From Covenant to Apocalypse

Let us read the text in terms of what they say,
not what we have to superimpose on these texts.
We will come to this very distinct conclusion.
-Baruch Spinoza

Language cannot be understood without understanding the context behind the words. This is why computers are so poor at understanding language. This article provides the historical background that influenced the stages of thought that went into the writing of the Bible. On thing stands out as much then as today: believers cannot bring themselves to say anything negative about God. They can't reconcile Nature's indifference with a benevolent God and they won't think about it.

To a believer, God's good intentions justify human misery, though they can't figure out exactly how or why. God is the master of the universe, yet whenever bad things happen, it's either Satan's fault or it is in the master plan. The promise of the Covenant didn't work as expected, so they expect God to purge the human race and save a few to start over. They will not make judgments on the horrific imbalance between the idea of a benevolent God and expectation of near total mass genocide.

In 1670, when Spinoza composed Theological-Political Treatise, he challenged medieval Jewish philosophy as personified by the great 12th century Spanish philosopher Moses Maimonides. In Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides held that faith and reason can be reconciled. He is said to have influenced such scholastics as Thomas Aquinas. Spinoza was the first to argue that rational faith is not possible at all. If you want to believe in God and accept the assumptions of the Bible, then do so. But don't understand the two as being alike, and don't try to impose your rational view of the world on a text which by its nature is not rational.

For Maimonides, to interpret the Bible philosophically meant that you had to read it allegorically. You cannot read it specifically for the words and its ideas as they were. Spinoza made the first break when he argued that when you want to see it rationally, you can't do it Maimonides' way. It should be read in its exact utterances what it exactly says. Let us not read it artificially and arbitrarily, imposing our own value system upon that text. This was a radical break from a way of thinking that extends into biblical times.

Let me give a modern example. To anyone not familiar with the historical background behind The Wizard of Oz, it appears to be a children's story. Actually, the author L. Frank Baum wrote it as a parable on William Jennings Bryan's campaign for American government to back its paper money with silver and gold.

The land got its name from silver advocates wanting 16 ounces (.oz) of silver to be the monetary equivalent of one ounce of gold. The Wicked Witch of the East symbolized the eastern bankers. The Munchkins symbolized the little people. The good Witch of the North represented the Northern electorate. The Yellow Brick Road represented gold ingots. Dorothy meets Bryan's supporters along the way-the Scarecrow who thinks he has no brains, the Tin Woodsman representing the industrial laborer, and Bryan himself representing the Cowardly Lion. The Emerald City whose greenish hue is an optical illusion, just as the greenback dollar is illusory money. The book ends on a happy note to show what can be accomplished if people realize their potential and do not put themselves at the mercy of experts in both parties wielding the powers of government. Bryan's opponent, McKinley who supported the gold standard, won the 1896 and 1900 elections.

It would be impossible to understand the symbolism without understanding the historical background behind the Wizard of Oz. I extracted that interpretation from a writer who presents himself as a law professor. Once it is laid out for us, the story makes sense in the way the author intended. So unless we understand the historical background behind the Bible, we can't understand the factors that influenced the writing of the Bible.

Historical background

Tiny ancient Israel and Judah were located on a crossroad in the middle of greater powers. Though I don't mentioned it below, even Egypt at an earlier time had control of southern Israel. For that reason, the early Jews had no chance of maintaining an independent kingdom for any length of time. It's that simple. The Jewish priests followed a predictable script: it's the people's fault for not obeying God-in reality, for not obeying them. The details below are meant to give a sense of the warring cultures of that time. If there were gods in their representative countries, Yahweh was a hundred pound weakling.

Assyria - 855-612 BCE

Assyrian city-states were united into one kingdom about 1800 BCE. It became a military power strong enough to absorb Babylon around 1300 BCE. Shortly after 900, Assyria gained control of Mesopotamia including Babylon, and then took the northern kingdom of Israel in 722.

It reached its height of power under Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE). Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727) began exacting tribute from Israel and Judah, 743. When King Hoshea of Israel rebelled, Shalmaneser V (727-722) conquered Samaria (northern kingdom of Israel) and deported it inhabitants. Sargon II /722-705) put down a revolt started by King Hezekiah. The fall of the Assyrian empire 612-609 came when the Babylonians conquered Ninevah, the capital of Assyria. 

