The Antichrist Tradition: Part 2

In Part 1 of this study, I explored the Old Testament background of the Antichrist Tradition, focusing on the “wicked tyrant” motif in the Prophetic nation-oracles, and, especially, in the book of Daniel, where the figure of Antiochus IV Epiphanes would serve as a type-pattern for subsequent eschatological traditions.

A number of post-Scriptural Jewish writings from the period c. 250 B.C. to 100 A.D. have survived, including a wealth of texts from Qumran with manuscripts that were actually copied and preserved during this time. To some extent, these writings bridge the gap between the Old Testament Scriptures and the years when the New Testament texts were composed. I have already discussed a number of key Jewish texts in earlier notes and articles (esp. throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”); within Judaism of this time, eschatology, apocalypticism, and Messianic thought all function together, and rarely can they be separated. Much the same is true for early Christianity; I discuss the relationship between Messianism and early Christian eschatology in a previous article.

Here, in Part 2 of the current study, we will survey the most relevant texts and passages which might relate to the background of the Antichrist Tradition, illustrating eschatological themes and motifs that would have been familiar among Jews and Christians by the middle of the first-century A.D.

An important note to keep in mind, regarding these Jewish apocalyptic writings, is that they tend to be pseudepigraphic, meaning that they purport to record the prophetic visions and oracles received by famous figures of the past (e.g., Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc). Commentators, however, are virtually unanimous in the opinion that such texts are not authentic records from the time of those legendary characters, but, rather, were composed much later on and set in the mouths of Enoch, et al, as a literary device. This does not mean that the writings are purely fictional, since they almost certainly contain older traditions, to varying degrees, but that the apparent historical setting is a literary device, and not genuine. Many critical commentators would hold that the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12), as the primary apocalyptic writing in the Old Testament, is pseudepigraphic in just this way (cf. the discussion in Part 1).

This pseudepigraphic aspect of Jewish apocalyptic texts is important in the way that it frames the eschatological beliefs and expectations. End-time events, which, it was thought (or hoped), would soon take place in the lifetime of the readers, etc, are presented as prophecies of the distant future, uttered by persons who lived hundreds or thousands of years earlier. Gradually, this chronological-historical aspect would be expressed more systematically—i.e., the end-time as the final period in a long sequence of Israelite/Jewish history.

The Eschatological Pattern (c. 100 B.C.)

Our sources for the 2nd (and early 1st) century B.C. are extremely slight; some of the Qumran texts likely date from this time (cf. below), though the majority, it would seem, are from the later Hasmonean and Herodian periods. Even so, there is evidence that a literary and conceptual pattern, for expressing common eschatological expectations, had been established by c. 100 B.C. It is a rudimentary pattern, centered firmly on the traditional idea that the end of the (current) Age will be marked by widespread wickedness and corruption. While the current Age, as a whole, may be seen as wicked in this way, the evil and impiety among human beings increases dramatically as the end draws near. Most apocalyptic writings which express this sort of eschatology generally accept (and take for granted) that people are already living in this wicked end-time.

One of the earliest examples is found in the Book of Jubilees, a pseudepigraphic work with an ethical-religious, rather than eschatological, emphasis. Presented as a prophetic revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (1:4ff), the book is actually a clever reworking of the historical narratives in the Pentateuch (Genesis and Exodus), designed to impress upon Jews (in the 2nd century) the obligation to live in obedience to the Covenant and the Torah. The need for such an exhortation is especially great given the wickedness of the current period of history, which corresponds to the end-time. The worldview of Jubilees was consonant with that of the Qumran Community (cf. below), so it is not surprising that the book was quite popular, at least for a time, among the Community, and may even have been regarded as authoritative Scripture.

The eschatological dimension of the historical survey in Jubilees is stated clearly in the introductory section (1:4-29), but otherwise does not feature prominently within in the narrative. One exception is chapter 23, an interlude between the Abraham and Jacob narratives, set in the context of the death and burial of Abraham. The rise of an especially evil and wicked generation is foreseen, which, at the level of the pseudepigraphic historical narrative, may refer to the sins of Israel in the wilderness, etc, but actually is describing the end-time period of wickedness (i.e. in the distant future). This wicked generation is described in considerable detail in vv. 16-21, leading to the great Judgment by God on humankind (Israel, specifically, vv. 22-25), after which there will be a New Age, a ‘Golden Age’ of peace and prosperity for God’s people (vv. 23-31). This plays on the historical theme (in the Prophets) of Israel’s restoration, a theme that, even in the later strands of Old Testament tradition, came to be understood in a definite eschatological sense.

