In modern English, the noun “apocalypse” and the related adjective “apocalyptic” have come to connote a catastrophe of cosmic proportions. So one speaks of the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse, or of the apocalyptic landscape of some futuristic films. It may come as something of a surprise, then, to learn that the underlying Greek word, apokalypsis, means simply “revelation” or “uncovering.”
John J. Collins, Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls, page 1.
An 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.
J. J. Collins, "Apocalyptic Literature," Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, eds. Craig A. Evans and Stanley Porter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000): 41.
Prof. Collins here provides the common view and I would say it is based on Socratic commitments. Those commitments, though in themselves reflecting our darkest inclinations, get their followers to believe in more upbeat scenarios. So, Michael Barkun argues that people with apocalyptic views long for this world to change for the better. He says,
The need which strikes me as most important here is the need to believe in a world characterized by moral order. Apocalyptic beliefs can reinforce a sense of moral order by, for example, advancing a scenario of struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness; a struggle that is to climax in a final battle where the forces of light will be triumphant. In a world where good people often suffer and the wicked prosper, the promise of an imminent moral accounting is profoundly consoling.
Of course, as the Teacher of Righteousness rejects Socratic commitments he has a much different understanding of Apocalypticism. My purpose here will be to explain these two views of Apocalypticism, and their basis in the dispute between Socrates and the Teacher.
I will first review the dispute between Socrates and the Teacher. I will then point out how the “end times” usually depicted in an Apocalypse are desired by those committed to Socrates, but show as a reductio ad absurdum argument the flaws in Socratic philosophy.
Socrates and the Teacher disagree about which account one should accept for our understanding of knowledge and values. Behind this dispute are two views of the purpose or meaning of life. Socrates pushes the idea that life is about survival and the promotion of comfort. The successful accomplishment of this goal involves for Socrates the use of force instead of words because, so he argues, swords are going to help you survive on the battlefield of life where words will not. And as survival will depend on force, those most likely to survive will be those who are the most powerful. Hence, the purpose of life is to survive by relying on one’s powers at the expense of all others.
The Teacher rejects this account of the meaning of life for one that advocates that our purpose is to survive and avoid suffering but only through the resolution of conflicts. On his view, where the violence of nature cannot be prevented and only minimally controlled, it is the problem of what we do to ourselves and others that present us with dangers or challenges we can solve. To that end, the Teacher argues that our survival depends on words rather than the force of swords. It is words that allow us to understand our conflicts and it is with words, therefore, that we can resolve them.
As for the accounts of knowledge and values themselves, Socrates asks us to accept the idea that knowledge and values are matters of either logical or rhetorical argument. In the Republic he advocates the view that, after considering both, we should see they are matters of logical argument. The main feature of a logical argument is the refusal by anyone being logical to consider the views of others. We know this from the fact that logical arguments are not about issues or controversies. As such, one cannot compare one logical argument with any other. In this respect, logical arguments are unlike rhetorical arguments which can be compared because they are about issues and controversies. The main implications of this account of knowledge and values are that knowledge and values, on this view, are impossible, arguments are futile, the logical arguments we’re left with are manipulable by the powerful, and life so understood would not be worth living. The main goal in promoting such a view in politics, for example, would be to make dissent against tyranny, or to have justice, or even love impossible.
The Teacher rejects the Socratic view of knowledge and values by arguing that knowledge and values are matters of not just rhetorical argument or logical argument, but the combination of both. Another way of making his point would be to say knowledge and values are matters of contending points of view. An argument preserved from Jesus, says, “Love others as you would have them love you.” In saying this, Jesus wants us to have as much respect and consideration for the views of others as one would have others have respect for one’s own views. In a document called the Community Rule, there is a comment supporting this reading of Jesus’ “golden rule” as a response to Socratics as purveyors of darkness/blindness, It says,
"[The God of Knowledge] has created man to govern the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of His visitation: the spirits of truth and falsehood. Those born of truth spring from a fountain of light, but those born of falsehood spring from a source of darkness. All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light and walk in the ways of light, but all the children of falsehood are ruled by the Angel of Darkness and walk in the ways of darkness. The Angel of Darkness leads all the children of righteousness astray and until his end, all their sins, iniquities, wickednesses ' and all their unlawful deeds are caused by his dominion in accordance with the mysteries of God ... But the God of Israel and His Angel of Truth will succour all the sons of light. For it is He who created the spirits of Light and Darkness and founded every action upon them and established every deed [upon] their ways. And he loves the one everlastingly and delights in its works for ever; but the counsel of the other he loathes and for ever hates its ways."
- Community Rule 1 QS 3.18-21
This “golden rule” and the light it sheds on our lives contrasts with the Socratic view that it would be irrational to consider the views of others as one would consider one’s own, and the darkness created thereby. The main implications for the Teacher’s view are that knowledge and values are indeed possible. The point of arguments is to obtain knowledge and values. As knowledge and values are not pseudo arguments, their terms are not manipulable by the powerful. And, as we can tell the difference, then, between what we care about, and what we do not, such as justice or what we love, then life is worth living. The main goal in promoting this view is to show that force need not be relied on for survival because the conflicts that divide people are resolvable by words.
