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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|

Preface to My Book on Revelation: Expecting Armageddon

I have sent my book manuscript off to my editor.  She will work it over, ask for edits, and we'll go from there.  The preface to the book, as it now stands, explains what the book is about and what I try to argue for in it.  I thought I'd pass it by you to see what you think. ****************************** Preface Many of the early Christians had serious doubts about the book of Revelation and did not think it should be included in the New Testament.  The author, they argued, was not an apostle and the book presented views that were clearly unacceptable.  In the end, of course, they lost the argument.  But once the book came to be widely accepted as Scripture, the followers of Jesus had to figure out how to make sense of it.  Over the long course of Christian history, many readers of the Bible have widely opted not to delve into its mysteries at all.  Even today, most find it bizarre and unapproachable. Those who do read it fall into [...]

2022-02-09T17:31:44-05:00February 10th, 2022|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Why Do Fundamentalists Support the State of Israel?

Have you ever wondered why fundamentalists are adamant Zionists?  (Did you know they were and historically always have been?)  It seems to outsiders a bizarre mystery: you love Israel but you hate Jews?  Well, OK, you say you love Jews, but how exactly do you show it?  By supporting Israel, I guess.  But Israel is a nation and the Jews are individual people, most of whom have nothing to do with the state of Israel, at least directly.  And even if you do love individual Jews, let’s be realistic here: you think that even though God is in favor of Israel, all the Jews will be going straight to hell.  What’s that all about? Many fundamentalists, of course, believe that Jews in the end will be saved.  But not while remaining faithful Jews.  They will convert to become followers of Jesus.  So they will be saved as Christians, not as Jews.  Those who don’t convert, even the heroes of modern-day Israel, well… sorry.. If God is opposed to non-Christian Jews, why is he pro-non-Christian Israel?  [...]

2021-11-14T17:23:33-05:00November 24th, 2021|Revelation of John|

Change the Context, Change the Meaning: The Apocalypse!

I've been writing my book on the Revelation of John.  Among other things, I'll be insisting that if you refuse to understand how its genre ("apocalypse") works, you will misunderstand the book.  Here is how I begin that particular discussion (this is just a first draft, not rethought or polished) ******************************    While in office President Ronald Reagan made weekly radio addresses to the nation.  One of the most memorable occurred on August 11, 1984.  Before the official text of the address began, Reagan announced:  "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes."  You might think that Armageddon was about to begin, but no, Reagan was simply joking with the recording engineers, think the mic was dead.  Bad mistake.  The comment was not broadcast, but it was recorded by rebroadcasters around the  world.  Word soon got out and the Soviets took it to show that the Reagan administration’s was completely insincere over efforts to improve relations. Still, it was [...]

2021-10-20T11:19:42-04:00October 28th, 2021|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

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 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??? The Book of Revelation - Have You Read It? 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 [...]

2022-05-28T21:54:41-04:00August 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|
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