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Apocalyptic Literature


Apocalyptic Literature


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When the writers of the immensely popular television show, Supernat­ural, wrote the story arc for season five of the show around the major figures of the book of Revelation, they hoped that audiences would connect to the familiar images of the Apocalypse that were updated for the twenty-first century. This season of Supernatural drew on broad apocalyptic themes like cosmic battles, final judgment, angels, and demons. Even beyond these themes that would be recognizable from many ancient apocalypses, the show specifically connected its story to the narrative of the Biblical apocalypse, the book of Revelation, citing specific passages, and recasting the four horsemen from Rev 6:2-8 as a thirty-something businessman in a red convertible (war), an emaciated old man driving a black escalade (famine), a doctor driving a dilapidated green car (pestilence), and a gaunt older man dressed in black, driving a white 1950s Cadillac (death). Apart from dramatic storytelling, this choice in plotlines is an interesting one. Why use a two-thousand-year-old Biblical story to frame a contemporary television show about two demon-hunting broth­ers? What is it about apocalypses and their distinctive style of storytelling that has allowed their popularity to endure to today? This essay will attempt to answer those questions by looking closer at the ancient stories that we call apocalypses, and the foundational literary elements of those stories, like genre, audience, and style. After we look at the fundamental literary elements of apocalypses, we will turn to the three apocalypses that are found in the Bible: Daniel 7-12, Mark 13, and the book of Revelation, looking at the distinctive way that each of the Biblical authors uses the apocalyptic storytelling techniques. We will also look at why these three Biblical authors told the story in this way, and what effects it might have had on each audience's political, eco­nomic, and social outlook. Finally, we will think about how these Biblical apocalypses have been used in art, contemporary literature, media, politics, and even religious pilgrimage sites. We will see that when we read the apocalypses as a particular kind of story we are not only able to better understand the Biblical texts themselves but we can also answer pressing questions about how and why the apocalypses themselves and their distinctive style of storytelling have endured in our own world.



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The Cambridge Companion to the Bible and Literature


Cambridge University Press


Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


This entry appears on Pages 166-180 of the volume. Citation information for the book in which it appears:

Carmichael, C. (Ed.). (2020). The Cambridge Companion to the Bible and Literature (Cambridge Companions to Religion). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108386081

Apocalyptic Literature