APOCALYPSE AND EMPIRE
LEONARD L. THOMPSON
New York Oxford
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
Oxford University Press
Oxford New York
Copyright © 1990 by Leonard L. Thompson
First published in 1990 by Oxford University Press, Inc.,
198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016
First issued as an Oxford University Press paperback, 1997
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Thompson, Leonard L., 1934-
The book of Revelation : Apocalypse and Empire /
Leonard L. Thompson.
p. cm. Bibliography: p. Includes index.
ISBN 0-19-511580-5 (pbk.)
1. Bible. N.T. Revelation—Criticism, interpretation, etc.
2. Bible. N.T. Revelation—Language, style. I. Title.
Throughout the following chapters there are references to many books, inscriptions, and papyri from the early Christian and classical world of the first centuries of the Common Era (CE). They are listed on pages 211-212. Translations of the Greek New Testament usually follow the Revised Standard Version, though I sometimes use my own translation.
There are four parts to the book. I provide an orientation in the Introduction and part 1. Some of the rather complex ideas at the end of chapter 2 are discussed again in chapter 11. Parts 2 and 3 could be read in reverse order, but I recommend following numerical order. The similarities between the arrangement of this book (four parts and twelve chapters) and the number symbolism of the Book of Revelation are purely coincidental.
In the best of circumstances writing involves stretches of isolation punctuated by fruitful conversation with various groups of colleagues. Helpful conversation occurred in the seminar on early Christian apocalypticism of the Society of Biblical Literature and the New Testament seminar of the Upper Midwest Region of the same organization. I express special gratitude to David Aune, William Beardslee, Adela Yarbro Collins, Howard Kee, and Carolyn Osiek. My colleagues at Lawrence University listened patiently to some of these ideas in their roughest form. Robert M. Grant and John J. Collins made observations regarding some of the chapters when they were in not-so-rough a form. I approach the text differently from those two scholars, but their writings provide the foundation. Diane Jeske, my undergraduate assistant, read the text and corrected it in many ways. In the final stages of the manuscript, the comments of Bob Grant, M. L. Ray, and Cynthia Read helped me revise and improve several chapters. Lastly, Michael Lane read the manuscript with great care and helped clarify both language in the manuscript and references to other works.
Stretches of isolation were made possible by a year-long fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Summer Research Fellowship from the same endowment. In that connection I note Edwin Good's unflagging support with appreciation. I am grateful for those fellowships which provided an inclusio around the research—a most appropriate form for the Book of Revelation. Along the way, research grants from Lawrence University provided opportunities for visits to major research libraries.
L. L. T.
Part I Orientation
1 Historical Setting and Genre, 11
2 The Social Setting of Apocalypses, 25
Part II The Script: Wholeness and the Language of the Book of Revelation
3 The Linguistic Unity of Revelation, 37
4 Unity through the Language of Worship, 53
5 The Seer's Vision of an Unbroken World, 74
Part III The Stage: Roman Society and the Province of Asia
6 Domitian's Reign: History and Rhetoric, 95
7 Christians in the Province of Asia, 116
8 Jews in the Province of Asia, 133
9 Urban Life in the Province of Asia, 146
Part IV The Play: The Apocalypse and the Empire
10 The Book of Revelation in Asian Society, 171
11 The Social Location of the Book of Revelation, 186
12 Postscript: Religious Language and the Social Order, 198
Appendix: Recent Theories about the Social Setting of the Book of Revelation, 202
Works Cited, 241
Additional Sources, 251
Subject Index, 255
Index of Ancient Sources, 263
Index of Modern Authors, 265
Emperors: Non-Christian Authors: Christian Authors:
Julius (d. 44 BCE)
Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE)
Tiberius (14-37) Paul (d. 62-68) Letters (c. 50-60)
Gaius (Caligula) (37-41)
Titus (79-81) Martial (d. c. 104)
Spectacles (c. 80) Epigrams (from c. 86-)
Domitian (81-96) John - Revelation (92-96)
Silvae (92-) Achilleid (95-96) Didache (110?)
Ignatius (d. 115) Epistles (c. 110)
Quintilian (b. c. 30-35) Institutio Oratoria (96)
Josephus (b. c. 37)
Jewish Antiquities (93?) Against Apion (c. 96) Life (c. 96-97)
Nerva (96-98) Silius Italicus (d. c. 101) Punica (c. 98)
Trajan (98-117) Tacitus (b. c. 56)
Pliny the Younger (c. 61112)
Dio Chrysostom (c. 40112)
Hadrian (117-138) Juvenal (c. 60-127) Polycarp (d. 155)
Satires (115-27) Letter to the Philippians (c. 112)
Suetonius (b. 70)
Lives of the Caesars (c. 120)
Antoninus Pius (138-61) Justin Martyr (d. 165)
Apologies (c. 150)
Dialogue with Trypho (c. 155)
Hegesippus (fl. 120-80)
Marcus Aurelius (161-80) Melito (fl. c. 180)
Against Heresies (18090)
Septimius Severus (193211) Tertullian (160-200)
Apology (c. 200)
Caracalla (198-217) Dio Cassius (c. 150-235)
Roman History (215-20)
Philostratus (c. 170-245)
Life of Apollonius of Tyana
Lives of the Sophists
Dionysius of Alexandria (d. c. 265)
Eusebius (260-339) - Ecclesiastical History (c. 300)
Map of Asia Minor about the time when the Book of Revelation was written.
In Robert Coover's The Origin of the Brunists (1971) Justin Miller, editor of the local newspaper, reflects on the fact that he "had read Revelations at the age of thirteen and never quite got over it." That happens to a lot of people who read the Book of Revelation—even so-called scholars—and it is from a scholarly point of view (specifically that of a literary and social historian of early Christianity) that the following chapters have been written.
A book like Revelation can grip people in different ways, and it is not easy to explain just how the scholarly "grip" differs from, for example, Coover's Brunists who use the Book of Revelation to illumine an unfinished note of a preacher-miner killed in a mining explosion. Nor is the scholar likely to be gripped by the book as a window into the future of Middle Eastern affairs, with the number of the beast, 666, enigmatically identifying the Soviet Union or Iran. I could say that the scholar is systematic in his or her approach to the Book of Revelation. But the Brunists and other millenarians, as they decode the book, are probably just as systematic as a social or intellectual historian of early Christianity, though in a different way.
Scholars, like millenarians, must also enter into the symbols, syntax, and literary structures of the book. Dell Hymes, writing about the need for linguists to be participants in the language community that they are studying, says, "No amount of acoustic apparatus and sound spectography can crack the phonemic code of a language, and a phonemic analysis ... is the necessary basis for other studies" (Giglioli 1982, 24). So research and analysis of the Book of Revelation, as of all language, require participation in the structures of meaning and the shared codes of apocalyptic language. Nor do scholars necessarily participate in a "more objective manner" than millenarians. The persona of disinterested, cool, objective observation sometimes slips, and then passions and commitments become visible to everyone. We all have our axes to grind. Nor need the scholarly inquiry be any less meaningful existentially for the life of the scholar than religious inquiry for the millenarian: for both, self-identity becomes intertwined with the pursuit of learning and interpreting systematically the words, sentences, and symbolic representations in "Revelations"—though, again, along different lines.
There may be something to the distinction that the millenarian—I use the term broadly to include all those personally committed to apocalyptic spirituality— believes and lives by the book, whereas the scholar makes inquiry into that belief and commitment; that is, the millenarian can do without the scholar, but the scholar cannot do without the millenarian. In that sense scholarly inquiry is "once removed" from the apocalyptic spirituality of the millenarian. In reflecting upon the Book of Revelation, the scholar will probably "explain" it by comparing it to something else; by showing how it belongs to a broader category (a literary genre or a phenomenon in the history of religion); or by linking its presence to a social class, a psychological type, or a specific time and local place in history. Yet the devout apocalypticist also has moments of reflecting on the faith and "looking in" at the spirituality in which he or she participates. The most faithful can ask, "How did I get mixed up in this? What attracts me to it? Where did these ideas come from? What do I have in common with other millenarians?" That is, "believing" and "living by" do not necessarily bracket out the second-order activity of reflection.
Nonetheless, there is a distinction—at least one of emphasis—to be made here between the "scholarly" and the "faithful" approach. The scholar does not view the Book of Revelation as a self-contained, self-authenticating work. It is authenticated by how it enters into other social, political, psychological, historical, literary, and religious structures. The scholar seeks to uncover the connections that are not apparent on the surface—the latent connections, the hidden structures, and the invisible systems of which the Book of Revelation is a part. But don't the "faithful" do the same, as they uncover connections between the Book of Revelation and other social, historical, and political events? There is at least this difference: for the scholar, the Book of Revelation is not the determining force in the invisible systems. The Book of Revelation—which includes any divine or human actor in the bookdoes not contain the code, the DNA strand, that shapes and unfolds the rest of life and history. It is not the independent variable that determines all else. The scholar looks for reciprocity, for some situations in which the book is determinative and for others in which it is determined. The scholar hesitates to draw simple lines of cause and effect and searches rather for feedback loops and reciprocal interaction among inseparable elements. Scholars are mealymouthed, unwilling, or at least hesitant, to state anything as simple and direct. And that can evoke impatience from those who know what makes the world work—whether that be divine or economic determinism—or from those who want a simple and direct answer in all analysis.
But I have been too simple in my analysis. Scholars and the faithful are not two generic brands packaged in plain, white containers. Members of each group come in different sizes, qualities, colors, and shapes. What lies behind these reflections on how a scholar approaches a work like the Book of Revelation is this: I am interested in having conversation with all those who are committed in different ways to apocalyptic spirituality and with those who are not. Further, I should like to converse with both groups at the same time. In brief, I am interested in conversation in a pluralistic context, and I think that a "scholarly" approach to a work such as the Book of Revelation can contribute to fruitful, pluralistic dialogue. Only one group need by definition be left out: those who reject the possibility that the study of a book like Revelation could have any value at all.
In the following chapters I will use a scholarly approach to what is said, but in the packaging process the content will take on distinctive hues, shapes, and qualities that may not be to every scholar's liking. Nonetheless, all scholars will recognize, explicitly or implicitly, how the chapters unfold and they will use the same approach as I have used to show how, in their opinions, I have colored in things incorrectly and shaped things along the wrong designs; that is, there is a common approach in the scholarly world even though it can lead in different directions and can produce different sets of conclusions. That common approach promises fruitful exchange in pluralistic contexts.
Pluralism is limited by the fact that all readers of the Book of Revelation share in a common text: they look at the same words, the same sentences, the same paragraphs. Without that shared focus in the same text there could be no hope for conversation in a pluralistic context. But "common text" is no simple item. Any text that continues to be read in any kind of community—university, church, political party—does not exist simply as a given fact. It does not exist as a communicating text except in the act of reading it. Through reading, the text is once again "brought to pass." With every reading, a reader gains the text once again; different readers in reading acquire the same text differently. The Book of Revelation is, then—tike all texts—an ongoing accomplishment, an ever-recurring acquisition. Further, none of us reads it fresh in the Garden of Eden. We receive it in a tradition of readers who connect us to the text—often through complicated, unrecognized links—and who shape what we see. One way of recognizing the "ongoingness" of that chain of readers would be to trace out the history of the reading of the Book of Revelation: Who read it, when, in what circumstances, to what end? Bernard McGinn (1979) has done that for the medieval period; Patrides and Wittreich have edited a volume which does that for the Renaissance. Through that process one could begin to write a history of readership of the Book of Revelation and trace out continuities, discontinuities, and explosive revolutions in its reading history. For most readers of the Book of Revelation that is too ambitious a project, but every reader should be as aware as possible of the "tradition of readers" through which he or she reads the Book of Revelation. That awareness can often clarify conversation in a pluralistic context.
My interest in the Book of Revelation is limited to the situation in which it was first read and written—the situation of the author and the situation of those to whom the Book of Revelation was originally addressed. I claim no privileged position for that original situation except that it captures my interest; I am not prepared to argue that you must first understand what it meant to those original readers before you can understand its meaning for readers in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or contemporary life. Nor would I even argue that the original meaning should control what possible meanings can be drawn from the text (though there are other controls). Language carries too many bits of information in too many dimensions for such claims to be made. The heyday of historical positivism—that autho rial intentionality and original context controls all meaning—is over. Augustine made the same point from a different angle centuries ago: "What harm is there if a reader believes what you, the Light of all truthful minds, show him to be the true meaning? It may not even be the meaning which the writer had in mind, and yet he too saw in them a true meaning, different though it may have been from this" ( Conf. 12.18). Besides, original meanings are never recovered in their pristine purity without the taints of that "reading history" mentioned above. Indeed, without those taints and stains, the pure text would have no point of entry, no place for a mind-hold.
Just as "original meaning" and "original context" are not normative for all subsequent readings, so subsequent readings of the Book of Revelation should not control how we understand its "original context." Its "original meaning" and "original context" may be quite different from later ones, including those of today's reader; inquiry into the situation in which the Book of Revelation arose should not be harnessed quickly into the service of social, political, and/or religious concerns of the reader. Past situations are not necessarily mirrors of the present. Past situation may disclose novel meanings, new kinds of connections among texts and their contexts, and even distinctive categories in which to conceive of relationships among religious, literary, political, and social dimensions of life. Historical inquiry should be allowed to do more than provide examples or counterexamples of how we understand the world—at least, if we want history to disclose its secrets. I am not denying the need for categories, frames, and models from the life of the reader as bridges to the past, nor do I eschew the importance of morality in historical inquiry; but I am arguing that our categories, models, and moral commitments (all of which we bring to historical inquiry) can be chastened by careful inquiry into the past.
In brief, in the process of reconstruction, one adjusts both the situation being reconstructed and one's own understanding of various relationships in the world. Any reconstruction of the original situation of the Book of Revelation—how the seer understood the world, why he wrote to the people he did, what he had in mind in writing to them, how it was to affect their situation—is a process, a feedback loop of continuous readjustment as one moves from reconstructing to the thing being reconstructed and back again to reconstructing. Justin Miller "had read Revelations at the age of thirteen and never quite got over it." That happens to many people, so let the reader beware.
The Book of Revelation seems to evoke excess response. Two monks in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose hold the following exchange as they seek to solve a series of murders in the abbey: "I asked him why he thought the key to the sequence of crimes lay in the Book of Revelation. He looked at me, amazed: 'The book of John offers the key to everything!"' (1984, 303). On the other hand, George Bernard Shaw, in his preface to The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, dismisses the Book of Revelation as "a curious record of the visions of a drug addict which was absurdly admitted to the canon under the title of Revelation" (quoted in McGinn 1984, 35). In limiting my inquiry to the original situation of the Book of Revelation, I will argue only that a seer named John wrote the Book of Revelation as a means of communicating with other Christians who were living in roughly the same geographical zone and at the same time as John; that is, from this approach the Book of Revelation is a text intended to communicate something to others (contra Shaw), but I limit the language of communication to Christians living in cities of western Asia Minor at the end of the first century of the Common Era.
For many people—those of the Shaw variety—the issue may be whether the Book of Revelation offers a key to anything in normal, ordinary human life. The symbolic, metaphoric, even bizarre language of the seer does not at first glance serve as a window into urban life in the eastern environs of the Roman Empire. For that service one prefers more prosaic writings, such as Dio Chrysostom's orations or the geography of Strabo. Although the seer's work does not provide us with direct information about urban life in first-century Asia Minor, his language is moored in that social order. Whatever the nature of the ecstatic, visionary origins of that language—John says that he was "in the spirit"—he has a message for Christians who are living in that urban society, specifically in the towns of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Rev. 1:11). That is not to say, however, that the significance of John's message is limited to its first-century Asian social context. As suggested above, past situations may disclose new ways of understanding. Two thousand years have not very much changed how humans adapt to their environment.
In order to understand the highly metaphoric, poetic language of the Book of Revelation, we must do more than read it over and over again; that is, more is required than understanding each of the words and each of the sentences in the book. That more involves the generic dimension of the writing. If a person was not acquainted with the genre "business letter," the closing of a formal, business communication with the intimate language yours truly or sincerely yours would remain a puzzle no matter how many times it was reread. Phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs often will make sense only when we see them as elements in a particular type of writing, that is, a genre. Scholars have rightly worried considerably about the genre "apocalypse"—what constitutes it, how it differs from other writings, what its essential elements are. I take up several of those issues in chapters 1 and 2.
Here I want to consider the language of the Book of Revelation as an example of a type even broader than apocalypse. John writes as a true cosmopolitan. His vision extends beyond local politics to global issues and beyond global issues to cosmology. And he extends his world by means of nesting language. (I am thinking here of small tables or measuring cups that stack by being nested into ever-larger sizes.) John's highly symbolic language nests urban Asia Minor into ever-larger contexts — ultimately into a cosmic vision that includes the whole social order, the totality of nature, and suprahuman divinities that invade but transcend both society and nature.
In scholarly circles, this nesting language is usually called mythic language. Mythic language is the language used by humans to orient and adapt to the most encompassing environment that can be conceived, an environment that usually includes divinities and other cosmic forces. Mythic, nesting language "works" by means of metaphor, symbol, and homologue. So in the opening vision of the Book of Revelation the seer presents Jesus Christ as a suprahuman character by drawing metaphors from the human realm and the realm of nature: the suprahuman character is "like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast." Through a simile involving the word white wool, snow, and his hair are encompassed (Rev. 1:14). Later it is written that those living in the city of Pergamum in the province of Asia in the Roman Empire live "where Satan dwells" (2:13). Their environs are extended beyond urban social intercourse, beyond the natural terrain and the countryside. Through a homologue between their city and Satan (that ancient diabolos) they are oriented to an environment that is cosmic in scope. The same kind of extension occurs at Ephesus: living the proper faithful life at Ephesus is homologous to "eating the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (2:7). In the process of nesting or extending the environment through metaphors and homologues nothing is left behind. Minor local issues do not drop out as the seer moves to global and cosmic environments; rather, they are taken up into the cosmic. Everything—local, global, animal, vegetable, mineral, divine—keeps its own place as it is taken into a larger unified system or ordered world. The metaphoric language of myth gathers up the scraps of the world and presents them as parts of a whole.
Anyone acquainted with the mythos of the Hebrew Bible recognizes immediately that the writer of the Book of Revelation is steeped in a specific mythic tradition. When he is transformed psychologically "into the Spirit," he does not leave behind what he knows. The Spirit speaks to him in the language of his own Jewish heritage as it was incorporated into a Christian mythos. At the same time there are more universal elements in this language. For example, we find in the Revelation archetypal themes of the damsel in distress, a dragon-killing hero, a wicked witch (harlot), the rescued bride, and a wonderful city where everyone lives happily ever after (see Frye 1957, 108, 189). Those themes can be traced through folklore or related to the human psyche through depth psychology. Or they and other themes and structures in the Book of Revelation may be paradigmatic in literary criticism. So when Northrop Frye outlines "a few of the grammatical rudiments of literary expression" (1957, 133), he calls upon the Book of Revelation as "our grammar of apocalyptic imagery" (1957, 141). Thus, the language of the Book of Revelation is linked both to a specific tradition and to paradigmatic elements that resonate more universally in religious, psychological, and literary fields.
But I am interested in how this nesting, mythic language of metaphor and homologue relates to the social order of John's time. The whole of the book is moored in the specific social context of first-century, Asian, urban Christianity by the fact that the writer introduces his visions of "that which is to come" by a series of messages to the churches in the province of Asia. Chapters 1-3 take the form of a series of letters prefaced first by a salutation from John (Rev. 1:4-5) and then from the heavenly Jesus Christ (1:11). Most of the key words and root metaphors used throughout the book are introduced in the letters to the seven churches. Whatever other contexts John's visions may be harnessed to, they clearly address the social situation of the Christians to whom he writes. The visionary, nesting language tells us very little directly about that social situation. The seer does not refer to civic political offices and organizations by name nor to trade associations nor to festivals and celebrations of local deities or of imperial government. Nor does the seer give much direct demographic information about early Christians in those cities. Yet the civic organizations and celebrations, as well as demographic features of his audience, bear directly on how we understand his message to those urban Christians.
As Marjorie Reeves points out, common usage associates "apocalyptic" messages with imminent crisis (1984, 40). A particular portrait of crisis involving early Christians has been painted in both popular and scholarly circles along the following lines. Early Christians are characterized demographically as an oppressed minority who belong to the powerless poor. Christians have no part in non-Christian urban life, for that would require them to go against the faith and practice of Christianity. The civic and imperial machinery in the province of Asia works to persecute those Christians, bringing them into the circuses and games to fight with wild animals and skilled gladiators. According to this portrait, mad Domitian is emperor, a "second Nero," who exiles or kills anyone who does not fall down and worship him as "god and lord." In brief, as a type in the sociology of religion, early Christianity is represented as religion against culture. Practitioners of Christianity cannot participate in urban, imperial life, and those who do cannot be Christians. John proclaims to those Christians the message of a blessed kingdom soon to come that will reverse the social status of both Christians and non-Christians: Christians will no longer live in a world of oppression and scarcity, and non-Christians will be made powerless and brought to judgment by the Christian God.
