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apocalypse (əpŏkˈəlĭps) [Gr.,=uncovering], genre represented in early Jewish and in Christian literature in which the secrets of the heavenly world or of the world to come are revealed by angelic mediation within a narrative framework. The genre seems to have arisen in Palestine in the 3d cent. B.C., perhaps as a protest against an oppressive and dominant establishment, either Gentile or apostate Jewish. The writing is characterized by otherworldly journeys, visions, animal imagery derived from the common fund of ancient Middle Eastern mythological imagery, and number symbolism. Apocalyptic eschatology is marked by the conviction that God will intervene decisively in the present evil age and vindicate his suffering elect over their oppressors, raising the dead, consigning the wicked to eternal destruction, and establishing a new creation. In the Bible, apocalyptic elements are present in the books of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, and Daniel. The collection known as the Pseudepigrapha contains a number of early Jewish apocalypses, including 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. In the New Testament the book of Revelation is often called the Apocalypse.


See C. Rowland, The Open Heaven (1982); E. Weber, Apocalypses (1999).

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Engraving of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of the visions from the book of Revelation. The horsemen are predicted to ride during an apocalyptic period with wars, weather changes, earthquakes, and plagues, heralding the end of the world. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The term "apocalypse" refers to the end of time. One of the biggest differences between the Eastern thought of, for example, Hinduism and Buddhism and the Western thought of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the concept of time. Followers of Western, monotheistic religions tend to view time as linear, with a beginning and end, and often have a difficult time even imagining another way of thinking. It just seems obvious, under such a frame of reference, that everything started at some time in the past and will end at some time in the future. In religions arising out of Eastern thought, however, time is circular, repeating itself endlessly. For most of humankind's existence, linear thinking was not even an option.

When thinking in terms of a beginning and an end, however, the mind immediately jumps to how the end will come and what happens next. The study of the end of time is called eschatology. When visions of the end were experienced and written down, usually in intricate symbolism that only the initiated would understand, the writing was called apocalyptic writing. One notable book in this tradition is the book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament, often called the Apocalypse of Saint John. But there were many, many more books like this that didn't pass muster for the final biblical cut.

An early instance of apocalyptic writing appears in Persian Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster, called Zarathustra by the Greeks, lived in 550 BCE, though some sources place him as early as 1000 BCE. A good case can be made that the religion he founded was the first monotheistic religion. Although most people assume Judaism takes this honor, until the Babylonian captivity, when Jews first experienced Persian religion, their writing was filled with sentences such as, "Jehovah is a mighty God, and a great God above all gods" (Psalm 95:3). The phrase "all gods" suggests that Judaism was not yet monotheistic.

The principal concept of Zoroastrian apocalyptic writing is dualism. A battle between good and evil is being carried out on planet Earth. The good god, Ahura Mazda, is using humankind to bait Ahriman, the evil god, into the world. Ahriman will tempt humans, who, by resisting, will wear him down so that he can eventually be destroyed. History will end at the last judgment, and a new, purified Earth will be formed. Humans will be rewarded with Paradise, an ideal heavenly realm with a divine court abiding over the blessed, or hell, which is not eternal but will purify the wicked along with Earth. Just before this happens, Zoroaster will return as a prophet conceived by a virgin with his own seed, which has been stored in a mountain lake. A prophet will then appear in this way every thousand years until the final restoration of the world, three thousand years later.

When the Jews returned from the Babylonian/Persian captivity, their writings showed evidence of the kind of apocalyptic literature they encountered there. The later prophets of Judaism, beginning with Daniel, wrote with "good against evil" and "light against dark" imagery. The Dead Sea Scrolls left by the Essene community make it clear that apocalyptic theology was a potent force in their struggle against Roman oppression.

It may well have been a sense of apocalyptic curiosity that prompted some Zoroastrian priests, called "Magi" or "Wise Men," to make the long journey to Bethlehem. They had seen an astrological event in the heavens that signaled the birth of the "King of the Jews."

