Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apocalyptic Science?

In his stunningly incisive and occasionally slipshod 1947 dissertation Occidental Eschatology, Jacob Taubes makes a strong case for how Hegel and Marx stand in the lineage of biblical prophecy and apocalyptic. He defines apocalypticism as the first scientific approach to history--with disturbing consequences for our histories of both science and history: "The science of apocalypticism can be defined as the exact numerical calculation of the end of time." Why?

The events of the world are written on the face of the divine clock, so the point is to follow the course of world history to determine the hour of the aeon. Apocalypticism is the foundation which makes universal history possible.*

Taubes' insights are too good to leave as provocative but unjustified claims. Since his time we've gotten an immense amount of new data; we even understand some of it. And based on my reading of biblical Priestly, early Jewish Enochic, and Babylonian scholarly literature, I am becoming convinced that Taubes was right in crucial ways. Next month I will be exploring the issue of apocalyptic science, and its connection to the biblical and Near Eastern foundations of universal history, in the company of a bunch of great scholars, including many more eminent than me. Early next month, ISAW will host a conference I am co-organizing with Jonathan Ben-Dov on Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge.

Take a look and please RSVP if you're interested--we'd love to see you there!

*Occidental Eschatology. tr. David Ratmoko (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009 [1947]) 32-33

1 comment:

John Hobbins said...

Hi Seth,

Great topic. I've begun to read more of Taubes, in German after having begun in Italian translation.

I tend to come at these questions in the context of Italian-language scholarship. It was Arnaldo Momigliano who more than anyone demonstrated the extent to which history as we conceptualize it is indebted to apocalyptic literature.

It is Corrado Martone who has shown that the Primary History dates the destruction of the Temple to exactly 3600 years after Creation.

See idem, «Cronologie bibliche e tradizioni testuali», in Annali di scienze religiose 6 (2001) 167-190

Also of intereest:

G. BORGONOVO, «Significato numerico delle cronologie bibliche e rilevanza delle varianti testuali (TM - LXX SAM)»,
in G. L. PRATO (ed.), “Un tempo per nascere e un tempo per morire”. Cronologie normative e razionalit√† della storia nell’antico Israele, Ricerche Storico-Bibliche 1, EDB, Bologna 1997, 139-170

My guess is that it is precisely wrong to think that a numerological vision of the past was developed apart from a numerological vision of the hic et nunc. What if they went hand in hand from the beginning somehow?