Apocalypses: Proto-Apocalyptic Texts



Judean apocalyptic literature emerged in the middle of the Second Temple period, with influences from Akkadian, Babylonian, and Persian traditions.

The most direct literary influences come from earlier prophetic texts in the Hebrew Bible. These texts exhibit traits that would eventually take shape as the common tropes of Judean and Christian apocalypses.

Isaiah 24–27

Time Period

612–597 BCE, in a narrow window after Nineveh’s fall but before Babylon’s initial exile of Judean nobility.

Social Upheaval

Since the gods of nations were often equated with heavenly lights, cosmic catastrophes was the common motif to show a nation’s decline or overthrow.

On that day Yahweh will punish the host of heaven in heaven, and on earth the kings of the earth.


The prophet announces that the dead will live, though the context requires this be a metaphor of national revival.

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.


The normal theme of national judgment found in the Hebrew Bible’s prophets is heightened.

Now Yahweh is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.

New Creation

Because of the elevated tone of God’s judgment in this text, his victory over Israel’s enemies is cast as the defeat of Death itself, in a sense beginning an utterly new era of prosperity.

And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up Death for ever.

Ezekiel 37–48

Time Period

586, 572 BCE, just after Jerusalem’s destruction, and halfway through the exile.

Angelic Guide

Ezekiel receives guidance from an angelic ‘man’ through his second-to-last prophecy, a vision.

When he brought me there, a man was there, whose appearance shone like bronze … The man said to me, ‘Mortal, look closely and listen attentively, and set your mind upon all that I shall show you …’


Soon after Jerusalem’s destruction, Ezekiel envisions the restoration of Judah under a Davidic messiah, which will then be threatened with annihilation.

Therefore, mortal, prophesy, and say to Gog: Thus says the Lord Yahweh: … you will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the earth. In the latter days I will bring you against my land …


Ezekiel depicts Judah’s restoration from exile like a crowd being raised from the dead.

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.


Ezekiel anticipates the final punishment to be the destruction armies invading Israel during its time of restoration.

With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgement with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulphur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him.

New Creation

The new Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s vision borders on being a supernatural construction, alluding to the mythical paradise.

‘on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. … Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.’


37.1–14: The national resurrection of the dead.

37.24–28: A brief look at the restored kingdom after the return from Babylon.

38–39: The threat of Gog and Magog, and the divine rescue of Israel from this threat.

40–48: An elaborate vision of the new Jerusalem that will be built after the return from Babylon.


Time Period

520–518 BCE, when Darius permits the Judeans to rebuild Jerusalem’s temple.

Angelic Guide

Zechariah receives guidance from various angelic ‘men’ in his series of visions.


The oppression of Judah by Babylon has come to an end.

Escape to Zion, you that live with daughter Babylon.

Social Upheaval

There is a vague reference to nations being disrupted in one of the visions.

The angel answered me, ‘These are the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. The chariot with the black horses goes towards the north country, the white ones go towards the west country, and the dappled ones go towards the south country.’


Still in the old sense of the overthrow of kingdoms.

For thus said Yahweh of hosts (after his glory sent me) regarding the nations that plundered you: … I am going to raise my hand against them, and they shall become plunder for their own slaves.


1.1–6: Zechariah’s initial announcement to Judah to be faithful to Yahweh.

1.7–17: Zechariah sees four angelic ‘men’ riding on different colored horses. An angel interprets the vision.

1.18–21: Zechariah sees four horns and four blacksmiths. An angel interprets the vision.

2: Zechariah sees a man measuring Jerusalem. An angel explains the meaning. Zechariah calls for exiles to return from Babylon.

3: Zechariah sees the high priest Jeshua accused and defended in the heavenly court.

4: Zechariah sees a lampstand and two olive trees. An angel interprets the vision.

5.1–4: Zechariah sees a flying scroll. An angel interprets the vision.

5.5–11: Zechariah sees a woman carried in a basket. An angel interprets the vision.

6.1–8: Zechariah sees four chariots drawn by different colored horses. An angel interprets the vision.

6.9–15: Zechariah is told to make a crown for the high priest and announce the rule of ‘the branch’ who will build Jerusalem’s second temple.

7: Zechariah prophesies against hypocrisy in Judah.

8: Zechariah prophesies that God will restore Jerusalem to glory.


Time Period

516–400 BCE, sometime after Jerusalem’s temple has been rebuilt and priests (not king or princes) lead society.


Joel does not anticipate future oppression, but uses the Babylonian exile to justify the punishment of Israel’s enemies.

They have divided my land, and cast lots for my people …

Social Upheaval

The stock motif of cosmic catastrophes is used three times.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes.


Divine punishment is still measured on national scale, rather than individuals.

I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgement with them there …

New Creation

The idea of a near-supernatural restored Jerusalem are becoming traditional.

On that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of Yahweh …


1: Joel compares the state of Judah to a country ravaged by locusts, urging repentance.

2: Joel warns of the day of Yahweh, when an army will invade Jerusalem, and God will rescue the people.

3.1–16: Joel prophesies doom over Israel’s enemies, who will be judged on a climactic day.

3.17–21: Joel prophesies the exaltation of Jerusalem.

Tobit 13–14

Time Period

300–200 BCE, before the Maccabean Revolt.


Purports to be the deathbed testament of Tobit, a fictional character.

When he was about to die, he called his son Tobias and the seven sons of Tobias and gave this command …

After-the-fact Prophecy

Tobit predicts the rise and fall of Assyria and Babylon, and judgment on Israel and Judah.

‘All of our kindred, inhabitants of the land of Israel, will be scattered and taken as captives from the good land; and the whole land of Israel will be desolate, even Samaria and Jerusalem will be desolate.’


Tobit’s eschatology is closer to the older model of Israel’s restoration and the subjugation of the nations.

‘After this they all will return from their exile and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendour; and in it the temple of God will be rebuilt, just as the prophets of Israel have said concerning it.’

New Creation

Tobit’s doxology envisions an exalted new Jerusalem, similar to visions found in apocalypses. He also, very briefly, alludes to the complete elimination of evil in the world.

‘Those who sincerely love God will rejoice, but those who commit sin and injustice will vanish from all the earth.’


Most likely the work of a single author.


13.16–17: Tobit’s doxology envisions a new Jerusalem.

14.1–3a: Tobit’s doxology ends, and he delivers his deathbed testament to his son and grandsons.

14.3b–4: Tobit predicts the conquest of Israel and Judah by foreign nations, and the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple.

14.5a: Tobit predicts the return of the Judeans from the Babylonian exile, and the construction of the second temple.

14.5b–7: Tobit predicts the return of all Israelites from exile, the replacement of the second temple with an even greater third temple, the conversion of all nations to worship Israel’s God, and the elimination of all evil.