In considering the objections that the Teacher makes to Socratic commitments, one would think there would be no question that we too would promptly reject them. That we would reject them seems to be anticipated by Socrates. In fact, he learns about this from his efforts to argue that, since people do not know the definitions of the terms of the logical arguments involved in their lives, they are in no position to do what they do, and specifically, they are in no position to disagree with the tyrants who threatened to rule Athens. People rejected his account of what they were doing. They were willing to argue that, contrary to Socrates, their lives involved knowledge and values. In response, Socrates came up with the argument that, though people say they have knowledge and values in their lives, the fact is, they only seem to have lives, they only seem to have knowledge and values. On Socrates’ account, our lives are matters of experiencing shadows and echoes separate from and caused by a reality beyond our experience. Here, Socrates goes on to talk about how we are like the dwellers in a cave where all we can see and experience is the shadows created by real objects being carried in front of a fire that projects these shadows on a wall in front of the cave dwellers.
Part of the story about this cave is where Socrates speculates that in order for the cave dwellers to get real knowledge and values, they would have to become aware of their real situation as being forced to see only shadows which they call their reality, when in fact it’s the forms that make those shadows which are real. They would get knowledge and values from someone who had come to see exactly how the shadows are produced who would come back into the cave to reveal how the deception is accomplished. The problem for this Socratic hero, unfortunately, is that for his trouble, the cave dwellers would kill him.
Socrates is very crafty in proposing a solution to our suffering which involves a hero who, as suggested in the Apology of Socrates, offers life after death and the promise of a God who can intercede in this life on our behalf. These promises are very attractive. They are much like the promises the salesman makes to Jack when he was supposed to trade the family cow in for a winter’s provisions, but instead came home with a handful of “magic” beans. And too, the prospect of God, blinds our eyes to the fact that, like the Trojan Horse, Socratic commitments hold within them little soldier arguments which will come out to destroy one when least expected.
Given the fact that Socratic commitments imply the impossibility of knowledge and values, the futility of arguments, the manipulability of arguments by power, and the life so understood not worth living, he then offers his audience the Allegory of the cave, the parable of the absent landlord, the story of Job, and others, as excuses to explain our adoption of those commitments. That is, the prospect of being rescued by a Socratic hero in the “God in a flying chariot” way is so compelling that it is offered as an excuse for making commitments to Socratic claims.
In addition to obtaining our commitment to his claims about knowledge and values by providing us an excuse to make those commitments, he prevents us from considering views other than those of the powerful through the application of violence, stealth, and deceit. This is what we learn from the story of Gyges, who establishes that it would be irrational to criticize his point of view. It would be irrational to have as much respect for the views of others, in other words, as one has for one’s own.
An Apocalypse for the Teacher is not, therefore, speculation about how God will one day wrap up all the loose ends in the world to finally punish the wicked and reward the good. Such a scenario is a delusion of Socratic philosophy where the notion of God is about the powerful creator who exists beyond the confines of the cave and is ultimately responsible for reality. The Teacher rejects such a view because he rejects not only the Socratic commitments to his account of knowledge and values and his ideas about the meaning of life, but also because Socrates pushes the idea that the ends, his view of the meaning of life, justifies the means, his reliance on violence, stealth, and deceit. That is, whatever ultimate goal Socrates hopes for is supposed to be noble enough to justify the suffering caused by the use of force by the powerful along the way. This goal supposedly justifies the destruction of words and the implications thereof. His goals are supposed to be enough to justify not only what Socratics do to others, but also to themselves.
The Teacher argues, contrary to Socrates, that one cannot rely on the nobility of the goals to justify the means used to obtain them. This is the point of his characterizing his war with Socrates as a war between the sons, or followers, of Light and the sons, or followers, of Darkness. It is the fact that Socratics have made themselves blind to knowledge and values through commitment to his ideas that makes them dangers to themselves and others. It is this dangerousness that shows that it is absurd for anyone interested in survival and the avoidance of suffering to make Socratic commitments, even briefly, or lightly.
Where the orthodox view of Apocalypticism is that it is something to be desired by Socratics and the Christian interpreters of Jesus as a Socratic hero, the Teacher’s view would be that one must reveal or lift the veil of denial that Socratic have placed over what they are about. The suggestion that an Apocalypse is an unveiling is about how people committed to Socratic principles have to be disabused of the fantasy that they are engaged in something noble. There were those in Troy who wanted, before it was too late, to somehow reveal the true nature of the gift left for them by their Greek enemies.
The Teacher would like us to realize that it is much better to choose never to be selfish, and prevent the terrible hurts caused by so being, than to wish that one could be saved somehow from the consequences of that selfishness when there is no way for that kind of salvation to occur.
Ultimately, our salvation is a matter of basing our decisions on knowledge and values determined by words instead of on the beliefs and preferences offered by Socrates. The virtue of the view offered by the Teacher is how he insists that everyone who has a stake in surviving and in their loved one’s avoiding suffering is given a place at the same table of argumentation, so to speak. That is, by following the “golden rule,” where we should respect the views of others as we would have them respect our own, we can resolve conflicts.