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European Science Foundation ranking A

Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity

Ed. by Brennecke, Hanns Christof / Drecoll, Volker Henning / Heil, Uta / Markschies, Christoph

Together with Elm, Susanna / Gemeinhardt, Peter / Meier, Mischa / Perrone, Lorenzo / Pollmann, Karla / Riedweg, Christoph / Schöllgen, Georg / Williams, Rowan / Wischmeyer, Wolfgang

3 Issues per year

CiteScore 2017: 0.14

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.108
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.447

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Volume 20, Issue 1


Why did Early Believers in Jesus Write Apocalypses?

Enrico Norelli
  • Université de Genève, Faculté autonome de théologie protestante, Uni Bastions, 5 rue De-Candolle, 1211 Genève 4, Swizerland
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Published Online: 2016-01-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zac-2016-0003


There were different messianic expectations in Judaism at the time of Jesus and his disciples, but in all of them, to the best of our knowledge, the presence of the Messiah marked the end of the action of evil powers in the world. Such a statement represents what Umberto Eco called a semiotic judgement in a semiotic system. However, the fact that the first believers in Jesus were still exposed to a distress they understood as being caused by evil powers obliged them to formulate a factual judgement, predicating of a given content “semantic markers that have never been attributed to it by a previous code.”1 As the code provided the ground for stating that Jesus was the Messiah, it could not simply be dismissed, but had to be restructured through the integration of the factual judgement as a new semiotic judgement. Taking up and transforming the genre “apocalypse” allowed early believers in Jesus to effect that transformation, because it required a competent authority to establish a rule corresponding to the factual statement. In a Christian apocalypse, God or a heavenly Being authorized by God accomplishes such a performance, explaining that the distress of believers between Christ’s Resurrection and his Parousia fits a system built on the idea of God’s plan of salvation for humans. John’s Revelation discloses Christ’s heavenly identity and his power over history, showing that his suffering and death was a necessary step for his glorification and that the same path has to be trodden by his followers. The last part of the contribution illustrates two examples of the transformation of traditional apocalyptic motifs so that they may function in the system restructured through the central role attributed to Jesus.

Keywords: Earliest Christian apocalypses; delay of the Parousia; apocalypse as a semiotic system

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Published Online: 2016-01-16

Published in Print: 2016-01-01

Citation Information: Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity, Volume 20, Issue 1, Pages 63–83, ISSN (Online) 1612-961X, ISSN (Print) 0949-9571, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zac-2016-0003.

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