Eschatology in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Language: 
English
Sent On: 
Mon, 2021-01-25
Newsletter Number: 
3

Rev. Dr. Jan Slomp, a longtime friend of Arab-West Report, has written an impressive book review for Arab-West Report about an equally impressive book of Prof. Dr. Anton Wessels, The Grand Finale; The Apocalypse in the Tanakh, the Gospel, and the Qur’an, Wipf &Stock, 2020.

Book cover for “The Grand Finale; The Apocalypse in the Tanakh, the Gospel, and the Qur’an
by Anton Wessels

 

The title of the book but also Webster’s dictionary as well as The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explain Apocalypse as a text about the future. Prof. Wessels, however, explains that this is an incorrect understanding of what apocalypse is. Apocalyptic writings are about today. They had a meaning for the believers in the time they were written and they have a meaning for us today.

Apocalyptic texts “are meant to comfort believers, who are living in dire circumstances of calamities and persecution, from which there seems to be no escape” Slomp writes. “The apocalyptic prophet reminds his audience and readers, that there is a divine reality beyond what we see and experience in daily life. He tells them that there is a way out because God is in control of history. ”

 

The book of Revelation was written during the time of Christian persecution. The anti-Christ in the book of Revelation probably refers to Emperor Nero, ruling 54-68 CE. Babylon referred to Rome, the capital of Roman Empire. In all ages we can point to people with characteristics of the anti-Christ. Slomp refers to Dutch Reformed pastor Dirk Arie van den Bosch in The Hague who in November 1940, months after the German occupation of the Netherlands, wrote “a booklet with the number 666 as its sole title on the cover and with as subtitle inside: The number of a human being. He was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. He did not survive it. The Nazi’s had no difficulty recognizing Hitler in the guise of Nero in his book.”

 

The eschatological books Daniel and Revelation are full of symbolic numbers. Number 666 is the number of the beast representing the anti-Christ or Satan. Revelation 20: 2 mentions that Satan will be tied for a thousand years which is, Wessels and Slomp write, often misunderstood in millennial speculations of certain Christian sectarian groups. These speculations are predictions about the future and how often in history they have proven wrong. American Evangelist Hal Lindsey (b. 1929), for example, wrote a series of popular apocalyptic books suggesting that the end of times with Christ’s return to earth was likely to occur in the 1980s.

 

Many orthodox theologians tried to avoid a political reading of the Bible since this so easily can be misused. But German theologians in the Second World War understood the dangers “when the political implications of the message of the Bible are ignored. This is a theme which the Word Council of Churches ever since its inception in 1948 has emphasized.” Wessels writes “that apocalyptic texts place prophets in opposition to empire or ideology be it secular or religious.”

 

The literal reading of Biblical scriptures, as we have seen with millennial speculations are a major problem. This happens because readers have insufficient understanding of the nature of these apocalyptic texts.

 

Apocalyptic writers are not predicting the future, but they claim to be visionaries through attributing their text to a known and well-respected person in the past and from that angle interpret events in the days of the author. That gives a feeling of being a prediction, but it is not. We do not know who wrote the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation but we know who they were attributed to. The authors remind their readers and listeners that not the rulers of the empires in their days are in charge and control of history but God. There are other apocalyptic texts such as The Apocalypse of Methodius which later became pseudo-Methodius. This text was written in the period of the Arab conquests of Christian lands taken from the Byzantine Empire but was attributed to fourth-century Church Father Methodius of Olympus. Slomp comments “Of course this hiding behind names in the past creates the misunderstanding that apocalyptic texts are about the future.”

 

Another key element of Wessels, as not only a prominent scholar of religion but also as an ordained minister in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, is that unlike most other Christian theologians, “he deals with the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as a coherent complex, as one theological field on equal footing,” Slomp writes. “Christian scholars, like their secular colleagues with a training in Islamic studies usually write about the Qur’an in a descriptive, neutral, academic uncommitted way. When a Christian approaches the Qur’an as a theologian, he or she usually brings out the differences in a comparative way.  Muslim authors do the same, when they write about Judaism and Christianity as opposed to Islam.” The result is often that differences are highlighted.

 

Wessels, Slomp writes, is one of the first Christian theologians who recognizes the prophethood of Muhammad [Muḥammad], not as the last prophet as Muslims believe but a prophet as the prophets in the Tanakh or Old Testament. Wessels thus sees “more truth in Muḥammad’s claim that he came to confirm prior revelations, than most Jews and Christians are ready to admit.”

 

In two earlier books Wessels explored the many connections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This book elaborates the connections in the apocalyptic texts.

 

Slomp refers to the October 13, 2007, letter of 138 Muslim scholars to the Pope and other Christian leaders. The initiative for this was made by the Jordanian Prince and professor of philosophy HRH Ghazi bin-Muhammad [Ghāzī bin Muḥammad] in an effort to reduce the misunderstandings following the lecture of Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg in 2006. “These scholars invited Christians to join them in a Common Word (sūrah 3:64) about loving God and our fellow human beings as ourselves. The original setting of sūrah 3:64 is the encounter between the Prophet and the Christians from Najrān. The latter are invited to recognize that Muslims worship the same one God, despite their different views on the status of the Messiah. Such common words bring believers of different religions together.”

 

Dr. Slomp correctly states that “this is not a book for beginners. To deal with such a complicated subject as apocalypticism, Wessels needed his long scholarly experience as an author combined with his broad and deep acquaintance with historical, biblical, qur’anic and religious studies. As a result, his book is filled to the brim with exegetical surprises.”

 

I have read the book and the review, and both are highly recommended readings for anyone with an interest in eschatology in seeing the connections between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

 

 

Cornelis Hulsman

 

Epiphany, 2021