In Part 3 I examine the social order to which those early Christians belonged: the situation of the empire under Domitian, the local conditions of cities in the province of Asia, and the place of Christians in those cities. That examination yields some surprising results. Robert Grant, Edwin Judge, and Abraham Malherbe, among others, have presented convincing evidence that Christians embraced a wide range of status and place in Roman society. Some were probably slaves and down-and-outers, but many were free artisans and small traders, wealthy enough to travel around the Roman Empire, own slaves, and live in houses large enough to hold congregations of Christians. A typical Christian congregation in one of the seven cities to which John writes probably consisted of people from various classes and statuses, men and women, bond and free, with those of greater affluence serving somewhat as patrons to the others. In that regard they were similar to trade guilds and other private religious associations of the time. Most of the members would for the most part share the attitudes and style of life of their non-Christian neighbors (see R. Grant 1977). That revised demographic description of early Christianity leads to a revision of the popular portrait of crisis sketched above. I present elements of such a revision in part 3.
For analytic purposes I have separated the chapters that focus upon the language of the Book of Revelation (part 2) from those that focus on the social order (part 3). That is an artificial separation. John's writing itself is a social activity that makes up a part of the social order; and other elements of the social order permeate his writing. Since language and society cannot be neatly delineated, neither can literary criticism of a work such as Revelation and social, historical analysis of it. By considering how something is said in the Book of Revelation, a literary critic gains information that has both social and literary dimensions; and by investigating the social location of John and his readers, the social historian illumines the style, form, and genre of the Book of Revelation. The communicative act of writing; the syntactical, semantic, and generic dimensions of the writing; its style and structure; the social institutions that support it; the particular social location of the communication ; and the particular historical events that surround it are all part of one dynamic cultural system. That is why we are able to place one style of writing (e.g., a business letter) in a social location different from another style of writing (e.g., a personal, love letter). And that is why inquiry into the life of a person whose correspondence we may possess will illumine the meaning of the letters he or she wrote.
As parts of one dynamic cultural system, the literary religious vision of the seer does not operate in a symbolic universe apart from the world of actual, social relations. Further, as parts of one system, each is dependent on the other, and influence is mutual. Religious visions and literary worlds do not arise and change simply in response to more basic, political and economic realities. Nor are social institutions simply the realization of a system of categories derived, for example, from a religious vision or some other symbolic expression. As a social act, the writing of the Book of Revelation makes an impact on the parties who read it or hear it read, and it affects (in however small a way) the social institutions and historical flow surrounding all parties involved. At the same time, a writer like John is limited and shaped by the social role that he fills (a Christian prophet), by how Christian and non-Christian institutions affect that role, and by the language and genre that he uses for communication. Literary religious visions are neither more ephemeral nor more real than social institutions and political policies. Conversely, emperors and armies are neither more nor less constitutive and shaping than words, visions, and religious beliefs. For example, political power rests "not only in taxes and armies, but also in the perceptions and beliefs of men" (Hopkins 1978, 198). The Book of Revelation is something other than simple response to a social, political situation, than a book of exhortation and comfort to a powerless, persecuted minority huddled together in isolation from urban life around them. To bring in language used earlier—instead of simple lines of cause and effect, we shall look rather to feedback loops and reciprocal interaction to understand the relation of the Book of Revelation to the social order of first-century urban Asia.
Humans require all of these mutually influencing modes and forms—social institutions, different genres of writing, social roles, cosmic visions—as they laboriously adapt to their environment. The seer contributes to that laborious process by bringing to bear a Jewish-influenced Christian mythos upon local, historical situations. His is not the only mythos that can be used to interpret those local conditions—certainly most upwardly mobile provincials looked to a more public mythos incorporated in urban and imperial institutions. His is not even the only Christian mythos that can be used to interpret those local conditions—those whom he calls the followers of Jezebel and Balaam proceeded along other lines. But John's contribution to "the laborious process" is interesting and complex as he unifies the world into an organic whole, stitching earth to heaven, the present age to the coming age, local conditions to suprahuman processes, animals to divinities, and fire to water.
1 Historical Setting
The Local Historical Setting
In part 3 I shall discuss in detail aspects of the local situation in and to which John writes the Book of Revelation. Here we need only some basic orientation to the origins of the book so that it will not appear as a floating specter from the past. As a way of beginning to orient to the book, I shall consider briefly those hoary questions—Where? When? Who? In what situation?
The writer of the Book of Revelation identifies precisely where both he and his audience reside. He writes from the small island of Patmos, one of the Sporades Islands in the Aegean Sea about thirty-seven miles south and west of Miletus, on the western coast of Asia Minor (roughly, present-day Turkey). He writes to churches in seven major cities in Asia, a Roman province situated along the western coast of Asia Minor.
Asia Minor, specifically the western part of Asia Minor where John and his audience were located, was one of the most significant geographical areas in the development of early Christianity. In the fifties of the first century the apostle Paul carried on missionary work in this area (see 1 Cor. 16:19). Letters and tracts such as Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and the Pastoral Epistles indicate the continued influence of Paul in this geographical area. The author of 1 Peter writes to the churches of Asia and other provinces in Asia Minor. New Testament writings associated with John—the Gospel and the three letters as well as the Book of Revelation—also, according to tradition, originated in Asia at the city of Ephesus. At the beginning of the second century Ignatius of Antioch writes letters to five churches in Asia as he travels to die in Rome. Through these writings we know of Christian groups in at least eleven cities of the Asian province by the beginning of the second century CE. Moreover, these churches are associated with major apostolic figures such as Paul, Peter, and John.
The province of Asia was also important in the Roman Empire. To become proconsul of that province was a sign of a successful public career. Asia was rich in natural resources and manufacturing—and therefore in taxes. It was located strategically in the empire with regards to both trade routes and military action on the eastern border. Many of the three hundred or more cities in the province of Asia nurtured cultural activities and became centers for libraries, museums, and spectacular monuments. In brief, the locale of the Book of Revelation is significant in both Christian and Roman history.
According to the Christian apologist Justin Martyr (d. 165 CE), the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation ( Dia. Tryph. 81.4). A few years after Justin, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writes that the apostle John, son of Zebedee, wrote both the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of John ( Haer. 5.30). Most of the church fathers, though not all, follow Justin and Irenaeus (see Kümmel 1975, 469-72). Dionysius of Alexandria (third century) states, however, that "some indeed of those before our time rejected and altogether impugned the book, examining it chapter by chapter and declaring it to be unintelligible and illogical, and its title false. For they say that it is not John's, no, nor yet an apocalypse [unveiling], since it is veiled by its great thick curtain of unintelligibility" (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 7.25). Dionysius is more temperate towards Revelation than these unnamed impugners, but he concludes for stylistic and linguistic reasons that the son of Zebedee could not have written the book. Rather, it was written by someone else named John who was buried at Ephesus. Thus, some of the church fathers who assumed apostolic authorship of the Gospel of John did not give the same status to the writer of Revelation. Modern scholarship tends to side with them. The style, vocabulary, and theology of the Apocalypse are sufficiently different from the Gospel of John as to make one conclude that common authorship is unlikely and that the apostle did not write the Apocalypse (see Schüssler Fiorenza 1985, 85-113).
The personal identity of John will probably never be discovered. The name was common in the early church; perhaps he was one of those by that name affiliated with the Christian community at Ephesus. More can be said about John's social identity. He is probably an early Christian prophet who wandered either randomly or by prescribed circuit among the churches of Asia. From other sources we know of such an "office" in the early church. Paul places it high on his list of church offices, second only to "apostles" (1 Cor. 12:28). Elsewhere it is associated with the office of teaching (see Acts 13:1). The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an early second-century "handbook" for Christians, understands prophets to be itinerants who go from one congregation to another (Did. 11-13). John claims authority as a leader in the churches and comes into conflict with other "prophetic authorities" (see Jezebel, Balaam, Nicolaitans in Rev. 2-3). Still debated are questions about the organizational elaboration of that office: for example, was he a "head prophet" among a school of prophets? Did he head a conventicle splinter group of Christians in each of these cities? Did he deliver his apocalypse to a community of prophets in the churches rather than to all Christians? However one answers those questions, the author of the Book of Revelation was an early Christian prophet who proclaimed a message of revealed knowledge to the seven churches in the province of Asia (see Yarbro Collins 1984, 34-50).
The author of the Book of Revelation does not give much of a clue about the particular time in which he is writing. In contrast to several references to specific places, the seer's references to the historical situation are either nonexistent or so veiled as to give no certain information to the reader today. Chapters 13, 17, and 18 in the Book of Revelation refer to emperors and to the city of Rome, so that we may be certain that the book was written in the time of the empire; but even Revelation 17, which elaborates on the seven-headed beast (Rev. 13:1) by specific reference to emperors past, present, and future, gives no certain information about the precise time of the writing.
From chapter 17 we can narrow the time down somewhat. The great harlot, referred to earlier in 14:8, is judged. Upon her forehead is written "a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth's abominations"' (17:5). She is seated upon a scarlet beast "which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns" (17:3). Later the seven heads are identified as seven hills (17:9), and the city that sits upon the seven hills "has dominion over the kings of the earth" (17:18). These two characteristics of the city/woman—power over the earth and "sitting" upon seven hills—identifies her clearly as Rome, the capital of the empire (see Caird 1966, 216). In other words, Rome and all those under her will be destroyed in the pouring out of the seventh bowl (Rev. 16:17-21, cf. 17:15-18).
In connection with Rome's destruction there is an allusion to the "return" of one of the emperors. There are three versions of this return: (1) "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to perdition" (17:8); (2) "The dwellers on earth ... will marvel to behold the beast, because it was and is not and is to come" (17:8); and (3) "As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth [king] but it belongs to the seven [kings], and it goes to perdition" (17:11). This "coming again" of one of the kings alludes to the Emperor Nero, around whom developed, after his death (or flight), an expectation that he would come again from the East and fight against some or all of the Roman Empire. In Jewish and Christian literature this "revived Nero" is sometimes portrayed as both anti-Roman and an opponent of the chosen people. For example, in the fourth Sibylline Oracle Nero is referred to as follows: "Then the strife of war being aroused will come to the west, and the fugitive from Rome will also come, brandishing a great spear, having crossed the Euphrates with many myriads" (Sib. Or. 4.137-39). In the fifth Sibylline Oracle Nero will be destructive "even when he disappears": "Then he will return declaring himself equal to God. But he will prove that he is not" (Sib. Or. 5.33-34, cf. 5.93-110). In the Book of Revelation, the Nero legend is associated with the beast from the abyss and with the "eighth" king who is at the same time "one of the seven." He is one of the evil end-time figures who will make war against the Lamb and his followers (17:14). Given the presence of this legend, the Book of Revelation could not have been written in its present form before 68 CE when Nero died, but the legend could have spread quickly after Nero's death.
The identification of Rome with Babylon also provides some evidence for dating the Book of Revelation. In Jewish literature, the enemy Rome is designated Edom, Kittim, and Egypt, as well as Babylon. For the most part, however, the identity with Babylon occurs after 70 CE, that is, Rome is called Babylon after she destroys Jerusalem and the temple. Yarbro Collins thus concludes, "It is highly unlikely that the name would have been used before the destruction of the temple by Titus. This internal element then points decisively to a date after 70 C.E." (1981, 382).
More evidence for dating Revelation seems to be given in the reference to the seven heads of the beast as seven kings (emperors) (17:9-14). Of those seven kings, "five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come and when he comes he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition." One needs simply to figure out which five emperors have already fallen, and then the sixth emperor is reigning during the time that John writes. The earliest possible of the five past rulers would be Julius Caesar who died in 44 BCE. The complete list following Julius Caesar would then be the five emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the three emperors during the confusion after Nero's death, the three Flavian emperors, and then, if relevant, Nerva and Trajan. Their reigns occurred as follows:
Julius (d. 44 BCE)
Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BCE-68 CE)
Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE)
Gaius (Caligula) (37-41)
Three short-lived emperors
The Flavians (69-96)
The puzzle is twofold: Where should one begin the count, and which emperors should be included in the count? Rowland argues that the simplest solution begins with Augustus and counts each emperor to the sixth, Galba. He thus supports the dating of Revelation around 68 CE, during the upheaval that came between the death of Nero and the accession of Vespasian: "The great uncertainty which was felt throughout the Empire during AD 68 could hardly have failed to stir up the hopes of Jews and Christians that their deliverance was nigh" (1982, 406). Rowland here follows the lead of Bishop Lightfoot, B. F. Westcott, F. J. A. Hort, and more recently John A. T. Robinson and Albert Bell (see Rowland 1982, 403), all of whom argued for the chaotic state of the empire after Nero's death as the setting in which Revelation was written.
John Court, on the other hand, noting that the Antichrist tradition is clearly applied to Rome in this passage and not to Jerusalem, concludes that the fall of Jerusalem (70 CE) must have occurred "in the more distant past" and therefore that the present king must be considerably later than Galba (1979, 125). Rome is the Antichrist because of the conflicting allegiance created among Christians by emperor worship (p. 126). Court then begins the count from Nero, the first emperor to be an Antichrist figure, and concludes that the sixth king who presently reigns is Titus (p. 135). Later the author of Revelation adapts his writings to the time of Domitian, when the pretentions of the imperial cult become ever more extravagant and blasphemous (pp. 137-38).
Yarbro Collins concludes that if the kings are to be considered inclusively, the list must begin with Julius Caesar (see Sib. Or. 5.12-51, 4 Ezra 11-12); Nero would thus be the sixth, contemporary emperor, which would be an impossibility since the legend of the return of Nero after his death is presupposed in the king list (Rev. 17:11) (1984, 58-64). Galba, the sixth if one begins with Augustus, is also an unlikely candidate, because he reigned prior to the fall of Jerusalem; and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans is a necessary prerequisite for identifying Rome and Babylon. She concludes that probably the author by some principle selected certain emperors from the list beginning with Gaius, who made such a negative impact upon Jewish writers of his time. Omitting the three short reigns of 69 CE, the sixth and present king becomes Domitian (Yarbro Collins 1984, 64).
Revelation 17, thus, does not give conclusive evidence for the date of the book. The identification of Rome with Babylon and the reference to Nero as returning from the dead argue for a post-70 date; the list of kings does not justify any precision beyond that.
The most compelling evidence for dating the book more precisely after 70 CE remains the reference by Irenaeus, who came from Asia Minor and knew Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (d. c. 155 CE). He states that the visions of Revelation were seen "not long ago" but "close to our generation, towards the end of the reign of Domitian" (Iren. Haer. 5.30.3=Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.18.1). 1 As we have seen, a date in Domitian's reign is also compatible with the kings' list in chapter 17. Some scholars still argue for dating the book shortly after Nero's death when several people were vying to be emperor; but when the weight of internal and external evidence is taken together, we may conclude with most scholars that Revelation was written sometime in the latter years of Domitian's reign, that is, 92-96 CE.
Crisis in the Reign of Domitian
Eusebius of Caesarea, the fourth-century Christian historian, laid the groundwork in Christian history for viewing Domitian's reign as a time of persecution and crisis. 2 He says, in a section devoted to the Emperor Domitian, that "many were the victims of Domitian's appalling cruelty." He refers to distinguished Romans and other eminent men who were executed without trial, banished from the country, or had property confiscated. Then he states that the apostle and evangelist John "was still alive [in Domitian's reign], and because of his testimony to the word of God was sentenced to confinement on the island of Patmos." Under Nerva, Domitian's successor, John was allowed to return from exile on Patmos to his residence at Ephesus. Eusebius notes that even non-Christian historians record the persecutions and martyrdoms that Christians such as Flavia Domitilla suffered under Domitian (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.17-20). 3
A more critical reading of Eusebius raises doubts about widespread persecution of Christians under Domitian. So Leon Hardy Canfield concludes, after reviewing carefully both Christian and non-Christian sources, that no great persecution occurred under Domitian and if the Apocalypse "does refer to conditions in Asia Minor under Domitian it is the only source for such a persecution" (1913, 162). 4 Recent commentators on the Apocalypse of John support Canfield's conclusion. J. P. M. Sweet, for example, writes, "The letters to the churches [in the Apocalypse] suggest that persecution was occasional and selective, and that the chief dangers were complacency and compromise" (1979, 26).
Although most modern commentators no longer accept a Domitianic persecution of Christians, they do assume that Domitian's increased demands for worship and the "reign of terror" in the years immediately preceding Domitian's death created a critical situation for Christians in Asia Minor. Adolf Harnack, in a discussion of the developing political consciousness of the early church, writes, "The politics of Jewish apocalyptic viewed the world-state as a diabolic state, and consequently took up a purely negative attitude towards it. This political view is put uncompromisingly in the apocalypse of John, where it was justified by the Neronic persecution, the imperial claim for worship, and the Domitianic reign of terror" (1961, 257). Johannes Weiss, another classical church historian from the modern period, notes that not many actual deaths had occurred when the Apocalypse was written but that Domitian's intensified demands for worship, perhaps not by imperial decree but by the importance that he placed on being called "lord" and "god," created a crisis for Christians. Christians in Asia Minor experienced this crisis especially as they no longer were able to claim the special status and privileges (e.g., exemption from emperor worship) given to Jews. The unpopularity of Christians among the local provincials combined with Domitian's religious demands and his general cruelty to threaten the Christian communities (1959, 806-10). More recently, W. H. C. Frend notes that Domitian's increased demands to be worshipped resulted in "intensified apocalyptic fervour among the Christians in the province [of Asia]" (1981, 194). Schüssler Fiorenza underscores how the imperial cult was promoted under Domitian and how he demanded that "the populace acclaim him as 'Lord and God' and participate in his worship"; living as they were in cities that promoted imperial worship, "Christians were bound to experience increasing conflicts with the Roman civil religion since they acclaimed Jesus Christ and not the emperor as their 'Lord and God' " (1981, 62). She and several other commentators suggest that the reference to "Lord and God" in Revelation 4:11 deliberately reflects "political language of the day" (1981, 76).
On the surface there are good reasons for assuming that Domitian did give greater prominence to imperial worship. 5 According to Roman, as well as early Christian, sources Domitian demanded divine worship during his lifetime, most especially at the end of his reign, and generally strengthened the imperial cult, which included the worship of both Roma and the emperor. Pliny the Younger and Tacitus condemn Domitian's evil claims to divinity and tyranny, and Pliny's younger friend Suetonius makes now-famous statements about Domitian's inordinate claims to titles such as "our Lord and God" ( dominus et deus noster ). Dio Cassius, writing about a century later (in the second decade of the third century), repeats and enhances descriptions of Domitian's evil character.
Since Roman historians characterize especially the latter part of Domitian's reign as a reign of terror by a tyrant and megalomaniac who claimed and demanded imperial worship from his subjects, Domitian's reign provides a plausible social, political setting of the Book of Revelation; for one of the major themes in the Apocalypse is unquestionably the conflict between imperial Rome with its divine claims and the rule of the Christian God. John states that he shares his readers' affliction and he perseveres (Rev. 1:9). He is on the island of Patmos "because of the word of God and the witness of Jesus." Antipas has been martyred at Pergamum (Rev. 2:13). In chapter 13 many commentators identify the beast from the sea with the annual docking of a boat carrying the emperor's representative to the province of Asia and the beast from the earth with the provincial cult responsible for "promoting the imperial cult in Asia Minor" (Rowland 1982, 431-32). 6 Later, in chapters 17-18, images center on the city rather than the emperors of Rome, as her economic and commercial power, so destructive to the church, is overcome in a series of eschatological disasters (e.g., Rowland 1982, 433-34). Schüssler Fiorenza thus concludes that "the major part of the work describes in mythological-symbolic language the threat of the Roman political and religious powers" (1981, 31). 7
Some commentators also call attention to an economic dimension to the critical times under Domitian. Revelation 13:17 refers specifically to the necessity of using coins with the emperor's image in order to enter into economic transactions. Economic transactions could thus be seen as an arm of the imperial cult and a form of oppression (see Schüssler Fiorenza 1981, 173). More specifically, Court links the prices of wheat and barley (Rev. 6:6) with the periodic famines that raged through Asia Minor in this period. The reference to wine may even allude to the opposition expressed by the people of Asia Minor to an edict of Domitian in 92 CE to cut back on the number of vineyards in Asia. As a result, Domitian revoked his edict and allowed the vines to be unharmed (Court 1979, 59-60). 8 Whether that passage can be linked so precisely to the conditions in Asia during the years 92-93 CE or not, others, borrowing from Rostovtzeff, have noted more generally that the prosperity of Asia during the Flavian period brought conflict between the rich and the poor and between Roman governors and the populus (e.g., Yarbro Collins 1983, 744-46).
The Book of Revelation and its Genre
If the Book of Revelation were a distinctive or peculiar work without comparison in form or content, the task of understanding it would involve reading carefully what is said and considering its contents in the context of its historical setting. The Book of Revelation, however, shares a style of writing and a set of motifs with other works from roughly the same historical period; that is, the seer of the New Testament participates in a mystical tradition—a convention of images, themes, styles, and literary forms—that shapes in part his psychological experiences, social perceptions, religious insights, and literary expressions. In literary terms the Book of Revelation belongs to a genre, and an understanding of that work requires an understanding of the genre.
