Revelation Authorship, Genre, Point of View and Rhetoric
Who is the author? 1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Author? • True Believer: “the only biblical book authored by Christ” John merely reports. • Human intelligence—and human artifice—are at work: “It is the one great poem which the first Christian age produced.” • Admiring Critics: “apocalyptic pornography,” “ an insane rhapsody, “the creative imagination of a schizophrenic” • Thomas Jefferson: “merely the raving of a maniac”
Oral Tradition? • Some claim it was probably first spoken aloud nearly 2000 years ago by a charismatic wandering preacher • 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
What we know about author • Almost certainly a Jew by birth and upbringing • Perhaps a war refugee from Judea who had witnessed the destruction of the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem by the Roman army • Seethed with contempt and loathing for the conquerors of the Jewish homeland • Regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the long-promised and long-delayed Messiah
Jewish Document • Rooted in Jewish history, politics, and theology • “a Jewish document with a slight Christian tough-up” • Midrash on the prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible • Author described as a “Christian rabbi”
First writing • On parchment or papyrus toward the end of the first century • Regarded with alarm and suspicion by some of the more cautious church authorities • Offended by violence and lurid sexual promiscuity described • Put off by idea of the 1000 year reign of King Jesus over an earthly realm—Jewish notions of a messianic kingdom • Troubled by what was missing: life and death of Jesus, sublime moral teachings
Most alarming • Ordinary human being who claims to have heard the voice of God. • 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, • Fear that such freelance prophecy could lead only to theological error, social and political chaos
John as Author? • Which: St. John the Evangelist, John the Baptist, presbyter John, a different John? • The bulk of Jewish scriptures and a good deal of the Christian scriptures can be regarded as “false writings” in the sense that they were not actually written by the authors who are credited in their titles • Work of a Johannine circle, school or community? • Composite of several different and unrelated texts, each written in a different time and place by a different author? • Most modern scholars agree: work of a single author who was mystic and a visionary, a charismatic preacher and a poet of unexcelled and enduring genius.
Genre • 3 types of literature • Revelation/Apocalypse : • “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him” • God →Christ→angel→John (author)→servants of God • the word ‘revelation’ or ‘apocalypse’ (apokalypsis) suggests that it belongs to the genre of ancient Jewish and Christian literature called apocalypses (make revelations of the ultimate divine purpose) • Prophecy: • Intended to be read aloud in the context of Christian worship • Confirmed in epilogue: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy • Letter: follows conventional form of a circuit letter • An apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia
Tone • Opens with a few words of grudging praise or, more often, bitter denunciation for his fellow Christians, most of who he finds to be complacent, gullible, self-indulgent, and woefully lacking in zeal. • 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. • Embellishes with a few pious beatitudes that are intended to authenticate his visions. • 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Tone • Lacking in loving-kindness • A punishing text, full of rage and resentment, almost toxic in its longing for bloody revenge against one’s enemies • Only rarely does the author allow his readers to glimpse a kinder and gentler realm, which he explains will only arrive after the earth as we know it is strewn with corpses and flooded “as high as a horse’s bridle” with blood and is destroyed. • Happy ending for “them which are saved.”
