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Apocalyptic and Revelation content

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|

The Odd Modern Way of Reading the Book of Revelation

  Back to my possible trade book on the book of Revelation and the way it has affected not just modern conservative Christianity but also secular society (literature, film) and political policy (environmental legislation; second Amendment discussions; policy on the Middle East).   In my description-to-myself of what I’m imagining the book to be, after discussing these various effects of Revelation, I start talking about Revelation itself, and how it came to be read as a blueprint for our future (a reading that seems so *natural* today, but is not how the book was read until the 19th century). ******************************************************** Armageddon in the Book of Revelation The thesis of my book is that all of these manifestations of apocalyptic thought in American discourse – religious, literary, cinematic, social, and political – ultimately stem from a particular way of reading the book of Revelation, a reading that, despite a few scattered precedents throughout history, came to the fore only at the end of the 19th century.   Critical biblical scholars are unified in thinking it is based on [...]

2020-04-03T00:00:49-04:00March 29th, 2019|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Armageddon and American Politics

As I indicated at the beginning of this thread, I am in the process of thinking my way into the next trade book, which I think will be on the book of Revelation and how it has been read by modern fundamentalists, who think it is predicting what is going to happen in our own world very soon, and how that reading has immigrated into, and even infested, the wider culture, the actual secular world, both socially and politically. I said a few words about the social impact of apocalyptic thinking since 1945, and the advent of the nuclear age (the End really *is* near!), and now, as it has transmorgrified (a word we ought to use more often) in the post-Soviet era to issues connected with climate change, etc.  One of my theses is that the social concerns have come to affect the political landscape in America, particularly starting in the 1980s. My ideas on this are not based on wild speculation, but on very interesting scholarship produced by American cultural and political historians, [...]

2020-04-03T00:01:51-04:00March 25th, 2019|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Secular Versions of the Coming Apocalypse

I have been describing my ideas about the book I’m proposing to write, tentatively called Expecting the Apocalypse.  In the past couple of posts I’ve talked about the heightened expectation that the world would be ending soon with the return of Jesus, an originally fundamentalist Christian view that started off in the 19th century and that has moved into much broader circles in American culture.   Part of my book will be looking not only at this religious view, but also at how it has, in our lifetimes, moved into a variety of secular discourses, and is, in fact, in its secular guise, all around us, affecting seriously what is happening in both society and politics, and therefore of real importance for our daily lives. If I write this book, it will be the first time I’ve ventured outside of biblical and early Christian scholarship involving “religion” into areas of cultural importance to most people living in the modern world – which is another way of saying that this kind of material is not something that [...]

2019-03-22T07:54:07-04:00March 22nd, 2019|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Revelation of John|

Fundamentalist Visions of the End of the World

I have started to explain what I’m hoping my next trade book will be, focusing on the book of Revelation and its effect on modern thinking about the End of the World soon to come.   I’m tentatively calling the book Expecting Armageddon, and it would roughly cover three areas:  the religious expectation that God’s judgment is right around the corner – for example in the fundamentalist belief of an imminent “rapture”; the secular versions of this idea, that the world as we know it is soon to be destroyed in one way or another – for example, through nuclear holocaust (as portrayed, e.g., in novels and film), and the political implications of these beliefs (e.g., in understandings of the Second Amendment; environmental legislation; and the U.S. support for Israel) (! Who would-a thought?); and the demonstration that all this perspective is based ultimately on a certain understanding/way of reading the book of Revelation, a mode of interpretation that scholars have long argued is untenable. I’m pretty pumped about the possibility of the book.  But I [...]

