In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Apocalypticism and Messianism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Sourcebooks and Reference Guides
  • Messianism and Messianic Figures and Movements
  • Rabbinic-Era Judaism
  • Apocalypticism and Merkevah Mysticism

Jewish Studies Apocalypticism and Messianism
Lorenzo DiTommaso
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0029


Apocalypticism and messianism originated in ancient Judaism. Apocalypticism, or the apocalyptic worldview, is a distinctive combination of several core axioms, including a conviction in the imminent end of history. The first apocalypses date from the Hellenistic era (323–363 BCE) and include the early Enochic literature and the biblical book of Daniel. Messianism is the expectation for an end-time agent who plays a positive, authoritative, and usually redemptive role. It derived from the postexilic hope for a future ideal Davidic king. Messiah figures are thus foremost a symbol for national-political restoration but can also have priestly or prophetic dimensions. Apocalyptic speculation and messianic expectation survived the failure of three revolts against Rome (66–73, 115–117, and 132–135 CE) to play important roles in Judaism in the rabbinic, medieval, and early modern centuries and remain significant in contemporary Jewish life, both inside and outside Israel.

General Overviews

Truly comprehensive studies of apocalypticism are virtually nonexistent before the 1980s and remain rare even today. Many scholars consider the worldview through the lens of a single religious perspective, usually New Testament Christianity. Others privilege one historical period over another, such as Himmelfarb 2010 and Weber 1999. Still others conflate apocalypticism with messianism, mysticism, eschatology, millenarianism, fundamentalism, utopianism, or conspiracy literature. Most cover messianism as a matter of course. The three volumes of Collins, et al. 1998 constitute the best source on apocalypticism, even if some major areas of enquiry are less well covered than others. Collins 1998 is the standard and authoritative introduction to ancient Jewish apocalypses. Its first chapter is required reading for students and scholars alike. DiTommaso 2013 discusses apocalypticism as a global and historical worldview. The essays in Baumgarten 2000 focus on the concepts of time and history in the apocalyptic mindset.

  • Baumgarten, Albert I., ed. Apocalyptic Time. Studies in the History of Religions 86. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

    This collection of specialist essays focuses on the temporal dimension of the apocalyptic worldview in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All are superb and worth consultation. Essays on specifically Jewish topics are highlighted in the following sections.

  • Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

    The classic, comprehensive introduction to the apocalyptic literature of early Judaism. Thoroughly informed by Collins’s groundbreaking work in defining the literary genre, which placed the study of apocalypses and related phenomena on a solid scientific footing.

  • Collins, John J., Bernard McGinn, and Stephen J. Stein, eds. The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism. 3 vols. New York: Continuum, 1998.

    Thirteen papers in Volume 1 (edited by Collins) cover “The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity.” The papers in Volumes 2 (edited by McGinn) and 3 (edited by Stein) deal primarily with Christian apocalypticism from the early Middle Ages to the modern era, including a few aspects of secular apocalypticism. All contain useful bibliographies. Papers that specifically deal with Judaism are highlighted in the following sections.

  • DiTommaso, Lorenzo. The Architecture of Apocalypticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Examines apocalypticism from antiquity to the present day. Proposes an “apocalyptic minimum,” or the set of propositions defining apocalypticism, effectively a common language by which to understand it as a global and historical worldview. Indebted to Collins 1998 but contends that the worldview rather than the literary genre is the appropriate starting point for the historical study of apocalyptic phenomena.

  • Himmelfarb, Martha. The Apocalypse: A Brief History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    A highly useful if abbreviated survey. Outside its final chapter, this book concentrates on apocalypses and typical apocalyptic themes in antiquity and the early medieval centuries. And yet it is one of the very few major survey studies to accord equal weight to Jewish and Christian sources.

  • Weber, Eugen. Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

    Brisk, informative investigation of the subject. Despite the comprehensiveness indicated by the title, the center of gravity of this book is located in the early modern and modern eras.

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