Tag Archives: Little Apocalypse

Two Mini-Apocalypses, Greek and Biblical & A Common Mythic Grammar

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before….

There was once a very pious man who lived in a city that had been taken over by very wicked people.

Messengers from the deity came to visit that pious man and were very impressed with his hospitality toward them even though he did not know they were divine persons on a divine mission. These messengers also witnessed the wickedness of those around him.

So the divine agents stepped in to help that pious man in his troubles with the wicked ones

First, they (the messengers) warned the pious man that the deity was going to destroy all those wicked folk.

Meanwhile the wicked people not only ignored the warning that they also heard but continued in their wickedness, including forbidden sexual behaviour.

The pious man was so pious that he even tried to warn the wicked doers that they were about to be destroyed but they ignored him.

Finally, all the wicked perish.

Further destruction awaits those who ignore a specific divine interdiction.

I dare say most readers would have recognized the story of Lot, his daughters and wife, and the people of Sodom.

Ancient persons more familiar with Homeric epics would have recognized the story of Odysseus’s homecoming.

I should emphasize that I am not arguing for influence between the Odyssey and the biblical account, nor a common source. Rather, I suggest that as both accounts share a considerable number of motifs, a similar “grammar” underlies each myth.

(Louden, 96)

In Genesis 19 we read how Lot welcomed two strangers not realizing they were in fact angels. As we know, like Abraham before him he passed the hospitality test. Odysseus was similarly tested by a divinity in disguise:

Athene now appeared upon the scene. She had disguised herself as a young shepherd, with all the delicate beauty that marks the sons of kings. A handsome cloak was folded back across her shoulders, her feet shone white between the sandal-straps, and she carried a javelin in her hand. She was a welcome sight to Odysseus, who came forward at once and accosted her eagerly. ‘Good-day to you, sir,’ he said. ‘Since you are the first person I have met in this place, I hope to find no enemy in you, but the saviour of my treasures here and of my very life; and so I pray to you as I should to a god and kneel at your feet. (Odyssey, Book 13 Rieu translation)

The goddess Athene repeatedly helps and advises Odysseus in order for him to be able to reclaim his household from the evil suitors who have taken over everything of his. The suitors were all earnestly hoping to have Odysseus wife Penelope, but in the meantime they slept with Odysseus’s maidservants, wasting his resources, and acting violently towards strangers and guests, so that their “insolence and violent acts cry out to heaven.”

The evil suitors merely laughed at the warnings of their imminent doom. read more »

Failed prophecies — forgotten or reinterpreted?

Just a quick thought. I am still attempting to get a handle on how scholars treat the “Little Apocalypse” of Mark 13 and its counterparts in Matthew and Luke. Most recently I have been reading Theissen’s attempts to link it with the “Caligula crisis” of 40 ce.

I hear often enough that it matters not that the prophecy never “came true” as expected, since religious groups are never put off by their failures but always reinterpret them. They maintain their faith in them, we are told, and set them for another time in the near future.

But that’s not quite true. I know that the Seventh Day Adventists and other groups have a long list of failed prophecies that they have swept under their carpets. They are not reinterpreted. They go out of print and into the black hole of forgotten details that “never happened.”

What is reinterpreted is some classic or canonical prophecy that is an established pillar of their texts or prophetic visions. So today religious groups continue to reinterpret Mark 13 and Revelation in the light of whatever is happening today. But when they get too daring and say something that is proved false, that prophetic interpretation is dropped. The European Common Market was to emerge in 1972 or 1975 as the great Beast power at one point. That is forgotten, but Revelation and Daniel still hold centre stage for these prophecy buffs.

But in the case of Mark 13, this was a new text. If it was created in 40 ce as Theissen and others argue, then why on earth was it not as quietly dropped from view as a prophecy that 1972 or 1975 was to mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation II? It did not have the canonical status to have any staying power.

No doubt there is much I don’t understand about this. But I do not understand the argument usually offered. Why was it kept in the church if it indeed was a predicting an imminent threat to the Temple in Jerusalem in either 40 or 70 ce?

I have other suspicions about the prophecy, but I also want to know if there really is something I’m missing with the standard rationalization.

I just don't get it!
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Who sees the Son of Man coming, according to Mark’s gospel?

Mark 13:25-26:

Quote:
and the stars of the heaven shall be falling, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in clouds with much power and glory,

Often noncanonical (and sometimes canonical) Jewish literature of the Second Temple period equates stars of heaven with angels. Powers of heaven are certainly angelic powers.

