The following are my notes taken during a presentation by Oxford Professor Christopher Rowland at the University of St Andrews Divinity School’s Seminar on Apocalyptic and Mysticism in the New Testament on 8 May 2012.  His paper was entitled “The Apocalypse and the Visionary” and provides some context for the writing of The Open Heaven 30 years ago, and the development of his thinking on apocalyptic literature leading to his more recent work with Christopher Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God.  Both of these titles have been absolutely ground-breaking in this field and it was rewarding to hear Professor Rowland expound on them.

N.B. – My notes were very sparse and, as I am writing this several days after the presentation, now my memories of the context of some of what I wrote are as well.  Therefore, these notes may not make a whole lot of sense and they are most definitely not an accurate representation of what Professor Rowland actually said. Also, please excuse the rushed formatting job!  Having said all that, I hope you enjoy my notes from Professor Rowland’s brilliant presentation.


“The Apocalypse and the Visionary”

This presentation marks 30 years since publication of  The Open Heaven, almost to the day.
He will give a history of the origin of The Open Heaven, and then discuss the development of The Mystery of God.
The ideas that became the content of The Open Heaven stemmed largely from attending John Bowker lectures at Oxford on the Jewish background of the New Testament — at the time, these were very new ideas!
     –this new approach really impressed Rowland
     –this led him to write an essay on the cosmology of Ephesians — following work of Gershom Scholem on Jewish mysticism
     –later, his PhD thesis looked at the effect of Ezekiel (esp. chapter 1) on NT theology — submitted in 1974
     –was also interested in the inluence of the Jewish Hekhalot literature
     –this research led to the writing of The Open Heaven
One of the main purposes for the book was to challenge the popular notion that apocalyptic was about the End of the World — Rowland wanted to concentrate on the “revelation” element and other specific features
The Mystery of God is basically a sequel to The Open Heaven — tying up loose ends — published 25 yrs later
      –decided to work with Chris Morray-Jones, his former student, as he believed that Chris’s work deserved to be in public domain
     –they both share the perspective that apocalyptic writings have much to offer understanding of NT theology
          –NT theology should be viewed through lens of Jewish apocalypses – these are necessary to understand nascent Christianity
Scholem had argued for an unbroken mystical tradition from 2nd Temple times to the time of Hekhalot literature
     –Rowland’s view is a little more flexible — the line is maybe not so unbroken, but there is a common engagement with Ezekiel’s merkabah vision
     –can repeatedly see exegetes trying to understand chashmal (a mysterious Hebrew word variously translated as glowing amber, electrum, bronze, gleaming metal, etc.; Ezekiel 1:4)
Rowland wanted to emphasize the central importance of “revelation” for what is going on in 2nd temple times
     –The NT Book of Revelation — Ezekiel’s words inspired an apocalyptic vision to John — we should expect that there is a real visionary experience behind the text, although it is inspired by the account of Ezekiel and other biblical passages
     –Exegesis vs. Revelation — there is debate over whether these apocalyptic visions are literary productions based solely on the author’s exegesis of scriptural passages or if there is a true visionary experience as the basis
     –Mary Carruthers — he recommended her work on memory and how it plays a role in spiritual experience
     –How does imagination play a role? Meditation on the Merkabah — Visualizing and then meditating on that vision — creation of mental images – See what one is reading/reciting — memorizing text (digesting scroll), and meditating on it — imagining — other passages come to mind (Meditating on Ezekiel –> Imagining Merkabah –> Recalling Isaiah 6 –> etc)
Apocalyptic should not be seen as just flowing from the prophetic tradition, but includes Wisdom elements as well — take 1 Enoch for example — there are many parallels with Sapiential literature as well  (lists, cosmology, etc.)
     –How can we understand nature of apocalyptic?
     –It’s not just about prophetic eschatology, but cosmology also needs to be considered
     –Enoch should be taken as key to understanding the apocalyptic genre
He supports Apocalypse: Morphology of a Genre — edited by John Collins — and its definition, with only a few reservations
“‘Apocalypse’ is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”
–This resulted from an SBL project on Apocalyptic genre — attempts a master paradigm
–genre of revelatory literature in a narrative frame — supernatural revelation
–transcendent reality not necessarily just for Eschaton/heaven — revelation can be about past, present, or future
In The Mystery of God — mysticism = spiritual apprehension of truths
     –this should not be a separate category, but an essential part of religion
     –direct consciousness of the presence of God
–Mystical aspects of Paul
–Luz — “Mysticism” is a modern term
     –Mysticism is the relationship between theology and experience
     –the gifts of the Spirit are the basis of religious experience
     –In a sense, all Christians are mystics — baptism is a mystical experience
     –Gospel of John
          –an apocalypse-in-reverse
          –Jesus is revelation of the mystery of God — he has brought the revelation of God with his incarnation — he is the goal of the divine mysteries
Apocalyptic and mysticism part ways in beginning of 19th century
          –James Schmidt pointed out that Friederich Lucke first made the connection between “apocalyptic” (Lucke’s term) and prophetic texts — the apocalyptic texts shared a peculiar eschatology
Coleridge assessed the writings of William Blake, who was roughly a contemporary of Lucke, but had a much different perspective on what “apocalyptic” meant — Coleridge called him an apocalyptic and a mystic
          –Coleridge saw Blake as a man of genius
          –mystic, apocalyptic, ana-calyptic (“with unveiled face”) — like Swedenborg — had visions of the future, Last
      –Rowland finds apocalyptic phenomenon in Blake’s work
          –higher wisdom through revelation
     –Coleridge also accused of being a mystic — negative connotation
          –”Age of Reflection”
               –Mysticism entails a disciplined speculative meditation on the presence of God
               –involves personal revelation
               –there is a danger of moving into fanaticism – need to be able to discern between fantasy and reality — need education in order to engage in mysticism safely
               –there can be no “wallowing” in the mystical world
               –there is a difference between harmful and harmless mysticism
–Paul is accused of being insane by Festus –”Too much learning is driving you insane!” Acts 26:24 — when he’s talking of heavenly vision
     –there is no real apocalypse in Paul — his writing is more pragmatic, rhetorical and apologetic — 1 Corinthians 2:10–16 — he wants to challenge mystical piety
     –he also suggests that one needs a certain maturity/learning to engage in mystical pursuits
     –this is the problem with the Corinthians — they are interested in mystical words/learning, but these are not matched by deeds
     –Paul explains that the Christian people are a temple — their (sexual) sins are polluting the temple and need to being expunged — need to cleanse the temple — holiness cannot be compromised
Eschatological elements are not the determining feature of what constitutes apocalypticsim — we need to understand that the visionary experience is key
– Rowland always wanted to be able to relate specific passages to parallel texts — this was important to him — he wanted to be able to trace a genealogical connection between different related texts — he is a bit more relaxed now — he is still convinced that there was some kind of visionary praxis that affected Christianity — also important was the reception history of Ezekiel 1 — he now concentrates less on antecedents and more on effects
The history of the study of apocalyptic deserves elucidation – we need a systematic study of how we have come to our understandings of what apocalyptic is — we are tied to the intellectual culture of which we are a part — there are many prejudices that affect us — we need to be aware of the pervasiveness of these prejudices.

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