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Article Bibliographical Information: Collins, J.J. “Jewish Apocalyptic against Its Hellenistic near Eastern Environment” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 220, Memorial Issue: Essays in Honor of George Ernest Wright. (Dec 1975), 27-36.

Collins’ article is lucid in his articulation of the phenomena of apocalypticism in the Near East from the Persian period forward. Prior to endeavoring toward a discussion of Jewish apocalyptic per se, Collins reviews some of the developments in previous discussion from Gunkel through Hanson regarding the influence of the ancient Near Eastern environment upon Semitic thought, especially with regard to apocalypticism. He underscored the lack of attention to the post-exilic period in this regard and also drew out the implications of Alexander’s conquest(s) for the proliferation of ideas among ancient peoples (26).

Collins identified a strand of shared experience among diverse peoples in the Hellenistic Near East that in some sense relates the apocalyptic ideologies which arose, namely, that most of the ancient peoples (quite independently of one another) shared “the idea of the kingship of the national deity” over against the new socio-political circumstances brought about by the advent of the Greeks and then Romans in the Hellenistic age (26). Essentially, he argues that various trajectories within broadly apocalyptic motifs arise from this conflict among varying peoples (e.g. Persian, Egyptian, Jewish).

He argues “[t]he most obvious result of the conquests of Alexander was the demise of the native monarchies in the various Near Eastern states” (28). This new state of “disorientation” of the deposition of native monarchs gave rise to various explosions or uprisings of native peoples in resistance (the Jews were only one of several peoples who resisted Hellenistic rule). Collins aptly points out that kingly figures were aroused in the future hopes of the colonized (my use of the term not Collins’). Among the Egyptian in the Demotic Chronicle, during the early Ptolemaic period, he quotes: “It is a man from heracleopolis who will rule after the Ionians. “Rejoice, O Prophet of Harsaphis.” That means: The prophet of Harsaphis rejoices after the Ionians. For a ruler has arisen in Heracleopolis” (Citing C.C. McCown, “Hebrew and Egyptian Apocalyptic Literature,” Harvard Theological Review (1925) 18:357-411]. This and many other examples offered by Collins shapes the contours of a common resistance motif among Near Eastern peoples during the period in which, in their unique and subtly differing ways, they projected a king-deliverer or “savior” of sorts to restore the centrality of the native monarch/peoples.

Collins’ also cogently argued that other peoples resisted the rule of the “colonizer” by means of desecrating religious icons (e.g. statues in Hellenized temples) which he points out “were prompted by religio-nationalistic motives rather than desire for booty” (28). Thus, he concludes that before the Maccabean period, “…throughout the Near East from Egypt to Persia, Hellenistic rule was met by national resistance. Messianism, as the desire for the restoration of native monarchy, was by no means a peculiarity of the Jews but was a feature of the entire Near East in the Hellenistic period” (29). He then showed a precedence for a “four-kingdom” motif (similar to that envisioned in Daniel) envisioning (always) the Greeks as the fourth kingdom, which would be replaced either by the Roman Empire (Aemilius Sura), the kingdom of God (Daniel) or a new millennium (Bahman Yasht) [ibid.]. The schema then must have been “consciously borrowed” (29) though it took on various indigenous national features in each independent case.

Next, Daniel is proposed as the “best clue for the social function of this literature” (31). This is the case primarily because the “elite” or wise class intends for the apocalyptic to inform the masses. He states: “In the context of Daniel, it was clearly intended to inspire resistance to the Hellenistic king, a purpose shared by such non-Jewish works as the Demotic Chronicle, Potter’s Oracle, aand Bahman Yasht” (31, emphasis added). Moreover, the phenomena itself of Jewish apocalyptic “…grew out of a situation of political alienation brought about by the loss of national independence in the post-exilic period” (31-32). Two points he raise further relate to the pesher mode of interpretation that often have been overlooked: 1) an indirect (or concealed) projection of scriptural interpretation into eschatological terms in order to “reapply the language of the older scripture without giving a direct commentary” (32). Now, in part I have interpreted Collins on this point, but I think it a safe assessment to parallel this to recent postcolonial-critical terms, namely, the rise of an ambivalent discourse against the dominant discourse (of the colonizer) which is couched in religious terms and yet is thoroughly religious and thoroughly political simultaneously. Or a reading of one’s native scriptures and interpreting it in such a way to describe present events in eschatological terms. That seems to be Collins’ argument. His second point argues “the interpretation of scripture is part of a broader phenomenon of prophecy by interpretation” (32). Hence, revelation is mediated by means of interpretation as opposed to directly. That is, Daniel’s prophecy is one mediated through interpretation of revelation via the angelic being (cf. also 1 Enoch).

In passing he makes an interesting comment that already is haunting the crevices of my mind: “[pointing back to the oracles of nechepso and Petosiris (pointing back to the Chaldean astrology)] Especially, in the latter work astral phenomena are repeatedly interpreted with reference to political upheavals” (32, emphasis added).

In conclusion, Collins’ sees apocalyptic as a phenomenon in its own right with two dimensions: 1) continuity and direct influence from other Hellenistic Near Eastern motifs and ideas, and [yet] 2) that they are not merely borrowed from other peoples, but have “a point of contact in the native tradition” (34). Further he states of the messianism: “The expectation of an ideal future king in both Egypt and Judah in the Hellenistic age is due, not to influence in either direction, but to the loss of native kingship in both countries” (34). Thus, the rise of the common apocalyptic (messianic) Zeitgeist “was the demise of national monarchies…[which] caused disruption in the traditional order and therefore led to a loss of meaningfulness and to alienation” (34).

Assessment/Reflection: I have sought to capture the essence or highlights of this profound work by weaving salient quotes from the article in order to underscore Collins’ argument. For such a brief article, Collins traversed a vast amount of terrain. From a postcolonial standpoint, Collins’ is a veritable goldmine. The surplus offers a cogent account in the Near East during the time leading up to that of the NT of the matrix of socio-political and religio-political resistance to oppressors of the indigenous peoples by means of apocalypticism. It is difficult to see how, through say Simon Samuel’s motif of ambivalent hybrid discourse, the apocalyptic phenomenon is not by its very nature postcolonial. Moreover, his article raises the questions of messianisms evidently present throughout the Near East, this is a point that further work could really draw out in reconstructing the milieu of the NT documents and bear import in the way their authors construct Jesus apocalyptically.

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