Revelation mailing list: Dissertation Abstracts 4.002: Dwight D. Sheets: The Sitz Im Leben of the Apocalypse

The Sitz Im Leben of the Apocalypse: Realized Eschatology and Apocalyptic Expression

Dwight David Sheets (ddsheets@vfcc.edu)

This dissertation was submitted to and passed by the Center for Advanced Theological Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, CA) in June 2000, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (New Testament). The readers were Donald Hagner (advisor), David Scholer, and John Court.

The deprivation theory is commonly employed to explain the origin of apocalyptic movements and literature. The traditional theory contends that apocalyptic expression originates among those deprived of power (be it economic, social, political, religious, etc), who suffer hardship from their situation. The introduction of social scientific models allows the deprivation theory even broader application. With the marriage of the concepts of cognitive dissonance and relative deprivation, deprivation no longer requires an observable source. The subjective deprivation existing in the minds of group members is now assumed to be the impetus for most apocalyptic expression. The deprivation experienced by Jewish apocalyptic movements is commonly thought to have been the failure of prophetic promises.

This study rejects the deprivation theory because it does not fit the setting of many apocalyptic movements; it cannot account for the rise of such movements from various settings, nor explain why the deprived often exhibit no apocalyptic expression. We contend that Jewish apocalyptic thought often originated from a Sitz im Leben of realized rather than delayed or failed eschatology. Thus, to understand the rise of apocalyptic movements one must know the eschatological expectations of the group and examine how it perceived of its present situation in light of that tradition. A number of Old Testament, second temple Jewish, and first century texts manifest prophetic fulfillment and eschatological imminence. Objective deprivation is often part of the fulfillment. The apocalyptists believed the delay was over, the final day was imminent.

The Sitz im Leben of the Apocalypse of John was also realized eschatology. The letters reflect the end-time apostasy. Seals one through four reflect the fulfillment of the synoptic eschatological discourse. Because Jesus' prophecy in the discourse was not completely fulfilled, in the trumpets and bowls cycles and their associated narratives, John shows how those events had been or would be fulfilled in another way. Similarly to his own life experience, John transfers the center of end time events from east to west, and shows how in his revised end-time scenario it was Rome rather than Jerusalem that would be destroyed before the final battle of Armageddon and the parousia.

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Date of original posting on Revelation mailing list: July 19th, 2000
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