The Intersection of Apocalypses and Aramaic in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Over the years scholars have increasingly noted that the preponderance of ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature was penned in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Statements of this nature are found as early as the 1979 Uppsala conference and as recently as the 2012 Nangeroni meeting of the Enoch Seminar. In view of this, the Aramaic texts that have been the subject of this forum provide a new space to explore how ancient Jewish writers at once contributed to the development of the apocalypse and deployed it to advance ideas on a host of topics ranging from history and empire, to temple and priesthood, to identity and otherness, to name but a few. While research on the Qumran Aramaic texts has only recently come to the fore in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, there are at least four items within these materials that illumine the formation and background of ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature. These are outlined here with select examples in order to point the way forward for future conversations on the intersection of apocalypses and Aramaic in the Qumran library.
The Early Apocalypses as an Outgrowth of Dream-Vision Literature
The saturation of dream-visions in the Aramaic corpus indicates the centrality of this divinatory medium to apocalyptic thought in general. This may give further reason to revisit the idea of the origination of the apocalypse in dream-vision literature as Carmignac proposed initially in his contribution to the Uppsala conference in 1979. Carmignac advanced the case that the symbolic and metaphorical language of prophetic-visionary literature (e.g., the books of Amos, Ezekiel, and Zechariah) provided the impetus for the emergence of the apocalypse. At the time he painted the genre in broad strokes as represented by Daniel and other apocalypses leading up to the book of Revelation. After lying fallow for some years, Carmignac’s hypothesis was picked up and developed by Flannery-Dailey and Reynolds, who, in their own ways, demonstrated the significance of the dream-vision for the evolution of the apocalypse in ancient Judaism. Since dream-visions factor into approximately two-thirds of the texts represented in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls, this corner of the Qumran library provides an important snapshot of a critical evolutionary stage of the apocalypse from visionary prototype to a genre in its own right as well as gives a new context for considering Daniel’s apocalyptic form and outlooks.
Arguably, New Jerusalem best illustrates this potential. While the narrative setting of the dream-vision is unknown, the author of this work is heavily informed by the prophetic-visionary tradition of Ezekiel 40–48, but has developed this material in such a way that the work is characterized by most scholars as a formal apocalypse. Visions of Amram is another example along this traceable trajectory. Amram’s priestly dream-vision of a courtroom dispute is not unlike Zechariah 3, which depicts a contest between Satan and the Lord over the suitability of the high priest Joshua. This pair of texts, then, indicates some linkages between scriptural prophetic visionaries and the dreamers of the early Aramaic apocalypses.
Evolving Apocalyptic Units within Other Genres
Many of the apocalyptic dream-visions found in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls are not self-standing compositions but exist as literary units stitched into writings of various other genres. To cite a few examples, Noah’s dream-vision in Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20 XII 19–XV 21) is located in a broader narrative framework that may be characterized as rewritten scripture or parascriptural literature; Amram’s dream-vision in Visions of Amram is situated in a work that has significant affinities with later testamentary literature; and Aramaic Daniel, Four Kingdoms, and Aramaic Apocalypse accentuate the centrality of dream-visions in historically fictive court-tales.
The study of the development of the ancient apocalypse cannot be limited to those works that in their entirety comprise an apocalypse. Attention must be paid to the important examples of embedded apocalypses. In this way, the Aramaic dream-visions reveal how the apocalypse developed on the hosts of other types of literature en route to becoming an independent genre.
The Double-Helix of Priestly-Apocalyptic Texts
The Aramaic texts also provide important evidence for priestly applications of dream-vision revelation in the mid Second Temple period. The redrawn characters of Levi, Amram, and likely Jacob in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls are noted for their ability to receive otherworldly revelation as well as their role in transmitting priestly teaching and tradition.
Of the texts that contribute to this new angle on the apocalypse, New Jerusalem and Visions of Amram are again the most salient examples. Both of these works are steeped in priestly thought, as evidenced by their visionary depictions of the eschatological cult and revelation of the priestly genealogy, respectively. In addition to this, both measure up well against commonly accepted definitions of the apocalypse, such as that of Semeia 14. It is also necessary to account for how the eschatological outlooks of works like Testament of Jacob and Apocryphon of Levi include a space for priestly actions and actors. In view of this new blend of priestly concepts and apocalyptic revelation, the suite of Qumran Aramaic texts suggests that, in addition to parcelling out the apocalypses into otherworldly journeys or historical apocalypses, a space should be reserved for apocalypses with strong priestly bents and concerns.
