The Apocalypse of Empire
Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam
Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
272 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 0.00 mm
- ISBN: 9780812250404
- Published: November 2018
In The Apocalypse of Empire, Stephen J. Shoemaker argues that earliest Islam was a movement driven by urgent eschatological belief that focused on the conquest, or liberation, of the biblical Holy Land and situates this belief within a broader cultural environment of apocalyptic anticipation. Shoemaker looks to the Qur'an's fervent representation of the imminent end of the world and the importance Muhammad and his earliest followers placed on imperial expansion. Offering important contemporary context for the imperial eschatology that seems to have fueled the rise of Islam, he surveys the political eschatologies of early Byzantine Christianity, Judaism, and Sasanian Zoroastrianism at the advent of Islam and argues that they often relate imperial ambition to beliefs about the end of the world. Moreover, he contends, formative Islam's embrace of this broader religious trend of Mediterranean late antiquity provides invaluable evidence for understanding the beginnings of the religion at a time when sources are generally scarce and often highly problematic.
Scholarship on apocalyptic literature in early Judaism and Christianity frequently maintains that the genre is decidedly anti-imperial in its very nature. While it may be that early Jewish apocalyptic literature frequently displays this tendency, Shoemaker demonstrates that this quality is not characteristic of apocalypticism at all times and in all places. In the late antique Mediterranean as in the European Middle Ages, apocalypticism was regularly associated with ideas of imperial expansion and triumph, which expected the culmination of history to arrive through the universal dominion of a divinely chosen world empire. This imperial apocalypticism not only affords an invaluable backdrop for understanding the rise of Islam but also reveals an important transition within the history of Western doctrine during late antiquity.
"[F]ascinating . . . [A]n impressive volume that adds tremendous insights to our understanding of the earliest period of Islam."—Reading Religion
"A work of vast scholarship, original insights, and with a masterful linguistic grasp of primary sources, some of which are being noted by Stephen J. Shoemaker for the first time. The Apocalypse of Empire successfully spans the conceptually and linguistically problematic divide between late antiquity and early Islam."—David Cook, Rice University
"In this book, Shoemaker ranges well beyond Islamic themes, offering a sweeping history of apocalyptic thought over the course of eight centuries, including Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, as well as Muslims. Such a broad survey is, of necessity, less a close reading of sources and more a general presentation of historiography, but one made in this case with a single argumentative purpose. For while on the surface the book offers a case for the enduring power of eschatology to shape imperial dreams, in practice, its narrative looks always toward the rise of Islam and how preceding apocalyptic dialogues gave it shape."—Journal of Early Christian Studies
"Shoemaker's monograph has no doubt succeeded in providing a complete and engaging study of late ancient apocalypticism in the Near East. His ability and accuracy, as well as range and depth, in discussing a wide variety of different sources embedded in a complex historical and religious environment make this book an essential and incomparable instrument and reference for all researchers in the field."—Speculum
"Stephen J. Shoemaker cogently argues that late antique Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, as well as early Islam, are all deeply imprinted by a kind of apocalypticism that ascribes a crucial role to imperial conquest and triumph."—Nicolai Sinai, University of Oxford