Modern scholars, taking a cue from the Apocalypse of John (in Greek, Apocalypsis Ioannou ), refer to works written in this tradition as belonging to the genre "apocalypse": a work may be called an apocalypse if it resembles the Revelation of John, that is—in the words of Klaus Koch—if it presents "secret divine disclosures about the end of the world and the heavenly state" (1972, 18). The designation of Jewish and Christian works as apocalypses began in the early church (see M. Smith 1983, 19); but the attempt at literary classification is a modern one, and much debate accompanies any definition of the genre "apocalypse" as well as the notion of genre itself. 9
The muddle of scholarly debate should not, however, obscure the importance of genre for understanding a specific writing. Recall that one could read and reread as carefully as possible the terms of endearment in one single business letter ("Dear so and so," "Yours truly") and not understand these elements as distinctive to the genre. Moreover, readers cannot recognize something in a specific writing as generic (common to the genre ) unless they have read other examples in the same genre; that is, elements of a genre are discovered through comparing several examples.
In the Christian Bible there are not many examples of apocalypses. Besides the Book of Revelation, there is only Daniel in the Old Testament. 10 Other examples are to be found outside the Christian canon in Jewish writings associated with the names of Enoch, Ezra, and Baruch. Two Christian books written a little later than the Book of Revelation—the Apocalypse of Peter and the Shepherd of Hermas— were recognized by some members of the early church as having special sanctity, with the former included by some circles as part of the New Testament. Among these Jewish and Christian apocalypses, the Book of Revelation is neither first nor last; it has both predecessors and successors.
Characteristics of the Genre
In isolating characteristics of the genre "apocalypse," scholars focus upon the content and style of a work. Philipp Vielhauer (1965), for example, regards the following as fixed, formal elements in this literary genre: (1) the author writes under a pseudonym, a great name in the tradition, such as Ezra, Enoch, or Isaiah; (2) the writing is presented as an account of a vision—a dream, an ecstatic state, or a heavenly rapture; (3) a portion of past history is presented as though it were in the future; (4) farewell discourses, exhortations, prayers, and hymns may be found. According to Vielhauer apocalypses also contain fixed content: (1) There are two ages, the present age and the age to come, which are qualitatively different; (2) the present age is devalued and viewed with pessimism as under the control of Satan, while the age to come is correspondingly glorified as a wonderful time; (3) apocalypses consider the whole world and all peoples, not just Jews, so that everyone is considered as an individual (not simply as a member of a community)—to be resurrected and judged as an individual; (4) God has foreordained everything according to fixed plan, including the activity that brings the imminent end ( eschaton ). 11
Is Vielhauer's list of fixed forms and essential content adequate for defining the genre? Defining an apocalypse through lists runs into the predictable problem of what to include and what to exclude as basic. Vielhauer, for example, knows that among the things revealed in apocalypses are secrets about heaven, hell, astronomy, meteorology, geography, and the origin of sin and evil; but he concludes that their main interest "does not lie in problems of cosmology or theodicy, but in eschatology" (1965, 587). Michael Stone, on the other hand, argues that speculative interests in such matters as cosmology, astronomy, and the calendar reflect one of the "core elements" of apocalypses (1980, 42, 113-14). As a way of including both eschatological and cosmological speculations, Christopher Rowland argues that disclosure of knowledge through direct revelation is the fundamental characteristic of apocalypses (1982, 21, 357; see also Stone 1980, 29). Koch enumerates a somewhat different list of form and content that an apocalypse must include (Koch 1972, 2427). Joshua Bloch (1952) and H. H. Rowley (1980) also suggested their own distinctive list of characteristics. 12
Representative Jewish Apocalypses
In order to get a better sense of how various elements recur in specific apocalypses and how the Book of Revelation is similar to other apocalypses, let us look briefly at some elements of form and content found in three representative Jewish apocalypses : 1 Enoch, Daniel, and 4 Ezra.
The earliest known example of apocalyptic literature has come down to us under the pseudonym of Enoch, who according to Genesis lived in the fifth generation after Adam, prior to Noah and the flood. Of Enoch it is simply stated that he "walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him" (Gen. 5:24). Enoch's piety along with his enigmatic ending made him an apt figure for apocalyptic speculation within Judaism and Christianity. This early apocalypse called 1 Enoch or Ethiopic Enoch (the only complete version of the work has come down in the Ethiopic language because of the Ethiopian church's interest in it) is now generally viewed as a composite work of five separate sources written at different times: (1) Book of the Watchers (chaps. 1-36), pre-Maccabean, perhaps late third century BCE; (2) Similitudes of Enoch (chaps. 37-71), mid-first century CE; (3) Book of Heavenly Luminaries (chaps. 72-82), also pre-Maccabean, perhaps the earliest of the sources; (4) Book of Dreams (chaps. 83-90), early Maccabean, circa 165-161 BCE; and (5) Epistle of Enoch including Apocalypse of Weeks (chaps. 91108), late Hasmonean, circa 105 BCE (but see Nickelsburg 1981, 149-50). 13
The Book of the Heavenly Luminaries contains some of the earliest material in the Enoch collection and reflects the speculative interests of apocalyptic underscored by Michael Stone. Enoch gives in detail cosmological secrets regarding the movements of the sun and the moon, the twelve winds, the four directions (East, South, West, North), the seven mountains, the seven rivers, and the astronomical laws that establish a solar year of 364 days—a calendrical point of some importance to the author. In this section, Enoch also makes the point that the world as we know it will come to an end and that a better world will replace it—a "new creation which abides forever." Disorder and confusion will occur before the new creation: the moon will alter its course, and chiefs of the stars will make errors in the orders given to them as evil things multiply and plagues increase. The work concludes with other revelations and visions (typical forms in apocalypses) given to Methuselah, Enoch's son.
Chapters 83-90 contain two Dream Visions. One is a brief vision of cosmic destruction in which the sky falls upon earth and earth is swallowed up in the great abyss. Grandfather Mahalalel makes a telling point: "all the things upon the earth shall take place from heaven," that is, the earthly has archetypes in heaven. A second vision presents a portion of "past" biblical history as though it were in the future; this narrative takes the form of an animal allegory (the so-called Animal Apocalypse) in which Adam, Seth, and his descendants Noah, Abraham, and Isaac are all presented as white bulls. Before the great flood, fallen stars come down and pasture with the cows (see Book of the Watchers); their mixed offspring are pictured as elephants, camels, and donkeys. Later the fallen stars are punished by being cast into an abyss "narrow and deep, empty and dark." With Isaac's son, Jacob, the animal symbolism shifts to sheep; by means of fairly transparent symbols, the biblical story of Israel is told up through the restoration after the Babylonian Exile. Then new animals—eagles, vultures, kites, and ravens (the Greeks and their kingdoms)—oppress the sheep until a great horn sprouts on one of the sheep (Judas Maccabeus). With God's help he successfully fights against the vultures, kites, and ravens. Then the Lord smites the earth, and gives a great sword to the sheep to kill all the beasts and birds. Eschatological judgment follows, during which "sealed books" are opened "in the presence of the Lord of the sheep." A new temple is set up; all peoples come and worship the sheep, "making petition to them and obeying them in every respect." Finally bovine symbolism returns with the birth of a snow-white cow with huge horns; all are transformed into snow-white cows, so that the eschatological finale returns to the Adamic vision. In Enoch's panoramic historical review of the world from Eden to the new Jerusalem, the end time becomes the time of beginning. Then Enoch awakes from his vision.
Elsewhere in 1 Enoch there are other themes common to apocalypses including the Book of Revelation. In the Similitudes of Enoch there are references to judgment, the punishment of the wicked, and the dwelling of the righteous in the presence of the Lord and his angels. Special mention is made in the second parable or similitude (chaps. 45-57) to the judging of kings, oppressors, and the economically powerful; and, in contrast, the prayers of righteous ones ascend into heaven on behalf of the blood of the righteous that has been shed. As Enoch ranges through time as well as space, he sees the Son of Man given a name before the creation, the resurrection of the dead in the latter days, and the final judgment. In the third parable Enoch sees the divine throne; the separation of Leviathan and Behemoth, who will become food on the great day of the Lord; various cosmological secrets; angelic measurings to strengthen the righteous; and the final judgment by the Lord and the Son of Man, which will bring reversals of status between rulers and the righteous. In the Epistle of Enoch (chaps. 91-108) Enoch tells Methuselah and all his brothers "everything that shall happen to you forever." After a kind of Jobian soliloquy on who can ponder the thoughts of God words of comfort, exhortation, and warning bring the work to a close.
In Jewish Scriptures Daniel is the only full-blown apocalyptic work. 14 Chapters 7-12—if not the whole of Daniel—arose in the situation of political conflict between the Jews and Antiochus Epiphanes after 187 BCE, approximately the same time as the Animal Apocalypse in the Dream Visions of Enoch. Daniel 2 tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's interpretation of it. Daniel is able to know the dream and its interpretation through divine revelation, for such knowledge is a mystery known only through revelatory visions. Through the symbolism of a bright and mighty animal, Daniel "foretells" the sequence of four kingdoms, with Nebuchadnezzer's kingdom as its golden head and the Successors of Alexander the Great making up its toes. In the days of the latter, God will break in pieces the kingdoms and will establish his everlasting reign. As with similar narratives in 1 Enoch, the seer is able to see the future, which is fixed and known by God. In Daniel 7 the seer sees in a night vision "four great beasts" coming out of the sea: one like a lion, a second like a bear, then one like a leopard, and a fourth beast "terrible and dreadful" with ten horns. After a little horn appears on the fourth beast, Daniel sees a throne scene with the Ancient of Days who destroys the beasts. Then he sees one "like a son of man" given dominion, glory, and an eternal kingdom by the Ancient of Days. A heavenly figure interprets the vision for Daniel: four kings shall arise out of the earth, but the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess it for ever. Detailed explanation is given of the fourth beast and especially of the eleventh horn on that beast. Later chapters (Dan. 8-12) parallel chapter 7 (see Thompson 1978, 211). In the recitation of the kingdoms in Daniel 10-12 grandfather Mahalalel's point is made once again: things on earth take place from heaven—for all earthly events there are heavenly archetypes. Daniel's visions give eschatological assurance to those who are wise and know their God, for the righteous who die have hope at the time of the end.
Around the end of the first century CE, a few decades after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome and around the same time as the Apocalypse of John, several Jewish apocalypses may be dated: 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, 3 Baruch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and 2 Enoch (see Collins 1984a, 155-86). Among them 4 Ezra will serve as our final representation of Jewish apocalyptic. 15 Ezra's apocalypse divides into seven sections—first three dialogues with an angel over problems of divine justice, then four visions of the end. In mood, the visions move from despair to hope, from imponderable questions to resolution and consolation (Nickelsburg 1981, 294).
In the first section Ezra is troubled over the problem of the "evil heart" that infects all descendants of Adam. Given the universality of sin, what nation has kept God's commandments? More pointedly, why should Zion be in desolation? Are Babylonians less sinners than the Jews? The angel Uriel, Ezra's interlocutor, answers in the tradition of Job by asking Ezra to explain certain cosmic phenomena such as the measure of the wind. Moreover, everything in the cosmos has an assigned place (the sea, the plain, sand), and those assigned to earth cannot understand the things of heaven. True wisdom requires revelation. Ezra reiterates a part of his question: he does not ask about heavenly things but about daily life that all Israel experiences, her plight in the world. Uriel then gives an eschatological solution : this age cannot deliver what has been promised to the righteous; but it is hastening swiftly to its end according to a time table determined by God. Certain signs of the end can be seen—chaos, prodigies, the reversal of nature's order (salt waters become sweet; menstruous women bring forth monsters; beasts roam beyond their haunts, i.e., out of bounds), and unrighteousness—but the end will come when it is destined. Evil has been sown, but its harvest has not yet come nor has the harvest of the righteous. The age has been carefully weighted, measured, and numbered; and God will not move until the measure is fulfilled.
The second section follows much the same structure, but this time the dialogue centers more specifically on the plight of Zion. Section 3 also resolves several hard questions about human existence by pointing to the eschaton (end-time). In section 4 the dialogue form is interrupted by a vision of a disconsolate women whose son died at his wedding. While she and Ezra speak, she is transformed into an established city, Zion itself. Her story then becomes an allegory for Zion. Section 5 relates a dream vision that is also a reinterpretation of the fourth kingdom in Daniel 7. The fourth beast, here an eagle with sundry wings and heads, signifies the Roman Empire (not, as in Daniel, Alexander the Great and his Successors). A Lion (the Messiah) reproves the eagle and brings its kingdom to an end; this Messiah, from the posterity of David, will himself judge and destroy the evil ones and deliver in mercy the righteous remnant. As an eschatological agent, this Lion of the tribe of Judah parallels the Son of Man in Daniel and the Elect One in the parables of Enoch. The sixth section elaborates on the eschatological agent who is called "Man," presumably drawing again on Daniel 7. The Man comes out of the sea—no one can know what is in the depths of the sea—and flies with the clouds of heaven, finally settling on a high mountain that he carves out for himself. From the mountain (Zion) he will judge and destroy the ungodly and deliver and protect those who have works and faith in the Almighty. The seventh, final section points out similarities between Ezra and Moses. God calls Ezra out of a bush, draws specific parallels to Moses, informs Ezra that 9½ of the 12 parts of this age have passed, and then dictates twenty-four books (Hebrew Scriptures) to be made public and seventy to be kept secret until the last day. Ezra deserves this honor because he has devoted his life to wisdom, to studying the law, and to understanding. Likewise, the books contain the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge; they will be received by the wise among the people.
Toward a Definition of the Genre
From this sampling in books that everyone associates with the genre "apocalypse," one can see both a variety and a recurrence of elements. Millenarians will recognize the prominence of the end-times, eschatological speculation about the signs and how to interpret them, and descriptions of the end itself. In all of these works knowledge of the end comes through special revelation in the form of visions or heavenly journeys. There is also, however, knowledge revealed about the present world, knowledge in the fields of geography, climatology, meteorology, astronomy, and angelology. Some recite in veiled terms the course of world history, especially in connection with the history of the chosen people. Eschatological speculation is often linked to problems of theodicy—Why do the just suffer? Why doesn't goodness, especially of the chosen people, receive reward?
Must a specific work contain all of those themes to be classified as an apocalypse? Are certain themes more central than others? Are stylistic features also important in classifying a work? Should one also consider its place and function in the life of the people who create it and read it? The problem of defining a genre remains no simple matter, yet our view of the Book of Revelation changes when we recognize that it is part of a generic tradition rather than an idiosyncratic work. Understanding includes proper classification. In order to be more systematic in considering these issues of genre, scholars have generally agreed to analyze separately three aspects of the genre "apocalypse" and to refer to each of those aspects by a different term: apocalypse, apocalyptic eschatology, or apocalypticism. 16
Apocalypse refers to a set of writings, a literature, that includes such works as Daniel, 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and the Book of Revelation. One asks, What do books or portions of books called apocalypses have in common? What stylistic and linguistic elements distinguish them from other writings?
Apocalyptic eschatology refers to a "religious perspective" (Hanson 1976, 29) or an "attitude of mind" (Koch 1972, 33) that involves certain beliefs about the world and the place of humans in it (see also Schmithals 1975, 10-11, 73). Among the possible ways of conceiving the human situation, how does apocalyptic eschatology describe the place of humans in the world? Among all possible states of the world, which states or which set of states defines the assertions, beliefs, and propositions of an apocalyptic perspective? Most scholars identify the radical transcendence of God as a key element in apocalyptic eschatology (e.g., Hanson 1979, 432). The religious perspective of apocalyptic eschatology reflects transcendence in at least two ways: knowledge of the perspective comes through means that transcend normal human experience (visions, world journeys); and God's activity in saving the world transcends history, that is, God's activity breaks in upon historical realities and human endeavors rather than working through them. Walter Schmithals asserts an extreme form of transcendence when he states that in apocalyptic eschatology, history "is made thoroughly secular, profane. What happened in history has no significance theologically.... Apocalyptic pessimism toward history expels God from history.... The devil becomes the lord of this eon" (Schmithals 1975, 81). 17 Most scholars would want to temper such a statement so that transcendence does not oppose history and ordinary human experience, but expands them. Apocalyptic eschatology would then open the world and human activity to a larger perspective (see Rowland 1982, 29, 92, 175, 475; Koch 1972, 31).
Apocalypticism refers to social aspects of apocalypses and transcendent eschatology : Do apocalypses or transcendent eschatology arise only in certain kinds of social situations (e.g., times of trials and difficulties)? Does the literature or the perspective serve distinctive social functions among those people sharing in it (e.g., to sustain their faith, to give comfort)? Is it possible to speak of an "apocalyptic movement" that can be located in a specific time and place within a specific group of people clearly distinguished from other groups? Scholars tend to describe the social situation and social group connected with apocalypticism as alienated from the socioreligious structures of the society around it and as participating in "an alternative universe of meaning," constructed from the perspective of apocalyptic eschatology, that denies ultimate significance to the social structures of this world (Hanson 1979, 433-34; 1976, 30).
Scholars differ somewhat in how they define or describe each of those three dimensions and in how they relate the three. The community, the perspective, and the literature may be seen as inevitably locked together. Yet it is at least logically possible for a particular writing or a particular group of people to embody the religious perspective of apocalyptic eschatology without sharing, respectively, in the literary form of apocalypse or the social features of apocalypticism. Perhaps it is possible for a work to have the form of apocalypse without the content of apocalyptic eschatology. In any case, it is possible to inquire separately into any one of these three dimensions.
This naming of subdivisions is symptomatic of the present state of biblical studies, in which literary, religious, and social-historical inquiries tend to be pursued separately. Even among those who hold that genre should include linguistic, religious, and social aspects, each subfield is seen as so complex as to require at least a temporary separation of form and content from social situation (see Collins 1979, 3-5). As a result genre studies tend to bracket out apocalypticism (social situation), which is then pursued as a separate issue (Sanders 1983, 450-51; Koch 1972, 21). Thus, the standard definition of the genre "apocalypse," developed by John J. Collins and other members of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in the Apocalypse Group of the SBL Genres Project, refers only to elements of form and content; those who formulated this definition deliberately left out the issue of apocalypticism. They define apocalypse as "a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world" (Collins 1979, 9).
A fundamental issue left open in this definition revolves around the relationship between the language-and-religious perspective of apocalypses, on the one hand, and their location in the social order, on the other. Perhaps this relationship cannot be resolved on the level of genre; perhaps the location in the social-historical order will vary from one apocalypse to another. Nonetheless, there are some social issues common to the genre, which we shall take up in the next chapter.
2 The Social Setting
With form and content dominating questions of genre, scholars have taken up the social setting of apocalypses as a separate issue. There are several good reasons for that separation. Classic form criticism—a method for relating literature and society—probably linked too closely a particular form with one particular setting; and as Collins, among others, notes, a single apocalypse may be used in different ways in different social settings (Collins 1979, 4). Lack of knowledge about the socialhistorical setting of specific apocalypses also contributes to the separation, for little is known about when, where, by whom, and for whom most apocalypses were written (see Stone 1980, 72-73, 85). Information about social setting comes for the most part from the apocalyptic texts themselves. Scholars use a text as "a window into the author's world," and, as Nickelsburg has observed, in doing so they "see through a glass darkly" (1983, 641). A conventicle setting may have been the provenance for some apocalypses, but certainly not for all (see Schmithals 1975, 46; Collins 1984b, 20-21). Apocalypses were circulated throughout Palestine in various schools (Bloch 1952, 53; Stone 1980, 69), and they were well received among Diaspora Jews outside Palestine, especially those in hellenistic communities (Bloch 1952, 38, 128). The view of the end in apocalypses is not sufficiently different from rabbinic and other eschatologies to warrant the notion that apocalypses arose outside the mainstream of Jewish life (see Bloch 1952, 133). 1 Apocalypses were used in the sectarian context of Qumran, but they were also "scattered in the ranks of all parties of their day" (p. 136). The apocalyptic sections of Daniel arose in the Maccabean uprising, but it is unlikely that 1 Enoch belongs to the same circles or even to a time of political upheaval. The apparent variation in social situation among apocalypses makes it difficult to talk about a genre-specific social, historical setting.
Apocalypse As a Literature of Crisis
Although apocalypses do not arise in just one "setting in life," there is widespread agreement that an apocalypse arises within a particular kind of situation, namely a situation of crisis. H. H. Rowley comments about the author of Daniel, which Rowley considers to be the first, great apocalypse. "It is fortitude under persecution that he encourages ... and in this he is the forerunner of other apocalyptists" (1980, 22, 52). Although more recent analysts reject persecution as the setting of all apocalypses, they do continue to link apocalypses to a setting of crisis. So Hanson refers to the "harsh realities" of the Jews in the period between the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE) and the Maccabean era (c. 170 BCE): "With nationhood lost, prophetic and priestly offices taken away, and social and religious institutions controlled by adversaries, world-weary visionaries began to recognize in a mythologized version of eschatology a more promising way of keeping alive a hope for final vindication" (1979, 432). Wilson also suggests that the "chaos of the postexilic period set the stage for the formation of various types of apocalyptic groups" (1982, 87). Rapid social change, especially if cross-cultural contact occurs (such as in the postexilic period of Israel or the rise of early Christianity), is thought to exacerbate disorder, disorganization, conflict, and a sense of deprivation (e.g., Wilson 1982, 84-85), conditions that set the social context for apocalypses. 2 The notion of crisis may be defined in different ways—Collins includes persecution, culture shock, injustice, and the inevitability of death—but a situation of crisis is seen as fundamental to the rise of an apocalypse (Collins 1984b, 22).
