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The End of Apocalypticism: from Burton Mack’s Jesus to North American Liberalism

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
Author: James Crossley1,2
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  • 1 St Mary’s University, London, UK
  • | 2 Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM), Panacea Charitable Trust, Bedford, UK, james.crossley@stmarys.ac.uk
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Abstract

This article takes a different look at the work of Burton Mack on apocalypticism and the post-historical Jesus crystallisation of the Christian ‘myth of innocence’ in terms of the social history of scholarship. After a critical assessment of previous receptions of Mack’s work from the era of the ‘Jesus wars’, there is a discussion of Mack’s place in broader cross-disciplinary tendencies in the study of apocalypticism with reference to the influence of liberal and Marxist approaches generally and those of Norman Cohn and Eric Hobsbawm specifically. Mack’s approach to apocalypticism should be seen as a thoroughgoing updating of Cold War liberal constructions of apocalypticism for an era of American ‘culture wars’, from Reagan to Trump. Part of this updating has also meant that, while much of his work against the apocalyptic Christian myth of innocence has been explicitly aimed at the de-legitimising the Right, it also continues the old Cold War intellectual battles by implicitly de-legitimising anything deemed excessively Marxist.

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