So is Mark here saying that it is these angels who will see the Son of Man coming etc?

What does the Greek in this case suggest re the ones who see?

When they saw the Son of Man coming in the clouds

Imagine the author of the Gospel of Mark wrote about the coming of the Son of Man in clouds from the same perspective as frequently found amongst the Jewish Wisdom, Prophetic and History writings. (Leave aside for this discussion the perspective of the Deuteronomist, who on other grounds appears to have spawned a separate tradition about the deity anyway — see posts on Margaret Barker’s work for details.)

Last time I posted something here without taking time to check my bookshelves to remind myself what “the professional scholars” had written I got thoroughly roasted. That was a good, if lazy, way to be brought up to speed. Now my excuse is that I am separated by thousands of kilometers from my library, and am likely to remain so for some months yet. But what’s a blog for if not to toss out off the cuff thoughts anyway? Besides, I know the following interpretation is by no means novel. But it is one that I have been a long time refusing to accept — till about now.

What I’m moving towards is the view that Mark’s depiction of the coming of the Son of Man in clouds was intended to be as metaphoric as his description of the stars falling from heaven. Further, when he spoke of everyone “seeing” this advent, he really implied a “spiritual” seeing just as surely as he meant the miracles of Jesus to be interpreted as a restoring of spiritual insight.

Let’s imagine the same author did not call Peter “Satan” because he got his timing wrong over exactly when Jesus would act apocalyptically as in returning with angelic hosts and burning up the old physical world before inaugurating a new cosmic order, but because he was opposed to the very idea root and branch, totally, absolutely. Mark’s Jesus did not tell Peter, “Yes yes, you are right, I will come as a conquering hero, but not just yet — I have to make atonement for sins first, THEN I can do the world-conquering thing, you Satan you!” read more »

The little apocalypse of Mark 13 – historical or creative prophecy?

The “little apocalypse” or “Olivet prophecy” of Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21 is often cited as a key passage for dating the gospels. The idea is to match the events described in this passage with what seems to be the best fit historically.

Others have questioned whether we are right to attempt to match the specific events listed (wars, famines, etc) to historical occurrences at all. See, for example, eklektekuria’s comment on another post here.

Picking up from that latter thought I have listed below the OT quotations, allusions and influences on Mark 13 as analyzed by Howard Clark Kee in his chapter titled The Function of Scriptural Quotations and Allusions in Mark 11-16 (1975).

Red are the quotations

Purple are the allusions

Blue are the influences

I also think it is very significant that a common literary trope in epics and novels was to precede a climactic scene involving a hero’s contact with death with a detailed point by point divine prophecy. This was the case with Odysseus just prior to a crisis in which he was to lose his entire crew before reaching his final destination (one comparative summary of this here). Sibyl likewise delivered a step by step prophecy to Aeneas before he descended into Hades. Hellenistic romances (popular novellas such as the story of Jason and the Argo) often included the same. (Would give more examples from the turn of the century era but I’m away from my library at the moment.)

Question: If this passage that obviously refers to the historical destruction of Jerusalem is nested so profusely in literary allusion and with scant attention to anything necessarily drawn from historical memory, would not such a “literary fabrication” suggest a date of composition that is long after the event, when personal historical memories were no longer?

Another question, and one implied by Kee: The extent of literary allusion in this passage is comparable to the OT allusions that make up the Passion Narrative and the preceding chapters 11-12. This would argue for this whole section, 11-16, being the creative work of the one mind. Is it not special pleading to suggest that the literary allusions in Mark 13 are evidence of a separate composition that was squeezed in to the gospel with some minor editing here and there?

Mark 13

[1] And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!

[2] And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Micah 3:12 Zion shall be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.

Jeremiah 26:6, 18 And I will make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. . . . Zion shall be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.

[3] And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
[4] Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?

Daniel 12:7 (LXX) And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, When will be the end of the wonders which thou has mentioned?

Daniel 12:6; 8:19 And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long shall the fulfilment of these wonders be?” . . . . And he said, “Look, I am making known to you what shall happen in the latter time of the indignation: for at the appointed time the end shall be.”

Daniel 12:8 (LXX) Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?”

[5] And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
[6] For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Isaiah 45:18 (LXX) Thus saith the Lord that made the heaven, this God that created the earth, . . . I am the Lord, and there is none beside.