The eschatological framework in Jubilees 23 is even more pronounced in the great Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), a lengthy composite work, produced over several centuries, and containing a wide range of traditional and literary material. The earliest portions date from the 2nd century B.C., while the latest elements, it would seem, were composed in the early/mid 1st century A.D. (cf. below). At its core, doubtless, are various ancient traditions regarding Enoch; however, around this developed a diverse collection of apocalyptic and eschatological writings. Like Jubilees, this book (some form of it), was popular with the Qumran Community, as evidenced by the numerous copies, and related writings, that have been preserved.

One of the oldest eschatological sections of 1 Enoch is the so-called “Apocalypse of Weeks” (93:1-10 + 91:11-17), which divides history (i.e. the current Age) into a series of “weeks”, periods marked by specific events and characteristics. With each week, evil and injustice will become ever greater (93:4), culminating in the wicked generation of the seventh week (vv. 9-10). After this comes the Judgment, with violent destruction of the wicked on earth (eighth week), and eternal destruction of all evil (ninth week), followed by the heavenly New Age of the tenth week that stretches into eternity (91:12-17). This basic historical-eschatological pattern appears in other sections of the book as well; we may note the references in 91:6-7 and 100:1-4, the last of which is particularly vivid in its description of widespread lawlessness and violence in the end-time.

The eschatology of 1 Enoch also emphasizes the wickedness and arrogance of the nations (and their kings), who oppose God and refuse properly to acknowledge His authority. This aspect of the Judgment of the Nations (cf. the concluding section of Part 1) features in the historical survey at the end of the “Book of Dreams” (chaps. 83-90), the so-called “Animal Apocalypse” in chaps. 89-90—a collective assault by the Nations (vv. 16-19) precedes the final Judgment and beginning of the New Age (vv. 20-42).

The Psalms of Solomon (Ps Sol 17)

The “wicked tyrant” motif, inherited from the Prophetic nation-oracles, and emphasized in the book of Daniel (cf. the discussion in Part 1), is generally absent from the eschatological framework in Jubilees and 1 Enoch, outlined above. Perhaps the earliest example of its inclusion is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon. Most commentators would date these Psalms to the mid-1st century B.C., sometime after the year 63, based on the presumed allusions to the conquests by the Roman general Pompey (d. 48 B.C.), e.g., in the 2nd, 8th, and 17th Psalms. If this is correct, then Pompey would fill the “wicked tyrant” pattern in the 1st century much as Antiochus IV Epiphanes did in the 2nd (the Danielic prophecies in chaps. 7-12). Antiochus represented the Seleucids, partial heirs to the Hellenistic empire of Alexander, while Pompey represented the empire of Rome—the great world power of the time, in all its violence and corruption.

The wickedness of the current Age, the end-time (cf. above), serves as the context for Ps Sol 17. In particular, the Psalm describes how the faithlessness of the Israelite/Jewish people has led to the arrival of a powerful foreign ruler (i.e. Pompey), called “the lawless one” (v. 11), who lays waste to the land and inaugurates a period of intense wickedness, marked by a disruption of the social and natural order (vv. 15-20). The language of the “wicked tyrant” tradition is especially prominent in verse 13, where it is stated of this ruler that he “was a stranger, and his heart alien to our God, he acted arrogantly”. His corruption and desecration of Jerusalem, causing a disturbance of Israelite religion (vv. 14-15a), seems to echo the famous actions of Antiochus IV; as preserved in the prophecies of Daniel, it was this aspect of Antiochus that would play a significant role in the early development of the Antichrist Tradition (discussed in Part 3).

