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Hark, the Herald Angels What Now? Guest Post by Esther J. Hamori

Yesterday's guest post by Hebrew Bible scholar Esther Hamori began to discuss her new book on the MONSTERS of the Bible and God's, well, uncomfortably relationship with them.  Today she continues by giving us a revised excerpt from the book itself:  God’s Monsters: Vengeful Spirits, Deadly Angels, Hybrid Creatures, and Divine Hitmen of the Bible..  Now this will make you think... Esther J. Hamori is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. You can get her book at this link, and I recommend you do!  God's Monsters. ******************************   If you know one angel by name, it’s got to be Gabriel. As a Jewish kid with no personal connection to Christianity but seemingly a thousand school Christmas pageants behind me by the eighth grade, I knew Gabriel as well as I knew Superman. Or at least, I thought I did. As Luke tells it, God sends Gabriel to tell Mary that she’ll give birth to Jesus. After the baby is born, an unnamed angel appears to a group of shepherds. Luke describes [...]

2023-12-18T10:59:47-05:00December 19th, 2023|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Revelation of John|

When Modern Christians Came to Think “The End is Near”

Israel and Palestinians: in my previous post I began to explain why Christians in Britain and America (some of them highly influential on foreign policy in both places) came to support the re-establishment of the state of Israel in the early 19th century.  I pick up the discussion there, with another excerpt from my book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End (Simon & Schuster, 2023).  This one too veers into a direction I imagine you won’t expect. ****************************** For years evangelical Christians had been convinced that Scripture predicted Jews were to return to the Holy Land to reestablish themselves there as a sovereign state.  After all, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah had reported God’s words to his people Judah: “I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you to exile” (Jeremiah 29:14).  If the end was near, as indicated by the events in France, then the [...]

2023-12-04T11:42:42-05:00December 10th, 2023|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

American Support of Israel: A (Widely) Unknown Part of the History

Since the horrific sequence of events that started on October 7, I have been asked about the historical roots of the conflict.  Much of the important information is well known and easily accessible, from the biblical accounts of the Conquest of the Promised Land, up through 1948, on to the Second Intifada, till today.  I won’t be covering this information here, and I will not be offering my political or personal opinions on the matter.  I will instead provide some important and widely unknown historical information on one of the significant aspects of the matter. In a section of my book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End, published earlier this past year, I discussed how the expectation that “The End is Near,” largely based on interpretations of the book of Revelation, came to affect broad swaths of American culture in ways that almost no one would suspect.  I should say emphatically that I’m not one of those religion scholars who thinks religion is at the heart of everything.  But it is at [...]

2023-12-07T10:17:07-05:00December 9th, 2023|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

My Interview With Glenn Siepert

I recently did an interview with Glenn Siepert  for his program "The What If Project," on my book Armageddon, What the Bible Really Says about the End.   His new book, "Emerging From the Rubble: Thirty Stories About Grief, Broken Dreams, Shattered Relationships, and Finding the Courage to Keep Going," just came out, as well. Glenn asks very good questions, and we got into some unusually interesting topics.  I hope you enjoy it! *****************************

2023-07-22T12:16:25-04:00August 1st, 2023|Public Forum, Revelation of John|

Is the USA the Antichrist of the Book of Revelation? Slavic Views of the Apocalypse. Guest Post by Mikhail Abakumov

A few months ago I was invited to do a remote interview with a podcaster from Ukraine, Mikhail Abakumov, who has emigrated to Poland because of the war.  Mikhail is a Christian scholar, working with Ukranian refugees, and writing a dissertation on the famous German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famous for being involved with, and eventually executed for, an assassination plot against Hitler.  Bonhoeffer has been an inspiration to many Christian seminarians, pastors, theologians, and thinkers at large ever since. During my interview with Mikhail I learned something that blew my mind.  I knew full well that many American fundamentalists had long identified the Soviet Union, and then Russia (or one of its leaders) as the "Antichrist" (the "evil empire"); I had no idea that conservative Slavic Christians returned the favor and thought the same of the USA.  Particularly today.  That in fact the war in Ukraine was a fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies, especially the book of Revelation, which showed how the conflict would end and what world order would emerge from its ashes. I asked [...]