Daniel 7:8, 11, 20, 25 . . . and, behold, there were eyes as the eyes of a man in this horn, and a mouth speaking great things. . . . I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which that horn spoke . . . . and concerning it ten horns that were in its head, and the other that came up, and rooted up some of the former, which had eyes, and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was bolder than the rest. . . . And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High . . . .

Isaiah 14:13 But thou saidst in thine heart, I will go up to heaven, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven: I will sit on a lofty mount, on the lofty mountains toward the north

Daniel 8:10; 11:36 . . . and it magnified itself to the host of heaven; and there fell to the earth some of the host of heaven and of the stars, and they trampled on them . . . And he shall do according to his will, and the king shall exalt and magnify himself against every god, and shall speak great swelling words, and shall prosper until the indignation shall be accomplished: for it is coming to an end.

[7] And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.

Daniel 11 11:1-45

1QM The War Scroll

Daniel 2:29, 45 (LXX Th) O king: thy thoughts upon thy bed arose as to what must come to pass hereafter: and he that reveals mysteries has made known to thee what must come to pass. . . . the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter

Daniel 2:28, 29 (LXX), 30, 45 But there is a God in heaven revealing mysteries, and he has made known to king Nabuchodonosor what things must come to pass in the last days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are as follows, O king: thy thoughts upon thy bed arose as to what must come to pass hereafter: and he that reveals mysteries has made known to thee what must come to pass. Moreover, this mystery has not been revealed to me by reason of wisdom which is in me beyond all others living, but for the sake of making known the interpretation to the king, that thou mightest know the thoughts of thine heart. . . . the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter: and the dream is true, and the interpretation thereof sure.

Compare the language of eschatological mystery in Daniel 9:26; 11:27 (LXX) And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one shall be destroyed, and there is no judgment in him: and he shall destroy the city and the sanctuary with the prince that is coming: they shall be cut off with a flood, and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed he shall appoint the city to desolations. . . . .  And as for both the kings, their hearts are set upon mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper; for yet the end is for a fixed time.

[8] For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.

Isaiah 19:2 I will set Egyptians against Egyptians; everyone will fight against his brother, and everyone against his neighbour, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.

2 Chronicles 15:6 So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity.

Daniel 11:25; 2:40 And his strength and his heart shall be stirred up against the king of the south with a great force; and the king of the south shall engage in war with a great and very strong force; but his forces shall not stand, for they shall devise plans against him . . . . and a fourth kingdom, which shall be strong as iron: as iron beats to powder and subdues all things, so shall it beat to powder and subdue.

Sibylline Oracles 3:635 Woe, woe to thee, O Crete! To thee shall come A very painful stroke, and terribly Shall the Eternal sack thee; and again Shall every land behold thee black with smoke, Fire ne’er shall leave thee, but thou shalt be burned. (See the context for similar, here.)

4 Ezra 13:31 And one shall undertake to fight against another, one city against another, one place against another, one people against another, and one realm against another.

First Enoch 99:4 (Typo for 97:5? In those days the nations shall be overthrown) See the text here.

2 Baruch 27:7; 70:3-8 (27:6 And in the fifth part famine and the withholding of rain.) And in the sixth part earthquakes and terrors . . . .   And they shall hate one another, And provoke one another to fight, And the mean shall rule over the honorable, And those of low degree shall be extolled above the famous. And the many shall be delivered into the hands of the few, And those who were nothing shall rule over the strong, And the poor shall have abundance beyond the rich, And the impious shall exalt themselves above the heroic. And the wise shall be silent, And the foolish shall speak, Neither shall the thought of men be then confirmed, Nor the counsel of the mighty, Nor shall the hope of those who hope be confirmed. And when those things which were predicted have come to pass, Then shall confusion fall upon all men, And some of them shall fall in battle, And some of them shall perish in anguish,  And some of them shall be destroyed by their own. Then the Most High peoples whom He has prepared before, And they shall come and make war with the leaders that shall then be left. And it shall come to pass that whoever gets safe out of the war shall die in the earthquake, And whoever gets safe out of the earthquake shall be burned by the fire, And whoever gets safe out of the fire shall be destroyed by famine.

Isaiah 7:21(?); 13:13; 14:30; 19:22 Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger. . . . . And the firstborn of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety: and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant. . . . . And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: . . . .