It is also noteworthy that “wicked tyrant” motif in Ps Sol 17 is more firmly rooted in Messianic thought and expectation, especially as related to the Davidic ruler figure-type (vv. 1-4, 21-25ff). It is the Davidic Messiah who will act on God’s behalf to defeat/subdue the nations and bring Judgment on the wicked. The New Age to come (vv. 30ff) is more properly a Messianic Age, according to the traditional theme of the restoration of the Israelite kingdom. The juxtaposition of Messiah (i.e. Christos) and wicked ruler provides the conceptual matrix for the very idea of anti-Christ.

Belial/Beliar

Important to Jewish eschatology in the first centuries B.C./A.D. is the figure of Belíal (Beli/al, variant spelling Belíar, Beli/ar), representing a complex line of tradition, the origins of which remain obscure. The name is a transliteration of the Hebrew lu^Y^l!B= (b®liyya±al), a (proper) noun occurring 27 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version, it is always translated, rather than transliterated, except in the A-text of Judges 20:13. Unfortunately the exact meaning and derivation of the word remain uncertain (for more detail, cf. my article on “2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls”). Ultimately, the meaning has to be determined by the context where it is used in the Old Testament. The oldest usage would seem to be preserved in several examples of early poetry, especially in Psalm 18:5[4] (= 2 Sam 22:5), where it is synonymous with “Death” (tw#m*, m¹we¾) and “Sheol” (loav= š®°ôl, see my earlier article for more on this term). The expression “deadly (poison) of Beliyya’al” (lu^Y^l!B= rb^D= d®»ar b®liyya±al) in Psalm 41:9[8] (also 101:3) likely stems from the same use of lu^Y^l!B= as a name for Death.

Much more frequent is the expression “son/s of Beliyya’al”, ben / b®nê b®liyya±al (Deut 13:14; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 2:12; 10:27; 25:17; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chron 13:7), along with the parallel (and more or less equivalent) expression “man/men of Beliyya’al”, °îš / °anšê b®liyya±al (1 Sam 25:25; 30:22; 2 Sam 16:7; 20:1; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov 16:27), °¹¼¹m b®liyya±al (Prov 6:12); also “daughter [ba¾] of Beliyya’al” in 1 Sam 1:16. In Hebrew, the word ben (/B#, “son”) is often used in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group or category, i.e. possessing a set of certain characteristics in common, and so it must be understood in these instances. It refers to a Beliyya’al-like person, someone who “belongs” to Beliyya’al, with evidence (by his/her attitudes and behavior) of similar characteristics. The context of the passages cited above makes clear that a “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social (or religious) setting, or within society at large. This relates to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder), rather than the more direct association with Death in the poetic references mentioned above.

It is hard to say whether, in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al is used in an abstract sense, or as a proper noun (i.e. personal name). Both are possible, though the parallel with Death/Sheol in Psalm 18:5, etc, suggests that an ancient (mythological) personification of death (and the grave) informs the usage. This figurative association would naturally extend to encompass the idea of chaos, confusion, and destruction—all related to the realm of death and “non-existence”, i.e. the primal condition of the universe (as a dark, formless mass [see Gen 1:2 etc]) prior to the establishment of the created order by God. At the same time, b®liyya±al is clearly synonymous with the more abstract concepts of “evil” (r¹±), “wickedness” (reša±) and “trouble” (°¹wen), especially in the Wisdom writings (Prov 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Job 34:18). Most likely, this is a secondary development, from the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, and the characteristic of a such a person as a wicked trouble-maker (see the generalized usage, where the expression is implied, in 2 Sam 23:6; Nahum 1:11; 2:1 [1:15]). A wicked/evil thought, expressed by d¹»¹r b®liyya±al (Deut 15:9; Psalm 101:3 [?]), may involve wordplay with an older poetic expression “deadly (poison) [dbr] of Beliyya’al” (Ps 41:9, cf. above).