A latent social determinism appears here, as in classical form criticism. Through appeals to the sociology of knowledge or to anthropological research on more recent millenarian movements such as Ghost Dance or cargo cults, apocalypses and apocalyptic eschatology are generally viewed as a function of the social setting. 3 So Schüssler Fiorenza writes, "A sociology of knowledge approach points out that any change in theological ideas and literary forms is preceded by a change in social function and perspective" (1983, 311). Thus, the form and content of the language change when the setting changes. Hanson's comments on the origins of apocalypticism in Judaism illustrate: "Bleak conditions call into question traditional socioreligious structures and their supporting myths. Life is situated precariously over the abyss" (1979, 433). In response a group may embrace "apocalyptic eschatology as the perspective from which it constructs an alternative universe of meaning" (p. 434). Apocalyptic eschatology affirms that "God, who guides all reality toward a goal, [is] about to intervene to reverse the fortunes of the prosperous wicked and the suffering righteous" (p. 434). That religious perspective—a development from the eschatology of Hebrew prophets—emerged in the harsh realities of postexilic times. While the religious perspective of apocalyptic eschatology should not be identified with apocalypticism as a social movement, Hanson does state that the latter "is latent" in the former: "At the point where the disappointments of history lead a group to embrace that perspective as an ideology ... we can speak of the birth of an apocalyptic movement" (p. 432). Apocalypses are "produced by apocalyptic movements" and reflect the alienation experienced by those groups (p. 433). As can be seen, the perspectival shifts from prophetic eschatology to apocalyptic eschatology to apocalyptic ideology are necessarily preceded by changes in social, historical situations.
An analysis of the Similitudes of Enoch might thus develop along the following lines. The work arose in a community similar to Qumran around the middle of the first century of the Common Era. Members of that community "resented the rule of the pagan Romans or the impious Herods" and felt oppressed by them. The apocalypse arises out of that crisis of foreign rule and oppression. In response, the writer of the Similitudes uses pseudonymity, reports of a heavenly tour, eschatological predictions, descriptions of judgment scenes that reverse the status of rulers and righteous ones, and other elements of the genre "apocalypse" in order to help members of the community to keep faith and hope. The apocalypse serves several functions in that social setting, but none incompatible with a setting of crisis. 4
Walter Schmithals: An Alternative
Walter Schmithals offers a decisive alternative to the above solution, for he severs all genetic connections between apocalypses and their social, historical situation: apocalyptic "primarily has its roots within itself, namely in the apocalyptic experience of existence," which is not caused by social, historical forces (1975, 150, cf. 120). Schmithals recognizes that there were "'apocalyptic' situations, that is, times which were so filled with sorrow and destruction, turmoil and oppression, that eschatologically oriented groups saw no more hope at all for this world and concentrated their hopes entirely on a new, coming eon" (p. 141). Not all apocalypses, however, arose in "exceptionally frightful conditions" and in those conditions apocalyptic was "only one reaction among various actual reactions" (p. 149): 5 "Apocalyptic does not ... understand itself to be a reaction to a particular social reality" (p. 145), as though "certain realities inevitably produce a certain understanding of existence" (p. 148). Put differently, an attitude towards the world does not derive simply from "causal structures in existing reality" (p. 148). 6 The decisive factor is rather a predisposition that cannot be derived "but only affirmed or denied, accepted or rejected" (p. 150). Taking a cue from an earlier work by Rudolf Otto, Schmithals grounds the apocalyptic predisposition in "the idea of the transcendence of the divine." 7 The more fully "divine transcendence" dominates a person's understanding of the world, the more likely he or she will be predisposed to apocalyptic thinking. 8
Schmithal's approach and the social-historical approach of other scholars mark the extremes in relating apocalypses to a social, historical situation: the latter approach makes apocalyptic derivative of social, historical situations; while the former severs connections between apocalyptic and social settings. Most recently, a kind of compromise between those two positions has developed around the notion of "perceived crisis." This notion has arisen, on the one hand, out of a reluctance to break the connection of apocalypses with "social upheaval and turmoil, ... alienation and powerlessness" (see Nickelsburg 1983, 646) and on the other, out of a recognition that many apocalypses have obviously not arisen from political upheaval and social crisis. "Perceived crisis" becomes a notion or conceptual tool for retaining models that connect apocalypses to social crises while recognizing that the social crises are not necessarily evident; an apocalyptic point of view appears to be tied to a particu lar type of social-historical situation (i.e., crisis), when in fact it is tied only to the piety of the apocalypticist, to his perceptions and his attitude of mind. 9
What then does perceived crisis signify? It is a way of saying that (1) the author of an apocalypse considers a situation to be a crisis but (2) that the crisis dimensions of the situation are evident only through his angle of vision: "The problem is not viewed simply in terms of the historical factors available to any observer. Rather it is viewed in the light of a transcendent reality disclosed by the apocalypse" (Collins 1984a, 32)—that is, the crisis becomes visible only through the revealed knowledge in an apocalypse; prior to that knowledge there is no crisis. People discover the crisis dimensions of their existence by reading an apocalypse. An apocalypse thus functions in a social situation not only to bring comfort, hope, perseverance, and the like but also to cause people to see their situation as one in which such functions are needed and appropriate. An apocalypse can create the perception that a situation is one of crisis and then offer hope, assurance, and support for faithful behavior in dealing with the crisis. In the process the reader or hearer takes on the viewpoint of the writer and sees the human situation from the vantage point of transcendent reality (see Collins 1984a, 32). Thus, the concept "perceived crisis" contributes to our understanding of how an apocalypse functions in a social situation; but it sheds no light on the social occasion of an apocalypse, for any social situation can be perceived as one of crisis. 10
Language as Social Exchange
In light of this power of apocalypses to shape perceptions of a social situation, we need to reformulate the relationship between an apocalypse as a written document and its social setting. Rather than asking about the social setting of an apocalypse, we should consider how an apocalypse as a social force relates to other social forces; there is a social dimension to apocalyptic language, for an apocalypse can shape a reader's perception of what the social situation is like. If, for example, through apocalyptic language a U.S. citizen identifies the Soviet Union with the Anti-Christ, that linguistic identification will shape dramatically how that person views the actions of the Soviet Union and thinks the U.S. should respond politically and militarily. Here—as always for human beings—the perception of reality is reality.
Through this example one sees that the language and religious vision of the Book of Revelation are not to be relegated to poesis, mythos, and ephemeral presence without impact on actual, social relations in everyday life. Literary, religious constructions do not stay neatly isolated as "symbolic worlds" unrelated to power relations in the social world. Literary, religious visions establish at least minimal social-political distinctions, just as social, political realities carry at least low-level symbolic content. Linguistic activity (speaking, writing, reading, listening) is itself social activity and partakes fully in the social world.
We are touching here upon the social, communicative dimensions of language. There is the obvious point that a person normally uses language to communicate with someone else: to inform, to express, to prescribe, or to evoke. Less obviously, that communication depends upon social, conventional grammatical and syntacti cal structures of a specific language such as English or Greek. A reader of the Book of Revelation draws upon those social conventions in order to understand the message of the book. In addition, communication requires some common ground—some shared beliefs or mutual knowledge about the world—between speaker and hearer. A speaker may explore that common ground or may make an assertion about the world not shared by the hearer, so that the hearer's understanding of what the world is like will conform more closely to the speaker's (see Stalnaker 1978, 322). In the latter case, a speaker may evoke and actualize dimensions of a world never before conceived in the mind of the other. 11
Further, language is used most frequently in a specific "conversational" context. So John Austin writes: "For some years we [philosophers of language] have been realizing more and more clearly that the occasion of an utterance matters seriously, and that the words used are to some extent to be 'explained' by the 'context' in which they are designed to be or have actually been spoken in a linguistic interchange" (1962, 100). Within a "linguistic interchange" communication includes at least two different dimensions: (1) a proposition, that is, the thing expressed and (2) an intention located in the way that a proposition is expressed. Both propositions and intentions are involved in the normal use of language. For example, the words There is a crevasse under the snow can be seen as a proposition; but in the context of conversation, for example, between two mountain climbers, those words are spoken with a certain intention (e.g., "Step carefully"). That intention or manner of speaking is called the "illocutionary" force of a speech act. 12 The meaning of language involves both propositions and their illocutionary force.
In Daniel 6 the satraps and supervisors say to King Darius: "Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance which the king establishes can be changed" (Dan. 6:15). Their statement includes a proposition about law that is shared with the king. Their statement also includes an illocutionary force or point that in the conversational context is both censorial towards the king and approving of the situation; the illocutionary point of their sentence may be captured by a phrase like "We've got you." In order for the king to recognize the force of their statement, he must share with them certain social and linguistic conventions by means of which their point is communicated. 13 Moreover, those shared conventions are a part of a specific social situation in Daniel 6: a conflict between Daniel and the Persian supervisors who seek to best him before King Darius. The force of the statement cannot be fully grasped without considering it within the dynamics of the specific power situation that occasioned the telling. 14
So long as an audience shares fully in the conventions of the language, both propositions and illocutionary forces are a part of the public record of recorded speech. The illocutionary dimension of speech moves toward the social occasion in which the speech is uttered, but the "complete" social occasion is not contained in the illocutionary act. With regard to the Book of Revelation (and many other biblical books), a reader may become familiar with the language (and even recognize its illocutionary force) and still not be able to locate the exact occasion in which the seer's speech acts entered the flow of other social action. It is also difficult to trace out the consequences of speech acts, but, as seen by the exchange between Darius and the satraps, acts of speech do have consequences after they enter the flow of social action. In sum, the social dimensions of language may be located (1) in the language itself, which includes both what is said and its illocutionary point; (2) in the situation occasioning that languagc; and (3) in the consequences or effects of the speech activity on further social intercourse.
Social Dimensions of the Genre "Apocalypse"
The move from the use of words and sentences in a conversation to an apocalypse complicates an analysis of the social dimensions of language, for an apocalypse is a more complex literary unit. A simple sentence transmits meaning by combining sounds, morphemes (the smallest units of meaning in a language), and words; an apocalypse transmits meaning by combining sentences, scenes, and visions. 15 As a result, sentences and assertions within a genre must be considered not so much for what they say, their force or point, and their effects as for how they establish these dimensions on the level of genre.
The relationship between form and meaning is crucial, for only units of meaning (not formal units) enter into the flow of social intercourse. For example, as sounds, yawl and y'all may be virtually the same, but those formal elements of sound must be related to meaning before they can be located in a social context; otherwise, one may confuse a context of sailing with that of being addressed by a southerner. So, analogously, one would be on the wrong track in trying to locate 1 Enoch in a social context by trying to find where sheep were oppressed by eagles, for the sentences and scenes about the colorful animals in the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 85-90) are formal elements that contribute first to the meaning of the apocalypse and only then to its social occasion.
In light of the earlier discussion about "perceived crisis," exhortations to remain faithful and consolations in the face of oppression may also be formal elements in the genre and therefore not contribute to any understanding of the social occasion of an apocalypse. Recall that an apocalypse may both create the perception that a situation is one of crisis and then offer hope, assurance, and support for faithful behavior in dealing with the crisis. Those formal elements—scenes portraying crises, consolations to the faithful, exhortations to remain faithful—contribute to meaning on the level of genre, namely, to the revealed knowledge or "the transcendent reality disclosed by the apocalypse" (Collins 1984a, 32). The meaning transmitted by an apocalypse centers on the viewpoint of the writer that is transmitted as revelation.
Just as social conventions determine the place of phonemes, morphemes, and other formal elements in transmitting meaning through sentences, so social conventions determine elements of form and meaning at the level of the genre "apocalypse." That is one reason why "study of the general conventions and assumptions of the genre" is indispensable to understanding any specific example of it (see Skinner 1974, 125). Genres are not literary structures isolated from a social context, nor are they constituted by purely idiosyncratic linguistic forms; they are a part of conventional social exchange involving speakers, writers, hearers, and readers who recognize their communicative force. So Hartman writes: "The genre belongs to a cultural set up which author and reader have in common" (1983, 340; see also Hellholm 1986, 29-33).
Content of Apocalypses
In the definition of Semeia 14 (Collins 1979), an apocalypse is defined not simply as "revelatory literature" but more specifically as a revelation "disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world." The inclusion of that specific content is essential to the definition of the genre, but it needs to be understood that an apocalypse does not reveal another world, it reveals hidden dimensions of the world in which humans live and die; that is, an apocalypse is not worldnegating but, rather, world-expanding: it extends or expands the universe to include transcendent realities, and it does this both spatially and temporally. Spatial expansion dominates apocalypses with other-worldly journeys: that subgenre reports heavenly tours and ascents in which are described such transcendent realities as the abodes of the dead, cosmological secrets, judgment scenes, and the divine throne (Collins 1984b, 14-18). Temporal expansion dominates the "historical apocalypses." Through symbolic dream visions, revelatory dialogues, scriptural interpretation, and revelation reports the seer narrates prophecy after the fact and makes eschatological predictions (Collins 1984b, 6-14). Although the spatial or the temporal may dominate in a specific apocalypse, both modes of world expansion are present in all apocalypses.
The presence of both modes guarantees that the revelation of transcendence is integrally related to human earthly existence. In apocalypses, there is no radical discontinuity between God and the world (spatial transcendence) or this age and the age to come (temporal transcendence) (see Rowland 1982, 92, 175, 475). A radical transcendence which could sever heaven from earth is tempered by the future transformation of earthly into heavenly existence; and a radical transcendence which could sever this age completely from the age to come is tempered by the presentness of the age to come in heaven. Thus, the presence and interplay of spatial and temporal dimensions in transcendence prevent a thoroughgoing dualism in which the revelation of transcendence would become a separate set of forces without present effect on everyday human activity. The interplay assures that the powers of heaven and of the age to come operate decisively in present, earthly social interaction. 16 Seen from the angle of language as social exchange, a seer is making assertions about the world in such a way as to bring the hearer's understanding of what the world is like into greater conformity with his. His use of the genre "apocalypse" may, at least to some extent, also evoke in the mind of his audience dimensions of a world never before conceived. Or, perhaps more correctly, the genre "apocalypse," through certain widely understood linguistic and social conventions, communicates a certain knowledge and understanding of what the world is like that is genre-specific.
Metaphoric and symbolic language is integral to communicating that knowledge and understanding effectively. Such language operates in the genre to link up correctly the various dimensions of the world that have been expanded through spatial and temporal transcendence. Through metaphor and symbol a seer may report his transformations in space, time, or psychological state. Through the same language here-and-now earthly institutions, powers, and social relations are located properly in the larger, expanded world—for example, by being linked through metaphor and homologue to appropriate suprahuman worldly powers that are both presently locatable somewhere in the expanded universe and eschatologically impinging on the here and now. Through that network of language humans are situated—given a place on which to stand—in the expanded world. Apocalyptic language, thus, not only discloses an expanded universe but also orients humans in that larger world.
The Function of Apocalypses
As indicated earlier, the definition of Semeia 14 deliberately omits any reference to function and social setting. Collins writes, "While a complete study of a genre must consider function and social setting, neither of these factors can determine the definition. At least in the case of ancient literature our knowledge of function and setting is often extremely hypothetical and cannot provide a firm basis for generic classification. The only firm basis which can be found is the identification of recurring elements which are explicitly present in the texts" (pp. 1-2). That omission has evoked more objections than any other aspect of the definition of Semeia 14. At the 1982 Seminar on Early Christian Apocalypticism, David Hellholm argued for the necessary inclusion of function in any definition of the genre "apocalypse." He proposed adding to the Semeia 14 definition the qualification "intended for a group in crisis with the purpose of exhortation and/or consolation by means of divine authority" (1986, 27). This addition brings into the definition the widespread notion that apocalypses arise from a situation of crisis. 17 David E. Aune also includes "function" in his modification of the Semeia 14 definition, but, following the lead of John J. Collins, he distinguishes between social and literary functions, with a literary function "concerned only with the implicit and explicit indications within the text itself of the purpose or use of the composition" (1986a, 89). With that caveat he proposes three complementary literary functions: (1) "the legitimation of the transcendent authorization of the message"; (2) "a new actualization of the original revelatory experience"; and (3) the encouragement of cognitive and behavioral modifications (see pp. 89-90). Finally Yarbro Collins, in light of Hellholm and Aune's suggestions, proposes to add to the Semeia 14 definition the qualification "intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority" (1986, 7).
If all speaking, writing, hearing, and reading are themselves social acts that constitute a portion of the flow of social exchange, apocalyptic language is by definition a part of a social situation. Its existence depends not only on the social conventions of a natural language (e.g., Greek or Syriac) but also on the social conventions that constitute the genre. Social function is not extraneous to genre definition. 18 Nor is there a clear distinction to be made between literary and social functions, for if something is "literary," it is "social." At the same time, one can appreciate fully the objection of Collins and Aune to much of the hypothetical reconstruction of social settings that has been carried out in the name of the historical, critical method. Both underscore that the purpose and use of an apoca lypse can only be based on identifiable elements explicitly present in texts under consideration. The issue then becomes, How does a person locate identifiable elements in texts to get at the function and intention of a genre? This question has no easy answer.
Recognition of the social dimensions of language is essential to any move on the social function of a genre. In keeping with the three social dimensions of language outlined above, function can refer to (1) social dimensions within an apocalypse, including its social conventions and illocutionary force (on the level of genre); 19 (2) the typicalities, shared conventions, and specifics in the situation occasioning its production; or (3) its effects on ensuing human activity (see Skinner 1970). That taxonomy can help to keep clear where a particular function is to be located in relation to the stream of social activity in and around a text. Analysis of social dimensions within an apocalypse—especially its illocutionary aspects derived from units of meaning on the level of genre—provides the most solid transition from a text to the occasion of its production.
Even with such a taxonomy, however, the term function may confuse the relationship between apocalyptic language and its social dimensions. The term function may suggest a text's "placement in a social setting," and falsely imply that the genre or "linguistic construction" exists separate from the social order. In order to avoid thinking of genres apart from society, the term intention or illocutionary force may be a better way to talk about the language-society relationship (see Tucker 1971, 17). Whichever term is used, it should be made clear that genres are embedded in the social process and that the task is to recover aspects of that embedment.
If the writing and reading of an apocalypse are seen as social acts occurring among other social acts, the various dimensions of apocalyptic language interact in many different ways with other elements in the social process: literary aspects incorporate social conventions that make communication possible; religious dimensions make assertions about the world and provide a definite perspective from which to view all human activity; the activity of writing, speaking, and hearing makes a point within a particular social situation and that activity then becomes part of the ongoing presuppositions of further social exchange. In brief, language, genre, and other social processes are integrally related.
Setting an Agenda
In the chapters that follow, I shall test a broad hypothesis about how literary, religious, and social dimensions of apocalypses relate, specifically in connection with the Book of Revelation. The argument will be made that the seer's language does not form a separate "symbolic universe" apart from social, political realities; nor does his apocalyptic message address conflicts, tensions, and crises in the world of his audience. Rather, the seer offers a particular understanding—disclosed through revelation—of what the whole world is like, which includes an understanding of how Christians relate to other Christians, to other groups in the cities of Asia, and, more generally, to public social events. This broad thesis has several components.
The Linguistic Vision of the Seer. Every analyst of the Book of Revelation must engage with the language of the book. The multivalence of that metaphoric language needs to be explored so as to respect and appreciate its range and overtones of meanings. The language of Revelation is more like that of poetry than that of a set of directions (as in a cookbook); the language plays through a range of meanings rather than having only one meaning. The analyst must also respect the intertexture of the seer's words: many different organizational devices weave together his words, his sentences, and his scenes. Through attention to that multivalence and intertexture, a vision of the world emerges that includes provincial life in Asia. There is a social dimension to the world constructed by the seer; and ordinary Asian life is to be found in that world vision, not in references that move the reader "outside" the seer's world. For example, the seer's language of comfort, crisis, and exhortation must be understood within the dynamics of multivalence and intertexture of the seer's writing. Social, historical realities are to be found in the interconnectedness of his language, not in correspondences to some external order of reality.
The Social Order. Most recent scholarship continues to assume that the language of Revelation (and of apocalypses generally) reflects and arises in a social, historical situation of crisis. Specifically, in connection with Revelation, that crisis is bound to the reign of Domitian, his reign of terror and his heightened demands for imperial worship. Those assumptions about Domitian and his reign call for a careful investigation of historiographic issues that include both Christian and Roman sources for reconstructing the political situation at the time of Domitian. In connection with this period of Roman history, provincial life in Asia requires special study, for that is where the seer and his audience live and is the social, historical situation of which the Book of Revelation is one part.
