be released. Many returned, and the temple was finally completed in 516 B. C. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and instituted a religious reform. Ezra followed him. These men were interested in racial purity, temple worship, and the Law. The exilic and post-exilic prophets stressed righteousness and universalism. Deutero-Isaiah brought a message of hope. He believed that all nations would learn to worship the one God through the faithfulness and sufferings of Israel. Four psalms reflect this same prophetic confidence. Zechariah wanted the temple rebuilt in order that the favor of Yahweh might be extended to Israel and to the world. Malachi, being convinced that Yahweh would fulfill his promises only as the people were faithful in worship and in righteousness, endeavored to revive a listless faith. Isaiah 19 describes how even the Egyptians and the Assyrians will come to the God of Israel, The author of Jonah was the last of the prophetic line. He protested against religious pride and narrow nationalism, He demonstrated that Israel was commissioned to proclaim a universal message of righteousness and repentance, Eschatology means "the doctrine of the last things," and apocalypse means "the revelation of the last things." Eschatological beliefs seem to have had their beginning in the nature of Yahweh as a war god who displayed his power in natural phenomena. The Hebrews borrowed little from Egyptian or Babylonian sources, but searched within themselves for an answer to the double challenge of oppression and aspiration. Long before any biblical material was written down the people were telling stories of how Yahweh delivered the righteous. Noah, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, and David are some of the examples. The greatest demonstration of Yahweh's power was in the unforgettable Red Sea crossing. Ancient poetry, such as the songs of Moses and Deborah and the oracles of Balaam, illustrate a faith in the intervention of Yahweh. The covenant relationship led the people to feel that Yahweh was pledged to protect them. Even though they might sin, he was merciful. Four escatological conceptions subject to gradual growth were the day of Yahweh, against which Amos and Hose a warned the people and to which Zephaniah gave much emphasis; the remnant, out of which grew the faith that in every crisis some would always he saved; the messianic hope, based upon a desire for the restoration of the kingdom; and punishment of the nations, seen clearly in Nahum and Obadiah. Ezekiel marks the historical separation of prophecy and apocalypse. Before the fall of Jerusalem he taught a prophetic message of doom and repentance. Afterward, by stressing the absolute nature of Yahweh, the certainty of restoration, hope for the individual, and blessings through ritual, he gave a great impetus to apocalypse. At least eight apocalyptists were the spiritual descendants of Ezekiel. The author of Isaiah 13-23 taught that the nations would be destroyed and Israel spared; Haggai promised great blessings for Israel through divine intervention as soon as the temple was rebuilt; Trito-Isaiah looked for the destruction of evil and a new state of blessedness; Joel was inspired to write about the day of Yahweh by his observation of a terrible locust plague; the author of Micah 4-7 stressed the remnant, the messiah, and the final triumph of Israel after sin was taken away; the author of Zephariah 9-14 bitterly denounced the enemies of Israel, particularly the Greeks, anticipated the early establishment of a messianic kingdom, and declared that anyone venturing to prophesy should be put to death; the unknown writer of Isaiah 24-27 dealt with the power of Yahweh, judgment, restoration, and immortality; and the author of Daniel wrote to encourage the Jews during days of crisis by assuring them that Yahweh controls history, delivers the faithful, speaks through his angels, establishes righteousness, and promises immortality. The rise of the Greeks, the threat of Hellenism, and the terrific persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes called forth the last apocalyptic writings. The book of Daniel appeared during the Maccabean rebellion. In conclusion it may be noted that the prophets and the apocalyptists were alike in that they taught the supremacy of Yahweh, the destruction of evil, and hope for the future; but they differed radically in the methods which they employed. The prophets depended upon direct relationship with Yahweh, were concerned with immediate human problems, insisted on standards of moral conduct, taught that all the world would learn to worship the God of the Hebrews, and believed in progress through human effort guided by divine inspiration. The apocalyptists, on the other hand, looked to the ultimate end and were not greatly concerned with the present. They believed that evil would be destroyed by a cataclysmic shaking of the universe and a new age of blessedness established for Israel through the limitless power of Yahweh. Since he seemed transcendent to them they worshipped him through ritual. The apocalyptists contributed more to an understanding of the messiah, the Kingdom of God, and immortality than did the prophets. Prophecy flourished during days of optimism when there was hope for the nation. Apocalypse arose in times of crisis when human effort seemed futile. Prophecy was often recorded in direct, spoken, poetic form following the introduction, "Thus saith Yahweh." Apocalypse was usually anonymous or pseudonymous, indirect, and written in narrative form in accord with the expression, "And it shall come to pass." Neither prophecy nor apocalypse ceased with the Old Testament. This dissertation should furnish some background for a study of their further development during the intertestamental and the New Testament periods.
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