Not all mythopoetic cycles come with an ending; while the term Judeo-Christianity is commonly used, it’s worth noting that the two traditions have very different accounts of both the soul, and the end-times.
Time for some fancy sounding words:
Soteriology: the study of religious traditions dealing with the soul
Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind
So, soteriology is a smaller concept, while eschatology can have universal impact. And here’s the crucial point: Judaism and Christianity have very different takes on both of these topics.
Judaism ends with a coming redeemer, the Messiah. Christianity claims that event happened over two thousand years ago; the Tanak (which is the reordered version of what Christians call the Old Testament) doesn’t end with a Book of Revelations; it is more succinct: To quote Google:
The Hebrew Bible is organized into three main sections: the Torah, or “Teaching,” also called the Pentateuch or the “Five Books of Moses”; the Neviʾim, or Prophets; and the Ketuvim, or Writings. It is often referred to as the Tanakh, a word combining the first letter from the names of each of the three main divisions.
Now, this was problematic for the early Church fathers, who wanted the Prophets to be quoted last, and so they changed the line-up: the Old Testament is organized as Torah, then Ketuvim, and ends with Nevi’im, which makes the Messianic nature of the writings that much clearer.
It also helped pave the way to a new need: after all, if you have a beginning (which the Torah certainly does, by way of Genesis), then you should have an ending…
And this is where the two faiths diverge, quite significantly.
The Jewish concept of the afterlife is one of deep sleep, called Sheol; everyone goes there, regardless of their actions.
Later Jewish traditions complicated the theory; during the Second Temple period, roughly 500 BC – 70 AD, ideas of a place for the wicked – Gehenna – started to emerge. However, these ideas, while contained in Talmudic literature, where not present in the Tanakh itself.
[the Talmud is a story unto itself; it represents the commentaries of multiple Rabbis, collated from 200-500 C.E., and is as important to Jews as the New Testament is to Christians]
Back to the early Church, the question of endings was hotly contested. While many people assume that John’s Revelation was the official ending of the New Testament, there were several contenders for the final chapter. These included:
- First Apocalypse of James
- Second Apocalypse of James
- Apocalypse of Golias
- Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius
- Apocalypse of Paul
- Coptic Apocalypse of Paul
- Apocalypse of Peter
- Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
- Apocalypse of Samuel of Kalamoun
- Apocalypse of Stephen
- Apocalypse of Thomas
- Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens
In other words, the Apocalyptic genre was wide, and filled with many different takes on the End Times.
So how did we end up with the Apocalypse of John? And might it have made a difference?
Maybe – for instance, the Apocalypse of Peter – while far more blood drenched than John – ends with a theme of Universal Salvation; not, of course, until sinners are luridly punished for their apparent sins. Still, despite its grim countenance, it does have a happy ending, one that seems to indicate that Jesus came to save everyone.
[This is the Ethiopian version; the Greek version doesn’t end quite the same way]
Do Apocalyptic writings matter?
Yes. They change how we perceive ourselves, each other, and the world we live in.
Is there a takeaway?
Maybe it’s time for a New Revelation.
One that doesn’t end in an Apocalypse…