2020-04-03T00:02:02-04:00March 20th, 2019|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

Expecting the Apocalypse: My Idea for the Book

Instead of one long (and possibly laborious) thread on my current research for my scholarly monograph on Otherworldly Journeys, I’ve decided to talk about that work sporadically, here and there on the blog, over the course of the next couple of months.   I would like to give a greater focus on the books I’m working on for a general audience. As I have mentioned, I have two in view just now and am in the process of planning them.  I don’t have a contract for either one yet, but hope to present the possibilities to my publisher soon.   One, as I have indicated, would be on the expectation that the end is coming soon, both among many Christians but also in the secular culture at large, all based on a certain reading of the book of Revelation (the secularists usually don’t realize this!) that scholars have long found untenable.   That is the one I’ll start in on here on the blog. My normal process for coming up with a proposal for a publisher is to [...]

2020-04-03T00:05:11-04:00March 19th, 2019|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

A Bit of Fun with 666!

As I hope you know, I try to keep my personal politics out of the blog.  I also hope I succeed, but some of you may think not…  But I do try.    It’s not that I do not have strong political convictions.  On the contrary, I am passionately political and will go to the mat for my views.   BUT, I want the blog to be open and welcoming to all people, whatever their political views (or religious views or any other kinds of views).  We can all be interested in early Christianity, and our politics don’t need to enter into it. And unlike most of the people I know who have strong political views, I really do try to see “the other side,” and to realize that there are very, very good people with views different from mine.   Also unlike most people, I often appreciate and get a very good laugh out of jokes poked at views that I actually take very seriously.  But it’s always good to laugh, even at ourselves. I say that [...]

2019-03-20T17:48:37-04:00October 6th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?

I've been asked about who wrote the book of Revelation.  Here are some musings on it, the first part taken from my textbook on the New Testament. Even though the book of Revelation was finally included in the New Testament canon because Christian leaders came to think it had been written by Jesus’ disciple, John the son of Zebedee, there were outspoken dissenters against its inclusion. Perhaps the most famous was Dionysius, a bishop of the city of Alexandria (Egypt) in the mid-third century, whose remarks about the book have a surprisingly modern feel to them. Dionysius used the author’s self-presentation and his Greek writing style to show that he was not the writer of the Fourth Gospel (whom Dionysius assumed was the disciple John). His conclusion? There must have been two different early Christian leaders named John, both of whom were active in Asia Minor, whence both the Gospel and Revelation derived. The following quotations are drawn from Dionysius’s writings, as quoted by the fourth-century church historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 7.25). The one who [...]

2019-03-20T17:48:46-04:00October 4th, 2018|Revelation of John|

The Lake of Fire in Revelation

OK, you’ve waited a while for me finally to get to the Lake of Fire in the book of Revelation.  But just think of it as the Final Judgment: you know it’s coming soon, but you don’t know when. Here is what I think about it (both the final judgment and the lake of fire) (clarification: this is not what *I* think of these things; this is what I think *Revelation* is saying about these things).  As previously indicated, I do not think Revelation teaches that sinners will be tormented forever.  They will be annihilated out of existence. The horrifying “lake of fire” makes its first appearance in Revelation 19.  Christ, along with his heavenly armies, appears from heaven for the “Last Battle.”  In a flash their arch-enemies on earth are soundly defeated and punished.  The supernatural opponents of Christ – the Beast and his prophet – are thrown, living, into the “lake of fire that burns with sulfur.”   Their human allies, on the other hand, are “slain with a sword,” and all the birds [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:27-04:00October 2nd, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|

The Afterlife in Revelation

  The first reference to the afterlife in Revelation occurs in ch. 6, with the breaking of the fifth seal (6:9-11).   Nothing happens on earth, but the prophet sees the souls of those who had been “slaughtered for the word of God” and the “witness they gave” under an altar in heaven, as they cry out to God: “How long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?”   An altar, of course, is the point of contact between God and humans, so these martyrs for Christ have a special access to the divine presence.  They want to be vindicated for their faithfulness.  But they are deferred in their wishes: each is given a white robe and told they need to “rest a little while longer,” until all their fellow Christians also destined for martyrdom have met their fates. These other martyrs are described in chapter seven, after the breaking of the sixth seal.  There are two groups: 144,000 Jews, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes, and “an enormous [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:38-04:00October 1st, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|