We do not encounter the word/name Beliyya’al again until the first centuries B.C., when it appears in a number of surviving Jewish texts of the period. (e.g., Jubilees 1:20). Already in Greek texts (and translations) of the time, the variant spelling Belíar (instead of Belíal) is attested as a transliteration of the Hebrew word. Most notably, b®liyya±al occurs frequently in the Qumran texts (discussed below), where it is used to refer to an evil figure opposed to God, personifying (and governing) the darkness and wickedness of the current (evil) Age. As such, the name is more or less synonymous with “(the) Sa‰an” or “Devil”. This is a significant development from the earlier Hebrew expression “son(s) of Beliyya’al”. Now, those who ‘belong’ to Beliyya’al are defined in a pronounced dualistic sense as the “sons of darkness”, opposed to God and to the “sons of light” (i.e. the Qumran Community); and the wicked “sons of darkness” will be destroyed (along with Beliyya’al) by God’s end-time Judgment that is about to be ushered in. As Paul in 2 Cor 6:14 exhorts and warns first-century believers:

“…choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial!”

The Qumran Texts

The Community of the Qumran texts was fundamentally eschatological, its members believing firmly that they were the faithful remnant of God’s people, the holy ones of the end-time. They would be at the center of the end-time events, when God would send his Anointed One(s) to them, bringing about the great Judgment that would destroy the wicked and introduce the New Age. The figure of Belial (cf. above) was important to the world-view of the Community. He was the Evil One (akin to, but not necessarily identical with, the Satan), also known by the titles “Spirit of Deceit/Falsehood” and “Spirit/Prince of Darkness”; he was the prince, or leader, of the false/evil spirits, but he also exercises control over the world during the current, wicked Age. The world, and the inhabitants in it—i.e. the nations and the wicked/faithless of Israel—are called the “dominion of Belial” (1QS 1:18, 24; 2:19).

Members of the Community knew they had to contend with Belial on a regular basis, as the Community Rule document (1QS) states clearly (3:13-4:26; 10:21, etc). Belial has opposed God’s people all throughout the Age, from the time of Moses to the present (Damascus Document [CD/QD] 4:12-19; 5:17-19). Only at the end-time, with the Judgment, will his power finally be broken, but not before a period of intense activity, during the time of much greater wickedness that precedes the end (cf. above; CD 7:21ff; 12:2-3; 1QS 4:11ff, 18-23).

The end-time defeat of Belial is portrayed as a great eschatological battle in the War Scroll (1QM), a war between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness”. The “Sons of Light” are the faithful ones of Israel—i.e. the members of the Community in its fullness—together with the holy ones of heaven (Michael and the Angels), while the “Sons of Darkness” are similarly comprised of wicked human beings (esp. the nations) along with evil spirits. For a similar juxtaposition of the earthly and heavenly realms, cf. chapter 12 of the book of Revelation (also 19:11-21). That the wicked nations are part of the “army of Belial” is clear from 1QM 1:1-2ff, 13: 15:2-3, etc; this makes Belial a great world-leader, a portrait that certainly influenced the later Antichrist tradition, as we shall see. Belial and his forces—human and demonic—will be defeated and destroyed in the battle (4:2; 13:10-12; 14:4-15; 18:1-5, etc). The “sons of darkness” who belong to Belial are a reflection of the older idiom “sons of Belial”, “men of Belial” (cf. above); these expressions are retained, in an eschatological context, in several other Qumran texts—e.g., the Florilegium (4Q174) on 2 Sam 7:11 and Psalm 2:1-2 (both Messianic passages, col. i. 1-9, 18-ii. 5), and the Testimonia (4Q175) on Josh 6:26 and the “Psalms of Joshua” (lines 21-29).

In the eschatological conflict, the Community is led by the Angel Michael (1QM 17:6-7), but also by Anointed (Messianic) figures—a Davidic Ruler (Anointed of Israel) and a ruling Priest (Anointed of Aaron). In this regard, Belial can literally be called an Anti-Christ (Anti-Messiah), one who is opposed to the Messiah. The idea of a direct opposition is expressed more clearly in several texts which involve the figure of Melchizedek, who may be characterized as a Messiah—the heavenly-redeemer figure-type (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental article on Hebrews). He also possesses attributes of the royal (Davidic) Messiah and Anointed Priest, based on the line of tradition deriving from Psalm 110:1-3. The Melchizedek of these texts (most notably 11QMelch) closely resembles the Angel Michael as a heavenly deliverer, and so it should be no surprise that his opponent, Melchiresha, resembles Belial. The name Melchiresha is patterned after Melchizedek, emphasizing wickedness (uv^r#, reša±) instead of righteousness (qd#x#, ƒedeq). In 11QMelch 11-14, Melchizedek is the one who exercises the Judgment on Belial, delivering the righteous (sons of God) from his power. Melchiresha holds a similar power over the “sons of light” in the current wicked Age (4Q544 frag. 2, lines 3ff, frag. 3, lines 1-3) and will likewise be judged in the end-time (implied in 4Q280 frag. 1, lines 1-2ff).

