I am at the beginning of my thread on the book of Revelation, and am giving the background necessary to make sense of how I now make sense of the book, which is different from how I’ve made sense of it most of my life! But one thing I wholeheartedly agree with myself on from earlier days: you HAVE to understand the book in its own historical context or you will completely misconstrue its meaning — as almost everyone does, since they think it is a book written for the 21st century instead of the 1st. That’s a big mistake if you have any interest in what an author of the 1st century was saying to his audience of the 1st century. You have to understand the literary conventions and historical realities of their time. Seems obvious, but, well, I guess it’s not to most readers….
In my previous post I began to stress the importance of knowing what an “apocalypse” is before trying to interpret any one particular apocalypse. Today I pursue that a bit more, by talking about this genre which has numerous representatives in ancient Jewish and Christian writings. Here is how I begin to describe the genre more fully in my textbook on the New Testament:
Despite their wide-ranging differences, our surviving apocalypses typically share specific literary features. The most common of these are the following:
- Pseudonymity. Almost all of our ancient apocalypses were written pseudonymously, in the name of a famous religious person from the past (the book of Revelation, interestingly enough, is a rare exception). Among our surviving Jewish apocalypses are some claiming to be written by Moses, Abraham, Enoch, and even Adam; we have Christian apocalypses reputedly from the pens of the prophet Isaiah and the apostles Peter, Paul, and Thomas.
Is there a particular reason for authors of apocalypses to hide their identity behind a pseudonym? We have already seen that
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