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 imminent Day of Judgment. In two weeks, I was heading off to Moody Bible Institute and I knew there was to be an entrance exam. I was no Bible scholar, but I had read the rest of the New Testament and had a reasonably good grasp of what was in it, at least for a seventeen-year-old. But I had never ventured into the deep waters of Revelation. They were too murky and I wasn’t sure what I would find down there. But I had heard it was scary.
Still, I did not want arrive at a bastion of Biblical knowledge without having read the final and climactic book of Scripture. If Revelation was on that entrance exam, I did not want to reveal my complete ignorance. So I read the book. Probably in the Living Bible.
And like most first-time readers, or, truth be told, hundred-and-first-time readers, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I knew it was bad news for people who, unlike me, did not believe in Jesus. Beyond that, it was a mystification unlike any other.
I realized right away that Revelation is one of those books you won’t understand unless someone gives you a road map to explain how to get from point A to point B along with tips for interpreting the road signs along the way. As it turns out, Revelation was not on the exam. It was devoted to more weighty issues. The one question I distinctly remember was: Who was the only left-handed judge?
In any event, it did not take long for me to find my road map. After I started the semester I found the best one available: Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. Like most of my new friends I
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