The Qur'an of Islam continues the tradition of monotheistic apocalyptic writing:

Then, on the Day of Judgment, he will cover them with shame, and say, "Where are my partners concerning whom ye used to dispute with the godly?" ... To those who do good, there is good in this world, and the Home of the righteous, gardens of Eternity which they will enter: beneath them flow pleasant rivers: they will have all that they wish: thus doth Allah reward the righteous, (namely) those whose lives the angels take in a state of purity, saying (to them), "peace be on you; enter ye the Garden, because of (the good) which ye did (in the world)." (16:27-32)

Apocalyptic literature of all monotheistic religions shares a sense of linear time, a fiery judgment delivered from the mouth of God or his messenger, rewards for the blessed, and punishment for the wicked. Believers look forward to the next life and a cessation of the bitterness of this one, with the hope of hearing something like: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.... Whoever is thirsty, let him come" (Revelation 22:14, 17).

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(pop culture)
The idea of the “superman” goes back to nineteenth- century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the ubermensch, a superior individual whom he considered to be “beyond good and evil.” The American superhero adapts this idea to democratic society; the superhero is a member of the community, helping them but not ruling them. Nazi ideologues adapted Nietszche's concepts differently, creating their philosophy of a “master race” dominating or supplanting weaker races. Marvel's mutant villain Apocalypse embodies the dark side of the ubermensch concept. His name means “the end of the world” as depicted in the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, often referred to as the Book of the Apocalypse. Apocalypse's philosophy is an extreme version of social Darwinism: he believes in the survival of the fittest, that the strong deserve to rule, and even to destroy, the weak. Since he is one of Earth's most powerful mutants, Apocalypse believes it is his destiny to rule the planet. Apocalypse first appeared in shadow in X-Factor #5 (1986), written by Bob Layton and drawn by Jackson “Butch” Guice, but he emerged into full view in X-Factor #6, drawn by Guice and written by Louise Simonson. The character has continued to appear in Marvel's X-Men and related titles. One of the first known superhuman mutants in the history of Marvel's fictional Earth, Apocalypse has mental control over his body's molecular structure, enabling him to change shape at will. By absorbing energy from outside sources, he can augment his superhuman strength without any known limit. He can also absorb mass in order to increase his size. Apocalypse has mastered methods of genetic engineering that are advanced far beyond conventional science. Apocalypse's origin was revealed in the miniseries The Rise of Apocalypse #1–#4 (1996–1997), written by Terry Kavanagh and drawn by Adam Pollina, depicting him as an evil kind of Messiah. He was born nearly five thousand years ago in Egypt. Believed to be a demon, the grotesque infant was abandoned in the desert to die. But he was found by a band of raiders, whose leader, Baal, sensed the infant's latent power. Baal named the infant “En Sabah Nur” (which signifies “The First One”) and raised him as his son. It was Baal who taught En Sabah Nur his philosophy of the survival of the fittest. When En Sabah Nur was seventeen, Baal brought him into a sacred cave, where they became entrapped. There Baal told Nur that he believed the youth was a prophesied conqueror who was destined to overthrow Egypt's ruler, Pharaoh Rama-Tut, who years before had massacred much of their tribe and enslaved the survivors. (Rama-Tut was actually a time traveler from the far future, who had come to ancient Egypt to find Apocalypse as a child and raise him to serve him.) Baal starved to death in the cave, but the mutant Nur made his way back to the surface. Biding his time, En Sabah Nur labored as a slave. Eventually he came face to face with Rama- Tut, who offered to make him his heir. When Nur refused, Rama-Tut ordered him killed. But the superhumanly powerful Nur defeated Rama-Tut's warlord Ozymandias, and Rama-Tut fled into the future, where he became the Avengers' archnemesis, Kang the Conqueror. Spurned by Nephri, the woman he loved, Nur dedicated his life to conquest. For thousands of years, Nur traveled the planet, worshipped as a god by ancient civilizations. Implementing his philosophy, Nur manipulated nations into fighting wars in order to determine which country's people would prove to be the stronger. As recorded in the comics miniseries The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix (1996), in AD 1859 Apocalypse encountered Dr. Nathaniel Essex, a scientist who believed he could create a superhuman “master race” through selective breeding. Apocalypse transformed Essex into the superhuman being Mr. Sinister. But the time-traveling Cyclops and Phoenix (Jean Grey) of the X-Men thwarted Apocalypse's plot to assassinate Queen Victoria. More than a century later, Apocalypse believed that the newly emerging race of superhuman mutants were the “strong” who were destined to conquer the weak “normal” humans. Apocalypse first clashed with the original X-Factor, a team comprised of members of the original X-Men, including Cyclops. Apocalypse used his advanced science to genetically alter the Angel, one of X-Factor's members, into the blue-skinned Archangel, giving him new wings, hard like metal. Apocalypse intended Archangel to serve as one of his “Four Horsemen,” named after the figures of War, Death, Famine, and Pestilence in the Bible's Book of Revelation. But Archangel rebelled and rejoined X-Factor. Apocalypse later infected Cyclops' infant son, Nathan Summers, with a lethal “techno-organic” virus. Nathan was transported to the far future by the Askani, a cult of freedom fighters, who saved his life. In that alternate future, Apocalypse ruled Earth, but he had to keep transferring his mind and powers into new host bodies to survive. Apocalypse raised Stryfe, a clone of Nathan, intending to make him his new host. But the teenage Nathan slew Apocalypse (as seen in the comics miniseries The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix in 1994) and grew up to become the warrior Cable. (The adult Cable journeyed back to the X-Men's time in the hope of changing future history by defeating Apocalypse back then.) In the recent past, Cyclops thwarted Apocalypse's attempt to transfer his consciousness into the body of Nate Grey, the mutant called X-Man. Instead, Apocalypse merged with Cyclops. Jean Grey later used her powers to exorcise Apocalypse from Cyclops' body, and Cable seemingly destroyed Apocalypse's astral form (as seen in XMen: The Search for Cyclops #4, 2001). But can even this defeat stop a being capable of possessing other people's bodies? In 1995 Marvel introduced “The Age of Apocalypse,” an alternate timeline in which Apocalypse had conquered North America and undertook genetic “cleansing” of humanity, slaughtering those he deemed unfit to live, until he was killed by Magneto. “The Age of Apocalypse” made the connection between Apocalypse's philosophy and the Nazis' master race ideology clear. Apocalypse has appeared on television as a major villain in X-Men: The Animated Series (1992–1997) and the animated X-Men: Evolution (2000–2003). He has also appeared in the 1990s computer arcade games X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter and in the video games X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse (2001) and X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (2005).
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the Book of Revelation of the apostle John the Evangelist; a book of the New Testament, the oldest Christian work of literature that has been preserved.