The Linguistic Vision and the Social Order. The goal throughout this inquiry is to discover ways to integrate the linguistic vision of the seer with public, social realities or, better, to recognize that the vision itself is a social reality. Each dimension of social activity has its own distinctive structures, forms, and modes of entering into the larger social process; but, as one of those dimensions, apocalyptic languageits generic conventions and symbolic constructions—does not operate in some realm different from other social activity. Acts of speech, writing, and reading enter into the stream of social activity as much as do military victories, economic oppression, or legal actions. Faithful recipients of an apocalypse gain true knowledge about the cosmos, religion, the political order, local economic transactions, and the nature of social life. I seek a framework for integrating literary, conceptual, and social aspects of apocalyptic so that the language, religious sensibilities, and social political experience of the writer, readers, and hearers of the Book of Revelation can be seen as aspects or dimensions of an order of wholeness; for that reflects how language and symbols operate in human life and, more importantly, reflects how language and symbols operate in the Book of Revelation.
3 The Linguistic Unity
of the Book of Revelation
The language of Revelation transmits a tremendous amount of information; the task is to make that language disclose its secrets—about the message that John is sending, the vision of the world that informs his message, his situation in the church and the Roman Empire, the network of social relationships inside and outside the Christian communities addressed by the seer, and the shape of the language itself—its syntax, genre, and ordinary and metaphoric significance. All of that information is interwoven in the seer's language. For analytic purposes, however, we shall consider first the language itself and the vision created by it.
A Synopsis of the Book of Revelation No synopsis can remain simple and at the same time reflect the subtle connections among words, phrases, sentences, and scenes of Revelation. The seer's text can, however, be blocked out into sections by following certain organizational principles suggested in Revelation itself. The following outline is both approximate and preliminary.
Revelation begins with a statement authenticating the visions to John as truly from God, given in a chain of command through Jesus and an angelic messenger. The one who reads, and those who hear, his words of prophecy will be blessed. Thus the complete chain of transmission begins with God and ends with the reading of Revelation in the churches. Verse 4 introduces an epistolary greeting followed by a doxology (1:5-6), a hymnic quatrain (1:7), and then circles back to God described as at the beginning of the epistolary greeting: "who is and who was and who is to come" (1:4, 8).
John then reports in first-person narrative an account of a vision in which he is ordered to write to the seven angels of the seven churches in Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. After an elaborate description of the one who dictates the words, messages to the seven churches are given, all of which follow the same sequential pattern (though not all of the following are in all of the letters): (1) a command to write, (2) an identification of the speaker, (3) a description of the church's situation, (4) accusations against the churches, (5) a call to repentance, (6) a warning that the speaker will come to them, (7) an admonition to listen, and (8) a promise to the victorious.
At chapter 4 a voice calls John through an open door into heaven. An elaborate throne scene follows (4:1-11) with special attention given to a "slain Lamb" who shares honor and glory with the one on the throne (5:1-14). The Lamb is honored because he has power to open a scroll sealed with seven seals, each of which discloses either earthly destruction or a heavenly scene (6:1-8:1). Between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals John sees two other visions—one of the sealing of the 144 thousand from the tribes of Israel (7:1-8) and one of an innumerable crowd whose clothing is washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:9-17). Then, after preparation of incense and prayers by an angel standing before the altar (8:3-5), seven angels blow serially seven trumpets, which again bring either earthly destruction or a heavenly scene (8:6-11:19). As with the seven seals, visions occur between the sixth and seventh item (10:1-11:14). In connection with the blowing of the fifth trumpet, an opening in the earth appears, a "shaft" to a bottomless pit (9:1-2, cf. 4:1), from which come destructive forces such as deadly locusts (9:3). Also noteworthy are the vision of the mighty angel with an open scroll, which John eats (10:1-11), a command to measure the temple of God (11:1-2), and a story about the fate of two witnesses for God (11:3-13). Considerable dramatic suspense is built around the blowing of the seventh trumpet (e.g., 10:7) which brings heavenly worship, the opening of the heavenly temple, and a theophany (11:15-19).
Chapter 12 introduces the first of several colorful characters. A pregnant woman clothed with the sun comes into conflict with a great red dragon (12:1-6, cf. 12:1317); in heaven the archangel Michael battles victoriously and casts out the same dragon (12:7-12); these visions are presented in the impersonal passive There was seen, rather than the first person, I saw. John then sees a ten-horned, seven-headed beast with great authority arise from the sea (13:1-10) and a two-horned, dragonvoiced beast with the number 666, coming up from the earth (13:11-18). Those visions of terror and danger contrast with three visions of assurance and victory: 144 thousand with the Lamb on Mount Zion singing a new song (14:1-5); three angels proclaiming the eternal gospel, the fall of Babylon, and the fate of the beastworshippers, respectively (14:6-13); and two reapers of the earth (14:14-20).
Chapter 15 introduces another series of seven. After a scene of heavenly worship (15:1-4) seven angels with seven golden bowls come out of the heavenly temple (cf. 5:8); from those bowls are poured seven plagues upon the earth (15:5-8). After the seven plagues of God's wrath (16:1-17), theophanic sky phenomena occur once again (16:18-21, cf. 11:19). The sequence of the seven bowls is followed by a series of visions describing the Great Harlot Babylon and her destruction (17:1-19:5) that concludes with a contrasting feminine image of the Bride of the Lamb (19:6-10).
At 19:11 the heavens open once again and John sees a figure sitting on a white horse, clad with a robe dipped in blood and inscribed "King of kings and Lord of lords," who with his army is to rule the nations with an iron rod (cf. 12:5). Then birds gather to share in the Great Supper of God at which they gorge themselves on human flesh; while the Word of God, victorious over the beast and his followers, either kills them for the birds or throws them alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur (19:17-21). The dragon, Satan, is chained in the bottomless pit for a thousand years, while followers of Christ (who did not worship the beast) reign (20:1-6). After their thousand-year reign (the millennium), Satan is loosed again upon earth. He marshals an army, Gog and Magog, to march against the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire from heaven destroys them. The deceiving devil is thrown into a lake of fire and sulfur, where, along with the beast and the false prophet, he is eternally tormented (20:7-15). Then John sees a new heaven and a new earth, as well as the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, prepared as a bride (21:1-5). The one on the throne speaks, a rare occurrence in the Book of Revelation, declaring all things new and promising a blessed heritage to those who conquer (cf. 2:7, etc.) but damnation to the rest (21:6-8). Finally, the city is described in detail: its wall, twelve gates, twelve foundations, the river of life flowing from the throne of God through its main street, the tree of life with its twelve fruits, and special notice that it has no temple, for God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (21:9-22:5).
The Book of Revelation then ends as it began, with a series of confirmatory statements that the revelation contained in the book is from God and that those who hear it will be blessed (22:6-20). Interspersed are quasi-liturgical exclamations proclaiming that the end is near: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" Finally, to balance the epistolary greeting (1:4-5) the seer closes with an epistolary closing: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen" (22:21).
The organization of the Book of Revelation is more complex than the synopsis suggests. The seer's language does not simply flow in narrative or logical sequence; it plays on formal, thematic, metaphoric, symbolic, and auditory levels of association. Moreover, the various levels overlap in such a way that breaks occur at different points among the different levels. As suggested in the synopsis, series of seven constitute units throughout the work, yet other numbering systems overlap these units; for example, the numbering of the three woes (9:12, 11:14, 12:12) connects the seven trumpets that end at 11:19 with the seven visions that begin at 12:1. Different sections of Revelation are also connected and unified by repeated metaphors, symbols, and motifs.
Forms and Composition
Revelation consists of several different component elements—epistolary, prophetic, proverbial, and liturgical forms. Near the beginning of his work the seer addresses the seven churches in an epistolary fashion: "John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who ... " (1:4); and he concludes Revelation with an epistolary grace (22:21). Throughout Revelation the seer employs prophetic forms such as an inaugural vision (1:12-20), announcements of judgment or salvation grounded in descriptions of faithfulness or corruption and exhortations to repent (2:1-11), dirges (18:2-3), and angelic interpretations of things seen (7:13-17). Like the Hebrew prophets writing in exile, the seer also draws heavily on liturgical forms. 1 He structures language in the forms of hymns (5:9-10), acclamations (16:7), doxologies (7:12), declarations of worthiness (4:11), and a thanksgiving (11:17-18). Revelation also contains proverbial forms such as aphorism (13:10), beatitude (22:7), and lists of virtues and vices (22:15). Most of those component forms are integrated into a narrative of visionary or auditory reports stereotypically introduced by phrases such as And I saw or And I heard.
Among the compositional devices by which those smaller elements are ordered and subordinated to a larger, complex work, the most obvious is the sevenfold series: seven letters (2:1-3:22), seven seals (6:1-8:2), seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), and seven bowls (15:1-16:21). Doublets also appear in the work, for example, the number 144 thousand (7:2-8, 14:1-5), plagues of trumpets and bowls (chapters 89, 16), two descriptions of the beast (13:1-8, 17:3, 8), two of Jerusalem (21:1-8, 21:9-22:5), and two announcements of the fall of Babylon (14:8, 18:2-3). 2 Marked contrasts of weal and woe provide another means of organization: the first six seals of destruction (6:1-17) contrast with salvation and hope (7:1-8:4), the beast with horns (13:1-18) contrasts with the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1-7), laments over the fall of Babylon (18:1-24) contrast with celebration over her destruction (19:1-10). Other organizational devices include equivalences of measure, stereotypic words and phrases (especially introductions), metaphoric associations, and scenes that reverse relationships or accumulate images from previous scenes.
The seer composed this "complex literary type" (Koch 1969, 23-24) from a repertoire of those smaller forms and compositional devices. Individual creativity as well as precedents in the genre contributed to the creation of his linguistic vision.
Through that process, those smaller, separate forms are integrated into a distinctive work that constitute Revelation. Each distinctive form now exists as part of a larger whole or as a "moment" in the flow of the seer's language.
The linguistic unity of Revelation is established in part through various narrative or sequential links that proceed along a horizontal axis; in the Book of Revelation narrative is made up of several horizontal "threads" that break at different points so that the bundle of threads creates a seamless, unbroken sequence.
Commentators often call attention to contrasting oppositions in Revelation as indication of the tension between Christian faith and harsh social, political realities (see App.). So, for example, the innumerable multitude celebrating in heaven and the sealing of the 144 thousand (7:1-17) contrast with the vengeance God delivers upon earth in the opening of the six seals (6:1-17). The celebration of God's kingdom at the blowing of the seventh trumpet (11:15-19) contrasts with those members of an apostate kingdom punished mercilessly by God in the blowing of the six previous trumpets (8:7-9:20). Similarly, the two beasts in Revelation 13 represent a false kingdom in contrast to the community of the Lamb in Revelation 14. The hope of Christians is assured in the scene on Mount Zion (14:1) in spite of the dangers of the beast from the primordial abyss standing on the seashore (13:1; cf. 12:17). Christians will rest from their labors (14:13) in contrast to those who succumb to the pressure of political servitude (14:11). The faithful will feast at the marriage of the Lamb (19:9) rather than be feasted upon by the birds of the air (19:17-18), and they will receive the seal of the Lamb (14:1) rather than the stamp of the beast (13:16).
Contrasting units can be traced through Revelation to illustrate its binary character and to point to conflictual elements in its vision of the world; that is, if a reader seeks out contrast and conflict, those features can be found in the narrative arrangement of Revelation. But contrasting units are only one of several kinds of relations that unify the flow of the seer's language, and contrasting units must be placed alongside those other unifying devices if the linguistic unity of Revelation is to be fully appreciated.
Equivalence of Measure
A fairly simple unifying device is equivalence in numerical measurement. For most people the mention of numbers in Revelation probably evokes 666, the number of the beast (13:18), which the seer claims can be calculated by anyone having some intelligence. Through gematria, whereby a number signifies a letter, many different identifications of that number have been made, the earliest of which is probably the Emperor Nero. My interest here in equivalences of measure has a different focus: how recurring numbers of equivalent values contribute towards the unity of Revelation.
As previously noted, apocalyptic disasters tend to be organized around the number seven: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. 3 Themes in the pouring out of the seven bowls are strikingly similar to those of the blowing of the seven trumpets: in each series the first four describe disasters to earth; seas; rivers and fountains; and the sun—respectively. The fifth refers to the kingdom of the beast (16: 10, cf. 9:11), the sixth refers to the Euphrates, and the seventh to a heavenly scene that includes theophanic sky phenomena of lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail. In each series this repetitive unfolding, which occurs again at the pouring out of the seven bowls, culminates in heavenly worship. 4 Those repetitions create a kind of cumulative affect, a sense that one can step in the same river twice. 5
Within the series of the seven trumpets (8:2-11:19) two references are made to the same time span: (1) in connection with a command to measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, John is told that the nations will trample the holy city for forty-two months (11:2); (2) two witnesses are granted power to prophesy for 1,260 days (= forty-two months) (Rev. 11:3). In the next series of seven visions (12:1-14:20) the same time span is mentioned again. A story is told about a pregnant woman about to give birth to a male child endangered by a great red dragon. After the birth the child is caught up to God and the throne and the woman flees into the wilderness to be nourished there for 1,260 days (12:6). 6 In the third vision of that same series a beast comes forth from the sea and is allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months (13:5). Thus, through equivalence of measure, scenes in the series of the seven trumpets are brought into synchrony with scenes in a later series of visions. 7
Visions throughout Revelation are also linked through the number twelve. The number itself appears regularly in connection with the new Jerusalem: twelve gates of twelve pearls (21:21), inscribed with twelve names of twelve tribes, accompanied by twelve angels (21:12); a wall with twelve foundations on which are the twelve names of the apostles (21:14); the city measures twelve thousand stadia (21:16); and in it the tree of life produces twelve kinds of fruit, one for each of the twelve months (22:2). Twice twelve elders sit on their twenty-four thrones surrounding the throne in heaven (4:4). Twelve thousand times twelve from the twelve tribes of Israel are sealed (7:4), and the same number (144 thousand) later appear with the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1).8
Sometimes the elements in one scene are transformed in such a way that relationships and actions are reversed as compared to a previous scene. For example, in 7:12 John sees four angels standing upon the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that they do not blow and harm. Another angel coming up from the rising of the sun cries out to the four angels not to harm the earth until the servants of their God are sealed. The only other reference to four angels occurs at 9:13-15, the blowing of the sixth trumpet. John hears a voice from the four horns of the altar saying, "Loose the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates." Those angels are loosed so as to kill one-third of the people. The two passages form mirror images: in chapter 7 an angel from the East (the rising of the sun) commands the angels on the four corners of the earth not to harm the earth, and they do not; in chapter 9 a voice from the four corners (horns) of the altar commands that angels in the East (Euphrates) be loosed to harm the earth, and they do. 9 Reversal of subject and object of the command results in reversed consequences.
The scene in chapter 10 involving the little scroll (ß?ß?a??d???) reverses several elements in chapter 5, which describes the scroll (ß?ß????) sealed with seven seals. In chapter 10 a mighty angel, crying out as a lion, holds in his hand an open scroll (ß?ß?a??d??? '??????µ???), the contents of which are presumably recited by the angel and the seven thunders (10:3). 10 John is about to write down the contents of this "open scroll" when he is ordered, "Seal [s?????s??] what the seven thunders spoke, and do not write these things" (10:4). Later he is ordered to eat his words (10:9). In contrast to chapter 10 the scroll of chapter 5 is sealed (ß?ß???? ... ?at?s??a??sµ???? s??a??^?s?? ?pt?) so that no one can open (???^??a?) it until it is handed over to the powerful "Lion of the tribe of Judah." The sequence of the action in chapter 10 thus reverses that in chapter 5.
After eating the bittersweet scroll John is ordered to prophesy again to people, nations, tongues, and kings (10:9-11, cf. 5:9). This commission to prophesy (cf. Ezek. 2:8, 3:1-3) harks back to the inaugural vision of 1:19-20, where John is ordered to write down the things which he sees, both things that are and that will be. In both instances the commissioning is associated loosely with "mystery" (10:7, 1:20) and with things to come (1:19, 10:7). Because of those connections with chapter 1, some have understood the little scroll in chapter 10 as an introduction to the second part of the Apocalypse. 11 In any case the commission in chapter 1, the unsealing in chapter 5, and the little scroll in chapter 10 are interconnected through these various elements.
Accumulation of Images
Sometimes images occurring at different places in Revelation reappear in a later scene. This type of repetition gives a cumulative effect, as images used earlier are gathered together. A retrospective review of the images in Revelation 19:11-16 illustrates. At 19:11 John sees heaven open (cf. 4:1) and then a white horse with a rider called Faithful and True who judges justly and makes war. The rider's eyes are as a flame of fire, on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He wears a garment dipped in blood and he has another name, the Word of God. An army in heaven follows him on white horses; they are clad with white, pure linen. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with an iron rod. He will also tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his blood-dipped garment and on his thigh he has a name written, "King of kings and Lord of lords."
These six verses make up a clearly defined unit introduced by the stereotyped formula And I saw. 12 This unit is linked closely with the two following (19:17-18, 19:19-21) by a returning in verse 21 to the warring of the rider with a sword issuing from his mouth. Revelation 19:11-16 is also the first of seven final visions of judgment, victory, and salvation. 13 Thus Revelation 19:11-16 is a narrative unit that links in several ways to the narrative, visionary units immediately around it.
At the same time, however, Revelation 19:11-16 accumulates images from earlier scenes, especially those describing the ultimate judgment and victorious rule of God and his Christ. The rider of a white horse occurs elsewhere only at the opening of the first seal in 6:2 where the first of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse is introduced. There the rider has a bow, is given a crown, and goes forth to conquer (6:2); the language in both visions (6:2, 19:11-16) thus unfolds a warring, conquering king, the first introducing and the second concluding the apocalyptic disasters described by the seer. 14 The phrase "eyes like a flame of fire" (19:12) relates the rider of the white horse to the one who speaks to the angel of the church of Thyatira (2:18) and to the one like a Son of Man whom John sees in his inaugural vision (1:14). That Son of Man also shares with the rider of the white horse a "sharp sword issuing from his mouth" (1:16, cf. 2:12, 19:15). The diadems (19:12), shared only with the dragon (12:3) and the beast from the sea (13:1), are a sign of royalty, as is of course the title "King of kings and Lord of lords" (19:16, cf. 17:14). So, too, "ruling with a rod of iron" (19:15) is a royal image (Ps. 2:9) that links the rider to the male child endangered by the dragon (12:5). As the Lamb conquers through his blood (5:5, 9), so here the royal garment is "dipped in blood" (19:13), probably alluding to the crucified king, though the garment may simply be bloody from battle.
There are four references to the name of the rider on the white horse: (1) in 19:12 he has an inscribed name that only he knows; (2) the name "King of kings and Lord of lords" is written on his thigh (19:16); (3) in 19:11 he is called "Faithful and True"; and (4) in 19:13 his name is the Word of God. (1) That the name is unknown probably identifies the rider of the white horse as outside the human sphere, for mystery also surrounds the name of the land-beast (13:17) and the woman riding the scarlet beast (17:5); 15 (2) a name written on a person establishes identity (13:16-17, 14:1, cf. 3:12, 22:4); (3) the name "Faithful and True" links the one on the white horse to the one addressing the angel of the church of Laodicea, who calls himself "the Faithful and True [Witness]" (3:14, cf. 1:5); (4) the Faithful and True Word of God riding the white horse also parallels "the faithful and true words of God" given to John and authenticated by God himself (21:5, 22:6). (In fact, the Faithful and True Word of God riding the white horse is transmitted as part of those "faithful and true words of God." The words that transmit and the Word on the white horse that is transmitted are one. Form and content, signifier and signified, syntax and semantics are united in the sign of the Word.)
The rider goes forth to make war. Except for Jesus' threat to war against those at Pergamum (2:16), warring occurs only between divine and evil forces: Michael and the dragon (12:7), the dragon and the woman's seed (12:17), the Lamb and the beast with ten kings (17:14), the two witnesses and the beast (11:7), Armageddon (16:16), and Satan and the saints (20:8). Here the rider on the white horse, along with his army wearing white linen and riding white horses, battle the beast, the kings of the earth, and their army (19:19).