More on the Symbolism of Revelation

Two questions I often get asked about the book of Revelation (including from readers of the blog) are whether the symbolism is meant to keep Roman authorities from understanding what was in the book in order to protect the author from persecution and whether the events that it describes may be coded references to what will happen in our own future.   Here is what I say about each subject in my textbook discussion on the book. ********************************************* Apocalypses as Underground Literature? Some readers of the book of Revelation have taken its mysterious symbols to suggest that it was "underground" literature.  The symbolic language of the book, according to this interpretation, was used to keep the governing authorities from realizing that they themselves were under attack. There may be an element of truth in this view, but one might wonder whether a Roman administrator was likely to sit down over the weekend to read a good Christian book.  It seems more plausible that the principal function of the symbolism -- whether in Revelation or in other [...]

2019-03-20T17:49:20-04:00September 30th, 2018|Revelation of John|

More Symbolism in Revelation: 666, The Number of “The Beast”

In order to explain my views of the “Lake of Fire” in the book of Revelation – the destination for everyone who is not a believer in Jesus – I have started to point out that much of the book is to be taken symbolically, not literally (as the author himself suggests).  My eventual point is that the author is not giving a literal description of how most people who have ever lived will spend eternity swimming in a lake of fire. In my last post I began my discussion of symbolism by focusing on the image of the “whore of Babylon” who sits on a horrible “beast” as described in chapter 17,   The careful reader of Revelation will recognize that this beast in chapter 17 has already appeared in chapter 13.  There we are told of a beast “rising out of the sea,” again with ten horns and seven heads.   Moreover, “the whole earth followed the beast,” worshiping it.  The beast in this earlier chapter is said to be haughty and blasphemous, and to [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:51-04:00September 28th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Symbolism in Revelation: The Whore of Babylon

The point of this mini-thread is to argue that the author of the book of Revelation does not describe a “hell” that people will be sent to in order to be tortured for all eternity – even though he is often read that way.   My argument is that page after page of the book is filled with highly symbolic visions, and realizing this is a fairly obvious key to interpreting the book. For the next couple of posts I’ll try to show how the interpretation actually works.   Then I’ll move to explore his comments about the “lake of fire,” the image widely used to develop the notion that those who are wicked and/or who do not believe in Jesus (that is most of the many billions of people who have ever lived) will be tormented eternally in flames In my previous post I summarized, rather tersely, the narrative flow of what happens in the book of Revelation (if you haven’t read it recently, I’d advise it!  It’s a terrifically gripping account).  None of this breathtaking [...]

2020-04-03T01:00:00-04:00September 26th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Overview of the Book of Revelation

I’d like to devote a few more posts to my book on the Afterlife.  I don’t want to steal my own thunder and give away *everything* I will be talking about in the book here on the blog.   But I am interested to getting reactions to some of my more important and controversial claims about the Bible.  One thing I’ll be arguing is that the idea of hell-fire, taken chiefly from the book of Revelation, is frequently misunderstood.  In my view, the book of Revelation does teach the eternal joy that is to come for believers in Jesus; but it does not teach that sinners (and unbelievers) will experience eternal torment in hell.   Even though they are thrown into “the lake of fire.” To explain my views will take at least three posts.  To begin I need to explain some things about the book itself and the symbolism found throughout the book.  To do that I need to sketch what actually happens in the book.   Here is a kind of quick and ready summary of [...]

