Sunday, May 22, 2011


""Numbers are language, and John of Patmos, author of The Revelation of John, loved numbers. Sixes, obviously, in triplicate, a few 10s, and sevens -- especially sevens: Seven messages to seven communities, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. It is the author's "single most insistent motif," writes Jonathan Kirsch. Adele Yarbro Collins calls it "an organizing principle" of the whole of the work." But why sevens? Why not twos, eights or nines? Collins tells us that the late Pythagoreans as well as Philo of Alexandria, Jewish biblical interpreter and philosopher, agreed that "all reality is ordered and that order is expressed in patterns of seven ... [because] ... [t]he symbolic significance of this number is cosmic." And, as Kirsch points out, it was God's resting on the seventh day that signified creation's completion, making seven a "symbol of divine wholeness in Judaism."

All this would have made sense to the seven communities John had in mind and as he took up his pen, around the year 95 C.E., he was writing to them, not to us, and in a language of symbol and imagery that were as current and familiar to them as it is ancient and weird to us. Which brings me back to Fred, an obviously bright fellow, yet whose assumption about the meaning of 666 is characteristic of the inevitable flattening-out that results when ancient, complicated texts are read as if they are stories from old newspapers. """


Nietzsche on the Book of Rev: (warning--not PC):"""How, on the other hand, did the Jews feel about Rome? A thousand signs tell us; but it suffices to recall the Apocalypse of John, the most wanton of all literary outbursts that vengefulness has on its conscience. (One should not underestimate the profound consistency of the Christian instinct when it signed this book of hate with the name of the disciple of love, the same disciple to whom it attributed that amorous-enthusiastic Gospel: there is a piece of truth in this, however much literary counterfeiting might have been required to provide it.) """


Moriarty said...

The Book of Revelation, or "Apocalypse of St John " as it is known by the catholics, may feature some interesting and powerful symbols and metaphors, but taken literally, it is near to madness, if not the ding-an sich. The Founding Fathers thought so--Jefferson referred to Revelation as "the ravings of a lunatic" or something. Unlike the modern sort of biblethumpers, the Founders did not consider Scripture inerrant. They had other issues (such as hypocrisy) but at least were not fundamentalists.

(No comment on Nietzsche)

J said...

Jefferson's dismissal of the Book of Rev. seems quite reasonable at first glance and indeed Humean (ie., any religious book which purports to discuss supernatural events was unacceptable as testimony according to Hume). And as the most recent Rapture craze shows, there are fundamentalist windbags who use Revelation to justify a bogus Doomsday. So in that secular sense Jefferson had a point--regarding "enthusiasm": e.g., there are potential dangers to society posed by prophetic/visionary writings.

Revelation may be better described as a religious poem than a historical narrative, or moral tract. There are odd, unsettling symbols--the numerical patterns for one-- but those who read the entire book will note an order to it (--it may have been a secret, or gnostic text). At the same time, the B.o.R. has a political theme--one might say the overthrow of the corrupt empire, and the final triumph of Christ's reign. While that's not to say the message of the BoR is "true", it is profound--yet who's to say it isn't a vision of ..a theocracy, --perhaps a Third Reich-- as much as it is utopia. So reluctantly we may have have to agree with Jefferson & Co. A Rev Hagee or Camping is not St John, either way.

Custom Search

Blog Archive