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Apocalyptic and Revelation content

Who Knew? Our Oldest Commentary on the Book of Revelation

One of the great things about being a research scholar is that if you’re diligent and paying attention, you learn new stuff all the time.  For someone with an inquiring mind, it’s like striking gold with some fair regularity.  And if you dig deep enough, you find things that very few people know about – often even scholars within your own field. I first read the book of Revelation when I was seventeen; I had a college course on it two years later; and have studied it ever since.  But it was not until a couple of years ago that I came to know something about the very oldest commentary we have on the book.  Old not in the sense that it was written in, say, the 18th century, but old in the sense that it was written in the THIRD century.  That’s old. The commentary was written by a little-known church leader, Victorinus, who was bishop of Pettau (modern Ptuj in Slovenia).  We don’t know a lot about him.  He wrote a number of [...]

2021-09-30T09:41:57-04:00October 12th, 2021|History of Biblical Scholarship, Revelation of John|

Jesus’s Apocalyptic View of Destruction

In my book on Revelation I am planning to contrast the violence and wrath of God there with what we find in the teachings of Jesus.  It would be easy but too simplistic to paint an obvious contrast: unlike John (the author of Revelation) Jesus believed in love and so was opposed to violence.  It is certainly true that he was, at least on one level (as we'll see).  Jesus did not only think his followers should not be violent against one another, but also not against their enemies, not even the Romans.  But the same can probably be said about the book of Revelation.  It also does not urge the followers of Jesus to engage in violence.  The massive destructions that take place on earth in the book are sent from heaven. And Jesus too thought a massive destruction was to be sent from heaven.  So, well, what’s the difference?  That will be the complicated issue. To understand the views of destruction of both Jesus and the prophet John, I need to situate them [...]

2021-09-03T13:39:52-04:00September 9th, 2021|Early Judaism, Historical Jesus, Revelation of John|

The God of Wrath in Both Old and New Testament

It is a very big mistake to think that the "God of the Old Testament" is a different God from the "God of the New Testament" -- even though that is a common view among Christians who want to insist that unlike the OT God of wrath, their God is a God of love.  Not only does that smack of rather unsubtle anti-Judaism (that "harsh religion of a vengeful God" as opposed to "our God who loves each and every one of us and is merciful instead of judgmental"), it simply is not at all the view of the authors of the New Testament, let alone Jesus himself. Jesus understood himself as a teacher of the Jewish Scriptures.  He didn't have another God.  Moreover throughout the entire NT the OT is quoted, up and down the line, all over the place, in complete affirmation of its message.  Jesus and his followers may have had their own interpretations of the OT (they had different interpretations even among themselves), but they would have been shocked and offended [...]

2021-08-02T05:37:21-04:00August 7th, 2021|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Revelation of John|

My New View of the Book of Revelation

The Apocalypse of John is a book many people revere, many dread, and few actually read.  Most who do read it approach it like every other book of the Bible – they’ll read a few verses here or there when someone says something about them but do not read the whole thing from beginning to end.  I do find this a bit irritating as a rule, at least among people who insist that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and our guide for all belief and practice, who virtually worship the Bible but have no clue what is actually in it.  What’s *that* all about??? Having just typed that reminds me of the spiritual leader I had as a teenager, the man who “led me to Christ” (away from the Episcopal church where I faithfully attended every week, saying the prayers, confessing my sins, taking communion – where I was the head altar boy!).  He repeatedly said with complete conviction that the Bible is the best book ever written.  Even then I felt [...]