2023-07-17T14:34:31-04:00July 20th, 2023|Revelation of John|

Biblical Prophecy and the Coming Destruction of the Dome of the Rock

I continue here my post from yesterday, explaining the Christian background to U.S. Support of Israel, taken from my recently-published book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End ****************************** It is important to stress that evangelicals think God is faithful to Israel even if Jews are not faithful to God.  He has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill his promises that Israel will have the Promised Land.  But Jews who reject his messiah cannot possibly be saved.  That is not God’s fault.  He is not the one who broke the eternal covenant.  Jews did when they rejected their own messiah.  Therefore, they will be punished. To evangelical readers that is clear from the book of Revelation, which describes “the End” as standing in straight continuity with and in fulfillment of “the Beginning.” As we have seen, according to Revelation, the only inhabitants of the earth who will be saved are those who refuse the mark of the beast and instead receive the seal of God.  In Revelation 7 the two groups of these [...]

2023-03-22T13:59:44-04:00March 30th, 2023|Revelation of John|

The Coming Apocalypse and U.S. Foreign Policy on Israel

One section of new book Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End explains some of the socio-political consequences of the belief that “the end is near.  Here’s a consequence that I bet is not widely known:  U.S. Foreign Policy on Israel. In my book I emphatically state that I am not taking a stand on U.S. policy per se and certainly not on the Israeli-Palestinian issue itself.  I am interested purely in the historical question: why has the U.S. been (and still is) so invested in supporting Israel in particular? This is how I explain it in the book (this will take two posts).   ****************************** Modern Israel in Ancient Prophecy? Many people – possibly most – hold some beliefs without knowing quite why.  Because of our upbringing, environment, and news sources, certain ideas just seem like common sense.  Those raised in families, communities, and churches that believe the United States needs to provide substantial support for Israel usually know some of the reasons: we need to promote stability in the Middle East, [...]

2023-03-22T14:00:42-04:00March 29th, 2023|Revelation of John|

Is The Rapture in the New Testament?

This post is immediately relevant for me in two ways.  My book on Revelation has now appeared (I kept *saying* it was "coming soon"!)  AND I will be doing a lecture soon, April 15, on the idea of the "rapture," the belief that Jesus is soon to return to take his followers out of the world before the Antichrist arises and all hell breaks out on earth.  You don't wanna be here for that.  You don't want to be "Left Behind"!   The lecture is not connected with the blog per se; you can find out more about it on my website, Here, to titillate your interest on both fronts, is a bit of what I say about the rapture in ch. 1 of my book (I say much more about it in a later section): ******************************** Almost everyone today thinks that Revelation provides a blueprint of what is to happen in the near future—at least those who think about it at all. There are, of course, some holdouts, even among conservative Christians, who maintain the [...]

Armageddon Has Arrived!

Normally one would not welcome Armageddon with rejoicing, but in this instance ....     My book is published today:  Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End.  Now this is a book that has, in some sense, been in the works for 50 years, since the first time I started pondering the Apocalypse of John as a 17 year old, about to head off to Moody Bible Institute and realizing I better read the final book of the NT -- even though I was scared of it -- before taking the first-year Entrance Exam on the Bible possibly whiffing on a question about Revelation.j It took me a while to start figuring out the book -- say, grad school -- and about five years ago, as I began to study it really intensely, I changed my views of it.  Hence the book. For reasons I explain in it, of all the books I've written I think this is the one most relevant for our world at large.  And not because I think the apocalypse will [...]

2023-03-22T15:22:32-04:00March 21st, 2023|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Armageddon! My New Book on the Revelation of John.

I’m excited to say that my book on the Apocalypse of John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation) will be published and available on March 21.  The End is Near!     Here is a brief synopsis of what it’s about: ****************************** The Apocalypse of John (Book of Revelation) is the most mystifying and misunderstood book of the Bible, and possibly the most dangerous.  Most readers simply refuse to dip into its pages – it is too bizarre, violent, and incomprehensible. Those who do read it fall into two camps.  Most are conservative Christians who believe the book is describing what is soon to happen in our future; evangelical “prophecy experts” provide detailed explanations to show that the end has now arrived. Liberal historical scholars, on the other hand, argue that when the book is understood in its own historical context the book is instead a metaphorical expression of hope: the world may appear out of control, but in the end the goodness of God will prevail and those suffering now will be rewarded later. Armageddon [...]