Thus Revelation 19:11-16 consists of transformations of a series of linguistic elements that appear earlier in Revelation. Some of those elements first appear in John's inaugural vision of the Christ (1:12-16). Others appear in introductions to the letters, in the description of the first of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, in the fighting Lamb who conquers the beast and ten kings, in the newborn male child threatened by the dragon, and in the blood of the wine press of the wrath of God. That final transformation also takes into itself elements previously formed around the demonic figures of the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the whore on the scarlet beast. If we were to read Revelation aloud, we would notice structures, motifs, images, and perspectives forming and unforming sequentially and then appearing together, so that the scene in Revelation 19:11-16 brings the work to a climax—not in the narrative line but in the concentration of images. 16
Circularity refers to concentric development of a passage so that the ending reflects the beginning. 17 A simple example occurs in 4:1: "After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice ... said, ... I will show you what must take place after this." 18 On a different level the pregnant woman and dragon ring chapter 12, for that chapter begins with their conflict, shifts to a battle in heaven, and then ends with another version of the woman-dragon conflict. Revelation 17:119:10 is enclosed by an antithetical ring consisting of the Great Whore clothed in purple and scarlet at the beginning and the Bride of the Lamb clothed in bright, pure, fine linen at the end. Or an even larger unit, 12:1-19:10, is ringed by another set of feminine images: the pregnant woman clothed with the sun and the Bride of the Lamb clothed with pure linen. Circularity consists of a concentric development of words, syntactical forms, or motifs. As with all analysis, location of circularity becomes the more ingenious the more removed it is from the actual language of Revelation.
The seer tends to develop his material concentrically into ever-widening rings. So, for example, several of the eschatological promises to those who conquer (the victorious)—an element in the seven letters of chapters 2-3-reappear in the vision of the New Jerusalem in chapters 21-22: at the beginning of the vision of renewal God makes the link to the letters by saying, "He who conquers shall have ..." (21:7, cf. 2:11); the tree of life promised to those victorious at Ephesus (2:7) appears in the city (22:2); 19 The victorious at Smyrna will not be harmed by the second death (2:11), a phrase that is made clear in 21:8 (cf. 20:6, 14); those conquering at Sardis will not have their names wiped from the book of life (3:5, cf. 21:27); and to those conquering at Laodicea Jesus promises a seat with him on his throne (3:21), while at 22:5 his servants reign forever in the city with the enthroned God and the royal Lamb. 20
The final section of the Apocalypse (22:6-21) circles back to the beginning to create one grand circularity. At Revelation 22:8 John once again identifies himself as the seer who hears and sees what he writes (cf. 1:9). At 22:13 Jesus calls himself the "first and last" (1:17) and creates a cumulative affect by including, as well, "alpha and omega" (cf. 1:8) and "beginning and end" (cf. 3:14, 1:5). 21 The chain of command and blessing in 1:1-3 are repeated in 22:6-7, and the assertion that "the time is near" (1:3) is repeated in 22:10.
In the process of circularity and accumulation, placement in the narrative sequence is a significant factor; for earlier occurrences of a term, image, or motif become a given in the narrative line, to be drawn on in the development of a later scene. Thus, the first vision that focuses upon Christian life in Asia Minor provides the givens that the seer loops back on in the heavenly visions. Such recursive activity grounds the seer's visionary scenes in the social life of the Asian province. 22
Metaphoric Unity in Revelation
In contrast to the narrative unity of Revelation, which interconnects scenes through horizontal threads that run sequentially throughout the work, metaphoric unity interrelates elements of the seer's language vertically. In narrative sequence time is always involved in moving from one scene to another. Metaphoric unity, on the other hand, occurs all at once; that is, a metaphor consists of simultaneous "vertical" layers of language analogous to a musical chord. Metaphoric phrases such as "crown of life" or "wine press of the wrath of God" must be grasped instantaneously ; the metaphor cannot be traced through the letters or the words. The seer unifies his work as much through figurative or metaphoric language as through narrative devices.
Similes and Metaphors
A simile compares two different objects through particles such as ??, ?sp??, and ?µ????, all of which may be translated as "like" or "as." An angel cries with a loud voice as when a lion roars (10:3); unclean spirits like frogs come from the mouth of the dragon (16:13); one of the four living creatures around the throne was like an ox (4:7). At 6:14 the seer sees the heavens split, which he compares to a scroll rolled up.
As though to highlight the importance of figurative speech, the seer often introduces some of the most basic elements in his landscape through a simile. The sea, for example, used throughout the Apocalypse as an element coordinate with land, earth, and heaven, first occurs as a figure in the throne scene: "and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal" (4:6). 23 So, too, fire first appears metaphorically as a simile in a description of eyes in John's inaugural vision (1:14). Later, as an independent element, fire describes various catastrophies and punishments. 24 Trumpet describes metaphorically the voice in the inaugural vision (1:10) and the voice calling John into heaven (4:1), while later (8:2-11:19) trumpets are blown by angels to bring different kinds of eschatological revelations. Several animals are also introduced first through metaphoric speech. The first living creature around the throne is "like a lion" (4:7). In the next chapter, the seer declares that the "Lion of the tribe of Judah ... has conquered" (5:5). 25 Serpent—a significant animal in the action of the Apocalypse—first appears as a simile describing the tails of the horses released at the blowing of the sixth trumpet (9:19). Serpent then appears in its own right as an independent object in conflict with the woman (12:9, 14, 15) and as the one bound for a thousand years (20:2). Before an eagle is seen flying in midheaven crying woes (8:13), it has been introduced in a simile describing the fourth living creature (4:7). So, too, the activity of warring first occurs in a simile (9:9). The two witnesses wear sackcloth (11:3), but earlier "the sun became black as sackcloth" (6:12). These transformations from similes to independent entities unify elements in the seer's world. By using key terms as similes, he weaves together elements in nature, animal life, human activity, and forces from both heaven and the underworld.
A metaphor identifies, rather than compares, two elements: in 12:1 the clothing of the woman is not like the sun; her clothing is the sun. Throughout Revelation, similes and metaphors appear together. In the seer's inaugural vision a figure of awe is created through similes and metaphors combining human and inanimate spheres (1:13-16): the awesome manifestation becomes present visually as "one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast" (1:13); the whiteness of his head and hair is as wool or snow (1:14); his eyes are as a flame of fire (1:14); his feet are like bronze fired in a furnace, and his voice sounds like many waters (1:15); his face is like the sun shining in full strength; from his mouth issues a sharp two-edged sword, and—more striking—he holds in his right hand seven stars (1:16). This portrait is drawn from traditional images in the Old Testament, but it combines metaphorically spheres normally kept separate in everyday experience to produce a creature of awesome, divine proportions.
Later, in the first throne scene, the creator God who sits upon the throne is described by means of images of precious stones—jasper and carnelian—and by a rainbow that looks like an emerald (4:3). Once again the inorganic becomes the means of revealing the divine. In contrast, animal similes become the means of envisioning the heavenly figures around the throne. One is like a lion, the others are like an eagle, an ox, and a man—all with six wings and full of eyes (4:6-8). There are, as well, twenty-four elders with white garments and golden crowns (4:4). Atmospherics, sea, and fire combine to fill out the rest of the presentation (4:5-6). Celestial objects frequently combine to characterize divine forces: a mighty angel comes down from heaven wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, with a face like the sun and legs like pillars of fire (10:1). Or a woman appears in heaven clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and twelve stars on her head (12:1).
The seer also envisions suprahuman evil forces by breaking the categories of everyday experience through metaphor and simile. The monstrous beast from the sea has ten horns and seven heads. It is like a leopard, its feet are like a bear's, and its mouth is like a lion's. The locusts that come up through the opening from the bottomless abyss combine a stinger like a scorpion, an appearance like horses, though with human faces, women's hair, and lions' teeth (9:7-10). 26
Insofar as myth typically portrays its characters as such hybrids, Revelation fits the mythic genre. Myth metaphorically transgresses boundaries that normally divide aspects and dimensions of the everyday world: dwellers on earth become drunk with the "wine of fornication" (17:2) or Great Babylon is drunk "with the blood of the saints" (17:6). 27 The New Jerusalem forms a complex boundary with sacred space on earth, eschatological time, and heaven above—a boundary that cannot be charted in an ordinary space-time grid. Finally, the metamorphoses that occur at the opening of a door in heaven in chapter 4 occur simultaneously in several dimensions. The spatial movement "up" (4:1) becomes synonymous with the psychological state of "being in the spirit" (4:2), and the spatial-psychological is in turn linked closely to the temporal future: "Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this" (4: 1). Through the identification of metaphor, to go up is to go forward in time, which is to change psychological states.
Irony is another figure of speech that occurs in the Apocalypse. That is, dissembling and concealing occur, so that true meaning reverses what appears. 28 Ironic language sometimes appears with words that play on different meanings: the Smyrnians are poor but are rich, while the Laodiceans are rich but are wretched and poor (2:9, 3:17). Structural irony—where dissembling occurs in the use of a literary form—appears in the dirges over Babylon in chapter 18, especially the dirge of the angel (18:2-3), who uses that form to rejoice. 29 Kerygmatic irony occurs frequently throughout Revelation, whereby the Christian proclamation and imitation of the "crucified king" are expressed in various ways. 30 The irony of Christian redemption comes out in the language of 5:5-10. John is assured there that the sealed scroll would be opened, for "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." At that point John sees in the midst of the throne "a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain," and heavenly creatures sing to the Lamb about its worthiness to open the book "because thou wast slain." Here the seer, albeit in his own distinctive language, alludes to the irony in the Christian proclamation that the one on the cross reigns as king. 31 Because of the powerless condition of being slain, the Lamb has power and is worthy of receiving "power, strength, honor, and glory" (5:6-9). Life, victory, and power come through crucifixion.
As with the Lamb, so with the Christians who follow the Lamb. Those at Smyrna are exhorted to "be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (2:10). For the Christian, life comes through death, power through being powerless. To the Philadelphians it is said, "I have placed before you an open door which no one has the power to close because you have little power and you kept my word and you did not deny my name" (3:8). Here there is a word play on power (d??ata?/d???aµ??) and an ironic display of powerlessness, for their "little power" is celebrated as a partial reason why no one has power to close the door. 32 In a similar ironic vein Jesus urges the Laodiceans, who think that they are rich but who are actually poor, to buy from him who purchased them by his blood fired gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes (3:18). 33
The irony of Christian proclamation and imitation occurs in a more subtle form in the message to the Ephesians where those conquering are promised to eat from the "tree of life" (?? t??^ ????? t?^? ???^?) (2:7). Reference to the tree of life occurs again at 22:2-3, where it is linked clearly to the cross: "And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed." 34
Puns and Word Plays
The seer often creates puns and plays on different meanings of a word. To the Ephesians the speaker says, "I know your works ... how you cannot bear [ßast?sa?] evil men ... [and are] bearing up [?ß?stasa?] for my name's sake." Also, the speaker knows their "toil" (??p??) and that they "have not grown weary" (????p?a???) (2:2-3). In the Sardis letter name at one point represents external, superficial reality ("You have the name of being alive" [3:1]), whereas later he declares that he will not blot out the name of the one who conquers (3:5) from the book of life, that is, here name represents the deepest reality. Assurance is given the Philadelphians: "Because you have kept [?t??sa?] my word ... I will keep [t???s?] you from the hour of trial" (3:10). The after this that rings 4:1 serves as a "superficial connector" at the beginning but as a temporal referent at the end. 35 Earth and serpent create a word play with their mouths, as "the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had poured from his mouth" (12:16). At 1:17 John falls down down "as a corpse" before the one who was "alive, became a corpse, and again lived" (1:18). At 19:20 it is stated that "the beast is caught." Through a play on the action of the verb, the beast is "caught" like an animal (e.g., John 21:3), but the verb also carries here the meaning of "arrest" or "take into custody" (e.g., Acts 12:4). Prepositions sometimes create verbal plays: the difficult proverb in 13:10 probably means that if a person goes away for the purpose of [?????] making captive, he goes into [?????] captivity. 36 In the second part there is a play on another preposition: "If someone goes forth with [??] a sword to be killed, he will be killed by [??] a sword." Prepositional playfulness also occurs at 16:11 where those suffering under the fifth bowl cursed God because of [??] their pain and did not turn from [??] their deeds. On occasion a phrase is used to refer blatantly to different referents. So in the throne scene of chapters 4 and 5 the seer casually identifies the "seven spirits of God" with the "seven torches of fire" (4:5) and later with the "seven eyes" of the Lamb (5:6); similarly, "seven heads" of the beast are both "seven hills" and "seven kings" (17:9-10).
Other verbal playfulness can be seen in the reversals of the Ephesians and those at Thyatira: the Ephesians should do their first works (2:5), whereas the latter works of those at Thyatira exceed their first (2:19). Those at Laodicea must open the door (3:20), but the Philadelphians have an open door set before them (3:8). Those at Smyrna are poor but rich (2:9), while those at Laodicea are rich but poor (3:17). While the scroll is being unsealed (6:12), the 144 thousand are being sealed (7:3).
When considering the meaning of a word at any specific instance, its range of meanings may also be present. Consider, for example, the meaning of blood (a??µa) in the Book of Revelation. A primary meaning is fixed early on in the doxology following the epistolary greeting at 1:5: "to the one loving us and loosing us from our sins by his blood" (cf. 5:9, 19:13). Christian martyrs who follow the pattern of Jesus offer their blood in witness of the gospel (6:10) and are saved by blood. So those who come through the great tribulation wash and make white their garments in the blood of the lamb (7:14), and the brethren endangered by the dragon fallen from heaven are victorious through that same blood (12:11). Blood can also refer to disasters and destruction, especially in association with bodies of water: at the second trumpet, a third of the sea became blood (8:9); 37 the two witnesses had power to turn water into blood (11:6); in a scene where earth is "harvested" blood from the wine press came up to the bridles of the horses (14:20). In certain passages those different meanings of blood play together. Babylon the Great Whore is drunk with the blood of the saints and of the witnesses of Jesus (17:6, cf. 18:24), and that blood is exacted from her hand by judgment (19:2) and destruction (18:21-24). In connection with the pouring out of the third bowl of wrath, rivers and streams turn into blood (16:4). Then the angel of the waters declares God just and explains with a lex talionis playing on different meanings of blood, "You are just ... because they poured out the blood of the saints and prophets, and you have given to them blood to drink" (16:5-6). Saving blood involves destruction and death; martyrs follow Jesus in pouring out their blood, but that blood brings with it judgment—salvation or destruction. Perhaps in every instance blood carries both its positive and negative meanings.
In sum, figures of speech abound in Revelation as comparisons, similes, metaphors, and word plays weave into ever-changing patterns. Syntactical shifts and grammatical changes make novel connections and disclose new associations. The seer writes a language of metaphor, symbol, brief narration, and cultic cries. It illustrates what some call the primary language of religious experience. 38 At times, that "writing style" seems to be in tension with the subject matter of commitment, judgment, and hope; it borders on a facile lightness reminiscent of Ovid's compilation of myth, in which—in contrast to tragedy—the most horrifying content is presented in a light style (see Massey 1976, 24-25). Whatever else may be observed about that language, it spins another set of threads that unify Revelation.
The Old Testament and the Linguistic Unity
Revelation shares with all apocalypses the importance of Scripture as a source for its language. The seer, however, rarely quotes the Old Testament directly. Rather, he alludes to it, paraphrases it, and combines various passages from it in order to accommodate the meaning of the Old Testament to his own vision. 39 So, for example, John's inaugural vision (1:12-16) draws from the language of Exodus 25, Zechariah 4, Daniel 7, and Daniel 10, but elements from those separate passages are combined to create a novel figure whom John encounters in his first vision. The beast in Revelation 13 is a composite of the four beasts in Daniel 7, and the visions of Revelation 20-21 are inspired in part by the eschatological descriptions of Ezekiel 37-48. Throne scenes, typical elements in apocalypses, are distinctively portrayed in Revelation (e.g., 4:3) by means of elements drawn from the breastplate of the priest (Exod. 28:18, 39:11) and the garden of Eden (Ezek. 28:13). In the seer's work terms for precious stones in the throne visions of chapter 4 are repeated in the descriptions of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21. Adaptations from the Old Testament thus contribute to both a distinctive and a unified vision in Revelation.
In the preparation and pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath (Rev. 15-16) the Exodus tradition is drawn on in a creative manner. The latter series of seven opens with a Song of Moses (Exod. 15), but in Revelation it is the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. The Lamb alludes to the Passover, which is, of course, a cultic reenactment of the Exodus, and the song may reiterate the singing of Exodus 15 at the evening Sabbath sacrifice. The language of disaster that follows has been shaped in part by the plagues in Egypt. The sores of the first bowl reiterate the sixth plague (Exod. 9:8-12); the second and third bowls, the first plague (Exod. 7:1424) ; the fifth bowl, the ninth plague (Exod. 10:21-29); the hail and thunder of the seventh bowl, the seventh plague (Exod. 9:13-35). The drying up of the Euphrates at the pouring out of the sixth bowl is not paralleled in the plagues on Egypt, but it rings the changes upon the crossing of the Red Sea (cf. Isa. 51:10).
In Revelation, however, these disasters are taken into a suprahuman, liturgical context. Frogs, which allude to the plague of unclean animals (Exod. 8:3, Lev. 11:10, 41), are assimilated into the language of Revelation as a way of describing the unclean spirits that come from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (16:13). So, too, the drying up of the river—an allusion to the Red Sea tradition—becomes associated with a suprahuman conflict between forces at Armageddon (16:12, 16). 40
In accommodating the Old Testament, the seer consistently adapts it to the Christian message that shapes his work. The Lamb, for example, with precedents in the Jewish tradition, always alludes to the Christian Savior in Revelation. His identify is firmly fixed in chapter 5 as the Lamb that was slain (cf. 7:14). Moreover, the slain Lamb has a place in the suprahuman community of those surrounding the throne of God, a place of great prestige; for the Lamb and God regularly receive worship together (5:13, 7:9, 14:4, 21:22). So at 15:3 the placement of the Lamb alongside Moses is not incidental; for that Lamb overshadows Moses, since the Lamb is "Lord of lords and King of kings"; and those with the Lamb, that is, Christians (not Jews), are the faithful chosen (17:14).
The story of the two witnesses in chapter 11 also illustrates how John modifies the Old Testament. This story depends upon the messianic vision of Zechariah 4, which describes the two olive trees and two lamps standing before the Lord of the earth (see esp. Zech. 4:14). Fire from their mouths expresses the divine presence (e.g., Ps. 18:8). As prophets they have the power of Moses and Elijah, for they can withhold rain (Elijah) and can turn water into blood (Moses). But after these allusions to the Old Testament (11:3-6) those figures built upon Moses, Elijah, and the two Messiahs of Zechariah become reiterations of the pattern of Jesus, their Lord (11:8). They are killed, their bodies are publicly displayed, after 3½ days they are revitalized, and they ascend into heaven on a cloud as a great earthquake shatters the earth (11:7-13). 41 The Christian pattern dominates, and the Old Testament (including Moses) is subordinated to the Christian proclamation, which is implicated in the seer's language. The allusive use of the Old Testament, thus, also contributes to the linguistic unity of Revelation.
The Unity of the Language of Revelation
By taking the shape of metaphor, simile, word play, cultic cry, and symbol, the language of Revelation transgresses fundamental categories of normal language and creates hybrid creatures of awesome and monstrous dimensions. Further, the language constructs through metaphor complex boundaries in space and time that cannot be charted in an ordinary space-time grid. It also makes novel connections and discloses new associations through syntactical reiterations and recursions that appear throughout the sequential movement in the reading of Revelation. Through such narrative and metaphoric devices the language of Revelation is so intertwined that it cannot be easily dissected. The threads crisscross in different ways, sometimes tracing a path forward, sometimes backward, sometimes intertwining through overlays of metaphoric simultaneity.
As the reader reads the last chapters in the Book of Revelation he or she notices an intensification and a more fully developed "end" than was present in earlier chapters. Yet it is difficult to trace out a plot line in the Book of Revelation with a climax at the end. Even narrative progression as a conic spiral moving from the present to the eschatological future (e.g., Schüssler Fiorenza 1981, 26) can be traced only at the expense of other crisscrossing threads of fulfillment that occur throughout Revelation. For example, at the blowing of the seventh trumpet, "the mystery of God, as he announced to his servants the prophets" is fulfilled (10:7, cf. Schüssler Fiorenza 1981, 114). The Apocalypse could end with chapter 11 in the heavenly celebration of God's just judgment of the dead and his eternal reign (11:17-18). Or after the battle of Armageddon the heavenly theophany brings eschatological fulfillment. Terms such as climax, interruption, and interlude help to simplify the complex web by subordinating certain elements, but they inevitably distort the wholeness of the Apocalypse. Even an understanding of the Apocalypse through the metaphor of a web distorts its wholeness, for that metaphor suggests that there are strands that exist throughout the work. The language of the seer is probably more pliable and fluid than that.
The fluid quality of the language that unfolds and than enfolds narrative and metaphoric connections calls into question any structual analysis of Revelation that easily divides the text into sets of oppositions. Such analysis is well-known through the work of the anthropologist Lévi-Strauss and his followers. A text is divided into segments called "mythemes," whose true meanings emerge when they are bundled into opposing groups. So John Gager bundles the "mythemes" of Revelation into two groups, victory/hope and oppression/despair (see App. A). That kind of grouping is problematic, for it ignores the variety of narrative and metaphoric connections that unifies the book. 42 If "web" and "conical spiral" are inadequate images for describing the structure of Revelation, how much less adequate are sets of oppositions! When viewed strictly as a construction of language, Revelation can best be envisioned as a stream: the seer's language flows into and out of images, figures, reiterations, recursions, contrasts, and cumulations as whorls, vortices, and eddies in a stream. That image captures the linguistic unity of Revelation.