A different kind of eschatological opponent is described in the commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab), reflecting more directly the immediate history of the Community. The quasi-Messianic leader known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” (cf. Part 4 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) was opposed by the “Man of Lies”, part of a pattern of opposition/persecution in the last days (2.1-9); similar labels and titles, including that of “False Prophet” are applied to these wicked persons (and their leaders), cf. 5.11; 8.16ff; 10.9. While this history is set in the end time and “last days”, it precedes the violent attacks by the nations (the Kittim, i.e. Rome); the wickedness described in 1QpHab relates to the corruption of the current Priesthood (9:4ff, etc), to which the Priestly leadership of the Community was utterly opposed.

The book of Daniel was enormously influential in the Qumran Community, to judge from the number of surviving manuscripts, as well as the so-called Pseudo-Daniel writings—texts which were inspired by the canonical book, or which resemble it in some way. Unfortunately, these texts (4Q242, 243-4, 245, 246) are all highly fragmentary, so it is impossible to get a clear picture of the overall content. Based on the apparent structure of 4Q243-4 and 4Q245, and the apocalyptic narrative pattern (cf. above), we may surmise that each of these texts would have concluded with an eschatological section—i.e. the final stage in the survey of Israel’s history (presented as prophecy). Fragments 16 & 24 of 4Q243 seem to resemble Daniel 7, and may refer to a “wicked tyrant” of the end-time, similar to that patterned after Antiochus IV (cf. the discussion in Part 1).

Also inspired by Daniel 7, it would seem, is the famous “Son of God” text (4Q246). Some commentators have suggested that the ruler called “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” (col. ii, line 1) is a wicked ruler, who takes these divine titles for himself, in opposition to God and His people. If so, then this would be the clearest example of a Jewish precursor to the Antichrist tradition. However, the majority of commentators take the opposite view—that the person called by these titles is a positive, Messianic figure. I would tend to agree; I am not aware of any instance where such titles are used for (or by) a wicked ruler. The divine pretensions of rulers in the “wicked tyrant” tradition are expressed rather differently (as discussed in Part 1); it is most unlikely that such divine titles would be associated with a wicked ruler without any further qualification. Moreover, the close parallels with the Angelic announcement in Luke 1:32-33, 35 seem to confirm the positive, Messianic significance of these titles in context.

The early 1st-century A.D.

When we turn to Jewish eschatology in the first half of the 1st century A.D., a time contemporary with the earliest strands of the New Testament, there are several apocalyptic writings that are worth noting. We may begin with the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), a portion of the book of Enoch not attested among the Qumran manuscripts, and often thought to date from the early-mid 1st century A.D. The eschatological emphasis in the Similitudes is on the coming of the end-time Judgment, when the wicked nations shall be judged (along with their kings/rulers), and their kingdoms transferred to the rule of the righteous. The elect/righteous ones are represented (and personified) by the “Elect One” and “Righteous One”, a heavenly redeemer also called by the titles Anointed (Messiah) and “Son of Man”. It is he who will bring about the Judgment on God’s behalf.

The defeat of the nations and their kings is especially prominent. The second parable (similitude), chaps. 45-57, describes this in terms of a military attack (and defeat) that occurs in a great valley (53-56). The scenario is no doubt inspired by the oracle in Joel 3 (cf. the discussion in Part 1), and is likewise found in the book of Revelation (16:12-16; 19:17-21). The Similitudes are laced throughout with references and allusions to the book of Daniel (chap. 7, etc), and there can be little doubt that the (wicked) rulers of the nations are inspired by the “wicked tyrant” motif from the Old Testament Prophets.