Jeremiah 23:19 Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked.

Ezra 5:12 But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.

Haggai 2:6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it [is] a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry [land];

Zechariah 14:4 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which [is] before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, [and there shall be] a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

[9] But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.

Daniel 7:25 And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High

[10] And the gospel must first be published among all nations.

Zechariah 2:10; 14:16 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord. . . . . And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

[11] But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.

Exodus 4:1 And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.

Numbers 22:35 And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak.

Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.

[12] Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death.

Micah 7:2, 6 (Targ) The good [man] is perished out of the earth: and [there is] none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. . . .  For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies [are] the men of his own house.

[13] And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Daniel 11:32 And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.

4 Ezra 5:9; 6:25 And salt waters shall be found in the sweet, and all friends shall conquer one another; then shall reason hide itself, and wisdom shall withdraw into its chamber, . . . . And it shall be that whoever remains after all that I have foretold to you shall himself be saved and shall see my salvation and the end of my world.

Jubilees 23:19 And they shall strive one with another, the young with the old, and the old with the young, the poor with the rich, the lowly with the great, and the beggar with the prince, on account of the law and the covenant; for they have forgotten commandment, and covenant, and feasts, and months, and Sabbaths, and jubilees, and all judgments.

2 Baruch 70:3 And they shall hate one another, and provoke one another to fight . . .

See Daniel 11 and 12

[14] But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:

Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 . . . and in the midst of the week my sacrifice and drink-offering shall be taken away: and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolations; and at the end of time an end shall be put to the desolation. . . .  And seeds shall spring up out of him, and they shall profane the sanctuary of strength, and they shall remove the perpetual sacrifice, and make the abomination desolate. . . . And from the time of the removal of the perpetual sacrifice, when the abomination of desolation shall be set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

1 Maccabees 1:54 Now the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side

Genesis 19:17 And it came to pass when they brought them out, that they said, Save thine own life by all means; look not round to that which is behind, nor stay in all the country round about, escape to the mountain, lest perhaps thou be overtaken together with them.

[15] And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house:
[16] And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
[17] But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

4 Ezra 6:21 Infants a year old shall speak with their voices, and women with child shall give birth to premature children at three and four months, and these shall live and dance.

[18] And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.
[19] For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.

Daniel 12:1 (LXX-Th) And at that time Michael the great prince shall stand up, that stands over the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of tribulation, such tribulation as has not been from the time that there was a nation on the earth until that time: at that time thy people shall be delivered, even every one that is written in the book.

Joel 2:2-3 for a day of darkness and gloominess is near, a day of cloud and mist: a numerous and strong people shall be spread upon the mountains as the morning; there has not been from the beginning one like it, and after it there shall not be again even to the years of many generations. Before them is a consuming fire, and behind them is a flame kindled: the land before them is as a paradise of delight, and behind them a desolate plain: and there shall none of them escape.

First Enoch 38:2; 39:6 When righteousness shall be manifested in the presence of the righteous themselves, who will be elected for their good works duly weighed by the Lord of spirits; and when the light of the righteous and the elect, who dwell on earth, shall be manifested; where will the habitation of sinners be? And where the place of rest for those who have rejected the Lord of spirits? It would have been better for them, had they never been born. . . . Countless shall be the number of the holy and the elect, in the presence of God for ever and for ever.


[20] And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.

Daniel 12:6-7 And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, When will be the end of the wonders which thou has mentioned? And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, and he lifted up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever, that it should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all these things.

First Enoch 80:2 Then I looked on all which was written, and understood all, reading the book and everything written in it, all the works of man;

4 Ezra 4:26 He answered me and said, “If you are alive, you will see, and if you live long, you will often marvel, because the age is hastening swiftly to its end.

2 Baruch 20:1 Therefore, behold! the days come, And the times shall hasten more than the former, And the seasons shall speed on more than those that are past, And the years shall pass more quickly than the present (years).

