When Prophecy Fails: How Ancient Messianic Jews & Christians Survived Apocalyptic Disappointment

The three hundred year period of Jewish history from 150 BCE to 150 CE was characterized by the utter failure of all apocalyptic expectations of the End of the Age arriving. These failed hopes and dreams shape collectively what might be called “The Great Disappointment.” This included a variety of apocalyptic movements form the Dead Sea Scroll Community, the John the Baptist and Jesus followers, and a string of failed messiahs who have now faded from history. What happens “when Prophecy fails,” history moves along in its usual way with no overthrow of evil or oppression, and a group is left wondering how they could have been so mistaken? The one common element that all forms of ancient Jewish and early Christian apocalypticism share is the utter failure of all predictions, interpretations, and expectations.

This lecture was presented at a Biblical Archaeology Seminar as part of the work of the Biblical Archaeology Society, publisher of The Biblical Archaeology Review.  I encourage readers to subscribe to the magazine, sign up for Bible History Daily, which is free, and join the amazingly affordable BAR Library, see https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org for details.

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