2020-04-03T01:00:15-04:00September 25th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Futuristic Interpretations of the Book of Revelation

Now that my book The Triumph of Christianity has come out, I'm thinking about my future books.  The one I'm working on now is The Invention of the Afterlife, where I explore the origins of the idea that when you die, your soul goes to heaven or hell (it's not in the Old Testament and it's not what Jesus taught -- so where did it come from??).  But I always like to think two or three books in the future, and so I'm contemplating what I might do after this. One idea is to deal with the belief that the world is soon to come to an end, a book that would, among other things, take on the book of Revelation.   I've dealt with the issue before, of course, but not broadly.  One of the things I'm interested in is how people interpret Revelation as referring to things about to happen in our own future.  Here's something I say about the topic in my textbook on the Bible. *************************************************************** One of the most popular ways [...]

2020-04-03T01:32:45-04:00March 1st, 2018|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

666 and Scribal Changes of the Text

I have received a number of queries about my post concerning the recently discovered papyrus P115 which indicates that the number of the Beast (the Antichrist) in Revelation 13 was 616 rather than 666.  Some of them I addressed in my post of yesterday.  But some readers have inquired about something slightly different: how do discoveries like this affect our translations of the New Testament?   Here is one of those questions and my respons.   QUESTION: I thought the NIV Bible kept up-to-date with newer papyrus discoveries. Yet, it too shows 666 (and not 616) for REV 13:18. Why might that be?   RESPONSE: Ah, good question.  When I indicated that the reading 616 is now found in an early manuscript, I did not mean to say that therefore it is more likely to be the reading that the author originally wrote.  That is a different question. As is true for a lot of verses in the New Testament, different manuscripts have different wordings for this verse.  There are five different forms of the text [...]

2020-04-03T01:50:00-04:00November 7th, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum, Revelation of John|

More on 666: The Number of the Beast: A Blast from the Past

My post yesterday about manuscripts that give the number of the beast in Rev. 13 as 616 instead of 666 prompted a number of queries.  I'll answer a couple of them directly in my next post; but some people emailed me asking me what the number is all about in the first place.   I discussed the issue a few years ago on the blog.  Here is what I said. ************************************************************* This post will be the culmination of my thread that deals with ancient numerology, especially as it is based on the fact that ancient languages used letters of the alphabets for their numbers, making it possible to add up the numerical equivalent of any word.   In this post 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. Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion, and I’d suggest reading it first to make sense of what I’ll say here.  I also need to [...]

2020-04-03T01:52:20-04:00November 6th, 2017|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions, Revelation of John|

Debate with a Mythicist! And the Book of Revelation. Readers’ Mailbag September 25, 2016

In this week’s Mailbag I’ll be addressing two questions, one about me personally – my preparations for the upcoming debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus even existed as a human being – and the other about the book of Revelation.  If you have a question you would like me to address on the Mailbag, simply ask it in a comment on this post or any other.   ************************************************************************ QUESTION It seems the debate between yourself and Robert Price will be going ahead next month, right? I follow Price on Facebook and he has evidently been re-reading all your books in preparation. How much of his books do you intend on reading prior to the debate? How will you prepare for the debate? I’m really looking forward to it! RESPONSE Right!  Yes indeed!  On October 21 I will be having a three-hour debate in Milwaukee with Robert Price, who has two PhDs from Drew University, one in New Testament Studies and the other in Theology, and who is an atheist who supports [...]

The End of Time in Revelation and the Gospel of John

I have been arguing that the author of the Fourth Gospel and the author of the book of Revelation could not have been the same person, and in looking back at my posts I realize that I have left out an important point, one of the strongest arguments that we are dealing with two different people.   The theology of these two books is radically different on an issue that is completely central to both of them: their understanding of “eternal life.” It is true that in some respects these two books have similar theological views.  I have already mentioned, for example, that both see Christ as the “Word” of God (no other NT author expresses this view) and as the “Lamb” who was slain (again: these two books alone use that image).   But both of them are very much interested in views of eschatology, and on these views they differ radically. The term “eschatology” means the “understanding of the end times.”  Just about everyone has a view about what happens at “the end.”  Some think [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:05-04:00August 3rd, 2016|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Revelation of John|
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