2021-08-05T08:14:04-04:00August 5th, 2021|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Understanding the Apocalypse as an “Apocalypse”

  In two previous posts I talked about the "genre" of the book of Revelation (see https://ehrmanblog.org/apocalypse-the-genre-and-apocalypticism-the-worldview/  and https://ehrmanblog.org/beginning-to-understand-revelation-what-kind-of-book-is-it/ ).  Now I can give a brief description of how the book of Revelation functions as an apocalypse – that is, how the features of the genre, that I’ve already mentioned, work themselves out in the narrative of the book.  Again, this is taken from my textbook on the New Testament (Oxford University Press; 7th edition 2020). ****************************** In general terms, Revelation corresponds to the basic description of apocalypses that I have given.  It is a first-hand account written by a prophet who has been shown a vision of heaven that explains the realities of earth, a vision that is mediated by angels and that is chock-full of bizarre and mysterious symbolism.  The nature of the book is indicated at the outset, in the magnificent vision of the exalted Christ that the prophet describes in ch. 1.  Here Christ appears as "one like a Son of Man" (cf. Dan 7:13-14, where the phrase describes the cosmic judge [...]

2021-07-14T20:06:50-04:00July 27th, 2021|Christianity in the Classroom, Revelation of John|

Returning to the Whore of Babylon

In this thread I have been discussing the importance of putting the book of Revelation in its own historical context instead of transplanting its (bizarre) symbols and message into the 21st century, as if the author was trying to communicate not with the churches that he actually names as the recipients of his book (in Asia Minor at the end of the first century) but with us (in America in the twenty-first).  Instead of modern interpretations (666 is Saddam Hussein!  The Whore of Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church!), surely it is better to interpret the book in light of what the author and his audience would have themselves understood. That can be illustrated many times over from the book; for this post I would like to do so by returning to one of the key images that I have posted about several times before.  Apologies if this is old news for you from a relatively recent post, but to make my point about the book of Revelation as a whole, this is the most relevant and [...]

2021-07-13T04:43:40-04:00July 25th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Is Revelation Describing Warfare in the Twenty-first Century??

I have been arguing that if we want to understand the book of Revelation, we need to situate it in its own historical context in the Roman Empire of the first century rather than assume it is talking about our own world in the twenty-first.  Very few people read it that way, of course (or are interested in reading it that way).   It's far more intriguing to think the author was predicting what would happen in our own future.  It's ALL COMING TRUE!  God has REVEALED IT TO US!  We can NOW SEE THE SIGNS OF THE END! But, alas, like every other book of the Bible, Revelation was written to address an ancient audience in a different context, and its bizarre symbols need to be read with their own context front and center in mind.   Here is how I sometimes try to illustrate the problem. (Parts of this are taken from my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings; Oxford University Press; 7th ed.) ****************************** One of the most [...]

2021-07-12T21:11:28-04:00July 22nd, 2021|Revelation of John|

Is the Book of Revelation a Revised Version of a Non-Christian Apocalypse? Guest Post by James Tabor

Here now is the second guest post by my friend and cross-state colleague, New Testament scholar James Tabor.  Other scholars have suggested Revelation started out as a Jewish text that was later "Christianized" by an editor who produced the version we have today.  Here James embraces that view and mounts an argument for it.  See what you think! James originally posted this on his own blog.  Check it out! Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered? Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered? APOCALYPTICISM  FEBRUARY 22, 2017 The thesis of this post is a simple one. Behind the New Testament book of Revelation, formally called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Rev 1:1), is an older Jewish apocalyptic document that had nothing to do with Jesus or the early Christian movement. The question is, can such a older text be recovered, given the overtly Christian editing? In my post titled “The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation,” on the destruction of Pompeii by the volcanic eruption [...]

2021-07-26T18:39:32-04:00July 20th, 2021|Revelation of John|

The Historical Background to the Book of Revelation

Now that I have said something about what's in the book of Revelation and about how we need to study it in light of its literary *genre* ("apocalypse") I can begin to discuss something about its historical context.  As you know, one of the overarching themes of this entire blog is that if you take something out of its context, you change its meaning.  If you want to know what the author of Revelation might have actually meant and how he would have been understood by his real-life audience -- the Christians in the seven churches of Asia Minor he was addressing - you have to put the book and its author in their own historical context (not in our 21st century context). Here are some of the most important points about that, as I make them in my textbook on the New Testament (The New Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction;  Oxford University Press, 7th ed.), edited slightly here.   ********************************************** The Revelation of John in Historical Context I have already pointed out that [...]

