Apocalyptic studies flourished in the 1970s and early 1980s. This interest probably had something to do with the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and their effects, but I won't go into that issue today. In 1970, Klaus Koch's book Ratlos vor der Apokalyptik was published in Germany. In 1972 it appeared in English under a title more friendly to scholars: The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic. The subtitle, however, preserved the edginess of the original: A Polemical Work on a Neglected Area of Biblical Studies and Its Damaging Effects on Theology and Philosophy. (1) My favorite chapter is the one entitled "The Agonized Attempt to Save Jesus from Apocalyptic." The main title of the English version, as well as the title of the chapter I just mentioned, unfortunately converted a respectable German noun into the substantive use of an adjective with a vague referent.
The problem of terminology was addressed by our honoree in an article entitled "Apocalypticism" published in 1976 in the supplementary volume of The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. (2) He proposed that discussion and analysis take place on three distinct but interrelated levels: the literary genre "apocalypse," apocalyptic eschatology, and apocalypticism. He quite rightly emphasized that the definitions of these levels should be flexible and not be viewed as a static system but as a phenomenon characterized by diversity and change. He defined apocalyptic eschatology as "a religious perspective, a way of viewing divine plans in relation to mundane realities." (3) This perspective may be present in works of various genres. He proposed that the term "apocalypticism" be used to refer to "the symbolic universe in which an apocalyptic movement codifies its identity and interpretation of reality." (4) In many cases, however, there is little or no evidence of an apocalyptic movement related to a particular apocalypse or a work expressing apocalyptic eschatology. So the term "apocalypticism" is often used to refer to the symbolic universe or worldview expressed in such works.
Koch and many other scholars emphasized eschatological expectation as a key aspect of apocalyptic phenomena. In response, Michael Stone published an essay in 1976 in the memorial volume for G. Ernest Wright entitled, "Lists of Revealed Things in Apocalyptic Literature." (5) In this article he argued that the revelation of things in heaven and other places not normally accessible to human beings was as important as eschatology in apocalyptic texts. Typically, these revelations are related to astronomy and meteorology, uranography and cosmology, and the secrets of nature and Wisdom. (6)
In the mid-seventies, Robert W. Funk initiated a project to update and expand the form critical project exemplified by Rudolf Bultmann's History of the Synoptic Tradition. It was called the Forms and Genres project. John J. Collins was recruited to establish and head a working group on the genre "apocalypse." The results were published in 1979 as volume 14 of the journal Semeia under the title Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre. (7) The initial objective was the modest one of reaching agreement on what body of texts could be identified as belonging to this genre. The inductive and cross-cultural process led to the following definition:
[The term "apocalypse" refers to] a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world. (8)
This definition emphasizes literary form and content. The character of the revelation as "mediated" by an otherworldly being distinguishes apocalypses from prophetic oracles and other types of revelatory literature. The dual description of the content takes both eschatology and the revelation of heavenly secrets into account. The question of function was deliberately omitted in the belief that an abstract definition of function would be less helpful than detailed study of the function of each of the particular works.
In the same year, 1979, an international colloquium on apocalypticism was held in Uppsala. The proceedings were published in 1983 and edited by David Hellholm. (9) A wide variety of views on the genre were expressed. At one extreme was that of Jean Carmignac, who defined the genre "apocalypse" as including all heavenly revelations in symbolic form. (10) At another was E. P. Sanders's advocacy of a return to an "essentialist" definition of Jewish apocalypses as "revelation of restoration and reversal." (11) The body of contributors voted in the final session to continue working at describing apocalypses rather than trying to define them.
The definition and other results of the Semeia 14 volume were widely appreciated and recognized as furthering the discussion. Soon after it was published, some scholars criticized the omission of the element of function from the definition. …