I’ve just started reading Portier-Young, so this is very introductory.
Anathea E. Portier-Young has written a well-received book on apocalyptic literature in the time of Second Temple Judaism called Apocalypse against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism.
Her main thesis is to reinforce and emphasize a long understood aspect of the genre. Apocalyptic had a social purpose, originating as resistance literature in a time of imperial power, hegemony, and domination.
As John Collins says in his foreword:
Apocalyptic literature has often been stereotyped as otherworldly. Portier-Young makes a persuasive case that it is deeply immersed in political reality and cannot be properly understood without seeing it against the foil of Hellenistic imperial rule.
The author herself puts it this way:
The reign of Antiochus marked a turning point in the history of Judaism for another reason that, though rarely remarked upon, is no less momentous. For during this period emerged a new literary genre, the historical apocalypse, and with it an apocalyptic worldview and consciousness that would become enormously influential in the history of Judaism and Christianity alike. Why this genre at this moment? What is the relationship between apocalypse and empire?
I argue that the first Jewish apocalypses emerged as a literature of resistance to empire. Empire claimed the power to order the world. It exercised this power through force, but also through propaganda and ideology. Empire manipulated and co-opted hegemonic social institutions to express and reinforce its values and cosmology. Resisting imperial domination required challenging not only the physical means of coercion, but also empire’s claims about knowledge and the world. The first apocalypses did precisely this.
I’m looking forward to understanding more about this, but in light of our conversations this week, Portier-Young reinforces my suspicion that apocalyptic literature at least originated not as futuristic prophecy about “the end of the world,” but as a social-theological response to this-world realities, giving guidance about how to resist in both thought and action the powers that held sway over people of faith.