Babylonia - 612-539

A Chaldean chief Nabopolassar established Babylonian independence from Assyria in 626 BCE. In 612 with the help of the Medes he destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. Egypt came to Assyria's defense in 609 but was driven back by the Babylonians. In 605, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt.

It was in 586 BCE when Nebuchadnezzar looted and destroyed the Jerusalem Temple. They razed the city along with its walls and exiled a large number of Judah's ruling elite. After Nebuchadnezzar died, Babylonia went into decline. The Babylonian population actually welcomed the invasion of Cyrus II of Persia.  When he came in 539 BCE, they let him into the city gates without opposition.

Persia - 539-331 BCE

Persian control of Palestine by the Achaemenid dynasty began when King Cyrus II (559-530) conquered Babylon in 539. He decreed that deported peoples, including Jews, could return to their cities. Cyrus' only son Cambyses captured Egypt in 525 and died in 522. The vacuum was picked up by Darius (522-486). In 520, Darius authorized the construction of the Second Temple, to be completed five years later in 515 BCE. Darius was followed by Xerxes, Artaxerxes I and Artaxerxes II to the defeat of Darius III by Alexander.

Hellenistic Age - 331-168 BCE

Macedon lies adjacent north of Greece. Its similarities and differences with Greece are comparable to Scotland and England. Alexander's father, Philip II, had just completed the expansion of Macedon and was making plans to invade Persia when he was assassinated.

Two years later in 334, at the age of 20, Alexander took his father's plans and marched his army towards Persia. By 333, he had conquered the Persian Empire. Three years later, King Darius III was dead, killed by his own men. Alexander went on to conquer what is now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan before his generals refused to go any farther. On the way back home, he died of fever in 323 BCE, leaving no heir.

For the next twenty years there wars among his generals until they settled on the following division: 

Palestine was controlled by the Ptolemies from 301 until 198, a period of peaceful independence. When the Seleucid King Antiochus III seized Palestine from the Ptolemies in 198, he relieved them from taxes and let them maintain their freedom. Antiochus' fortunes changed ten years later when the Romans forced a heavy tax on him. Desperate for revenue, Antiochus' successor, Seleucus IV (187-175 BCE), imposed taxes on the Jews and almost plundered the temple. Seleucus' untimely death brought his brother Antiochius IV to the Seleucid throne.

Maccabean Period - 168-63 BCE

Seleucid fortunes continued to decline when Antiochus IV's campaign into Egypt was forced into retreat by the Romans, 168 BCE. Probably for military and financial reasons, in 167 BCE Antiochus tore down Jerusalem's walls, plundered the temple of Jerusalem and turned in into a place of worship for the Greek god Zeus.

The Jewish or Maccabean revolt began when Mattathias killed an officer and tore down the altar to Zeus. Mattathias died shortly thereafter and one of his sons Judas the Maccabee became the rebel leader. By 164 Judas had retaken the temple and rededicated it (Jews celebrate the occasion as Hanukkah). Hostilities continued for another ten years with the Seleucids until they withdrew from Judea entirely. In 140, Simon, the last son of Mattahias became the king of the family of Hasmonean rulers. Paradoxically, under Simon the family that made its name resisting Hellenization, assimilated Hellenism into Judaism.

Romans - 63-400 CE

In 63 BCE, the Roman general Pompey imposed control over Judea, ending the Hasmonean Dynasty. By political shrewdness, a half Jew by the name of Antipater, earned the loyalty of Julius Caesar and was appointed procurator of Judea. Shortly before he was poisoned to death in 43 BCE, he appointed his sons as governors: Phasel, governor of Judea; and Herod, governor of Galilee. By 37 BCE, Herod was appointed as king of Judea. Around 20 BCE, Herod authorized the building of a new temple to replace the old one. When construction was completed in 64 CE, it became known as "Second Temple Judaism." Herod died in 4 BCE.