The Anatomy of the Historical Apocalypse
One of the more familiar aspects of ancient apocalyptic literature pertains to its interest in correlating the recent or present geopolitical events with a larger axis of history. This quality of apocalyptic literature has been rightly understood against the background of ancient Near Eastern compositions such as the (Prophecy) Text A, Marduk Prophetic Speech, Shulgi Prophetic Speech, Uruk Prophecy, and Dynastic Prophecy. The book of Daniel, of course, has also provided an important waypoint for discerning the early development of apocalyptic historiography in Jewish literature of the Second Temple period. Yet it may now be asked, is Daniel alone in this development?
The emergence of new Aramaic texts from this period at Qumran that share the interest in conceiving of history, either in episodes or its entirely, along an apocalyptic trajectory adds new data for tracing the lineage of the historical apocalypse. A writing like Book of Giants appears to utilize dream-visions attributed to the gargantuan offspring of the fallen Watchers and human women to communicate their certain doom in the deluge and inevitable destruction in the eschaton. As a result, the work presents and apocalyptic view of the origins and consummation of all things using an Urzeit und Endzeit typology. The Aramaic Four Kingdoms text provides another configuration of the eras of empires leading up to the emergence of the kingdom of God. This historiographical mechanism is of course familiar from both classical sources and its repeated deployment in the book of Daniel. While there are different scholarly opinions on if and how Four Kingdoms relates to the presentation of history in Daniel 2 and 7, I have argued that the text represented an update to the four kingdom schema by expanding it to include Roman rule before the brink of the eschaton. In view of this possibility, the Aramaic texts not only provide important views of the apocalypse’s early inception but also its evolution as generations of writers and readers accessed and updated their traditions in changing political contexts.
The overview here is a summary of select outcomes of my book The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Literature in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls and, therefore, cannot fully engage the many and complex issues that present themselves in the quest for the origins of the apocalypse in ancient Judaism. Nonetheless, it is worth underscoring that the Qumran Aramaic finds provided a new set of texts within which we may map the earliest formulations of the apocalypses as a genre as well as how apocalyptic outlooks and inclinations were applied in a variety of texts for equally diverse reasons. To revisit Carmignac’s proposal above, the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls allow a fresh opportunity to explore in greater detail what literary forms and ideological tenets of apocalypticism transpired in between Daniel and Revelation.
Further Reading on Topics and Texts Treated in this Article
J. Carmignac, “Description du phénomène de l’Apocalyptique dans l’Ancien Testament,” in Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East: Proceedings of the International Colloquium on Apocalypticism, Uppsala, August 12–17, 1979, edited by D. Hellholm (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 163–70.
J. J. Collins, “The Aramaic Texts from Qumran: Conclusions and Perspectives,” in Aramaica Qumranica: Proceedings of the Conference on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran in Aix-en-Provence, 30 June–2 July 2008, edited by K. Berthelot and D. Stökl Ben Ezra, STDJ 94 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 547–64.
F. Flannery-Dailey, “Lessons on Early Jewish Apocalypticism and Mysticism from Dream Literature,” in Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism, edited by A. D. DeConick (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), 231–47.
F. García Martínez, Florentino, Qumran and Apocalyptic: Studies on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran, STDJ 9 (Leiden: Brill, 1992).
A. B. Perrin, The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls, JAJSup 19 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).
B. H. Reynolds III, Between Symbolism and Realism: The Use of Symbolic and Non-Symbolic Language in Ancient Jewish Apocalypses 333–63 B.C.E, JAJSup 8 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).
Andrew B. Perrin is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University. His research on the Aramaic texts includes articles in Dead Sea Discoveries, Journal of Biblical Literature, Revue de Qumran and the monograph The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).
The Ancient Jew Review and Trinity Western University Dead Sea Scrolls Institute forums and reviews commemorating the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the Qumran scrolls were edited by Dr. Andrew Perrin (Trinity Western University), Dr. Andrew Krause (University of Münster), Dr. Jessica Keady (University of Chester), and Spencer Jones (Trinity Western University).
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