The Assumption of Moses is another apocalyptic pseudipgraphon, with certain similarities to the book of Jubilees (cf. above). Moses utters a prophecy of Israel’s future history (chaps. 2-6) that concludes with a prediction of the end-time (chaps. 7-10), understood to be the author’s own time (the present). The end-time begins with a period of great wickedness, including the persecution and oppression of the righteous (illustrated by the martyrdom of the Levite Taxo and his sons). This time of wickedness, described vividly in 7:3-10, reaches its climax with the coming of a foreign king (“the king of the kings of the earth”), much like the “lawless one” in Ps Sol 17 (cf. above), who will brutally attack the righteous and desecrate the true religion (8:1-5ff). He thus very much resembles the “wicked tyrant” (Antiochus IV) in the book of Daniel, following that type-pattern, only his appearance is set within a more precise eschatological sequence.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is a collection of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings, inspired by Genesis 49. The underlying material and tradition is Jewish, but there are signs of subsequent Christian editing and adaptation as well. The final (Christian) form dates from the 2nd century A.D., but the Jewish stratum must be considerably earlier. The Aramaic Levi document from Qumran, for example, is related in some way to the Testament of Levi. Of course the Christianized portions cannot be used as evidence for Jewish thought of the period; however, early Christians likely would not have adapted the material if they did not find in it a certain affinity to their own thought, with eschatology and Messianism that was amenable for application to Jesus (as the Messiah).

The name Belial (variant “Beliar”, cf. above) occurs frequently in the Testaments—nearly 30 times: Asher 1:8; 3:2; Benjamin 3:3, 5, 8; 6:1, 7; 7:1-2; Dan 1:7; 4:7; 5:1, 10-11; Issachar 6:1; 7:7; Joseph 7:4; 20:2; Judah 25:3; Levi 3:3; 18:12; 19:2; Naphtali 2:6; 3:2; Reuben 4:8, 11; 6:4; Simeon 5:3; Zebulun 9:8. The portrait is quite similar to that of the depiction of Belial in the Qumran texts (discussed above), with the overall emphasis being ethical rather than eschatological (cf. Peerbolte, Antededents, pp. 289-92). Beliar, now identified more directly with the Satan/Devil, is the leader of the evil/deceitful spirits, and will become even more prominent in the period of wickedness before the end (T. Issachar 6:1). His power will be broken in the eschatological Judgment (T. Levi 3:3; Zebulun 9:8), and this will be done by the God’s Messiah (i.e. Jesus)—T. Dan 5:10-11; Benjamin 3:8; Levi 18:12; Judah 25:3; Simeon 6:6.

Also worthy of mention are the Sibylline Oracles, a mixture of Jewish, Christian, and pagan (Greco-Roman) material, even more complex and difficult to date than the Testaments. Books 3-4 are generally considered to be Jewish, having reached their current form by the end of the 1st century A.D. In all likelihood the Jewish material and traditions in these books go back to at least the early part of the century, and perhaps as far back as the 2nd century B.C. There are a number of passages which refer to the coming (end-time) events; while not presented in a systematic format, they show the development of a number of key eschatological themes (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 327-31):

    • A period of suffering and distress for humankind, marked by disruptions (chaos) in both the social and natural order—3:635-651, 796-806
    • This will be a time of great wickedness, preceding God’s Judgment on the world—4:152-161
    • It will be marked by the rise of a powerful and wicked world-ruler, a foreign monarch—3:75-92, 611-615
    • The nations will attack the people of God, and also the Temple in Jerusalem—3:657-668

All of these components feature in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, discussed further in Part 3. The figure of Beliar also occurs in at least two passages (2:154-173; 3:63-74), but in terms of a more personal manifestation or incarnation(?) during the end-time period of wickedness. The idea of Belial incarnate as a Satanic/demonic miracle-working figure (and ruler) in the end-time almost certainly influenced the subsequent Antichrist Tradition (cf. the discussion in Part 3).

2 Baruch and 2/4 Esdras (late 1st-century)

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), and the work known as 2 Esdras (or 4 Esdras / 4 Ezra), were both written in the latter part of the 1st century A.D. They are thus contemporary with the book of Revelation, and, indeed, they each resemble Revelation, in terms of its visionary narrative and symbolism, in a number of important ways. These two texts may be said to represent the pinnacle of the development of Jewish eschatology in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Portions of the Sibylline Oracles (cf. above) likely date from this same period.

