Tag Archives: Book of Revelation

The Mysterious John of Revelation

Curiously only one of the five books in the New Testament attributed to John bears the name of John. Many believers and conservative scholars maintain that the Gospel of John, the first, second and third letters of John, were authored by the apostle John despite the author’s name nowhere appearing in those texts.

It is of course the nature of religious history that people will believe it without necessarily having the kind of source-based authentication that generally historians are looking for. And so there is always a tension between what a religious tradition may say about the past and what the historian may say about the past. (Tom Holland, in John Cleary in conversation with Tom Holland, about 26 mins)

And so it goes. Tradition has assigned the name of John to the Gospel and three letters of the New Testament. Perversely, it may seem, the book that does claim to be written by John is one that critical scholars doubt came from the same pen as anything else attributed to John.

A study of the authorship of the Book of Revelation opens up a number of interesting methodological curiosities of New Testament scholarship. But for most part here I will set out the reasons why critical scholars widely believe the book of Revelation is not from the same author, or even “theological school”, responsible for the Gospel of John.

Saint John on Patmos

Saint John on Patmos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Book of Revelation makes unambiguous claims about the identity of its author. It came from God via Jesus Christ who commanded John to write it all down:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John . . . .

I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter . . . .

The setting on the isle of Patmos and the identity of an author (or scribe) as a persecuted exile appropriately sets an atmosphere of fear and dread, relieved by a moment of seclusion to be with God alone and to receive his messages uninterrupted. He identifies himself as one of the saints who is being trodden under foot — another motif common to this genre of literature. This is all part of the literary conceit of another Daniel (or any persecuted visionary prophet) being pulled aside by God and struck down to humbly soak up the glories and mysteries of the heavenly realms that would leave lesser mortals dead. The setting is as much atmospherics as are the eyes like fire and the seven headed beast. Yet New Testament scholars will so often be found referring to the author being a persecuted exile on Patmos as if this were a veritable fact of history.

A face-value reading guided by the light of church tradition leads many readers concur with the following: read more »

The Christ of John’s Revelation — Nemesis of Paul’s crucified Christ (Couchoud continued)

English: Illustration to Book of Revelation Ру...

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This post continues Couchoud’s account of the nature of the Christ found in the Book of Revelation and how he epitomizes the “false Christ” that Paul denounced his apostolic rivals for promoting. Couchoud has been tracing the rise of Christianity from the Enochian community in “pre-Christian” times and the evolution of the Christ idea in his work The Creation of Christ. Jesus Christ, he argues was a figure that evolved from meditations of the Jewish Scriptures and related Second Temple apocryphal literature. Paul’s Christ was a heavenly being into whom he projected his own life of sufferings and attributed to them saving power once embodied in God himself. Jesus was really another image or aspect of God himself. But Paul’s rivals were based in Jerusalem and they envisaged a very different sort of Christ. The continuing visions of this conquering and far-from-humiliated Christ by one of those “Jerusalem pillars”, John, is the subject of this post. The previous post in this series examined The Book of Revelation’s damning allusions to Paul’s Christ and teachings. Keep in mind that all of these Christological divisions pre-date any thought that Jesus had visited earth. According to all early prophets and apostles Jesus was an entirely heavenly being whose coming — first coming — was eagerly anticipated by the devout. The complete series is archived here.

John is carried up from earth to heaven where he beholds the glorious setting of the Eternal and Formless God (Rev. iv. 2-6):

Behold a Throne was set in heaven
On the Throne was One seated.

He who was seated was in aspect as a Jasper and a Sardius;
A Rainbow round about the Throne
In sight like an Emerald.

About the Throne were four-and-twenty thrones,;
On the thrones were sitting four-and-twenty Elders,
Clothed in white raiment,
On their heads crowns of gold.

Out of the Throne came lightnings
And the crash of thunder.
Seven Torches of Fire burned before the Throne
Who are the Seven Spirits of God.
Before the throne a sea of glass
Like a crystal.

Jesus is found to be dwelling in such a setting as this, forever sharing the glory of God’s throne. This Jesus is now described.

