Alan Bandy describes the “real” nature of Jewish apocalyptic according to Wright:
“‘It is now high time, as the century draws towards its close, to state, against Schweitzer, what the apocalyptic matrix actually was and meant.’ Wright rejects the notion that apocalypticism anticipated the end of the space-time world. The Jews were not awaiting the complete destruction of the earth and their removal to some otherworldly state of bliss. Rather, he contends, apocalyptic language was a vivid and colorful way to use metaphors when describing major socio-political change occurring within human history.”
Actually it’s high time to bid Wright farewell. Jews most certainly did expect the complete destruction of the earth, and they had a “this-worldly” conception of what was to follow. The assumption that a complete destruction implied a “removal to some otherworldly state of bliss” is a straw man, and owes to modern fears of dualism. In The Stars Will Fall From Heaven, Edward Adams demonstrates — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that Jewish apocalyptic pointed to the universe’s literal destruction, followed by either its re-creation or miraculous transformation.
“Jewish eschatology is expressed through apocalyptic language, which is essentially metaphorical in nature. Wright sets the metaphorical in juxtaposition with the literal interpretation of apocalyptic language. A literal reading of apocalyptic writings results in a flattened out belief that the earth will come to a cataclysmic end. Following Caird, Wright asserts that the ‘metaphorical language of apocalyptic invests history with theological meaning’.”
It’s important to note the difference between Caird and Wright (footnoted by Bandy), which almost always goes unmentioned when the former is invoked to support the latter. Caird always maintained a view of the literal end. Even though he insisted that end-of-the-world language was metaphorical (referring to historical events before the apocalypse), he didn’t kill the patient. He thought prophets had “bifocal vision”, a near sight eyeballing events soon to occur, a far sight targeting the end of the cosmos. One image was imposed on the other so that prophecies had a double-reference, historical and apocalyptic. With Wright, the bifocal vision gets truncated into a short-sighted one, which renders the term “eschatology” meaningless by ancient standards.
I should say I think even Caird pushes the metaphorical envelope a bit far. Descriptions of cosmic disaster can be poetic and historically focused, but there’s usually little doubt that the collapse of the entire universe is soon to occur. Paul Raabe gets it best: prophecies point to destruction on a universal scale and then move to a localized focus, or, oppositely, refer to a particular target and then ground it in a universal calamity. That explains the conjunction of cosmic/universal and local judgment in places like Isa 13 & 34, Jer 4, Joel 1-2, Mic 1, Nah 1, Zeph 1.
For that matter, it perfectly explains the Markan Apocalypse. Jesus is portrayed as referring to local events in Judea (the destruction of the temple on account of zealot occupation; 13:2, 14-18), while grounding them in an over-arching cosmic upheaval (the tribulation; 13:5-17, 19-23). After the tribulation comes more cosmic disaster — the sun going out, the stars falling from heaven, and the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds (13:24-27) — all of which which depict the process of “heaven and earth passing away” (13:31). Wright’s argument that “the stars falling from heaven” refers only metaphorically to the local destruction of Jerusalem is far-fetched, and at odds with the usage of apocalyptic imagery seen in the OT and intertestamental literature.
What needs to be stressed (as Adams does in his book) is that Wright’s two claims — (1) that the idea of the created world coming to a literal end was foreign to mainline Jewish thinking, and (2) that the use of cosmic disaster language for purely socio-political events was a linguistic convention in Jewish apocalyptic writing — are not based on a careful assessment of literary evidence, but on Wright’s personal views of creational monotheism. That won’t do. Just because we know stars won’t fall doesn’t change the fact that ancient Christians thought they would.