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Hello & Welcome! Today we’re talking about Apocalyptic Literature! If your new to the blog allow me to explain, I’m the pocket theologian and here we like to take a theological or philosophical topic and talk about it in as much time as it takes to do it justice. Like I said we’re talking about Apocalyptic Literature today, so let’s get started.

Today we’re pulling a first here at the Pocket Theologian and starting a “series” where we talk about one topic and stretch it out over multiple posts. With all of the stuff going on around us, many people are questioning if this is the end of the world. So I thought it appropriate to discuss the Apocalypse, or rather Eschatological Theology, or the End of the World. Whatever you call it, it’s an important question that nobody seems to have an answer to. So here’s how it’s gonna work, this month we’re discussing Apocalyptic Narratives in general, or stories about how the world is going to end, from the perspective of several cultures and religions. Next, we’ll talk about a philosophy subject. And then we will focus specifically on Jewish Apocalyptic literature. Then go back to philosophy, the next month, and then finish up with a break down on the main piece of Christian Apocalyptic literature, Revelation, yes… the book! Here we are just going to look into different apocalypse narratives and then examine some similarities and differences among them, before finally addressing some common characteristics among them. That we will then use to look at the Jewish and Christian apocalyptic narratives to see if they hold any weight, or just like to borrow from other cultures. But anyway, I’ve stalled long enough, let’s get into the topic.


So what exactly is Apocalyptic literature or Eschatological Theology? Well, put simply, it’s how people think the world is going to end! The book of Revelation in the Bible is a piece of apocalyptic literature, for instance. Apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning “revelation”; “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling”. As a genre, apocalyptic literature details the authors’ visions of the end times as revealed by an angel or other heavenly messenger. So in I am Legend and World War Z. All of these works speak of the world ending, or of A world ending. Apocalypses are obviously pretty final is some respect. With all of that said and done let’s start talking narratives.

Narrative 1: Hinduism

So the Hindu apocalyptic narrative doesn’t necessarily have a name, nor does it really mean the end of everything. You see in Hinduism, time isn’t a straight line with a beginning and ending, but a cycle or a wheel. Time continues normally on and on until it ends… and restarts. So the technical Hindu Apocalyptic narrative is that the world will grow more and more depraved until it collapses in on itself, becoming a singularity and starts over. However before this happens, Kalki who is the last avatar of Vishnu, the protector and preserver god in Hinduism. He will ride a white horse and assemble the pious into an army and destroy all the sin and vice of the world, before everything starts over and a new age begins. Kalki does this in order for the next cycle to essentially be sinless. Instead of the current age continuing, a new cycle begins.

Narrative 2: awm al-Qiyāmah (Islamic Day of Judgement)

The Quran mentions a few Day’s of Judgement, which are then clarified in the Hadith and a few other commentaries. So Islam believes that there will be a time of signs, or growing sinfulness and depravity of man. There will be 12 major signs and several minor sings. Among these are the fall of Mecca, and then the Mahdi (or enlightened one) will appear and slaughter or massacre all the enemies of Islam, and basically punish the wicked and reward the just and reintroduce Islamic values.

Narrative 3: The Final Assault of Zorastrianism

So Zorastrianism says that the 3,000 year battle between good and evil will finally come to a head as Angra Mainyu sends his most dangerous and deadly disciple to terrorize the world. The earth and moon will darken, and people will loose all reverence and respect for religion. But a savior (known as the Saoshyant,) will come to a virgin, who will be impregnanted by Zoraster while she is bathing in a lake, and this savior will raise the dead to judge them and return them to hell for final judgement, that INCLUDES the people who have already been judged by the way. The wicked will be returned to hell to be purged of sin, and then the savior will lead everyone through a river of molten metal where only the righteous will not burn, and the impure will be purified. A massive battle will begin and good will finally triumph over evil for the last time, making it powerless but noticeably not destroying it. Finally the savior (The Saoshyant) and Ahura Mazda will offer a bull as a final sacrifice for all time and all humans will become immortal. Mountains will again flatten and valleys will rise; the House of Song will descend to the moon, and the earth will rise to meet them both. Humanity will require two judgments because there are as many aspects to our being: spiritual (menog) and physical (getig). Now it’s important to note that Zorastrianism’s final apocalypse is not unique to them, Zorastrianism believes this judgement will affect everyone of all religions and cultures. How universal of them!

Narrative 4: The Numbered Days of Rome

In the legend of Romulus and Remus, the two of them each saw a group of birds. Remus saw 6; and Romulus saw 12. Romulus saw this as a sign of his divine approval to rule. But perhaps it meant something else, some of the texts i’ve read seem to indicate that the 6 and 12 indicated how long they would rule if they did rule. Remus would get 6 and Romulus would get 12. Of what exactly, though is largely debated. Originally it was 12 years, but as everyone here hopefully knows Rome lived for WAY longer than 12 years, closer to 1,000. But the people of Rome feared the prophecy and thought that it could happen at any time. So was that an apocalypse narrative that was true? Or was it not?

Narrative 5 Buddhism

Now take all of this with a grain of salt readers, because apparently all of the records in Buddhism for it’s apocalypse are apocryphal, which if you listened to our episode on canonization you will know what that means. But basically dumbed down, the Buddha thought and taught that one day his teachings would be completely forgotten, and his body would be cremated, and that without his teachings the world would fall into depravity. After a thousand years of this a new Buddha will rise, the Maitreya Buddha who will revive and usher in a new golden age of Buddhism. Apparently this is a big discussion point in Buddhistic circles, as many argue whether this has already happened, or has yet to happen.