2021-07-03T03:18:39-04:00July 17th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Does Revelation Contain an Eyewitness Account of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius? Guest Post by James Tabor

As I continue to work on my book on Revelation, I thought it might be interesting to ask my friend and fellow NT scholar, James Tabor, who has done guest posts before on the blog, to provide a couple more.  James has written and thought about Revelation for many years, and he has intriguing and controversial views about it.  He will be providing two posts for us.  In this one he argues that part of the book of Revelation is based on an eyewitness report of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, which the author understood to be an indication that the end of time had now come.   Intriguing stuff.This was first posted on James's own blog.  Be sure to check it out: https://jamestabor.com/ The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation APOCALYPTICISM  DECEMBER 20, 2015 Nine years, almost to the day, after Roman legionaries destroyed God’s house in Jerusalem, God destroyed the luxurious watering holes of the Roman elite. Was this God’s revenge? That’s not exactly the question I want [...]

2021-07-15T08:41:10-04:00July 15th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Understanding Revelation: A Sine Qua Non (Overlooked by most readers)

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 [...]

2021-07-27T11:37:04-04:00July 13th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Apocalypse (the genre) and Apocalypticism (the worldview)

I have started to give some background on the book of Revelation, to help set the stage for my new understanding of it as it has developed over the past year.  Much of what I think now is what I've thought for 45 years.  But the deeper I've dug, the more I've seen and the more I've come to realize that my older perspective (a widely held one among scholars) has some serious flaws (as others too have seen). But none of these new insights affects my basic view, that to understand this mysterious book we have to do what almost NO ONE in the modern world does (except scholars): understanding it in its own historical context in light of what we know of its historical and, especially, literary context.  If you change the context, you change the meaning.  And nowhere is that more obvious than in the book of Revelation. In the last post I summarized the narrative (urging you to read it for yourself) (if you prefer to listen to it, make sure [...]

2021-06-21T17:51:46-04:00July 7th, 2021|Early Judaism, Revelation of John|

The Book of Revelation and the END. Starting at the Beginning.

The Book of Revelation!  I am ready now to start a new thread on my thoughts on the book, as I get serious about writing about it for a general audience.  I mentioned a couple of weeks ago (see blog for June 20) that I had changed my mind rather radically about what my book was going to cover.  I’ll explain the current plan (hopefully the *final* plan) in later posts.  For now it would be important to start at the beginning so we are all on the same page. And so in this post I want to review – or introduce, in case you’re not familiar with it – the contents of the book of Revelation itself, more or less free of interpretation.  It’s not a long book, and can be read in one sitting.  (Twenty-one chapters, but most are very short.)  If you’re interested, go ahead and read it (for the first time or again!).  You’ll pick up something new every time.  Or at least I do, now in my 50th year of [...]

2021-06-27T08:06:17-04:00July 6th, 2021|Revelation of John|

666: The Number of the Beast

Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion about the meaning of the “number of the beast” in the book of Revelation.  Remember: I’m talking about “gematria” as a way of interpreting words by understanding their letters as numbers.  Yesterday I tried to explain the symbolism of the beast in Rev. 17.  To make best sense of what I have to say now, it would probably help to see that post.  But it’s not required reading and will not be on the Final Exam. Four chapters earlier are given a description of another beast, one which in fact bears a remarkable resemblance to the one that shows up in ch. 17. According to chap. 13, this other beast arises from the sea and has ten horns and many heads.  One of its heads receives a mortal wound that is then healed.  The entire world follows this beast, which is empowered by the dragon (i.e., the Devil, 12:9).  The beast makes war on the saints and conquers them (13:7).  It has power over all [...]

2020-10-30T21:37:07-04:00November 12th, 2020|Revelation of John|

The Number 666 in the Context of the Book of Revelation

In my previous posts, I have talked about the use of “gematria” in early Christianity – the interpretive technique that uses the numerical significance of letters of the alphabet to provide keys to the interpretation of words. It is almost a highly *creative* interpretation of words.  E.g.,  I have shown how gematria gets used on the epistle of Barnabas to show that the sign of circumcision given to the father of the Jews, Abraham, was really a symbol for the cross of Jesus, and how it may be used in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew to stress that he really is the messiah, the son of David. In the post that follows this one, I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666.  What is this number referring to? To make sense of this intriguing number, I need to return to an important topic over the course of the blog:  the symbolism of the book of [...]

