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This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Apocalypses - Revolutionary dreems

All of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) record Jesus predicting the fall of the temple and Jerusalem. This lengthy discourse is traditionally called a Synoptical Apocalypse. It is widely accepted that Jesus was an eschatological thinker, he did not expect the world in its current corrupted shape to exist for much longer. He anticipated sudden divine revolutionary intervention in the course of civilization. This Synoptical Apocalypse on the other hand is unlike any of his other parables, pronouncements or teachings. It is a different length, and more importantly, it is of a different genera. Indeed it follows then popular literary form of apocalypse.

This slide presents an elemental vocabulary for this particular area of the theological thinking.
As indicated in the last sentence, apocalypticism was one of the attempts to solve the problem of theodicy. In Hellenistic times Judaism reaches the final stages in the development of a strict transcendent monotheism (The LORD is the only god, who is omnipotent, omniscient creator and guarantor of justice). That creates the twofold problem. This monotheistic religion is quite intolerant of other surrounding faiths and occasionally it bubbles up into brutal repression based on faith. This persecution then created a jarring discrepancy between monotheistic faith and world reality. How could brutal persecution of the faithful be squared with the very faith in an omnipotent, omniscient, just and benevolent deity. In answer to this conundrum Judaism under the Seleucid empire (in the 2nd century B.C.E.) generated religious concepts of resurrection (restoration of the just) and eschatology (restoration of justice) closely associated with the genera of apocalypticism - in disclosure of the final matters.

I illustrate this lecture with predominantly Renaissance art. It is to hint at some of the cultural and historical impacts of ancient apocalyptic visions. Interestingly, art often functions as an alternative window to anticipate and portray crises in the broader society.

On the other hand, this painting comes from a different era. Its pietism is somehow histrionic, but less conflicted and brutal. Interestingly there are many art pieces inspired by the first half of the Book of Daniel - a collection of tradicional miraculous stories of deliverance - and there is hardly any artwork based on the second half of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions. The book of Daniel is a theologically schizophrenic book. It aspires to inspire faithfulness to monotheistic faith under persecution. The first half contains a collection of stories of traditional miraculous deliverances. While the second half gives up hope in piecemeal miraculous interventions and concentrates on the end of the time eschatological answer to persecution.

From a very early time there were serious doubts about the dating of the book of Daniel. Clearly the apocalyptic part of the book of Daniel was written to help to reconcile the persecution of the Seleucid empire with a belief in a benevolent and just deity. The current state of injustice (which is was “predicted”) is temporal; persecution does not disprove faith, and the final reckoning is at hand. This is achieved by the book pretending to be much older and foretelling the future, while it is actually reporting the past, a clear example of prediction after the fact.
This is another famous and marvelous example of the artistic depiction of apocalypse, a dark age of war and violence being brought to an end by sudden arrival of Christ with the era of light and justice.
The most widely known example of apocalyptic literature (the book of Revelation) also contains clear signs of retroactive clairvoyance (this time Christian). By predicting after the fact the  persecution of Nero, it attempts to encourage recipients under later persecutions (either Domitian or any later emperor). The book of Revelation certainly does not date from the time of Nero, that would make it the oldest New Testament text next to the original Pauline letters (this would be impossible to harmonize with its content, language and context).

Our final artwork reflects again the Renaissance bizarre and expressionistic imagination.
We come back to the Synoptical Apocalypse. In its final form in our current synoptical gospels it is almost certainly an answer to the destruction of Jerusalem. It does not exclude the fact, that Jesus himself was influenced by eschatological thinking. Synoptical apocalypse in its current form is a clear example of postdiction - “vaticinium ex eventu.” Pretending to reflect a future which had already occurred.
While it certainly represents an example of a pious lie, it also clearly shows that the original intentions were positive and helpful.

This is our last slide today. Unfortunately way too often brutal apocalyptic images of destruction are used by conservative religious circles, sects and political forces to instill fear and preserve the current status quo.
Surprisingly, throughout history, apocalypticism often played quite a positive role of a highly creative force. It was so, because apocalypticism did not shy away from acknowledging and recording the reality of the world. It captured it with raw, almost brutal honesty, yet, at the same time it presented the visions of an alternative, more harmonious, just and benevolent divine world. This contrapuntal feature of apocalypticism allowed people throughout the history to criticize the current status quo and envision alternative arrangements.
Thus apocalpticism can have two functions, 1) conservative control by fear, or 2) fostering revolutionary dreams. You might know me well enough to guess which form of use I find truer to the original intention and congenial to us today.

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