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RE: [Allison-Seminar] Apocalyptic

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  • Dale Allison
    Dear George You ask about the definition of apocalyptic and whether my brief definition is adequate. You think that I come up short. You then offer your own,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 26, 2003
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      Dear George
      You ask about the definition of apocalyptic and whether my brief definition is adequate. You think that I come up short. You then offer your own, which focuses on dualism between God's elect and the rest of humanity and the expectation that God will act to redeem those elect. Well, I agree whole-heartedly that my brief definition is adequate. But then I think all are. This is a hard thing to get hold of. Some thoughts.
      1. Nobody's definition has been generally accepted.
      2. We probably need to distinguish three things. First, there is the literary genre, the apocalypse. We can make generalizations about it. The old Semeia issue edited by John Collins has been thought pretty successful here. Second, there is the theological question. What are the determinative elements? What you mention fits; so too the things I mention. But this is really the old problem of Wittgenstein's family resemblances. We have some things, like family faces, that look alike, but it's really impossible to get a good verbal definition. We simply see a bunch of characteristics that tend to recur, with variations, in family members. Same thing here. This is of course a problem with many nouns. Try getting a working definition of chair sometime; it's tough. Third, there is the historical/sociological issue, apocalypticism if you will, which is the existence of a group of movement of people who live out of the theological ideas of apocalyptic eschatology.
      3. Re Jesus and these three items. Whether Jesus had any knowledge of apocalypses we don't know, although I think the evidence that he knew Daniel is there. Beyond that, I'm agnostic. I have, however, argued that Jesus had an apocalyptic eschatology and belonged to an apocalyptic movement. But Jesus could be apocalyptic without knowing any apocalypses, or know apocalypses without being apocalyptic himself.
      4. I really doubt that using the word apocalyptic helps. As I've said elsewhere, I first wrote Jesus of Nazareth without using apocalyptic or apocalypse or apocalypticism. But John Collins wanted me to use the a word, so I followed him. The problem is that when people see one of the a words, they read all sorts of things into it. In my experience, it really does diminish communication. Stereotypes from apocalypses e.g. come into play. People will say, Well, the apocalypses have A and B, Jesus doesn't have A and B (beast symbolism, say, or an allegorical outline of history), so he couldn't have been apocalyptic, so your Jesus is not the real Jesus. Which of course doesn't address any of my arguments, which never say or imply anything about beast symbolism etc. I think we can talk about Jesus without using the a words, or if we use them we should define them so broadly that they shouldn't become a stumbling block, even though they still do. (One reviewer I note said that I nowhere defined apoclyptic, which I certainly did; this just proved he didn't read the footnotes.) That's why, George, I indicated after offering my definition in the place you cited, that I wouldn't be using that definition. I simply want to talk about close relatives of the Jesus of Weiss and the Jesus of Schweitzer.
      5. How does using the a word help us understand Jesus? It's a generalization that gets in the way, because we end up worrying about apocalyptic, not Jesus. I think we should focus on things like judgment, Gehenna, and so on.
      6. Finally, what about the kerygma being apocalyptic? Well, that's just going to come back to your definition, isn't it? Why not just say that the redemptive motif and the redeemer figure are part and parcel of the so-called kerygma and leave it at that? Actually, since I find kerygma another word hard to pin down, I would prefer, if I were forced to make a statement, that were apocalyptic elements in much early Christian proclamation.
      Best, Dale
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