Pontius Pilate (26-36 CE) is remembered as the Roman governor of Judea who oversaw Jesus' trial and execution. The tradition of Roman governors (procurators) taking bribes and stealing from the temple treasury brought the Jewish populace to a boil under the procurator Gessius Florus in 66 CE. Rebellion broke out in Judea; shortly after it swept Galilee; within a year it spread to Samaria. By 68 CE Vespasian was ready to attack Jerusalem. He put if off when Nero committed suicide. When Vespasian became emperor, he appointed his son, Titus to put down the revolt. Titus sacked Jerusalem and burned the temple 70 CE. This is about the time when the first gospel, Mark, was written.

The covenant period

The covenant period, at least to the time of Solomon, was written as an epic history on par with Homer's Odyssey; it not real history in the modern sense. The covenant is a priestly invention. There were always two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The most likely time when the Old Testament was first put to pen was after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722. I would characterize the covenant period as the good old days when everything was wonderful. Isn't that how we commonly remember our past?  

Genesis to 2 Kings marks the time of Israel's history when Israelites believed in a covenant with Yahweh. If they abided by the covenant, Yahweh would protect them.

2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."
3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,
4"Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.
7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
8And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." (Gen. 17:2-8)

During the patriarch period of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all was well with the covenant. Under Moses, whenever the Israelites strayed from Yahweh, Moses punished them. From Judges to 2 Kings we see plenty of evidence that the Israelites continued to worship other gods besides Yahweh. The Bible tells us how the Israelite united under one king-first Saul, then David and then Solomon. Thereafter, the kingdom split into Israel to the north and Judah to the south. In 722, when Israel fell to Shalmaneser V, the writer of Kings felt compelled to blame their defeat on sins against Yahweh.

21When he had torn Israel from the house of David they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD and made them commit great sin.
22The people of Israel walked in all the sins which Jeroboam did; they did not depart from them,
23until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.
24
And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria, and dwelt in its cities. (2 Kings 17:21-24)

The covenant period ended with the sacking of Jerusalem and the exile of Israel's elites to Babylon in the year 586 CE.

8In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month-which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon-Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.
9And he burned the house of the LORD, and the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down.
10And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem.
11And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile.
12But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. (2 Kings 25:8-12)

Prophetic period

With the protection of the covenant shattered to pieces, there arose a period of reflection. This brings the era of the prophets. The simple fact is that Israel and Judah were swallowed up by larger empires for geopolitical reasons. The Hebrews were surrounded by the Assyrian, Babylonian and later the Persian Empire, then Alexander the Great, then the Romans. If the Yahweh priests had any sense of reality, they would have to admit that Yahweh was weak and feeble, and that the other gods were much more powerful.

Of course the prophets couldn't do that; their profession is built on a conceit. Instead they argued that Yahweh was displeased. This is a common religious excuse for when events don't go as predicted. For argument's sake, if there was some divine plan, it would be awfully self defeating to enrich pagan nations at the expense of the Hebrews. It would be as if Yahweh empowered the pagan gods to carry out his plan. We're going to touch on excerpts from three Major Prophets.  

Isaiah 1-39 dates from about 740 to 700 BCE, during the reigns of the Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah. Though a Judean, he was a contemporary when Assyria invaded Israel. Chapters 40-55 was written by second writer and 56-66 by a third writer around 516-444. They have references to the naming of Cyrus of Persia and the problems of the exiles.

Jeremiah lived in Judah during its final days prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and dates from 626 to 580 BCE. He is associated with King Josiah (628) and King Zedekiah, the last before the Babylonian exile (587). When he was released from confinement, he eventually spent his last years in Egypt. Changes in writing style suggest later authors were added to the book.

Ezekiel spans 593-571 BCE. He is believed to have been carried off with other exiles in 598 by Nebuchadnezzar, previous to the final Babylonian exile of 587. It's questionable whether he remained in exile, because the first 24 chapters of his writing were addressed to the people of Jerusalem until the fall of the city. There are questions about whether the book is entirely Ezekiel's writing.

The Blame

Of Northern Israel's destruction from to the Assyrian invasion, Isaiah assails the people for worshipping false gods.

7Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by aliens.
8
And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
9
If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.
10
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11
"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
12
"When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts?
13
Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. (Isa. 1:7-14)

Jeremiah as well as his contemporaries reasoned that the Israelites broke the covenant by worshipping other gods. In anger, Yahweh had them destroyed.

