Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

G. W. Lorein, The Antichrist Theme in the Intertestamental Period (Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series, 44; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2003).  Pp. xiv + 283.  Paper, $55.00.  ISBN 0567083004.

Geert Lorein (Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven) focuses on the “theme of the Antichrist” (Title), the “Antichrist figure” (p. 1), the “image of the Antichrist” (p. 23), or more accurately, the Jewish “bases of the Antichrist theme” (p. 233), both Old Testament and intertestamental. After a literature review, beginning from 1895 (Bousset and Gunkel), L. concludes that “the Antichrist is a compound figure” (p. 26) and the source of a definition will be found not in the Intertestamental period, but in 1 and 2 John where ‘Antichrist’ first occurs.  Surprisingly, he moves directly to the Church Fathers! There he finds three currents in which the Antichrist’s activities are mostly political or religious or a combination of both (p. 28). Using this overview, L. looks at the NT materials and asserts that the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians “appears to be another description of the named Antichrist”; the author of the Epistles of John pays “more attention to the forerunners of the Antichrist, but that he assumes that an eschatological Antichrist is coming”; and “in the book of Revelation, ‘Beast’ proves to be the description of ‘Antichrist’” (p. 29). He settles on the following definition of the Antichrist: “… a man who will appear at the end of time, wholly filled with Satan.  He will be the arch deceiver, as a tyrant (unjust, murderous) and as a false god (turning himself and others away from all existing religion).  Other descriptions of the Antichrist are ‘man of lawlessness’, ‘Beast’ and ‘false prophet’ (the latter only for his religious aspect).” It is unfortunate that he offers only a digest of others’ work, a detailed listing of the passages in the Church Fathers (reflecting work published elsewhere [“The Antichrist in the Fathers and their Exegetical Basis” Sacris eruditi 42 (2003): 5-60]), and his claims about the New Testament, where he makes only assertions. Maybe this introductory material is a truncated version of a more complete treatment. Nonetheless, it needed more careful crafting in order to help the reader follow the argument.

The definition provides a focus for the body of research, which moves from the Old Testament to the various non-canonical works and the DSS.  Wherever there are themes similar to the definition, L. finds the (theme of) Antichrist. In the OT, it occurs in the ‘false prophets’ in Deuteronomy 13:1-6, the bears and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, the shepherd in Zechariah 11:15-17, and Antiochus IV in Daniel (which he dates with Zechariah 11 to the fifth century [p. 41, note 235]).

This brief summary of the Old Testament section illustrates the main weakness of the rest of the research: Working back from the Church Fathers, L. looks for figures in the Old Testament and intertestamental Jewish literature that fit the definition, even though ‘Antichrist’ is not used and no dependence is demonstrated. When L. does not find “the Antichrist (theme)” he can still write: “We do not find the Antichrist figure in 1 Maccabees, but we do notice some elements that clearly existed around the year 100 and could therefore be used by other authors as they formed their ideas about the Antichrist” (p. 82). Unfortunately, there is no clear indication that they did. It is merely thematic similarity, rigorously applied, that L. uses to investigate texts. However, based upon this, any opponent of a Davidic ruler, any person in the Gospels or Acts who opposed Jesus, and anyone who opposed any messianic-like figure in Jewish literature is a possible source for the theme. But the existence of the figures tells us only that a variety of people were perceived as opposing God’s designated leaders, and even God—probably this was such a common motif in the literature that possible sources for the theme are endless! In defence of the research, L. seems to be debating the conclusion by the religionsgeschichtliche Schule that the origins of the Antichrist figure are in Iranian and Babylonian sources (cf. pp. 5, 7). He make this clear in the conclusion: “…all elements can be traced back to the Old Testament (core) and the history of Israel (actualization by idealization), and … at no point does it become necessary to appeal to an Iranian or Babylonian origin” (p. 233; NOTE: reading the conclusion first is actually helpful for understanding the body of this book).

In the end, L.’s conclusions are not convincing. He does pull together many Jewish texts that could have been part of the basis for later writers’ depictions of the Antichrist, and that does serve as an answer to the religionsgeschichtliche Schule approach. As well, this research suggests some figures that might be studied further, in an attempt to determine whether they were incipient antichrist figures. However, as a study of the actual development of “the theme of the Antichrist” or proof that in the intertestamental period “the core of an individual eschatological opponent already existed” (p. 239), it fails.

R. Glenn Wooden
Acadia Divinity College