Richard A. Taylor. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Richard A. Taylor teaches Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Apocalyptic literature can include such features as visions, a human
taking a trip to heaven, revelation from an angel, predictions of
eschatological salvation and the defeat of evil, the usage of symbols
(i.e., beasts), and past or current events written as if they were
foretold long ago as prophecies. Apocalypses often seek to reassure
suffering people that God will intervene, defeat evil, and vindicate the
righteous. According to Taylor, apocalyptic literature “contains a
significant proportion of those features that define an apocalypse,
whether or not the writing in question fully qualifies as an apocalypse”
(page 202). Examples of apocalyptic literature are I Enoch, the
biblical Book of Daniel, and the Book of Revelation.
The advantages of Taylor’s book are many. Taylor’s book can provide
an introduction to apocalyptic literature, as it discusses its features,
summarizes apocalyptic books, and interacts with specific passages from
the literature itself. Taylor also refers to secondary literature,
translations, and language guides (i.e., to Hebrew and Aramaic),
explaining what those resources are and, in some cases, their reception
within scholarship (i.e., is the resource considered out of date?).
This can assist those who want to go deeper and explore apocalyptic
literature further. At the same time, Taylor’s book itself has depth,
in areas, as Taylor summarizes and evaluates scholarly debates about
such topics as the definition, milieu, and origin of apocalyptic
literature. His Appendix, “Antecedents of Apocalyptic Literature,” is
especially noteworthy, as Taylor identifies, explains, and evaluates
scholarly ideas about the sources for apocalyptic literature, which
includes the following proposals: Canaanite mythology, Akkadian
prophecy, Mesopotamian traditions, Egyptian apocalypticism, wisdom
literature, different theological views about the Temple (i.e., should
it be rebuilt, or will God provide a new Temple from heaven?),
Hellenistic syncretism, Persian religion, opposition to imperial
authority, and prophetic literature. Many believe that Jewish
apocalypticism resulted from Persian influence, but Taylor explains the
limitations of that view. Also, Taylor provides a helpful glossary at
the end of the book.
In terms of critiques, I have a few. Taylor spent a lot of space
defining and illustrating grammatical concepts such as metaphor and
simile, and I questioned how necessary that was to understanding
apocalyptic literature. Taylor had a chapter on preaching about
apocalyptic texts, but he seemed to avoid theological questions that
might trouble conservative Christians. Does apocalyptic literature
contain wishful thinking and unfulfilled prophecy, a hope for an
eschatological salvation that would soon materialize but actually did
not? Does that show that biblical apocalyptic literature is the work of
human beings rather than divine revelation? Is apocalyptic literature a
pious fraud, since it is attributed to people who lived a long time ago
but did not actually write it? Such questions are not only relevant to
whether one should see biblical apocalyptic literature as sacred or as
divinely-inspired, but they also raise interesting questions about
apocalyptic literature itself: Did, for example, the authors of
apocalyptic literature believe what they were writing, as they wrote
history as prophecy and attributed their writing to a figure of the
past, or were they writing the document as a pious fraud that would give
people some hope, or influence them to behave in a certain way? The
book would have been better had Taylor explored such issues.
In addition, while Taylor briefly mentioned the difference of opinion
between Paul Hanson and Stephen Cook, Taylor should have explored that
territory further. Instead, Taylor often assumed that apocalyptic
literature came from marginalized and suffering communities, whereas
Cook presented a case that it could come from establishment circles.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!