2"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the evil that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them,
3because of the wickedness which they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to burn incense and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers.
4Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, 'Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!'
5But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their wickedness and burn no incense to other gods.
6Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured forth and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day. (Jer. 43:2-6)

Ezekiel repeats the refrain about punishing the Israelites for breaking the covenant.

59"Yea, thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant,
60yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant.
61Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you.
62I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD,
63that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord GOD." (Ezek. 26:59-63)

One God

Having laid the blame for the fall of Israel and Judah on worshipping false gods, the prophets declared that it is unthinkable to consider the possible existence of other gods. If we follow their reasoning to its logical conclusion, it would imply that the stronger nations are stronger because they are without a god.

It is under Isaiah and Jeremiah where we see the roots of monotheism, the denial that no other god exists except Yahweh.

6that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7
I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things. (Isa. 45:6-7)

26The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:
27"Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me? (Jer. 32:26-27)

11Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jer. 2:11)

7"How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me, and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of harlots. (Jer. 5:7)

The Future

Now we are into the reinvention stage. To keep the faith alive, the priests have to keep hope alive.

In Isaiah, we see the beginning of apocalyptic thinking. He wails for the day when the Almighty returns.

4Hark, a tumult on the mountains as of a great multitude! Hark, an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The LORD of hosts is mustering a host for battle.
5
They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the LORD and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole earth.
6
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! (Isa. 13:4-6)

Jeremiah introduced a new covenant. Yahweh will forgive past sins and write the law in the hearts of the people of Israel.

31"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.
33But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:31-34)

The Next Messiah

If Israel was to become a kingdom again, it naturally can't without a king. David was the archetype king, so the prophets foresaw the day when Yahweh would send another Davidic king to lead in the fight to restore Israel.

11Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him." (Isa. 62:11)

5"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
6In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.' (Jer. 23:5-6)

7"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when men shall no longer say, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,'
8but 'As the LORD lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' Then they shall dwell in their own land." (Jer. 23:7-8)

9But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. (Jer. 30:9)

22I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
24And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken. (Ezek. 34:22-24)

Of note, the prophets were predicting the return of a real Davidic king to restore the real kingdom of Israel by military means. Christians hijacked this model and turned it around to mean a kingdom of heaven with a divine king. There is not a whiff that the prophets anticipated a god coming to earth in human form to die for the sins of mankind, especially when the Judaic god has no form. Yet to this day, Christian true believers believe that the prophecies are miraculous because their prescience.

Old Testament Eschatology

In the Old Testament, eschatology, the doctrine of last things depicts a drastic state of change between this world and the transcendental world. Yahweh's eschatological acts involve both judgment and salvation, death and the end of the world. Among other reasons described later, apocalypticism differs from eschatology in that it is a belief that the world will end in a series of events foretold in prophecy.

Isaiah evokes the memory of the Israelites deliverance from Egypt. There is a phrase you will see often in this literature: "on that day."

24Therefore thus says the Lord, the LORD of hosts: "O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they smite with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did.
25For in a very little while my indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction.
26And the LORD of hosts will wield against them a scourge, as when he smote Midian at the rock of Oreb; and his rod will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt.
27And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck." (Isa. 10:24-27)

The vindictive prophets are vocal on how they think Yahweh would destroy their enemies. Below we see mention of sword, famine, pestilence, fire and earthquake.

12Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and cereal offering, I will not accept them; but I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence." (Jer. 14:12)

4So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Benhadad. (Amos 1:4)

13"Behold, I will press you down in your place, as a cart full of sheaves presses down. (Amos 2:13)

Isaiah is pungent in chapters 24-27 with an eschatological vision of a desolated earth, survived by a remnant of faithful who will take root like a vine and bear fruit that covers the earth. His visions of the last days are similarly horrific. This brings to mind Noah's Flood.

1Behold, the LORD will lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. (Isa. 24:1)

21For behold, the LORD is coming forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed upon her, and will no more cover her slain. (Isa. 26:21)

12O LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us, thou hast wrought for us all our works.
13
O LORD our God, other lords besides thee have ruled over us, but thy name alone we acknowledge.
14
They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise; to that end thou hast visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them.
15
But thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, thou hast increased the nation; thou art glorified; thou hast enlarged all the borders of the land. (Isa. 26:12-15)

6In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit. (Isa. 27:6)

Second Isaiah's Suffering Servant in 52:13-53:12 was a metaphor for the remnant of faithful who would be saved for the new world. The belief in righteous suffering is emphasized in the Book of Job. Christians falsely claim that the Suffering Servant passage describes Jesus. This verse alone discredits any connection to Jesus. He had no offspring and his days were not prolonged.

10Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; (Isa. 53:10)

Old Testament Apocalypticism

Apocalypticism arose out an effort to reconcile a good God with evil and suffering. If being good didn't alleviate suffering, there must be something else beyond God's control. Apocalypticists believed that there were forces of good and evil in the world, with God being over all that is good and having a personal opponent, the Devil. The world was created good, but something happened to corrupt the world. In believing there were two forces doing battle, apocalypticists were dualists-Christianity is not as monotheistic as one would think. Anyway, apocalypticists believed that in their present time, God would overthrow the forces of evil and set up a good kingdom on earth for the eternal future. The writing style is very symbolic.

Daniel was written to address suffering. He was supposed to have been taken into exile during the Babylonian captivity, but it is certain that the book was written 400 years later during the Maccabean Revolt of 167 BCE by an anonymous author. As discussed above, the Revolt was against the oppressive Antiochus who tried to Hellenize the Jews. Daniel was explaining that the end is coming soon when Antiochus will be taken out of power by God himself. There are no devils in Daniel's world, but there are angels and enemies. Our interest is in the apocalyptic visions that segue into the New Testament.

We find the first apocalyptic vision in the Old Testament in Daniel 7. He sees the sea being stirred up by the winds of heaven. Out come four horrible beasts that represent four kingdoms. The first represents the Babylonians. The second represents the Medes, the third the Persians. And the fourth, the most dreadful of them all represents Alexander the Great who conquered that part of the world. The ten horns of the fourth beast represent the kings of the Seleucid Empire, which ruled in Syria after Alexander's death.

2Daniel said, "I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea.
3And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
4The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand upon two feet like a man; and the mind of a man was given to it.
5And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side; it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, 'Arise, devour much flesh.'
6After this I looked, and lo, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back; and the beast had four heads; and dominion was given to it.
7After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. (Dan. 7:2-7)

The ten horn beast made it way into Revelation as the Roman Empire.

3And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. (Rev. 12:3)

Another kingdom will come, the future everlasting kingdom. Instead of coming from the sea, it will come with the clouds of heaven. Instead of a beast, the ruler will be in human form called a son of man.  

13I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
14
And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)

Jesus made the same prediction in Mark.

62 "I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:62)

An angel interprets Daniel's vision. The four beasts represent four kings on earth. Once the earthly kingdoms are destroyed, God will bring his kingdom to the saints of the Most High.

15"As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious and the visions of my head alarmed me.
16I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me, and made known to me the interpretation of the things.
17'These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth.
18But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever and ever.' (Dan. 7:15-18)

The last chapter has another vision. There will be a time of great trouble whereupon the archangel Michael will take charge of your people. The living as well as the dead will be awakened to an everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt. There is no fiery hell in Daniel's world, but here we see first thoughts on the subject.

1"At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.
2And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:1-3)

Two hundred years later, we see a similar prediction in Paul about imminent salvation for the living and the dead.

9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. (1 Thess. 5:9-10)

The stage is set for the New Testament. True, the four kingdoms passed away as Daniel predicted. But instead of being displaced by the kingdom of God, they were swallowed up by the pagan Romans. It was the specter of the Roman Empire that haunted the New Testament writers.

New Testament Apocalypticism

If the accuracy of the gospels is to be believed, and assuming Jesus was real person, he would have died around 30 CE in his mid-thirties. Matthew tells us Jesus was born near the end of Herod's reign, which would place his birth at 6-4 BCE. Luke uses Quirinus' census as a marker, placing his birth at 6-7 BCE. Luke tells us Jesus began his ministry at about thirty years of age.

23Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, (Luke 3:23)

In what is called the Second Temple Period, around 20 BCE, King Herod commissioned the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon earlier destroyed by the Babylonians 586 BCE. The renovation was completed by 63 CE.