4 Unity through the
Language of Worship
Among the various forms and shapes that the seer's language takes, the language of worship stands out. Even a cursory reading of the Book of Revelation shows the presence of liturgical language set in worship. Moreover, as we shall see, the language of worship plays an important role in unifying the book, that is, in making it a coherent apocalypse in both form and content. The scenes of worship are not just "interludes" or "interruptions" in the dramatic narration of eschatology; they take their place alongside these narrations of eschatology to make of the book something more than visions of "things to come."
The language of worship can usually be distinguished from the language around it, yet the elements of that language cannot be described with absolute precision. If liturgical language is introduced by a phrase such as They worshipped, saying, it is easily identified. Sometimes, however, the language of worship (liturgical language) appears in the Book of Revelation without such an introduction. Then it is identifiable only by analyzing the form of the language.
Analysis of liturgical language is not an exact science. Writers and worshippers freely adapt traditional forms of worship so that it is impossible to state precisely what the language of worship "looks like." Some observations with regard to style and form can, however, be made about liturgical language in the Book of Revelation, for it follows certain conventions found elsewhere. Worship focuses upon divinity, and the language of worship praises, gives thanks to, or makes requests of the divinity. In Revelation most worship praises God and/or Jesus Christ by affirming their worthiness to receive praise and by recounting their deeds or their qualities. The last type can be simply a short acclamation, such as "Salvation to our God, the one seated upon the throne/And to the Lamb" (Rev. 7:10). 1 Throughout Revelation, liturgical language concentrates upon the object of worship, usually from the perspective of the worshipper who addresses the divine in second grammatical person (you) or refers to the divine in third grammatical person (he). More rarely, the language reflects the divine perspective, with the deity speaking acclamations in first person ( I )—(e.g., Rev. 1:8). As Eduard Norden has noted, this pattern is characteristic of liturgical language in general. Liturgical sentences take the form "Thou hast/he has done such and such" or "Thou art/he is such and such." Sometimes the deity speaks saying, "I am such and such" (see Norden 1956, 143-66, 177201).
Longer liturgical pieces are elaborated in different ways. Norden notes that elaboration often takes the form of participial phrases or relative clauses (Norden 1956, 167-76, 203-7). Thus, a doxology at the beginning of the Book of Revelation develops through participles. "To the one loving us and loosing us from our sins" (Rev. 1:5). Liturgical elements are sometimes elaborated by giving the reason for the praise in a for clause. "Worthy are you, O lord and our God, to receive glory ... for ['?t?] you created all things" (Rev. 4:11). Longer pieces are written in a style called prose hymnody, in which a poetic line consists of a sense unit or one meaningful phrase; often the poetic lines then develop as couplets, with the second line of the couplet completing the first: "Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty/Just and true are your ways, King of the nations" (Rev. 15:3). In these longer pieces repetition of words, ideas, and images can create interesting sets of relationships among the attributes of the deity or the mighty deeds that God has done. Finally, as we have already noted, the seer's language is filled with metaphor and other figures of speech; that is especially true of the poetic language of liturgy.
Liturgical Language in the Prologue and Epilogue
We saw earlier that images, motifs, and terms loop back in the Book of Revelation to the seven Letters in chapters 2 and 3. That recursion grounds the seer's visionary scenes (Rev. 4:1-22:5) in the Christian communities of the province of Asia (Rev. 2:1-3:22). In the prologue (Rev. 1:1-8) the combination of liturgical and epistolary elements effects similar results. Here the liturgical pieces tend to reflect the apocalyptic, visionary elements, whereas the epistolary elements reflect the specific life in Asia.
The seer introduces his work as an apocalypse (Rev. 1:1). Those three verses (1:1-3) conclude with a liturgical blessing upon the audience:
Blessed is the one reading out loud
And those listening to the words of the prophecy
And keeping the things written in it
For the time is near.
Those verses are followed by a greeting in the form of a letter: "John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace" (Rev. 1:4). Here the identities of writer and audience are specified. Within that epistolary greeting John includes liturgical material. He refers to God as "him who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev. 1:4); and he praises Jesus, the only other legitimate object of worship in Revelation, in the form of a doxology. This doxology, like all the others in the Book of Revelation, consists of three elements (not always in the same order): (1) designation of the one receiving the praise, (2) the doxological ascriptions (e.g., glory and power), and (3) the temporal designate "for ever and ever" (see Deichgräber 1967, 53):
To him who loves us
And has freed us from our sins by his blood
(And made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father)
To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 1:5b-7)
That doxology is followed by an eschatological cry that also takes a liturgical form:
Behold, he is coming with the clouds,
And every eye will see him,
Every one who pierced him
And all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.
Even so. Amen. [?a?, ?µ??.] (Rev. 1:7)
The prologue comes to an end with a hymnic affirmation in the first person:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God
Who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8)
The first line is in the form of an I am saying (see above); 2 variations occur elsewhere in the Book of Revelation:
"I am the first [? p???t??] and the last [? ?s?at??]. (Rev. 1:17)
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning [????] and the end [t????]. (Rev. 21:6)
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last the beginning and the end." (Rev. 22:13, cf. Rev. 2:8)
The second line of Revelation 1:8 ("Who is and who was and who is to come") is distinctive to liturgical pieces in the Book of Revelation that refer to God. Variations occur, for example, in the Sanctus at Revelation 4:8 and in the hymnic piece at Revelation 16:5. Except for the pastiche of quotations at 2 Corinthians 6:18, "the Almighty" (Pantocrator) occurs within the New Testament only in the Book of Revelation—for the most part in liturgical pieces (see Rev. 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 19:6).
That second line repeats the predication about God in the epistolary greeting (Rev. 1:4) and thus structures the various materials in Revelation 1:4-8 as a ring composition with the first occurrence of the ring appearing in an epistolary form, the second in a hymnic cry. Throughout the prologue epistolary elements combine with liturgical elements to establish the divine authority of what is being said.
The epilogue (Rev. 22:6-21) also combines epistolary and liturgical materials, but it tends to focus more on the audience—their faithfulness and its expectations—than on divine authority. A blessing is pronounced on the reader who keeps the words of prophecy in the book (Rev. 22:7, 14, cf. 1:3). Repetition of the eschatological cries at the end of the book gives emphasis to expectation and hope:
And behold, I am coming soon
Behold, I am coming soon
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last,
the beginning and the end.
I am the root and the offspring of David,
the bright morning star.
The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come,"
And let him who hears say, "Come,"
"Surely I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus ! (Rev. 22:7-20)
After various warnings to the audience as well as eschatological assurances, the book ends like a letter: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen" (Rev. 22:21).
The epistolary elements in the prologue and epilogue make the author and those receiving the "letter" very visible. And those elements locate the work as a whole in the specific space of the province of Asia, where the seven churches reside. The work as letter is a product of an individual, addressed to specific people in specific places. Those epistolary elements combine with liturgical elements that display opposite tendencies: the liturgical is communal, not individual, in origin; so the individual author is suppressed. Moreover, the liturgical cries, the first-person acclamation, the doxology, and even the beatitudes "occur" in a nonspecific space, perhaps a more universal space. Finally, as with all liturgy, the liturgical elements in the prologue and epilogue of the Book of Revelation are centered on the divine, not the human, situation. The combination of epistolary and liturgical elements creates a distinctive setting for the Book of Revelation in the context of the genre "apocolypse." This work is as visionary and "apocalyptic" as any other, but it is grounded in a specific time and a specific place; there is no pseudonymity, for example, to confuse its location in the human world.
Distribution of Liturgical Language in the Visions
Liturgical language is also distributed throughout the body of the visions of the Book of Revelation (Rev. 4:1-22:5). Here it appears in scenes of worship that alternate with dramatic narration of things to come. Those scenes of worship are set in heaven, which in the Book of Revelation is a metaphor for transcendence. There God dwells and is sometimes called simply "the God of heaven" (Rev. 11:13, 16:11, cf. 13:6, 21:10). Heaven is a complex space. It is above the earth (e.g., Rev. 5:3) and contains such things as stars, the moon, rain, and hail (Rev. 8:10, 9:1, 11:6, 12:4, 16:21). There is also, however, another dimension to heaven that cannot be seen by the naked eye but becomes visible through transformational symbols of "going up," "opening," and "Spirit" (Rev. 4:1-2). After the seer's initial vision involving the messages to the seven churches (1:9-3:22), a door opens in heaven and the voice that originally spoke to him (Rev. 1:10) says, "Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this" (Rev. 4:1). John is transformed "into the Spirit," a psychological transformation homologus to "being taken into heaven."
Following the cue of the voice, we expect visions of eschatological events, that is, things to come. Instead, the seer sees worship around the throne of God in heaven. At several later points in Revelation, eschatological expectations will be met in the same way—by scenes of present heavenly worship.
The Throne Scene
The initial throne scene—a scene common to apocalypses—is described in detail. The one seated on the throne is like precious stones such as jasper, carnelian, and emeralds (4:3). 3 The throne is the central object; everything else is positioned in relation to it. Surrounding the throne are twenty-four additional thrones on which sit twenty-four elders dressed in white clothes and crowned with golden crowns. Seven lamps of fire burn before the throne, and extending out beyond the lamps of fire is a transparent sea like crystal. Before and around the throne are four living creatures, full of eyes: one is similar to a lion, the second to an ox, the third to the face of a man, and the fourth to a flying eagle. Each of the four creatures has six wings which are also full of eyes (4:4-8, cf. Ap. Abraham 18, 2 Enoch 22).
Worship is an essential element in this heavenly scene. 4 To the accompaniment of lightning and thunder (typical theophanic symbols in the Bible) the four living creatures never cease giving glory, honor, and thanksgiving to the one seated upon the throne; they do this in a liturgical Sanctus or Kadosh, the Latin and Hebrew words, respectively, for "holy":
Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty [ Pantocrator ]
The One who was and is and is to come. (4:8)
John's introduction of heavenly worship by this thrice-holy liturgy illustrates his use of the Old Testament and his connection with the apocalyptic tradition. The origin of the thrice-holy lies in Isaiah 6:3:
Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord of hosts
The whole earth is full of his glory.
There it is sung by heavenly seraphim with six wings (Isa. 6:2). John, however, has the four creatures surrounding the throne singing the thrice-holy, and their origins lie in Ezekiel 1:4-28 (cf. Ezek. 3:12-15, 10:1-22). They have four wings (not six, as an Isaiah). Similar heavenly creatures sing the Kadosh elsewhere. According to 1 Enoch 39 those who stand before God without slumbering praise him saying "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of the Spirits; the spirits fill the earth" (1 Enoch 39:12). In 2 Enoch the six-winged, many-eyed ones who stand before the throne sing "with gentle voice," "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Sabaoth, Heaven and earth are full of his glory" (2 Enoch 21:1). In the later 3 Enoch (3 Enoch 1, 35-40) and perhaps in the Apocalypse of Abraham (Ap. Abraham 16), heavenly creatures also sing the Kadosh. 5
The first expression of heavenly worship heard by the seer of the Book of Revelation is thus the song par excellence of apocalyptic visionaries. He, like the other apocalypticists, modifies it according to his own purpose and integrates it into his own style and vocabulary. The seer's second line, "Is the Lord God Almighty [ Pantocrator ]" is an adaptation of Isaiah's "Is the Lord of hosts." 6 The third line of the seer's Kadosh, "The One who was and is and is to come," recurs throughout the Book of Revelation (cf. 1:4, 8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:5). 7
As a liturgical response to the thrice-holy of the four living beasts, the twentyfour elders prostrate themselves before the one on the throne and worship him (as they cast their crowns before the throne) in an elaborate acclamation of the creator God's worthiness to be praised (Rev. 4:11). This form of acclamation recurs in the throne scene (see Rev. 5:9-10, 12); it consists of the predicate adjective worthy (??????) plus a form of the verb to be (in either second or third person) plus to re ceive (?aß??^?) plus ascriptions. This worthy form may also include names for the worthy object of praise (e.g., "Our Lord and God") and an explanatory for (?t?) clause, typical of hymnic, liturgical language. Ascriptions to God (e.g., glory, honor, power) in this elaborate acclamation are the same as those found in the doxology.
The first worthy acclamation goes like this:
Worthy are you, our Lord and God
to receive glory, honor, and power
for you created all things,
and by your will they came into being and were created. (4:11)
In these gestures and in this liturgical form, the twenty-four elders collapse into one the human spheres of politics and religion (see E. Peterson 1964, 6). The heavenly scene is portrayed as a temple throne room, the twenty-four elders are kings (political figures) with crowns, and they do obeisance before their king. They acclaim God as king on his throne, present him with golden crowns after the custom of the Roman imperial cult (see Aune 1983, 12-13), and praise him in the form of an acclamation ("Worthy are you") which probably has its origins in the political arena. 8 The address "Our Lord and God" may also resonate the acclamation in the imperial cult of Domitian ( dominus et deus noster, see Mart. 7.34). The twentyfour elders acclaim God as worthy to receive glory, honor, and power because of the divine act of creation. As creator, God is ruler, a term that allows the seer to draw on both political and religious terminology.
After that litany the liturgical setting is elaborated further through the theme of "worthiness" introduced in Revelation 4:11. The seer sees a sealed scroll in the right hand of the one seated upon the throne (5:1). That scroll has an overpowering quality: no one—either in heaven, on the earth, or under the earth—is worthy (cf. 4:11) to open its seals. John weeps because no one is found worthy. One of the twenty-four elders then comforts the seer by assuring him that there is one worthy to open the seals of the scroll. The elder describes that "worthy one" in the political, religious language of Israel: he is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David," worthy to open the seals because he has conquered (Rev. 5:5). Then John sees a Lamb standing as if slain with seven horns and seven eyes; that animal takes the scroll from the one seated upon the throne. In response, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb and worship by singing a "new song" (?d? ?a???) in the form of an acclimation that further explains the worthiness of the Lamb (5:9-10): 9
Worthy are you
to receive the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain and by your blood you redeemed for God
those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
and made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will reign upon the earth.
The Lion from Judah (the Messiah) is worthy to open the seals because he conquered (5:5) by being slain. The Lion does not simply lie down with the Lamb, he is transformed into the Lamb who is victorious in death. Royal language of political power combines with the religious language of sacrifice (5:6). Just as the Lord God is worthy of receiving worship because (?t?) he created all things (4:11), so the Lion/ Lamb is worthy of worship because (?t?) he was slain (5:9-10).
The symbolism in chapter 5 becomes unambiguously Christian. The sealed scroll remains closed to all except the slain Lamb and his followers. The closed book that reveals and realizes "the things which are to come" is a Christian book—one could almost say a Christian book of liturgy—disclosed only in the worship of the Christian community (whether in heaven or on earth). The messianic king gains victory through his death, and as a result he redeems and creates from all peoples a new, "Christian" people, an international community of kings and priests (political and religious elements combine here also) who will reign upon earth. The "new song" is a Christian song, known and comprehended only by Christians (cf. Rev. 14:3-4). The presence of the slain Lamb in the heavenly temple is one of the fundamental secrets revealed in the Book of Revelation (cf. 7:17).
A myriad of angels joins the other heavenly beings to hymn in response to the song that was sung (5:12): 10
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!
In response all creation—in heaven, upon the earth, under the earth, and upon the sea—offers a doxology to God and the Lamb (5:13):
To the one seated upon the throne and to the Lamb
Blessing and honor and glory and power
for ever and ever.
After that crescendo of voices embracing, finally, the whole cosmos, the four living creatures conclude the liturgy with an amen (5:14), and the scene ends with the elders in the act of worship (5:14).
Subsequent Scenes of Heavenly Worship
Heavenly worship continues throughout the rest of the visions in the Book of Revelation. The heavenly setting continues to be a throne/temple; the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures, angels, and members of the redeemed community praise God and/ or the Lamb; and the forms of praise recur as hymns, doxologies, and acclamations.
At Revelation 7:9 an innumerable crowd from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (cf. 5:9), wearing white stoles and holding palm branches in their hands, appear before the throne and the Lamb. In a loud victory cry (see Deichgräber 1967, 53) they acclaim God and the Lamb (7:10):
Salvation to our God, the one seated upon the throne
and to the Lamb.
In response all angels around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures fall upon their faces and worship God in a doxology with seven ascriptions (7:12):
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.
This scene (7:9-17) emphasizes religious, cultic aspects of the heavenly throne/ temple. 11 The innumerable crowd before the throne worships God "day and night within his temple," and the one upon the throne dwells with them (7:15). 12 That temple existence provides an idyllic life—no hunger, thirst, or hot sun—under the guidance of the Lamb (7:16-17). The situation in the heavenly temple is thus similar to that in the New Jerusalem where those who thirst drink from the well of living water (21:6)—though of course there is no temple in the New Jerusalem. This idyllic scene contrasts with the burning sun which is given to those who blaspheme the name of God (Rev. 16:8-9).
The blowing of the seventh trumpet brings the next sequence of heavenly, liturgical responses. At the blowing of that last trumpet, loud voices in heaven cry in victory (11:15): 13
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Christ,
and he shall reign for ever and ever.
The twenty-four elders who sit upon their thrones before God then fall upon their faces and worship, saying in a thanksgiving (11:17-18):
We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty
Who is and was,
for you took your great power and reigned;
and the nations raged, and your wrath came and the time
of the dead to be judged,
to give reward to your servants, the prophets, and to the saints
and to those who fear your name, to the small and the great,
and to destroy those destroying the earth.
After that lengthy thanksgiving, the heavenly temple opens and the ark of the covenent is seen in the temple. Lightning, noises, and thunder came forth along with an earthquake and hail (11:19).
Heavenly worship occurs again in the description of the battle between Michael, a good angel in heaven, and the Devil (diabolos), who is also in heaven. After the victory of Michael over the diabolos (12:7-9), a loud voice cries victory (12:10-12):
Now has come the salvation and power and kingdom of our God
and the authority
of his Christ,
for the accusor of our brethren was cast down,
the one accusing them before our God day and night.
And they conquered him by the blood of the lamb and by the word
of their witness
for they did not love their lives, even unto death.
On account of this, rejoice, heavens and those dwelling in them;
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the diabolos has come down to you in great wrath
for he knows that little time remains.
This victory song includes the basis for victory in typically hymnic style (?t?, "for"), a description of those conquering, a summons to rejoice, and finally a contrasting warning of woe. The victory occurs in heaven; here, however, the scene is not that of the heavenly throne/temple but that of a conflict between heavenly powers.
The pouring out of the seven bowls (Rev. 15:1-16:21) unfolds from a heavenly scene just as did the unsealing of the seals. It begins with heavenly worship, in this case, singing by those who conquered and stand on the sea (cf. 4:6). They sing the song (?d?) of Moses and the song of the Lamb. Here is what they sing with harp accompaniment (15:3-4):
Great and marvelous are your works,
Lord God [Pantocrator] ;
Just and true are your ways,
king of the nations.
Who would not fear you, Lord,
and glorify your name?
because you alone are holy,
because all nations come and worship before you,
because your just judgments were revealed.
With its rhetorical question, its addressing God in liturgical sentences, and its because clauses, this hymn is one of the most structured in all the Book of Revelation. Throughout this song the seer draws freely on the Old Testament, especially the Song of Moses in Exodus 15: both songs are sung "at the sea," as a victory song celebrating the demise of an evil force. There is also a deliberate parallelism drawn between the Lamb and Moses and between the Christian community and Israel (see Deichgräber 1967, 56).
After the victorious complete their singing, the temple of the tent of witness opens (15:5, cf. 11:19): seven angels come forth from the temple with seven plagues, and one of the four living creatures gives to them seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God. The smoke of the glory of God fills the temple so that no one can enter until after the seven plagues (seven bowls) are poured out (15:8). The pouring out of the seven bowls follows (16:1-21), and a theophany closes out this series of seven. 14
When the third angel pours out its bowl of wrath upon the waters and turns them to blood, the seer hears the angel of the waters acclaiming (16:5),
Just are you
the one who is and was
the holy one,
for you made these judgments;
for they poured out the blood of the saints and prophets
and you have given blood for them to drink. Worthy are they.
This acclamation of God's just judgment contains familiar hymnic elements and ends with an eschatological talion—the eschatological punishment repeats the offense : blood shed/blood drunk. The concluding "worthy formula" has a completely different meaning from those acclamations declaring divine worthiness. The altar repeats antiphonally after the angel of waters a similar acclamation (16:7):
Yes, Lord God [Pantocrator],
true and just are your judgments.
The last liturgical sequence appears in connection with the judgment of Babylon the Whore, in which vengence and retribution play a prominent role (17:119:10). A crowd of voices in heaven begins the litany with a victory ode combined with an acclamation of God's justice (19:1-2):
salvation and glory and power belong to our God
because his judgments are true and just;
for he judged the great whore
who corrupted the earth in her fornication,
and he has avenged from her hand the blood of his servants.
A second voice responds (19:3),
and her smoke rises forever.