2020-11-01T22:32:00-05:00November 11th, 2020|Revelation of John|

The Coming Armageddon: I Need Some Suggestions!

As many of you know, my next trade book is tentatively titled: Expecting Armageddon: The book of Revelation and the Imminent End of the World, to be published by Simon & Schuster.  I would like some help from interested lay folk in the reading public with a certain aspect of it, and would love to hear your suggestions. First let me say that I have not begun any serious research for it yet.  My plan is to get going in a hard-hitting, all-out kind of way in the early summer, depending on how quickly the book I’m working on now (the scholarly monograph on otherworldly journeys) gets written.   I simply have too many things on my research-plate just now.   Plus, that was the schedule I had originally planned: start on Armageddon in the summer and crunch as hard and for as long as I can and need to before getting down to writing it.  Usually it takes me about a year to do the research on these things. BUT, what I always like to do [...]

Papias and the Writers of the New Testament: Guest Post by Stephen Carlson

Here is another post by Stephen Carlson on that mysterious figure named Papias, an early second century writer who claims to have had information from reliable witnesses about the authors of the New Testament, and who may indicate that the "John" who wrote the Gospel is different from the "John" who wrote Revelation.  Or does he?  If the *apostle* John did not Revelation, should it be in the New Testament?   Puzzling and hard to figure out -- but here is what Stephen says about it. - Stephen Carlson is the author of The Gospel Hoax and The Text of Galatians and Its History. *********************************************************************************** What Papias Says About His Own Work In our last post, we looked at the title of Papias’s work, Exposition of Dominical Oracles, and surveyed the considerable scholarly controversy about the nature of Papias’s work. Many scholars take the position that it was a commentary on the sayings of Jesus, perhaps with some narrative elements, but others contend that it was a commentary on at least the Gospel of Matthew, or [...]

Revelation as a Blueprint for our Future

I've been talking about how the book of Revelation has been interpreted by modern conservative Christians.  Isn't it telling us what will happen in our own near future??    Here is how I will address the issue, in short, in my book on Revelation, assuming that I go ahead with the project and Armageddon doesn't happen first. ********************************************************************************* In Contrast: Scholars and the Book of Revelation Not only are these futuristic readings of Revelation contrary to the history of Christian interpretation, they stand radically at odds with how critical scholars read the book of Revelation, and insist it ought to be read. As often pointed out, every single interpreter who has argued that the “signs of the times” reveal the end is coming soon – probably next month – have been shown demonstrably and incontrovertibly to be wrong.   But just as significantly, the specific interpretations of these modern manifestations of these sings are almost always demonstrably flawed.  I give just one example from the book of Revelation, an interpretation famously pronounced by Hal Lindsey.   In [...]

2020-04-03T00:00:04-04:00April 1st, 2019|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

I've been talking about how the book of Revelation has been interpreted by modern conservative Christians.  Isn't it telling us what will happen in our own near future??    Here is how I will address the issue, in short, in my book on Revelation, assuming that I go ahead with the project and Armageddon doesn't happen first. ********************************************************************************* In Contrast: Scholars and the Book of Revelation Not only are these futuristic readings of Revelation contrary to the history of Christian interpretation, they stand radically at odds with how critical scholars read the book of Revelation, and insist it ought to be read. As often pointed out, every single interpreter who has argued that the “signs of the times” reveal the end is coming soon – probably next month – have been shown demonstrably and incontrovertibly to be wrong.   But just as significantly, the specific interpretations of these modern manifestations of these sings are almost always demonstrably flawed.  I give just one example from the book of Revelation, an interpretation famously pronounced by Hal Lindsey.   In [...]

2020-04-03T00:00:26-04:00April 1st, 2019|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|
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