Vision • On the island of Patmos off the west coast of Asia • Achieved a trancelike state of mystical ecstasy • Sees a scroll on which is written God’s secret plan for the end of the world • Closed with seven seals of wax or clay • All must be broken before the scroll can be opened and read
Riddles • Only rarely does he invoke the unambiguous name and title of “Jesus Christ” • Prefers to conceal the identity of his celestial source in puzzes and riddles • 8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
Point of View • Author flashes back and forth in time and place • sometimes finding himself in heaven and sometimes on earth • sometimes in the here and now • sometimes in the end-times • sometimes watching from afar • sometimes caught up in the events he describes • Refers to same characters by different names and titles • Describes the same incidents from different vantage points • Everything shimmers with symbolic meanings that always float just out of reach
Point of View • Signifies the way a story gets told—the mode (or modes) established by an author by means of which the reader is presented with the characters, dialogue, actions, setting, and events which constitute the narrative • Two types: • Mode of narration: 1st, 2nd and 3rd person narration • Stance of narration: relation to space, time and ideology
Stance • Essential to understanding what the narrator wants the reader to adopt • Through the attitude, norms, values, and beliefs of the narrator, a critic can better understand the responses a narrator wants to elicit • Susan Lancer: “Point of view conditions and codetermines the reader’s response in the text.” • Allows the reader to stand where John stands and to see what John sees
5 Planes of Point of View • Spatial-Center/Perimeter, Outer/Inner, Above/Below, Open/Close • terms of space, vantage point • Events on earth or in heaven? • Why are some events seen from heaven while others are seen from earth? • How are they related? • Temporal—time: future, present, past or all 3? • Phraseological—Hear/see, Passive voice, Speech: character’s speech and expressions, especially names and titles • Psychological—feelings and thoughts of characters disclosed through the narrative comments or character’s speech • Ideological-Beliefs, Values, Norms, Worldview • beliefs and values that shape the work. • May be author’s own or narrator’s, or even one of the characters • Embedded in 4 other planes identified though intuitive understanding • Helps reader understand the purpose of the text and the narrator’s belief and value system
Temporal—Time • Events of Revelation are imminent; they must take place soon • 1:1 ¶ The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: • 22:6 ¶ And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. 7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. • Encompasses the past, present and the future. • 1:19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; • Problemetizes the time line
Spatial—Space, center/perimeter • Focuses on an object at the center of his vision and then pans outward to describe the perimeter, or vice versa. • Center represents core of his theology • Perimeter may be transformed by the center, or it may remain hardened, obdurate and resistant to the truth at the center • 1:12-20 describes the perimeter—the seven golden lampstands—then focuses on the person who is at the center of his vision—the one like a son of Man. • Intensity of light in the narrative changes as the seer describes first the perimeter and then the center. • Perimeter: 7 golden lampstands which illumine a darkened world • Center: searing, blinding brilliance of one like the Son of Man • By moving from lampstands to Son of Man John reinforces his ideological point of view that Christ is the source of light both for he lampstands, i.e., the seven churches, and for a darkened world.
Spatial: outer/inner • Outer garments represent a person’s character • 16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. • Church must stay awake by being clothed spiritually and morally, for the only clothing God accepts is righteousness as symbolized by bright and pure linen
Spatial: above/below • Describes events that take place in heaven and on earth • The above perspective is interpreted by the below perspective or vice versa • Below perspective: reveals internal problems of seven churches • Above perspective: churches face external attacks in the form of persecutions by the beast • Resolved in the New Jerusalem in which the above and below are merged in perfect unity: the new heaven and the new earth are no longer estranged from each other.
Spatial: Example • 7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. • On the spatial plane, “Michael’s war against Satan is the above perspective of what happens below. Michael’s victory is simply the heavenly and symbolic counterpart of the earthly reality of the Cross. Michael, in fact, is not the field officer who does the actual fighting, but the staff officer in the heavenly control room, who is able to remove Satan’s flag from the heavenly map because the real victory has been won on Calvary.”
Spatial: open/close • Doors are opened or closed, representing either access or denial of access • An open door symbolizes heaven’s access to earth and vice versa • Closing of a door denies access
Spatial/Psychological Link • As John goes “up” spatially, he also goes “up” in terms of a psychological point of view. 1 ¶ After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. 2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. • Rev. 4:1 represents John’s spatial point of view • Rev. 4:2 the spatial point of view is synonymous with “being in the spirit.” • To move up spatially is to ascend to another realm on the psychological plane.