Space does not permit a detailed treatment of the eschatology of 2 Baruch; it will suffice to offer a general survey and summary. Especially noteworthy is the vision-cycle in chapters 53-77, which utilizes the apocalyptic pattern of presenting the end-time as the final stage in a sequence of periods of Israelite history. The time immediately preceding the coming of the Anointed One will be a period of great distress and suffering—wickedness, violence, chaos and upheaval, etc (chaps. 69-70)—to climax with the defeat of the nations by the Messiah (i.e. the Judgment, chaps. 70-72). Similar descriptions of the end-time period of suffering and wickedness are found in 48:26-41 and 83:9-21 (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 317-9).

In chapters 36-40 there is a vision of four natural features—forest, cedar tree, a stream, and a vine—which, much like the visions in Daniel 2 and 7, are interpreted as a series four great kingdoms that are to follow, one after the other. Each will be more powerful (and wicked) then the one prior, with the fourth being the most evil and brutal of all. The reign of this kingdom corresponds to the great end-time period of wickedness and distress, which will come to an end when it is finally defeated by the forces of the Messiah. The ruler of the fourth kingdom resembles the “little horn” of the fourth beast/kingdom in the Daniel 7 vision (cf. also in Dan 8), and very much follows the “wicked tyrant” motif as developed in Daniel (with the type-pattern of Antiochus IV, cf. Part 1).

Mention should also be made of the use of the symbolic figures of “Leviathan” and “Behemoth” in 29:3-4, as mythic/demonic creatures who represent the (primeval) forces of chaos and disorder. Just as darkness and chaos preceded the establishment of the first Creation (Gen 1:2), so also there will be a time of chaos before the coming of the New Age (the new Creation). The same basic tradition occurs in 1 Enoch 60:7-8 and 2/4 Esdras 6:49-52 (cf. below). The application of this line of symbolism in the book of Revelation (i.e. the Sea- and Earth-creatures of chapters 13ff) suggests that it is at least marginally relevant to the Antichrist Tradition.

Finally, in the apocalypse of 2/4 Esdras, we find perhaps the most developed form and presentation of these eschatological themes and motifs. It is also the Jewish writing of the period which most closely resembles the book of Revelation and early Christian eschatology c. 70-100 A.D. The earlier apocalyptic pattern (cf. above) is now presented with much greater precision, following the same basic sequence as we see in the Assumption of Moses and 2 Baruch (above): a period of suffering and wickedness, chaos and disorder, which reaches its climax with the rise of a wicked (world) ruler; after this follows the defeat of the nations (by the Messiah) and the great Judgment, bringing about the New Age of peace and righteousness.

The end-time period of distress is described vividly (and at length) in the two visions of chapters 5-6 (cf. especially 5:1-12; 6:18-24); similar eschatological signs (cp. the Eschatological Discourse, Mark 13:4-8ff, 24-25 par) are given in 8:49ff; 9:3-6; 14:16-18 (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 304-8). There is a brief allusion to a coming end-time ruler, during this time of wickedness, in 5:6-7. A clearer description is found in the vision of chapters 11-12, of the Eagle and the Lion, inspired at least in part by the visions in Daniel 7-8. The eagle, with twelve wings and three heads, like the Sea-creature of Revelation 13ff, rather clearly symbolizes the Roman Empire—the great (and wicked) world-power of the time. The last of the three heads is the final ruler of the kingdom, and the time when it is defeated by the Messiah (the Lion), 12:31-34, at the height of its arrogance and ungodliness (i.e., the “wicked tyrant” motif). Attempts have been made to identify these three heads with specific Roman emperors, much as in the case of the heads of the Sea-creature in Revelation (cf. Part 3, and the relevant daily notes).

Finally, the great vision of the “man out of the sea” in chapter 13 should be noted. In Daniel and Revelation, it is the wicked kingdom (beast/creature) that comes out of the Sea, while here in 2/4 Esdras it is God’s Messiah (also called his “Son”, vv. 32, 37) who rises from the midst of the Sea. It is at this time that the nations, assembled together for attack, are defeated and destroyed, marking the coming of the Judgment. For more on this Judgment of the Nations motif, cf. the concluding section in Part 1.

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