During the years shortly thereafter, one Jewish faction called the Zealots, initiated a revolt against their Roman overseers. Romans lay siege to Jerusalem beginning in 66 and finally ending with the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the year 70 CE. Jews were expelled from the region.

This cataclysmic event marks the focal point of the gospels. Though the gospels give the impression of Jesus' prescience about the destruction of the temple, Mark, like Daniel, was writing with hindsight.

Again, inherent in apocalypticism is the belief in two ages of history, the present evil age and the glorious age to come. When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he is not referring to heaven in the sense where your soul goes when you die. But rather as something here on earth when God will begin to rule as he already does in heaven. In historical order, Mark was written about 70 CE, Matthew and Luke 80-90 CE, and John 100-110 CE.

Mark

Keeping in mind that Mark was the first gospel and the model for the other gospels to follow, Jesus stated the purpose of his mission immediately after being baptized. The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Note the sense of urgency and watch how it hedges in the later gospels.

ญญ15"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel. (Mk. 1:15)

Mark gives away the approximate time of writing by its "prediction" of the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. With hindsight, he had Jesus tell his disciples of the destruction of the temple.

"Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2)

He warns them to expect persecutions for his sake, another allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem.

9"But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. (Mark 13:9)

It is to be the worst tribulation since the beginning of creation. For Jews, it certainly was. This is mindful of Daniel 12:1-3 quoted above.

19For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. (Mark 13:19)

The end is to come soon after the destruction, before "this" generation passes away, the generation to whom he is addressing. The destruction of Jerusalem was by far the worst catastrophe in the history of Judaism.

29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. (Mark 13:29-30)

It was only a question of what day God would pay back the Romans for what they did.

32"But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:29)

Matthew and Luke

It is widely recognized that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. Of the 666 verses in Mark, about 600 appear in the same order in Matthew with slight rewording. Luke contains 300-350 modified verses from Mark, about one third of the full gospel. Ten or more years passed since Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, but the end has not come. Watch the backpedaling. First a sample of apocalyptic sayings:  

At the close of the age, the Son of man will send his angels to clean his kingdom of sinners and throw them into fire. The righteous will shine like the sun in the new kingdom.

40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.
41The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,
42and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt. 13:40-43)

Take heed, for it will come upon all who dwell on earth. Pray that you have strength to escape these things a stand before the Son of man.

34"But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare;
35for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.
36But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man." (Luke 21:34-36)

While Marks says God has shortened the days.

20And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. (Mark 13:20)

Matthew says the days will not be shortened.

21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.
22And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Matt. 24:21-22)

Where Mark says some standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.

"Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power." (Mark 9:1)

By leaving out "come with power," Matthew and Luke have Jesus say some will "see the kingdom." As subtle as it is, this is a significant shift in emphasis. The disciples do see the kingdom, but not coming in power.

28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." (Matt. 16:28)

27But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:27)

The shift in meaning meant that the kingdom of God was in the person of Jesus himself.

28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt. 12:28)

20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)

21nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." (Luke 17:21)

Luke continues to think that the end of the age will come in his own lifetime, but not in the life of Jesus' companions. The difference is evident when at Jesus' trial; Mark has Jesus tell the high priest he will see the Son of man at the right hand of Power coming with the clouds of heaven.

"I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:62)

Realizing that the high priest has long been dead and buried, he has Jesus eliminate that prediction to the high priest, saying that from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of power.

69But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God." (Luke 22:60)

John

By the time of the last gospel, the apocalyptic message disappeared. Instead of speaking about the Kingdom of God soon to come, John has Jesus say the eternal life is available now for the believer.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

24Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

There are traces of apocalypticism in these passages.

28Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice
29and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)

39and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.
40For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:39-39)

48He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. (John 12:48)

The newer view is that in Jesus a person can already be raised into eternal life.

"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
26and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)

There is no longer any message about the coming Son of Man, the coming Power or the coming kingdom. The emphasis in John is on faith in Jesus who gives eternal life in the present. Believers are saved out of this world, a complete reversal in direction.

Paul

I suspect that when the Church Fathers stitched the New Testament together, they put the gospels first to give the impression that Jesus was the first to preach the gospel, or maybe that is what they believed- the Books of Acts gives the same impression. Paul wrote his epistles about 50-60 CE, before the gospels were written, before the destruction of Jerusalem.