[21] And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
[22] For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 (LXX) And if there arise within thee a prophet, or one who dreams a dream, and he gives thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass which he spoke to thee, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye know not; ye shall not hearken to the words of that prophet, or the dreamer of that dream, because the Lord thy God tries you, to know whether ye love your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Linked verbally with Daniel 11:36-45 And he shall do according to his will, and the king shall exalt and magnify himself against every god, and shall speak great swelling words, and shall prosper until the indignation shall be accomplished: for it is coming to an end. And he shall not regard any gods of his fathers, nor the desire of women, neither shall he regard any deity: for he shall magnify himself above all. And he shall honour the god of forces on his place: and a god whom his fathers knew not he shall honour with gold, and silver, and precious stones, and desirable things. And he shall do thus in the strong places of refuge with a strange god, and shall increase his glory: and he shall subject many to them, and shall distribute the land in gifts. And at the end of the time he shall conflict with the king of the south: and the king of the north shall come against him with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and they shall enter into the land: and he shall break in pieces, and pass on: and he shall enter into the land of beauty, and many shall fail: but these shall escape out of his hand, Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. And he shall stretch forth his hand over the land; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. And he shall have the mastery over the secret treasures of gold and silver, and over all the desirable possessions of Egypt, and of the Libyans and Ethiopians in their strongholds. But rumors and anxieties out of the east and from the north shall trouble him; and he shall come with great wrath to destroy many. 45 And he shall pitch the tabernacle of his palace between the seas in the holy mountain of beauty: but he shall come to his portion, and there is none to deliver him.

Daniel 4:2-3 (LXX) I saw a vision, and it terrified me, and I was troubled on my bed, and the visions of my head troubled me. And I made a decree to bring in before me all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.

[23] But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
[24] But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,

Isaiah 13:10; 34:4 For the stars of heaven, and Orion, and all the host of heaven, shall not give their light; and it shall be dark at sunrise, and the moon shall not give her light. . . . And all the powers of the heavens shall melt, and the sky shall be rolled up like a scroll: and all the stars shall fall like leaves from a vine, and as leaves fall from a fig-tree.

Ezekiel 32:7, 8 And I will veil the heavens when thou art extinguished, and will darken the stars thereof; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bodies that give light in the sky, shall be darkened over thee, and I will bring darkness upon the earth, saith the Lord God.

Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15 Before them the earth shall be confounded, and the sky shall be shaken: the sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their light. . . . The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord come. . . .  The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their light.

4 Ezra 5:4 But if the Most High grants that you live, you shall see it thrown into confusion after the third period; and the sun shall suddenly shine forth at night, and the moon during the day.

Ascension of Moses 10:5 And the horns of the sun shall be broken and he shall be turned into darkness; And the moon shall not give her light, and be turned wholly into blood. And the circle of the stars shall be disturbed.

[25] And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

Isaiah 34:4 And all the powers of the heavens shall melt, and the sky shall be rolled up like a scroll: and all the stars shall fall like leaves from a vine, and as leaves fall from a fig-tree.

[26] And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

Daniel 7:13-14 I beheld in the night vision, and, lo, one coming with the clouds of heaven as the Son of man, and he came on to the Ancient of days, and was brought near to him.  And to him was given the dominion, and the honour, and the kingdom; and all nations, tribes, and languages, shall serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.

Isaiah 19:1 Behold, the Lord sits on a swift cloud, and shall come to Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and their heart shall faint within them.

[27] And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Zechariah 2:6, 10; Ho, ho, flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I will gather you from the four winds of heaven, saith the Lord, . . . . Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Sion: for, behold, I come, and will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.

Isaiah 27:13 And it shall come to pass in that day that they shall blow the great trumpet, and the lost ones in the land of the Assyrians shall come, and the lost ones in Egypt, and shall worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

Deuteronomy 30:4 If thy dispersion be from one end of heaven to the other, thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and thence will the Lord thy God take thee.

Zechariah 14:5 And the valley of my mountains shall be closed up, and the valley of the mountains shall be joined on to Jasod, and shall be blocked up as it was blocked up in the days of the earthquake, in the days of Ozias king of Juda; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with him.

Isaiah 27:12; 11:10 And it shall come to pass in that day that God shall fence men off from the channel of the river as far as Rhinocorura; but do ye gather one by one the children of Israel. . . . And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall arise to rule over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust, and his rest shall be glorious.

Ezekiel 32:9f; 39:27 And I will provoke to anger the heart of many people, when I shall lead thee captive among the nations, to a land which thou hast not known.  And many nations shall mourn over thee, and their kings shall be utterly amazed, when my sword flies in their faces, as they wait for their own fall from the day of thy fall. . . . . Yet there shall be none to terrify them when I have brought them back from the nations, and gathered them out of the countries of the nations: and I will be sanctified among them in the presence of the nations.