2023-01-20T14:14:41-05:00January 15th, 2023|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Armageddon in Biden and the Bible

On Thursday October 6, President Biden made an unusually scary statement, in response to Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine:  "We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis."  He then added: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.” Armageddon has long been on my mind.  As many of you know, my next book, coming out on March 12, is called Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End.  The book is obviously not about our current political-military crisis but about where the notion of Armageddon came from, how the view that it is very near has almost never done much good, but often created serious mayhem and harm, and why the conservative Christian understanding of it based on the book of Revelation is a complete misinterpretation. Biden wasn’t talking about that.  But he was talking about how current events could indeed lead to cataclysmic disaster for the human race.  [...]

2022-10-10T22:47:18-04:00October 23rd, 2022|Religion in the News, Revelation of John|

The Apocalypse of John and the Gospel of Jesus: My Final Thoughts

Here now is the conclusion to my lecture on the ideology of domination in the book of Revelation. ****************************** I conclude with several more focused reflections on whether the Revelation of John represents the Gospel of Jesus.  To sum up what I have been emphasizing: there is not a single word in all of Revelation about God loving others and no instruction to the followers of Christ to do so either.  Instead, they are called to be “conquerors” – and once they overwhelm the rest of the earth with divine military might, they become its rulers, kings who control “the nations with a rod of iron.”  Whether John meant this literally is beside the point.   This is how he sees God, Christ, his followers, and the rest of the human race: powerful rulers and abject subjects. Is this what Jesus meant when he told his followers to abandon all desire for greatness?  To live lives of service to others?  To become slaves?   In the book of Revelation Christ’s followers are slaves, but only to God.  [...]

2022-03-28T11:14:48-04:00April 9th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Revelation of John|

John of Patmos and the Passion for World Domination

I move on now to discuss Revelation’s view of ruling the world.  If at the end of time God destroys everyone other than his followers, whom will they rule?  I begin by picking up my final question in the last post. ****************************** Where does the book of Revelation stand on the morality of domination?  There is really not much doubt.  When the catastrophes have run their course, Christ’s followers are granted world dominion. To understand what that might mean for John of Patmos we have to consider one of the stranger anomalies of his narrative.  After the wrath of God has been satisfied: what remains of the population of earth?  At the last judgment in ch. 20 everyone whose name does not appear in the “book of life” – that is, anyone who is not a follower of Jesus – is sent to the second death in “the lake of fire” (20:11-15). Doesn’t “everyone” mean everyone?   John stresses that it does: after earth’s entire non-Christian population is cast into the fiery lake, so too are [...]

2022-03-28T10:55:15-04:00April 6th, 2022|Revelation of John|

Revelation and Ancient Views of Dominance

In my previous post I discussed whether the fact that Revelation is filled with symbolism and not to be taken literally should affect our evaluation of its presentation of violence and domination.  Now I move on to ask whether its views reflect those of Jesus himself.   I resume where I left off: ****************************** To say that this is all “just a story” is to miss the point rather spectacularly.  The story conveys a message, an understanding of right and wrong and of what really matters before the Almighty.  The book celebrates judgment, bloody vengeance, and divine wrath – not love, mercy, forgiveness, or reconciliation.  In the end, the Lamb who was once bloodied avenges his blood a thousand-fold.  For John, Christ came the first time in meekness, but he is coming back in power.  History will be guided by the vengeance and wrath of God and his Lamb. Is this what Jesus thought?  I obviously cannot provide an analysis of the historical Jesus’ teachings in the time I have left.  But I will stress that [...]

If Revelation is All Symbolic, Why Would the Violence *Matter*?

I've been presenting a lecture I gave to a regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature recently on the violence of the book of Revelation.  In my previous post I talked about a passage that strikes me as excessively ugly, which discusses Jesus' treatment of the prophetess Jezebel (a Christian leader/teacher) from the church of Thyatira.   At this point in my lecture I move on from detailing aspects of the violence of the text to considering its significance. ****************************** Most of Revelation, of course, is not about what will happen to Christians that John considers wayward, but to those outside the church who suffer incomprehensible catastrophes and are eventually tossed alive into a lake of burning sulfur. But why would it have to be this way, even if God is just and decides to avenge his persecuted or even martyred followers and to wipe out the masses of the ungodly?  Couldn’t he simply give them a simultaneous and fatal coronary?  Or just disintegrate them with a cosmic ray gun?  Not for John.  The wrath [...]