As discussed in the chapter on Paul on this site, Paul's claimed to be chosen by revelation to preach the gospel. The giveaway that Jesus did not exist as a real person is that Paul maintained that his knowledge came by revelation of Jesus, not from Jesus and not from human sources who where supposed to have known Jesus. What little Paul knew of Jesus could be rationalized from the Old Testament.

11For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel.
12For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)

Like the gospel writers, Paul believed that the end would come in his lifetime.

11Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed;
12the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; (Rom. 13:11-12)

The term sympathetic magic describes a symbolic action which affects an object with which the symbol is in "sympathy" or harmony. Paul maintained that by believing in the resurrection of Christ, he and his followers would experience a resurrection when the end comes.

20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:20-26)

Similarly, those who die before the end comes would join those who are still alive in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

13But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first;
17then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
18Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thes. 4:13-18)

What are t hose mysterious clouds? Why they are the Milky Way.

Revelation

Revelation was written about during the reign the emperor Domitian, 80-96 CE. The symbolism is on the hallucinogenic level in my view, but the genre was not uncommon during its time.

The book of Revelation begins with a prophet named John being given a revelation from Jesus himself in heaven. Later he goes into heaven through a window, and when there, he sees God on a throne. In God's hand, there is a scroll sealed with seven seals with nobody worthy of breaking the seals. Then he sees a lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The lamb receives the scroll from God and begins to break the seals.

As he breaks the seals one at a time, a catastrophe hits earth each time. When he breaks the seventh seal there are seven angels with trumpets. As each angel blows their trumpet, another set of catastrophes hit earth. When the seventh angel blows the seventh trumpet, seven more angels, this time with huge bowls full of God's wrath, pour out more disasters one at a time. Finally, when all hell breaks out, an antichrist figure battles with Christ in heaven. Christ brings his heavenly armies to attack the antichrist on earth and wins without much of a battle.

The evil forces are thrown into a lake of fire for eternal fire for eternal torment. Earth is purged of all evil for a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. After a thousand years, there is a final judgment in which all that is against God is judged. Then God brings a new heaven and a new earth without suffering.

12"Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.
13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (Rev. 22:12-13)

A theory

The literature I've come across ties the eschatological and apocalyptical prophecies to their respective historical events. But there is another historical event that occurred at that time. It was the passing of the astrological Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces. I submit that this is what the hullabaloo was all about. At that time, the sun on the vernal equinox was passing from Aries to Pisces, and Jupiter and Saturn were locked into a triple conjunction in Pisces. The historical events only reinforced their belief that the changes in alignment between the sun and the stars foretold of the events to follow.

There is a chapter on this website about the astrological structure of the Bible including the gospels. To point a few things out, Jesus was born just prior to the beginning of the first century as foretold by the wise men and the Star of Bethlehem. He was cast as a sacrificial lamb, and upon his resurrection meets fishermen. There was much talk of the age to come. Jesus symbolized the sun passing from the Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces. There are pagan parallels to this.

On New Years day, the image of an old bearded man with a scythe has its origins in Greek mythology. Chronos was their god of time, known as Saturn to the Romans. He was the son of Uranus the Sky-Father, and Gaea the Earth-Mother, and the youngest of the Twelve Titans. Under advice from Gaea, Saturn castrated his father and thus separated Heaven and Earth. Gaea created a sickle out of flint to complete the deed. The sickle, and later the scythe, represents the cruel and unrelenting flow of time which in the end cuts down all things. The instrument of Christ's demise was of course the cross, whose four legs represent the four seasons. His halo symbolizes the sun's corona.

The New Year's baby also has Greek Origins. On that day, the Greeks celebrated their God of Wine, Dionysus by parading a baby in a basket to represent the annual rebirth of Dionysus as the spirit of fertility. That would be comparable to baby Jesus and the resurrected Christ. The wine bears a similarity to the symbolic blood of the Eucharist. Source

29"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

Readers who are interested in getting a deeper background on religion and the Bible can get a first rate education from The Teaching Company. These are courses on tape, CD or DVD by top quality college professors. Some of the information on this page came from course transcripts.

End