John is present at the mysterious liturgy which comes before the great drama. A scroll sealed with seven seals is in God’s hand. None in heaven, nor on earth, nor in hell, can open it. Further on its name is given as the Book of Life, the Book of the Slain Lamb.* [* Rev. xiii. 8 (the Book of the Life of the Lamb) ; xvii. 8 ; xx. 12 (the Book of Life).] This is the complete record on which the names of the elect are inscribed since the beginning of the world. When the seven seals are opened, the judgment will begin. Jesus alone can open them for to him belong the elect. Before the ages he redeemed them with his blood. He is the Sacrificed Lamb of Isaiah, the ram “slain from the beginning of the world” (Rev. xiii. 8; cf. I Peter i. 20: “foreordained before the foundation of the world, ” a corrective to John). He appears in the midst of God’s throne (Rev. v. 6):–

I saw in the midst of the Throne and of the four Cherubim,
In the midst of the Elders,
A Lamb, as though Slain,
With Seven Horns and Seven Eyes,
Who are the seven Spirits of God
Sent forth into all the Earth.

The Shape of the Lamb is the eternal shape of Jesus. In heaven he is the divine Ram, as Jahweh was originally a divine Bull. The Lamb takes the Book to the sound of a new song (Rev. v. 9-10):–

Thou hast the power to take the Scroll
And to open the Seals of it,
Because thou wast sacrificed,
And bought for God with thy blood
Men of every tribe, speech, nation, and race,
Whom thou hast made for our God a Kingdom of priests,
Who shall reign on Earth.

While the first six seals are being opened, warning events take place (Rev. vi. I) :–

I SAW the Lamb open one of the seven Seals;
I HEARD one of the four Cherubim
Say in a voice of thunder,
Come!

I SAW; behold a white horse;
He who rode him
Held a Bow.
To him was given a Crown:
He went forth a conqueror to conquer.

After the conqueror come a red horse, a black horse, a green horse; their riders are war, famine, and pestilence. The martyrs of old whose souls are beneath the heavenly altar cry out to God for vengeance. 

Up till now I have attempted to post my own outline and paraphrase of Couchoud’s argument. But I see here I am beginning to quote him in full and for whatever reasons I have decided to scan the remainder of this chapter and copy Couchoud’s words in full for the remainder of this post. This makes it a bit long, but it is out of copyright (hence not illegal) and sharing some of Couchoud’s style (even in translation) as well as his argument may not be a bad thing. I will use the default WordPress fonts and formatting for the full copy of Couchoud’s pages 87 to 108 of The Creation of Christ, Volume 1. The running chapter heading is THE SACRIFICED LAMB. (I have changed some of the coding for the footnotes.) Any bolded text for emphasis, and the colour coding for ease of breaking up the text on a computer monitor is my own doing. read more »

The War of the Heavenly Christs: John’s Sacrificed Lamb versus Paul’s Crucified God (Couchoud continued)

The Revelation of St John: 2. St John's Vision...

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Continuing here my series of outlining Paul Louis Couchoud’s work The Creation of Christ (English translation 1939), with all posts in the series archived, in reverse chronological order, here.

The previous post in this series presented Couchoud’s argument that Paul’s Christ was a God crucified in heaven, the result of a combination of feverish interpretations of the Psalms and other Jewish scriptures and a projection of Paul’s own experiences of suffering.

In the chapter I outline in this post Couchoud begins by narrating the departure of Paul and all the original Jerusalem pillars bar one. Paul, he says, with the demonstration of the converted gentile Titus before the Jerusalem elders, and the Jerusalem elders themselves, were moving towards a reconciliation at long last that culminated in the decree we read of Acts 15 — that gentiles need only follow a few principles ordained originally for Noah’s descendents plus one or two:

  • avoid eating meat offered to idols
  • avoid eating blood
  • avoid eating things strangled
  • avoid fornication (that is, marriages between Christians and pagans)

Couchoud does not know if Paul ever went so far as submitting to this Jerusalem edict, but he does declare that the communities Paul founded in Asia and others influenced by him did ignore it. These were “scornfully called” Nicolaitanes. They continued to live as they had always lived in the faith: buying meat in the market without asking if it had been sacrificed to an idol and tolerating marriages between Christians and pagans.