2022-03-30T10:32:06-04:00April 2nd, 2022|Revelation of John|

The Most Violent Passage in Revelation, in My View:

From where I sit, the harshest most violent passage in Revelation is not one that dispenses with a third of the human race in one verse or describes a horde of locusts that will sting everyone on earth except God’s close followers and cause unbearable physical agony for five months that cannot be relieved and that they cannot escape even by dying – i.e., they are not allowed to end it all.  OK, maybe that one is the worst.  But in terms of awfulness, this for me is the one, as I discuss in the lecture I gave on Revelation recently.  In the previous post I mentioned two of the worst.  Here’s *the* worst. ****************************** The third passage shows that Christ directs his violence not only against pagans and Jews but also against his own followers, even active leaders and teachers in his church. The tenuous standing of Jesus’ followers is a leading theme of his letters to the seven churches of in chapters 2 and 3.  Christ regularly threatens to remove his favor and [...]

2022-03-31T10:05:58-04:00March 30th, 2022|Public Forum, Revelation of John|

Two of the Most Violent Passages in Revelation

I continue here with my discussion of the violence in the book of Revelation as taken from a recent lecture I gave.  As is clear, I find it incredible that so many well-meaning scholars want to insist that its not *actually* violent.  OK, then.   As I've indicated, chs. 6-16 are a three-part series of disasters, 7 seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath each, bringing war, death, economic collapse, starvation, torment, natural disaster, and cosmic disruption (with other things).  I pick up there in what follows:   ******************************   And as awful as they are, the seals, trumpets, and bowls are not the most violent parts of the book.  Three other passages compete for that dubious honor. The first comes as an interlude between the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of God’s wrath (14:14-20).  Here we have another vision of “one like the Son of Man” (Christ) who is seated on a cloud, wearing a golden crown and carrying a sharp sickle (14:14).  It is not an auspicious image.  An angel emerges from the [...]

2022-03-22T10:21:28-04:00March 29th, 2022|Public Forum, Revelation of John|

Is the Sacrificed Lamb of God Violent? More Reflections on Revelation

One argument used to support the idea that the controlling image of Christ in the narrative is the lamb who was slain is that this is how he is introduced in his very first appearance in the book.  Anything that follows must therefore be read in light of this introductory image.  The problem is that this claim is simply not true.  Christ first appears not in chapter 5 as the sacrificial lamb but in chapter 1 as “one like a Son of Man,” (1:13) that is, as the cosmic judge of the earth referred to in Daniel 7, who destroys God's enemies and their rule.  In this opening vision Christ is dressed in a white robe and gold sash, just as the mighty angels who will later pour out the bowls of God’s wrath (15:6).  But he is far mightier than these earth-destroyers.  His hair is white, not to show that he is old and decrepit but to reveal that he is the One who has ruled from eternity past (see Daniel 7:9), the “alpha [...]

2022-03-20T18:46:52-04:00March 24th, 2022|Revelation of John|

Is the Apocalypse of John a Book of Hope?

In my previous post I started giving the lecture I gave recently to a group of professional biblical scholars about how my views of Revelation have changed.  After thinking that the book predicted our future (I gave up on that one forty years ago!) I began to think that the book was a positive message for true followers.  In this reading – which I held for many, many years -- the point of the book is that God is sovereign, just, and loving toward his faithful, and in the end truth will prevail.  Above all, Revelation is a book of hope.   I no longer see it that way and am a bit surprised I did for so many years.  The book of Revelation is not principally about hope, let alone the love of God.  Words for hope -- ελπις / ελπιζω – occur some 80 times in the New Testament, but not once in this book.  And God himself is never said to love his followers in this book and they are never referred [...]

2022-03-14T10:19:18-04:00March 23rd, 2022|Revelation of John|

When I First Read the Book of Revelation….

I recently gave a plenary talk at a regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.  The president of the group asked me to give a talk on Revelation, since that is what I’ve been working on recently, and I cobbled something together based on my book and a few other things.  It was about a 45 minute speech, and I thought it would be useful to reproduce it here in chunks over the course of a few posts. My audience was scholars of religion, most of them professors of biblical studies from the Northeast.  Since there were a wide range of interests and expertise represented there, I decided not to go too heavy with the scholarship.  It’s always hard to gauge an audience you’ve never seen before. Anyway, here is how I started the lecture. ****************************** When I first read the book of Revelation, in August 1973, I did so out of fear, not hope.  Not fear for the fate of the world in light of the coming apocalypse, but fear of my own [...]

2022-03-14T10:13:29-04:00March 22nd, 2022|Bart’s Biography, Revelation of John|
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