Psychological • Characters’ reaction are twofold: • amazement, praise, and terrifying fear that results in glorifying God • Cursing of God’s name and remaining obdurate • Illustrates the deceptive power of evil; not only are the inhabitants of the earth carried awayin stupefying amazement at the beast’s poer, but also Christian prophets such as John may be deceived by the lure of the world.
Phraseological Plane—Speech • Divine Passive: Uses passive voice to demonstrate that God is in control of events in history, whether good or bad. • 6:4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. • John relates the same event from an auditory and visual perspective—alternates between the two • What he hears interprets what he sees, or vice versa • The hearing is the inner reality whereas the seeing is the outward appearance
Phraseological Example • 7:4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; • Although he heard 144,000, he saw a great multitude. The two are not separate, but manually interpret each other.
More examples • 5:5 hears a report about a Lion—5:6 sees a Lamb • 14:1 sees 144,000—14:2 hears a sound of many waters • 12:7 sees a war in heaven—12:10 hears a loud voice that interprets the significance of the heavenly way • 9:16 hears the number of the cavalry is 200 million—9:17 sees riders on horses whose heads were like lions’ heads • 13:11 sees a beast come out of the earth with two horns like a lamb—hears the voice of a dragon • 14:13 seer hears a voice from heaven saysing, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.”—14:14 When he looks, he sees “one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. • 17:1-6 sees a great whore who is seated on many waters—hears from an angel an interpretation of this scene in v. 7 • 18:21-24 sees the destruction of Babylon—19:1-8 hears a great multitude singing praises to God “For his judgments are true and just.”
Why? • By alternating between seeing and hearing, John shows that • the appearance of an event (what he sees) has a second, deeper meaning (what he hears); • or that what is heard (a traditional expectation) is to be reinterpreted by what is seen (a new reality). • What John sees is complemented—sometimes corrected—by what he hears.
Analyzing Hear/See • Conclusion of every letter to each church John records an identical refrain: • “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” • Hearing is a call for the churches to internalize Christ’s message and to respond obediently. • After the beast rises out of the sea, John records a command to hear: • 13: 9 If any man have an ear, let him hear. 10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. • The appearance of the beast is a time for the saints to remain faithful and not succumb to the description of the beast.
Accentuates Hearing/Seeing • 22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
Ideological Plane—Beliefs • Lies beneath the surface of the narrative • Several times he juxtaposes contrasting images to transform or transvalue the reader’s understanding of events. • Rev. 5 a lamb slain replaces the Lion, a traditional symbol of messianic expectation. • Deformation shows that victory occurs through the sacrifice of a slain lamb—through Christ’s self-giving and self-negation.
John’s ideological point of view frames a new definition of conquest. • Eschatological battle in 19:11-21 • The Word of God (i.e., Christ) comes on a white horse and makes war on the beast. • But the war is not a battle in traditional sense, for from his mouth “comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” (19:15). • A sword protruding from Christ’s mouth replaces the normal battle posture of the sword in the right hand. • Might and conquest is found in his word, The Word of God, and not in traditional weapons of destruction. • The Word of God is both the testimony about Jesus and Jesus’ own testimony, i.e., his death. • Transformation: Victory occurs not through might and power of a conquering warrior in the traditional sense, but through the testimony about Christ and through Christ’s own powerful testimony on the cross.
Rhetoric • The art of putting a thought over in a particular manner; command of number of artfully different manners of expression or persuasion • How the story is told to create certain effects on the reader • Revelation relies on three rhetorical devices: • Numerals • Repetitions • Figures of speech
Numbers • Symbolical usage • Two—confirmation and valid testimony • Three—divine or a counterfeit parody of the divine • Three and one-half—a limited, indefinite period with an end in sight (Ex: 42 months; 1260 days; time, times and half a time) • Four—created order and associated with the 4 points of the compass • Seven—combination of the divine number, three (heaven) and of the number for the created order, four (earth). Represents perfection, fullness, or completion • Ten—indefiniteness and magnitude • Twelve—a combination of three times four, represents perfect fullness. The 144,000 is a combination of 12 x 12 x 1000. • Use of Numbers: http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Revelation_Numbers.htm • Symbolic meanings: http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Numbers.htm
Numbered Rhetorical Series • Threes: • “holy, holy, holy” • in the annotation on God’s eternity: “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4, 1:8) • 17:8 beast parodies the divine sobriquet: “was and is not and is to come” • Fours: associated with the earth • “every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9) • The entire creation sings “blessing and honor and glory and might” (5:13) • Destruction of the earth: “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake” (16:18) “The hour, the day, the month, and the year” is the appointed time for the destruction of a third of humankind (9:15).