The authorities at Jerusalem scornfully called them Nicolaitanes, treated them as rebels worse than heathen, excommunicated them, and vowed them to early extermination by the sword of Jesus. (p. 79)

Then came the next turning point in church history:

In the meantime the haughty Mother Church was struck by an earthly sword. In the stormy year which preceded the Jewish insurrection, three “pillars” were taken from Jerusalem. About 62, after the death of the prosecutor Festus and before the arrival of his successor, James, the “brother of the Lord,” the camel of piety, was, together with others, accused by the high priest Ananos as a law-breaker, condemned, and stoned. Kephas-Peter, the first to behold Jesus, perished at Rome, probably in the massacre of the Christians after the fire of Rome in 64. At Rome, too, died his adversary who had in former days impeached and mocked him so vigorously, Paul. Nothing is known of their deaths, save perhaps that jealousy and discord among the Christians brought them about. (p. 80)

In footnotes Couchoud adds

  1. with reference to our evidence for the death of James that the phrase in Josephus appended to the name of James, “brother of Jesus called the Christ” have been added later by a Christian hand;
  2. with reference to Christian sectarian jealousy being ultimately responsible for the death of Peter and Paul he cites both Clemens Romanus V (Clement of Rome) and O. Cullmann, “Rev. d’Hist. et de Philosophie relig., 1930, pp. 294-300, as decisive evidence that there was jealousy and discord.

So this left John read more »

The earliest gospels 5 – Gospel of John (according to P L Couchoud)

Continuing here with Couchoud’s views of second century gospel origins. Earlier posts, including explanations for the reasons etc  for these posts, are archived here.

C’s story of John’s gospel begins with a setting in Ephesus, two generations after the feverish hopes for the coming of the Lord that produced the Book of Revelation. The church at Ephesus “preserved the tradition of the pillar apostle who had seen the Lord, for in this lay its claim to fame and to authority.” (p. 223) Apocalyptic enthusiasm had dwindled away and been replaced by a mysticism that experienced Christ as having come in the “here and now” in spirit and in their own flesh. Paul’s teachings about a mystical union with Christ also primary, according ot the evidence of “Ignatius” in his letter to the Ephesians, so much so that Paul’s concept of baptism as symbolic of death and burial had been superseded by the idea of baptism as a principle of a new life in Christ, with eternal life being granted at the moment of emerging from the real “water of life”.

These Christians were “born again” here and now and forever. They lived here and now in Light and Life. They could see and touch here and now the miracles of that divine life in full joy and love. The love was, however, a cultic love for their own brethren and worshiped spirits and not for the world. The prophets were revered, but also tested to see that they were not false and that they carried the same teaching of Christ having come now in the flesh.

They rejected the Marcionites and original teaching of Paul that Jesus had come only in the form of a man. Christ’s body was mystically both heavenly and human flesh and blood. Being heavenly Jesus was not, as Matthew said, born through a woman. The logical impossibility of being both spirit and flesh at one time in one body was resolved by mystic illumination that passes rational understanding. read more »

The Book of Revelation, its original meaning and modern misunderstandings

Professor Bruce J. Malina has had a special interest in understanding what was in the minds of the those who wrote, read (and heard being read) the New Testament literature, and in recent posts I have glimpsed a couple of sections of his On the Genre and Message of Revelation where he guides readers to understand this book the way its original audience may have understood it. This post looks at Malina’s explanation and history of the name and genre of the book, and why Malina believes it has been misunderstood and misread because of ignorance of the literary and religious culture that produced it.

Professor Malina’s words are also applicable to the challenge by mythicists to professional scholars and nonprofessional students of New Testament interpretation in general. (Malina is not a mythicist, and the association is my own. Note Thomas L. Thompson’s observation that HJ scholars have always begun with the assumption that there is a historical Jesus to talk about.)

The approach to the book of Revelation adopted in this book in terms of the Hellenistic conception of the sky is a radically historical one. The goal is to understand the document in terms that would have made sense to a first-century A.D. audience. Only such a historical approach can be considered fair and adequate to the prophet’s concern about “anyone taking away from the utterances of the scroll of this prophecy” (21:19).