Psalm 106:47 (105 in LXX) Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen . . .

Psalm 147:2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; and he will gather together the dispersed of Israel.

[28] Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:

Daniel 12:8 (LXX only) And I heard, but I understood not: and I said, O Lord, what will be the end of these things?

Cf Mark 11:13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

[29] So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.

Zephaniah 1:7, 14 Fear ye before the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is near; for the Lord has prepared his sacrifice, and has sanctified his guests. . . .  For the great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and very speedy; the sound of the day of the Lord is made bitter and harsh.

[30] Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

Daniel 12:7 (LXX) And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, and he lifted up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever, that it should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all these things.

[31] Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

Isaiah 51:6 Lift up your eyes to the sky, and look on the earth beneath: for the sky was darkened like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and the inhabitants shall die in like manner: but my righteousness shall not fail.

Daniel 12:7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was over the water of the river, and he lifted up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and sware by him that lives for ever, that it should be for a time of times and half a time: when the dispersion is ended they shall know all these things.

Ezekiel 31:1ff To whom hast thou compared thyself in thy haughtiness?  Behold, the Assyrian was a cypress in Libanus, and was fair in shoots, and high in stature: his top reached to the midst of the clouds.  The water nourished him, the depth made him grow tall; she led her rivers round about his plants, and she sent forth her streams to all the trees of the field.  Therefore was his stature exalted above all the trees of the field, and his branches spread far by the help of much water.  All the birds of the sky made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches all the wild beasts of the field bred; the whole multitude of nations dwelt under his shadow. . . . Therefore thus saith the Lord; Because thou art grown great, and hast set thy top in the midst of the clouds, and I saw when he was exalted;  Therefore I delivered him into the hands of the prince of the nations, and he wrought his destruction.  And ravaging strangers from the nations have destroyed him, and have cast him down upon the mountains: his branches fell in all the valleys, and his boughs were broken in every field of the land; and all the people of the nations are gone down from their shelter, and have laid him low.

Amos 5:18ff Woe to you that desire the day of the Lord! what is this day of the Lord to you? whereas it is darkness, and not light. As if a man should flee from the face of a lion, and a bear should meet him; and he should spring into his house, and lean his hands upon the wall, and a serpent should bite him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light? and is not this day gloom without brightness?

Isaiah 2:12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and haughty, and upon every one that is high and towering, and they shall be brought down

Zephaniah 1:7 Fear ye before the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is near; for the Lord has prepared his sacrifice, and has sanctified his guests.

Zechariah 14:1 Behold, the days of the Lord come

[32] But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Daniel 12:13 But go thou, and rest; for there are yet days and seasons to the fulfillment of the end; and thou shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days.

cf. in Daniel 2:28, 45; 10:14; 11:20, where in LXX εσχατα των ημερων is used But there is a God in heaven revealing mysteries, and he has made known to king Nabuchodonosor what things must come to pass in the last days. . . . the great God has made known to the king what must happen hereafter . . . . and I have come to inform thee of all that shall befall thy people in the last days: for the vision is yet for many days. . . . and yet in those days shall he be broken

Zechariah 14:7 But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.

Psalm of Solomon 17:23 (=21 in LXX) Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, At the time in the which Thou seest, O God, that he may reign over Israel Thy servant

[33] Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.
[34] For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
[35] Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
[36] Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
[37] And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

“The little apocalypse” — its literary function and context

Immediately before the plot in Mark’s gospel reaches the point where Jesus experiences his final dramatic adventure — passing through betrayal, trial and death before entering the heavenly kingdom — Jesus delivers a long prophetic speech to his disciples. This inclusion of a detailed prophecy prior to the the hero launching out into a new and climactic phase of extreme life-threatening trial is a common feature of ancient fiction. Mark has modified the focus of this prophecy by having it target the followers of the hero. More correctly, it targets Mark’s audience. A similar variation had been pioneered by Virgil. The effect of this adaptation upon an ancient audience familiar with this standard literary feature would have been to invite the audience to identify themselves with the hero in the final phase of the story. They would have been looking for points of contact between the details of the prophecy and the final days of Jesus’ life.

Mark 13 was therefore not inserted awkwardly into Mark’s gospel some time after it had been written, but follows a literary convention of the day, is woven into the main plot, and is turned to invite the original audience to identify their own experiences of persecution with those of Jesus.