Number Rhetorical Series • Sevens: in description of perfect beings • The Lamb is worthy to receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessings” (5:12) • God receives “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might” (7:12) • Designates the fullness of humanity in all its various ranks and social circumstances: “the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free” (6:15) • Broader patterns: • Seven beatitudes (1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, 14) • Seven letters to the seven churches • Seven seals (6:1-8:1) • Seven trumpets (8:6-9:21, 11:15-18) • Seven bowls (16:1-21
Repetition • A rhetorical device reiterating a word or phrase, or rewording the same idea, to secure emphasis. • Employed by deliberate design, it adds force and clarity to a statement. • Stylistic and poetic device gives pleasure by arousing, by satisfying, or by producing surprise by failing to satisfy a sense of expectancy.
Repetition • Focus on particular events, persons, pivotal moments • Accentuate the importance of threes, fours, or sevens • Used as verbal links • The four living creatures call forth each of the four housemen with the cry, “come,” which is the identical summons at the conclusion of the book for Christ to come (22:17, 20) • Links the coming of the four horsemen with the coming of Christ • God’s self-identification , “I am the Alpha and the Omega” frames the narrative (1:8 and 21:6)
Repetition in the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches • Addressed to the angel of the church • Followed by Christ’s self-identification • Contains an “I know” phrase in which the speaker reveals what he knows about the church • Followed by a phrase, “but I have a few things (or this) against you” • A command to repent or remember • A promise to those who conquer • An admonition to listen
Figurative Language • Intentional departure from the normal order, construction, or meaning of words in order to gain strength and freshness of expression, to create a pictorial effect, to describe by analogy, or to discover and illustrate similarities in otherwise dissimilar things. • Unusual images to describe events • Metaphors and similes are used to describe apocalyptic and demonic animals (beasts, dragon, lion, locusts), women (whore, bride, woman clothed with the sun), and cities (Jerusalem, Babylon)
Similes • The one like a Son of Man has 5 similes (1:14:15) • “his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet wee like burnished bronze . . . And his voice was like the sound of many waters” • Accentuate Christ’s transcendent features
Metaphors • The pregnant woman in Rev. 12 • “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” • The comparison of a seven-horned, seven-eyed Lamb to Christ allows the reader to identify Christ’s specific traits that make him worthy to open the scroll • 5:6 Then I saw… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into the world.” • Seven is the number of completeness • Horn is the image of power in the ancient Near East (Deut 33:17) • Modified lamb emphasizes the complete power of Christ, his omnipotence • Seven eyes symbolize the Lamb’s ability to see all and know all • Slain lamb standing is a portrayal of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection • Accentuates Christ’s worthiness to open the scroll because diving wisdom and might are made known in his death and resurrection • Without metaphors, the seer could not convey this concept as dramatically or as forcefully as he has with the image of seven-horned, seven-eyed Lamg.
God Shapeshifter • Celestial king dressed in a golden robe, with hair “as white as snow,” eyes “like a flame of fire”, holding seven stars in his right hand, “and out of His mount went a sharp two-edged sword.” • Figure of a lamb looking “as though it had been slain,” and yet standing upright, with “seven horns and seven eyes.” • Divine warrior mounted on a white horse, crowned with “many diadems” and wearing a bloodstained robe.