The task of helping a modern audience understand the book of Revelation, however, faces numerous obstacles. As is the case when working with all ancient documents, the obstacles derive not from the book of Revelation itself, but from both nonprofessional and professional students of the Bible who bring their own scenarios to their reading of the book (see Malina 1991). On the other hand, the historically minded interpreter must overcome  the nonprofessional’s uncritical acceptance of spurious information both about the genre or type of the work and about the experience it purportedly describes. For many nonprofessionals the book of Revelation has become a repository of predictions concerning the end of the world. This has been a quite common perspective ever since Pharisees and Christians sought to determine the “true” age of creation to determine the beginning of the seventh millennium — the Sabbath of the cosmos (see Landes 1988). (p. 10, my emphasis and paragraphing, links are to the Google-book previews.) read more »

The Cosmic Lamb and the Light of the World

Cast of the Farnese Atlas globe, ca. 1930 Rome, Museo della Civiltà Romana, inv. M.C.R. 2896 http://brunelleschi.imss.fi.it/galileopalazzostrozzi/object/CastOfTheFarneseAtlasGlobe.html

In my previous post I spoke of a leading Context Group scholar, Bruce Malina, who has a particular interest in understanding the New Testament through the minds of first or second century readers. The first chapter of On the Genre and Message of Revelation addresses at length the problem of reading the book of Revelation with modern assumptions and with only limited awareness of the thought-world of its original readers.

A striking illustration of this appears on page 104:

To call the Messiah “the light of the world” or to designate him as leader at the head of the periodic changes of the universe in the form of the constellation Aries would not be very different things.

In all my years of church attendance and piously motivated Bible study I never once thought to associate the image of “light of the world” with a heavenly constellation known to us as a “ram” (but as something slightly different in Jewish zodiacs of that time). But this is Malina’s point. In summing up his argument he writes:

In conclusion, we might note that astral lore was well known in the social world of our author.

So here is what Malina tells us about the cosmic lamb in Revelation against the background of ancient knowledge of astral lore. (I follow with Malina’s discussion of the place and purpose of literature like Revelation among the early Christians.) read more »

Born of a woman in heaven: cosmic origin of the Messiah

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Professor Bruce J. Malina, a leading scholar in the Context Group, has written a book on the genre and message of the book of Revelation in which he interprets it as an astral prophecy. This is from the dust jacket blurb of On The Genre And Message Of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys (1995):

As one of the pioneers of applying social criticism to the biblical text, author Bruce Malina has helped revolutionize the way we think about the text and our models for interpretation. Now in a compelling new study—and one that will surely be his most controversial—Malina offers a completely new lens for viewing the book of Revelation. Malina contends that John the Seer’s milieu was one of intense interest and fascination with the sky, especially with those “beings” in the sky—constellations, planets, comets, sun, moon, and zodiac—that controlled the destiny of the Earth and its inhabitants. He asserts that John has his own interpretation of the sky that follows not the Greco-Roman astrological myths but the Jewish and Christian story of God’s salvation in Messiah. John thus stands as an “astral prophet” who interprets the sky in accordance with what has taken place in Christ. This vibrant reading of Revelation is buttressed by innumerable ancient literary and archeological sources that demonstrate that John’s world was indeed one enamored with the sky and its significance for planet Earth.

According to Revelation 4:1, John the Seer looks in the sky and observes an “open door.” Then the “first voice” invites John “up” to the heavens to witness what must take place. “In the spirit,” John describes what he sees in the sky. Is John really looking at the sky? . . . . . . Is John the Seer’s language of special numbers, brilliant colors, heavenly thrones, elders, angels, sun, moon, and stars more in keeping with descriptions of the sky than with apocalyptic visions? Bruce Malina thinks so, and he builds an unusually impressive case that will surely stir the interpretive waters surrounding John’s Apocalypse. On the Genre and Message of Revelation does what Bruce Malina has done so well for decades: he challenges Western readers to think like ancient Mediterraneans, to slough off biased, scientific presuppositions, and to explore the world of Jesus and his followers with a new map, one that leads to a richer understanding of the New Testament witness of Revelation.

Malina explains his view of the genre of Revelation: read more »