Other literature with “little apocalypses”

Homer’s Odyssey, Apollonius’s Argonautica, Virgil’s Aeneid, Xenophon’s Ephesian Tale and Heliodorus’s Ethiopian Story also contain these sorts of prophecies where a prophet outlines to the hero and his followers the sequence of adventures that they must undergo in order to reach their final goal.

Odyssey (book 11)

In The Odyssey the goddess Circe told Odysseus that he must visit the place of the dead, Hades, and return, before he could go on to reach his final destination. But she subsequently gave him a much longer prophecy which detailed specific trials he would encounter in this world in order to arrive home after many years of waiting. To deliver this prophecy she took Odysseus aside, away from the rest of his crew, and sat down before speaking. She warned him that he must face the temptation of the Sirens, and explained to him how he could overcome that. But that would be minor compared with what was to follow — the test of passing through Scylla and Charybdis. More advice and warnings followed. Some of his men would certainly be lost. A fig-tree in full leaf would feature in the coming adventures. Throughout this prophecy, indeed its stated purpose, are warnings to take heed and listen carefully if he hoped to survive to the end.

Argonautica (book 2)

In the Argonautica, the old sightless Phineus tells Jason and his crew as much as he is permitted by Zeus. He explained that heaven wills only that the broad outline be revealed, that certain details are ordained to be concealed. First they will encounter the two Cyanean Rocks that will threaten to crash in on them. Phineus stresses that his warnings must be carefully heeded if they are to survive. Again, that is only the beginning of what must happen, Phineus informs them. More instructions and warnings follow. And specific things and peoples that they will see are laid out so that they can know they are drawing closer to their final goal. This prophet tells them what to expect to see when they do finally reach it.

Aeneid (book 6)

Virgil makes some changes to this well-known literary function of the grand prophecy. He extends it to become a message for his audience and only secondarily as an insight into the future for Aeneas.

Aeneas first asked the Sybil about his future and that of his descendants. Her reply began with the threat of arriving at kingdom of Lavinium, but she consoled him by assuring him he had no need to fear. That was just the beginning. There would be many wars to follow. Yet he and his followers would prevail. She warned him not to lose heart but to endure all afflictions that must come. Some of the details raised questions. It was not clear exactly what they meant and their correct interpretation would only become clear at the time of their fulfilment. Aeneas is portrayed as much bolder than Odysseus and he assures the Sybil he is not afraid to endure all trials to the end.

Next Aeneas asked to see his deceased father in Hades. Better than a mere leafy fig tree the Sybil instructs him to look out for a golden bough that will enable him to pass safely through death and return. It is there in Hades that Aeneas’s father, Anchises, gives the long prophecy of what must happen afterwards. This was the history of Rome being narrated to Virgil’s audience. It enabled the audience to imagine all their history had been foretold and was thus under the guidance of a divine plan. It even included a prophecy of Augustus Caesar, the audience’s emperor. There were admonitions included, too, to instruct Romans in the noble virtues they needed to rule their empire.

Mark (chapter 13)

The prophecy in Mark should be seen in the context of the popular features of ancient literature.

The “little apocalypse” in Mark 13 is an integral part of the gospel and its parts are shared by the examples discussed above:

  1. Just as other storybook heroes reach the point where they must face their greatest trial a consoling and warning prophecy is spelled out in detail, but not too much detail.
  2. Some element of it will be couched in mystery that will only be clearly understood when experienced by the followers.
  3. It is delivered, with the prophet sitting, to a handful who are separated out from their peers.
  4. It begins with a trial that sounds bad enough but it is explained that this is only the beginning; much worse is to follow. The specific prophecies are graduated in severity of danger. (e.g. the statement that “these are the beginning of pains”, “the end is not yet”.)
  5. It is replete with warnings to endure and advice on how to avoid succumbing to the struggles to be faced. (e.g. when and how to flee, how to approach arrest and trial, to watch for the signs)
  6. It is foretold that some followers may be lost along the way.
  7. A piece of vegetation features significantly as indicating the means of survival.
  8. The prophecy culminates with the promise of finally arriving at one’s ultimate home.

And just as Virgil turned the prophecy into a message addressed to his audience, so did Mark.

Virgil’s message was one of conquest and power. Mark’s was one of persecution and enduring being the victim of power. Compare the irony of the way he narrated Jesus’ journey to the cross as an anti Roman Triumph. Like and unlike the Roman conqueror in his procession through Rome Jesus was crowned and hailed as king, mocked, marched with another bearing the sacrificial weapon, ended the journey on the capitol hill or place of the head or skull. (For details see this online article by Schmidt and another of my posts on the role of Simon the Cyrenian.)