The Apocalypse was written in the middle of A.D. 68 and early 69 (soon after the death of the Roman emperor Nero) by a Jew who became a Christian. According to the tradition of the church, the apostle John the Evangelist is author of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse followed from the Prophetical Books of the Old Testament and has partially borrowed from the latter. In its content it drastically differs from other writings of the New Testament. The Apocalypse describes, through a series of fantastic visions that the author claims are “revelations” he received from god, the future of the world and of mankind: the allegedly impending struggle between the “heavenly host” and Antichrist, the “end of the world,” the “last judgment,” and the “thousand-year kingdom of God” on earth. The Apocalypse reflects the dissatisfaction and the rebellious sentiments of the Israelite people, who lived under the yoke of Rome and who hoped for an early end of the Roman Empire. But the Apocalypse expresses for the first time the ideas of long suffering and humility and calls for passively awaiting the outcome of the struggle between the divine forces and Antichrist, in the hope for god’s retribution—the “thousand-year kingdom of God.” The chiliastic sentiments (waiting for the thousand-year kingdom) expressed in the Apocalypse became very widespread in Christian sectarianism. For many centuries the reactionary forces of the church and the sects used the Apocalypse, with its mystical and terrifying scenes, as an ideological weapon to influence the minds of believers.


Engels, F. “Bruno Baueripervonachal’noekhristianstvo.” K. Marx and F. Engels. Soch. 2nd ed., vol. 19.
Engels, F. “Kniga otkroveniia.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F. “Kistoriipervonachal’novokhristianstva.’ Ibid., vol. 22.
Robertson, A. Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from English.)
Rowley, H. H. Relevance of Apocalyptic. London-Redhill [1944].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


king of animals whose flesh will provide feast for chosen when Messiah comes. [Jew. Tradition: Leach, 132]
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
four riders symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death. [N.T.: Revelation 6:1–8]
Gog and Magog
giant leaders in ultimate battle against God’s people. [N.T.: Revelation 20:8]
day of great battle between Teutonic gods and forces of evil. [Ger. Folklore: Leach, 461]
sea monster; symbol of apocalypse. [Jew. Tradition: Leach, 67]
final book of the New Testament discussing the coming of the world’s end. [N.T.: Revelation]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Bible (in the Vulgate and Douay versions of the Bible) the Book of Revelation
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005