Narrative 6: Hopi

The Hopi were a loosely connected group of Native Americans that were mostly based around the state of Arizona. The Hopi were very secretive, but were of a special reputation for prophecy. They had a prophecy for how their entire world would end (side note: see if you can spot some truth in this prophecy). So the Hopi took some notes from the Maya, who they met and had some brief contact with. So they saw the world in life cycles. Or world’s that were destroyed and remade: the first was destroyed by fire, the second by ice, and the last by water. The fourth world is the one they were currently living in. However, it was prophesied that they were living in the last days. The Hopi had a Prophecy Rock that they had throughout their history, that had a pair of parallel lines. One was the “One Heart Way”, the other was the “Zig Zag Way”. The One heart way is relying a depending on Mother Earth, and staying true to the Hopi way. The Zig Zag Way is the way of those who do not abide by the laws of mother nature, and exploit it for their own gain. In was prophesied that when catastrophes occur every day man must choose which way they will follow. The Hopi believed that the end of the world would be predicted by men living in the sky, a gourd of ashes falling from the sky, and women wearing men’s clothing. Finally the world will end in an instant when a “blue star” crashes into the earth.

Narrative 7: Ragnarok

One of the most famous of the group, this is the Norse Viking legend of the end of the world; and boy is it violent! First the Norns, the rulers of fate in Norse mythology will decree that there will be a great winter. Three times longer than any winter before, humanity will become so desperate for food that morals and values will fail. Which will lead to LOTS of natural disasters. The sun and moon will be eaten, the stars will go out and the trees and mountains will fall. The great wolf Fenrir’s chain will snap, and the great snake underneath the ocean Jormungand will rise and the oceans shall spill over the land. Then the worst villains in all of Greek mythology shall break free, Loki, leading an army of giants, Fenrir will devour all life, and Jormungand will poison all water, air and land. This cracks the sky, and from the cracks the fire giants emerge and storm Asguard. Hiemdall will blow the Gjalahorn and signal the end of the gods. Odin and all of Valhala (Viking heaven) will fight Fenrir and the fire giants, but will loose the fight. Being swallowed whole by Fenrir, who is then killed by Vidar. Then pretty much everyone in Norse mythology kills each other and the world falls into the void. After this some people say that a new world led by Baldir arises, others say the story ends there.

Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature

General Depravity- so it seems that most apocalyptic narratives show a general turning away from morality, with everyone knowing what rightness is, but choosing not to do it. Whether it by like in Buddhism where goodness and rightness have been forgotten, or like in Islam where evil has been chosen by a great deal of the world. It’s a characteristic that the larger world will turn evil and decide to kill or get rid of the few good people left in the world.

Prophecy- so it’s a pretty common characteristic that there is one or a few people who see the world ending and try to avoid it. We’ll directly see this when we look at Judaism and Christianity but even in the narratives we examined today there are people who have seen the end of the world, and try to avoid it. And to get metaphysical for a moment, me and my wife have been watching the terminator movies lately and we had a socratic dialogue about the idea of fate versus choice. Because, if you don’t know in those movies, Terminator 1 & 2 say that there is no fate but what we make. Which basically means, that man chooses his own destiny, to relate this with Christianity, that God doesn’t decide your destiny, you do! Humans choose what happens to them, to connect this even further to our apocalyptic series, God or the gods don’t choose the moment of apocalypse or choose the end. It arrives because of the choices of everyone involved! On the flip side though, Terminator 3 and Calvinism both advocate for fate, the idea that man does not decide his destiny. All are preordained, or to call it by its theological name, all is predestined. Like Thanos says in Avengers Endgame, “Run from it, hide from it, destiny arrives all the same”. So in Terminator 3, John and Kate try to prevent judgement day, the end of the human world caused by machines right? But they fail, judgement day is delayed but cannot be stopped. So to relate this to out apocalypse series, if the end is prophesied, if someone has seen the future and wants to try and prevent it, can they? Or is it ordained? Can man decide his own fate? Or has God, or fate already decided it? Before we move on one more thing I want to ask is, IF man can or cannot control his own fate, does he even know? Or can he even know?

Redemption- the final characteristic of most apocalyptic narratives, I say most because there are a few that do not have this characteristic. But by and large many cultures and religions see their own worldview and their own values soon being made the standard of the world after the apocalypse that they will survive and the new world will be theres. Now I find this interesting, because it isn’t accurate to say that all of these cultures are repressed, or have come up against outright hate and aggression. Judaism could possibly say that, but Christianity? Islam? Buddhism? The Vikings? I think this stems more from a desire of humans to be able to share communally with each other. Because in some small psychological way, everyone is scared of revealing everything about themselves. An Apocalypse, however, clears the slate and completely changes the ideas of normal or right. Meaning that no one can really call you or your beliefs wrong. And I think that is a privilege and a freedom that everyone secretly longs for. But, I’m not too certain, feel free to let me know why you think most apocalypses end with a new world order.

So those are the biggest apocalyptic narratives that I can find, but before I go let me ask you readers, how do you think this world, this modern world we live in, is going to end? Will it be cataclysmic and chaotic, or will it be quietly and suddenly?

And that’s all I have for now, go in peace!

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