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The book of Daniel is rightly classified as an apocalyptic writing, because of its series of supernatural visions which by their character fulfilled what is intimated by the Greek word apokalypsis, which means unveiling of truth which would otherwise be concealed. Although apocalyptic works abound outside the Bible, relatively few are found in Scripture. In the New Testament only the book of Revelation can be classified as apocalyptic; but in the Old Testament, Ezekiel and Zechariah may be so classified in addition to Daniel.
Ralph Alexander has provided an accurate and comprehensive definition of apocalyptic literature in his study of this literary genre. He defines apocalyptic literature as follows: “Apocalyptic literature is symbolic visionary prophetic literature, composed during oppressive conditions, consisting of visions whose events are recorded exactly as they were seen by the author and explained through a divine interpreter, and whose theological content is primarily eschatological.”5 Alexander goes on to define the limits of apocalyptic literature, “On the basis of this definition, a corpus of apocalyptic literature was determined. The biblical and extrabiblical apocalyptic passages are shown to include the Apocalypse of the New Testament; Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ezekiel 40-48; Daniel’s visions in chapters 2, 7, 8, and 10-12; Zechariah 1:7-6:8; I Enoch 90; II Esdras; II Baruch; and A Description of New Jerusalem.”6
Apocalyptic books outside the Bible are included among the pseudepigrapha, many of which appeared about 250 b.c. and continued to be produced in the apostolic period and later. Many of these attempted to imitate the style of biblical apocalyptic books. Usually they developed the theme of deploring the contemporary situation but prophesying a glorious future of blessing for the saints and judgment on the wicked. The real author’s name is normally not given in apocalyptic works outside the Bible. Apocalyptic works rightly included in the Old Testament may be sharply contrasted to the pseudepigrapha because of the more restrained character of their revelation, identification of the author, and their contribution to biblical truth as a whole.
Apocalyptic works classified as the pseudepigrapha include such titles as Ascension of Isaiah; Assumption of Moses; Book of Enoch; Book of Jubilees; Greek Apocalypse of Baruch; Letters of Aristeas; III and IV Maccabees; Psalms of Solomon; Secrets of Enoch; Sibylline Oracles; Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch; Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs; Apocalypses of Adam, Elijah, and Zephaniah; and Testament of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob.
Although higher criticism, often opposed to supernatural revelation in symbolic form, tends to deprecate apocalyptic books in the Bible and equate them with the sometimes incoherent and extreme symbolism of the pseudepigrapha,7 there is really no justification for this. Even a casual reader can detect the difference in quality between scriptural and non-scriptural apocalyptic works. Frequently, the apocalypses of scriptural writings is attended by divine interpretation which provides the key to understanding the revelation intended. The fact that a book is apocalyptic does not necessarily mean that its revelation is obscure or uncertain, and conservative scholarship has recognized the legitimacy of apocalyptic revelation as a genuine means of divine communication. If close attention is given to the contextual interpretive revelation, apocalyptic books can yield solid results to the patient exegete.