The prophecy serves to reassure the audience that what they have experienced is all the plan and will of God. Most commonly in literature it assured audiences that what their hero and his followers were to endure was divinely planned. The chaos that Mark’s audience experienced as Christians — competing sects, official persecution, family betrayals and rejections — were given a structure and meaning. His audience could begin to see themselves as not only victims, but as being part of a plan of God. Their experiences could be rationalized as the signs of hope because of that plan.

But the prophecy also maintained its contact with the ensuing experiences of their hero and his followers in the story:

  1. So the commands for the audience to watch were picked up when Jesus commanded his disciples to watch while he prayed;
  2. the prediction that they would be handed over to councils, synagogues and rulers was picked up again when Jesus was on trial before priests and the governor;
  3. the assurance that they did not need to worry about what to say but to let the holy spirit inspire them was picked up by the silence of Jesus before his judges except for moments of climactic pronouncements about his identity and the future of the kingdom;
  4. the instruction to flee and not return for one’s garment was picked up with the detail of the young man who fled naked — only to return again fully clothed at the end;
  5. the prediction that the sun would be darkened before Jesus returned in power resonated when they heard read that there was darkness for 3 hours in the middle of the day when Jesus was at the gates of entering “his glory” through the cross.

There was enough here for the audience to see that Mark was telling them that in their persecutions they were in fact following the way of their Jesus Christ.

Some scholars dogmatically assert (curiously — I’ve never seen them justify the claim) that the one single bedrock fact we know about Jesus is that he was crucified. Mark’s gospel certainly cannot be claimed as evidence for this “bedrock fact”. He was creating his narrative to give meaning to the experiences of his audience, and so to give them a fortifying confidence and assurance. His little apocalypse is evidence for this.

It is a truism that Mark was giving his audience the hope that their sufferings and even deaths were nothing less than the gateway to the resurrection and the kingdom of heaven. But the main tool he found to do this was borrowed from the popular literature of his day. He played with words and images so as to adapted it in a way that enabled his audience to identify themselves and what they were suffering with the human experience of Jesus.

And part of that experience was to suffer the betrayal and denial by the twelve apostles, and their stubborn refusal to understand a “higher” form of Christian teaching. It is quite likely, as Weeden and others have shown, that Mark also knew his readers would understand the false prophets and teachers in the little apocalypse were those “false” Christians claiming descent from the twelve apostles. (The sins of the false teachers in Mark 13, and in Paul’s letters, are acted out by the twelve in Mark’s narrative.)

The little apocalypse was not from some tradition about what Jesus might have said. Nor a later implant into the original gospel. It was a common feature of popular literature. And Mark was not the first to adapt this feature to give his audience a pride in who they were, and an admonition to hold fast to that identity.

3 more pointers to a late date for Mark? – revised

As per Weeden, the Gospel of Mark was written in response to a strident claim to push Peter’s “primacy” in the church.

1. Written at a time when Peter was proclaimed as leading apostle?

Weeden (in a question and answer session on the “2 Jesuses” dvd avail at Westar) sums up his reasons for viewing the gospel as written at a time when the dominance of Peter was being pushed into the face of the churches. Mark’s intention was to undermine these claims: read more »

Little Apocalypse and the Bar Kochba Revolt

Mark 13 is often called the Little Apocalypse or the Mount Olivet Prophecy. Many scholars use its content to calculate that the gospel of Mark must have been written either during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 ce or shortly afterwards. (A minority see in this chapter evidence to date the gospel much earlier, to the 40’s ce, but I will be discussing this view in a later post.) Dr Hermann Detering has a different view that I find quite persuasive. He places this chapter in the time of Hadrian and the Bar Kochba war of 135 ce. He does not date the gospel of Mark so late, but sees this chapter as a later redaction.

I posted the following on the JesusMysteries discussion group in 2001 and, as previously indicated, am adding it here as part of my efforts to collate things I have composed over the years. Unfortunately I don’t read German and used a machine translator to work out the main gist of his article. Happily since then his article has been translated into English by Michael Conley and Darrell Doughty and is available online here. So if you have any sense you will dismiss the rest of this post and go straight to the real thing, here (again). read more »