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures then fall down and worship God in an antiphonal response (19:4):
Then a voice from the throne exhorts (in hymnic style) praise of God (19:5):
Praise our God, all you his servants,
You who fear him, small and great.
This liturgy concludes with a final hymn said by a great crowd of voices (19:6-8):
for the Lord our God Pantocrator reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad,
and let us give him glory,
for the marriage of the lamb has come,
and his wife has prepared herself.
(And it was granted her to wear bright, clean linen;
for the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.) 15
This heavenly celebration moves from victory ode to acclamation of divine justice, to cries of alleluiah, to exhortations to praise God because of the marriage of the Lamb. It is followed by a series of visions that describe in narrative form a final conflict between the forces of God led by one seated on a white horse (19:11), the throwing of Satan into the Lake of Fire (20: 10), resurrection and judgment (20:13), and finally the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven (21:2). In this renewed, transformed age heavenly worship does not occur, for spatial transcendence has become eschatological transcendence. The transformed age collapses heaven into earth.
Heavenly Worship and Eschatology
In order to understand the relationship between heavenly worship and eschatology in the Book of Revelation, let us return to the definition of the genre "apocalypse" worked out by John J. Collins and other members of the Society of Biblical Literature in the Apocalypse Group of the Genres Project: "a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherwordly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world" (Collins 1979, 9). The relevant part of the definition for an understanding of how heavenly worship functions in the Book of Revelation is "spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world."
In brief, scenes of heavenly worship express the spatial dimension of transcendent reality in the Book of Revelation, just as dramatic narratives of things to come express the temporal dimension of transcendent reality in this apocalypse. In most apocalypses that emphasize the spatial, vertical dimension, heavenly journey is described, and the visionary sees such things as secrets of the seasons, store rooms of the winds, sometimes the throne-chariot ( merkabah ) of God and furnishings associated with it. In that connection, heavenly worship sometimes occurs (e.g., Ap. Abraham 17; 2 Enoch 22), but such worship does not dominate other apocalypses the way it does the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Revelation the spatial dimension of transcendence takes the form of heavenly worship.
While some apocalypses emphasize the spatial (especially those with otherworldly journeys) and others (the so-called historical apocalypses) the temporal, one of the distinctive elements of the genre—that is, what makes a piece of writing identifiable as an apocalypse—is the presence and interplay of spatial and temporal dimensions of transcendence. Each is as important as the other. Thus, it would be incomplete to discuss an apocalypse solely in terms of eschatology (i.e., the temporal) ; for such notions as the eschatological transformation of this world into a "new heaven and a new earth" represent only the temporal dimension of transcendence. To complete the discussion, it is crucial to look at the way in which an apocalypse expresses the spatial dimension of transcendence.
The presence of both dimensions in an apocalypse guarantees that the revelation is integrally related to human earthly existence, that is, that there is no radical discontinuity between God and the world (spatial transcendence) or this age and the age to come (temporal transcendence) (see Rowland 1982, 92, 175, 475). A radical transcendence that could sever heaven from earth is tempered by the future transformation of earthly into heavenly existence; and a radical transcendence that could sever this age completely from the age to come is tempered by the presentness of the age to come in heaven. Thus, the presence and interplay of spatial and temporal dimensions in transcendence prevent a thoroughgoing dualism in which transcendent realities would become separated from everyday human activity (see chap. 2). Through the temporal, heaven touches earth; through the spatial, the future touches the present (see also E. Peterson 1964, 2; Minear 1962). Within this generic framework we can see more clearly the interplay in the Book of Revelation between scenes of heavenly worship and dramatic narratives of things to come: heavenly worship celebrates eschatological realities in the present; and the eschaton is portrayed as the "coming down" of heavenly realities. 16
Eschatological Themes in Heavenly Liturgies
The Book of Revelation envisions a glorious reign of God when God will be king. So in the dramatic narration of Revelation 19:11-22:5 God and his Christ reign over all else. God sits upon his throne in the New Jerusalem and controls all. This same royal theme recurs throughout the heavenly liturgies in the Book of Revelation. In scenes of heavenly worship, God sits upon a throne, and he is worshipped as king. In liturgical pieces, he is acclaimed as king. For example, the voice of the great crowd cries, "Alleluiah, because the Lord our God, almighty, reigns as king" (19:6). Kingship is also implied in the epithet "Lord God Pantocrator " as is made clear in the synonymous parallelism between that phrase and "king of the nations" at 15:3 (cf. also 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 16:7, 19:6). In the presence of the king, worshippers respond appropriately by bowing down and worshipping. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the one enthroned and do obeisance (5:14, 19:4). All the angels join them in worship, acclaiming God in doxology (7:11-12, 5:11-12). Earthlings are urged to do the same (14:7). Only the Lion/Lamb does not do obeisance before the enthroned God; rather, other creatures worship him alongside God (e.g., 5:13).
Worshippers ascribe the same attributes to both God and the Lamb, with glory (d??a) the most common. 17 Glory, like other ascriptions, is never clearly defined in Revelation, but it is something that only God and the Lamb are worthy to receive (4:11, 5:12-13). Conversely, glory is given to God by those who fear him (11:13), whereas unrepentant blasphemers refuse to give him glory (16:9). Glory belongs to God (1:6), fills the temple when God enters it (15:8), and becomes an attribute of the New Jerusalem (21:11), which needs no sun because God's glory shines in it (21:23). 18 Thus glory is a term used in both liturgical and eschatological settings; or, perhaps more accurately, the seer may not be making a sharp distinction between liturgical and eschatological situations.
A variety of other ascriptions surround the term glory in acclamations to God and the Lamb. Power (d??aµ??), honor (t?µ?), and praise (??????a) occur most frequently (4:9, 11; 5:12-13; 7:12; 12: 10; 19: 1). Others include wealth (p???^t??), wisdom (s???a), strength (?s??´??), might (???t??), thanksgiving (???a??st?a), salva tion (s?t???a), kingdom (ßas????a), and authority (????s?a) (1:6; 5:12-13; 7:10, 12; 11:15; 12:10-12). Three of those ascriptions—power, wealth, and authority—indicate the greatness of evil forces as well as the grandeur of God and the Lamb. These ascriptions are often piled one on another in doxologies in order to indicate the grandeur and worthiness of the object being worshipped.
Creation relates closely to the kingship of the God, that is, the God is king because he has created all things. For example, at 4:11 God is reckoned worthy of receiving glory, honor, and power because (??t?) he is the creator. All things (t? p??ta) came into existence because God so willed. Other liturgical phrases in Revelation also affirm that the God being worshipped is the creator of all things (see 10:5-6, 14:7).
The Lamb, the only other legitimate object of royal worship in Revelation, receives ascriptions because (??t?) he was slain and he redeemed through his blood people from every tribe and nation (5:9, 12). The paralleling of God and the Lamb in the liturgies of chapters 4 and 5 conveys in a subtle but unmistakable manner that creation and redemption are centerpieces of the whole work. Through death the Lamb conquered and was worthy of opening the seven seals of eschatological destruction (5:5). Images of power and awe—seven horns and seven eyes—mix with sacrificial images of death and blood redemption (5:6). So, later, in the vision of the innumerable crowds, those in the temple are able to worship God day and night because their stoles had been washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). In the idyllic scene describing those in the temple, the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne above shepherds "is king over" them so that they neither hunger nor thirst (7:1617). Similarly, at the casting out of Satan from heaven, the brethren conquered Satan through "the blood of the Lamb" and through their witness unto death in imitation of the Lamb (12:11). By placing the slain Lamb in the throne scenes in different ways, heavenly worship becomes a way of expressing the irony of kingship through crucifixion (see chap. 3).
The kingship of the Christ (11:15) results from his role as redeemer. In dramatic narration of things to come he is named "King of kings and Lord of lords" (19:16), and he will reign as king for one thousand years (20:4-6). But the Lion/Lamb who conquers by his death belongs not solely in the eschatological drama; he belongs as well in the world's present structure as revealed in the scenes of heavenly worship. He not only comes as the "pierced one" (1:7), but his crucifixion occurs before the foundation of the world (13:8). Thus, the kingdom of God and the rule of the Messiah—future, eschatological claims—are acclaimed in heavenly liturgies as present, "eternal" realities.
The eschatological theme of God's just judgment is equal in importance to kingship in the liturgies of Revelation. God's judgment can be associated with a specific incident in the dramatic unfolding of the end (for example, the judgment of Babylon at 18:8, 10, 20; 19:2), but in the liturgies judgment refers primarily to the eschatological judgment of the living and the dead. At the blowing of the seventh trumpet, the twenty-four elders give thanks to the Lord God almighty because he reigns as king and because the time for judging the dead and giving proper rewards has come (11:18). An angel flying in midheaven proclaims the same decree: "Fear God and give him glory for the hour of his judgment has come" (14:6-7). Between the pouring of the third and fourth bowls of wrath an angel proclaims justice, and a voice from the altar responds, "Yes, Lord, God almighty, true and just are your judgments" (16:7). The justness of God is also a major idca in the Song of Moses and the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your works ... because you alone are holy, all nations come and worship before you, and your just judgments are revealed" (15:3-4). In this song "just judgments" parallel "divine holiness" as they do in the address of the angel of the waters (16:5).
Vengeance is closely associated with just judgment. The pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath on the inhabitants of earth is just, according to the angel of the waters, "because they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets" (16:6). The judgment applies a lex talionis: because they poured out the blood of the saints, God has given them blood to drink. Vengence is even more explicit in the alleluiah following the judgment of Babylon. God is acclaimed because he judges the Great Whore and exacts the blood of his servants from her hand (19:1-2). In those acts of vengeance the cry of the martyred souls under the altar is answered (6:9-10).
Martyred souls "exist" in heavenly worship although they are not resurrected until the final eschatological events described in Revelation 20-21. Prior to their resurrection (e.g., 20:4-6), they cry out for vengeance from under the altar (6:9-11). There is thus a "communion of the saints" in heavenly worship before they are resurrected in the eschatological drama.
Heavenly Worship as Eschatological Celebration
The seer places heavenly worship strategically in his description of "things to come"; that is, the distribution of heavenly worship is not random in the Book of Revelation; it occurs in relation to the dramatic narratives of things to come. The seer links worship to eschatology in two ways. First, eschatological drama has its setting in heavenly worship. Second, heavenly worship celebrates in the present the dramatic finale of eschatological narrative.
The opening of the seven seals, which narrates eschatological drama, flows from the scenes of heavenly worship in chapters 4 and 5, more specifically, from the litany offered to the Lamb (5:9-14). After the new song is sung, the angels respond, and a doxology is said by all creatures, the first seals are opened (6: 1). The seer describes four horsemen, sent forth against the earth and its inhabitants for their respective purposes of conquering with a bow, taking peace from the earth, causing famine for the inhabitants of the earth, and killing one-fourth of the earth (6:2-8). That judgment against earth is the beginning of vengeance on behalf of those who were killed because of their faithful witness to the word of God (6:9-11). Those narratives of disclosures are eschatological events; they describe "the great day of wrath." After this dramatic narration, the writer returns once again to heavenly worship. Innumberable persons dressed in white and waving palm branches acclaim the Lamb and the one seated upon the throne: "Salvation to our God who is seated upon the throne and to the Lamb" (7:10). All the angels around the throne respond by falling down and worshipping in the form of a doxology: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever. Amen." (7:12). This heavenly liturgy forms the climax to the opening of the seals. The opening of the seventh seal, which follows this heavenly worship, brings no further dramatic narration. It brings liturgical silence in heaven (8:1).
The drama of the seven trumpets is also introduced by heavenly worship. On the altar before the throne, an angel mixes incense and the prayers of the saints (8:3-4). That sacrificial activity is the setting for the blowing of the seven trumpets. The seer envisions one-third of the earth burned up by hail and fire mingled with blood; one-third of the seas turned to blood; one-third of the ships perishing; one-third of the spring waters turned to bitter wormwood; and one-third of the sun, moon, and stars darkened (8:6-12). The reader or hearer is led to expect a great climactic finale at the blowing of the seventh trumpet. After the first four angels have blown their trumpets and the consequent horrors and terrors have come upon the earth, an eagle is heard in midheaven saying "Woe, woe, woe, to those who dwell upon the earth, because of the trumpeting which the three angels are about to sound" (8:13). Two of the remaining three trumpets bring more horrendous destruction (9:1-21). Prior to the blowing of the seventh trumpet, an angel standing upon the sea and the earth raises his right hand towards heaven and swears by the living God who made heaven, earth, and sea that "time will be no more; in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to blow, the mystery of God will be completed, as he announced to his servants, the prophets" (10:6-7). The climactic significance of the seventh trumpet could not be stated more clearly than it is by the angel in this passage. The eschaton will come at the blowing of the seventh trumpet. After all this expectation, the blowing of the seventh trumpet brings a surprise. There is no horrendous destruction. There is no decisive battle between the forces of evil and the forces of God. Rather than more dramatic narration of an eschatological event, the seventh trumpet discloses heavenly worship: "Then the seventh angel trumpeted, and loud voices were heard in heaven saying: 'the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever'" (11:15). After that acclamation, the twenty-four elders fall down and worship God in a liturgical thanksgiving, thanking God because he took up his great power and reigned as king, because the judgment of the dead occurred, and because proper reward was given to those fearing his name (11:17-18). Following that long thanksgiving by the elders, the heavenly temple opens and the ark can be seen. Then a hierophantic display of thunder and lightning brings the blowing of the seven trumpets to an end (11:19).
The salvation and kingdom of God is celebrated again liturgically when Satan is cast from heaven (12:9). A loud voice says, "Just now ['a?t?] the salvation, power, and sovereignty of our God has occurred along with the authority of his Christ" (12:10). That liturgical affirmation is followed by narratives about a dragon's pursuit of a pregnant woman who is about to give birth to a man-child (12:13-17), a beast from the sea with features similar to the fiery dragon (13:1-10), and a beast from the earth who sounds like the dragon but has the authority of the water beast (13:11-18). Then the seer sees 144 thousand people with the Lamb on Mount Zion singing a new song (14:1-5, cf. 5:9), three angels proclaiming God's victory over the beasts (14:6-13), and two reapers of the earth (14:14-20). Within the visions of chapters 12-14, thus, God's reign and his salvation and judgment are affirmed liturgically, even though that set of visions does not end with heavenly worship.
The next series of visions describing eschatological terror is once again introduced through heavenly worship. A vision appears of those victorious over the beast standing before God on the transparent sea (cf. 4:6) and singing the Song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3-4). In that song, as in the liturgy at the blowing of the seventh trumpet, the reign of God and his just judgment are established. The heavenly temple opens (15:5, cf. 11:19), and seven angels come forth holding seven future plagues to be poured out upon the earth. Here, again, the cultic place and eschatological disclosure are linked: the opening into the holy of holies simultaneously opens into the last plagues (cf. 4:1, 6:1). After the pouring out of those terrors a sacral display of thunder and lightning closes that series (16:17-21).
The visions then shift to the judgment of Babylon the Whore (17:1-19:10). John sees the Great Whore seated on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns (17:3). She is clothed in purple and scarlet (in contrast to the white clothes of the godly), and on her forehead is written, "Babylon the great, the mother of whores and abominations of the earth" (17:5). She is drunk on the blood of the saints and those who witness to Jesus. An angel interprets the meaning of the seven heads and the ten horns of the beast. Another angel declares that Babylon is fallen (18:1-3); a voice orders Christians to come out of her so that they will not be destroyed (18:48) ; kings, merchants, and shipmasters wail over their loss of her (18:9-24). After these eschatological narratives, scenes shift to heavenly worship. John hears the voices of a great crowd celebrating—in the form of an alleluiah litany—the kingship of God over the Whore and the just judgment that he gave to her (19:1-5). Alleluiahs continue, but the content shifts to the universal kingship of God (19:6): "Alleluiah, for the Lord our God Almighty reigned." The motive for this acclamation is "the marriage of the Lamb" (19:7), an allusion to the New Jerusalem in the new heaven and the new earth described later in Revelation (21:2). Thus, the alleluiahs celebrate in worship the victory of God over the evil forces and the establishment of the new age.
Eschatological Homologues to Heaven
Finally, the seer links scenes of heaven with eschatological narration by giving to them similar attributes and by drawing homologues between them. Similes to precious stones describe both the throne scenes in heaven and the eschatological Jerusalem (Rev. 4, 21). 19 Only the heavenly throne and the New Jerusalem are said to be "fixed" or "situated," the one in heaven (4:2), the other as "foursquare" or "cubed" (21:16). Only in the heavenly scene of 7:13-17 and in the New Jerusalem are there references to "washed stoles" (7:14, 22:14) and to God's dwelling with his people (7:15, 21:3). Only in those two places will people not thirst, for God will give them water from running springs (7:16, 21:6); only in those two will people worship (?at????) God and the Lamb (7:15, 22:3). Finally, only in those two idyllic locations does God wipe away every tear from the eye (7:17, 21:4).
In summary, heavenly worship and eschatological drama in Revelation form homologies and share similar motifs and attributes. Further, eschatological drama arises in a liturgical setting, and at several points eschatological drama climaxes in heavenly worship and liturgical acclamations. Both celebrate God's kingship, his just judgments, the resurrection of the dead, and idyllic blessedness. The interplay between the spatial transcendence of heavenly worship and the temporal transcendence of eschatological drama establishes one of the most fundamental relationships in the Book of Revelation.
The Worshipping Community
The heavenly scenes in the Book of Revelation assume a fairly complex worshipping community—different kinds of worshippers who worship in different ways at different distances from the throne. Yet there are certain common characteristics shared by all members of this community.
First, it is made up of worshippers located spatially around the throne of God. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders seem to have a special place in the community. They are closest to the objects of worship, and they are portrayed in distinctive ways. They are royalty—at least the twenty-four elders are—and they function as priests offering incense to God and the Lamb. They also function as singers and musicians. On occasion many angels and myriads of heavenly voices join in worship with these twenty-eight special figures around the throne. The worshipping community even breaks the bounds of heaven. At Revelation 5:13 the worshippers include all creation—those in heaven but also those on earth, under the earth, and upon the seas; they sing a doxology. Between the opening of the sixth and seventh seal, earthlings appear again in the worshipping community. People from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue stand before the throne and the Lamb (7:9). They are those who have gone through the great tribulation and have made their stoles white in the blood of the Lamb (7:14-15); that is, they are portrayed as Christian martyrs before the throne. They hold palm branches in their hands as signs of victory. 20 Those who sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb are also victorious—over the beast and his image and the number of his name (15:2)—on earth. The community of worship breaks down the boundaries between heaven and earth.
Worship is a radical equalizer that breaks down all boundaries in heaven and earth except that between the worshipping community and the two objects of worship. When the heavenly creature with a mighty voice speaks to John, John falls down to worship him, but the voice says, "I am your fellow servant [s??d?????] along with your brethren who hold to the witness of Jesus. Worship God" (19:10). Even more forceful is an exhortation at the end of the book. John falls down to worship the angel who showed him all the visions that he recorded. In response the angel says, "I am your fellow servant along with your brethren the prophets and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God" (22:8-9). Those who read, hear, and observe John's words in Revelation are one with John the seer and the angels. Christians in the churches of Asia Minor, the seer, angels throughout the universe, the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures, and the martyred dead under the altar all form, in the words of the late Victor Turner, an egalitarian communitas, one community of worship (see also Gager 1975, 33). All—whatever their station and location in the universe—join together in obeisance and submission to the one seated upon the throne and to the slain Lamb.
Earth also enters into heavenly worship in indirect ways. The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures offer bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (5:8), presumably the saints on earth as well as in heaven. The "new song" sung to the Lamb links earthlings to the heavenly Lamb. The seer invites a connection between heaven and the Jerusalem temple on earth (whether or not it was defunct at the time of his writing). Parallels are fairly obvious. The seer calls the heavenly setting a temple (Rev. 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6, 8; 16:1, 17). An altar stands before the throne (holy of holies) (8:3). The seven "lamps of fire" (4:5) reflect the seven-lighted lampstand in the Jerusalem temple (see Zech. 4:1-6, 11-14); and the "transparent sea like rock crystal" (4:6) probably alludes to the large bronze laver before the altar in the temple, used for ablutions (Exod. 40:7). The twentyfour elders correspond to the twenty-four classes of priests and Levites who oversaw the services in the postexilic temple. Those priests, like the elders in heaven, wore both priestly and royal insignia. 21 In the Book of Revelations these elders are, of course, transformed into Christians, and their royal and priestly combination reflects that of the Christian community (see Rev. 5:10). As in the temple traditions at Jerusalem, inside the heavenly temple stands the ark of the covenant or the tent of witness (11:19, 15:5), and heavenly sacrifices create smoke so thick that no one can enter the temple (15:8). 22
The worshipping community is clearly a Christian community—no other community would worship the slain Lamb. As we have seen, the symbolism in chapter 5 of the Book of Revelation is unambiguously Christian. The victory of the Lamb is celebrated because he redeems and creates a new Christian people from every tribe and tongue. That specifically Christian worshipping community, whether envisioned on earth or in heaven, is assumed throughout Revelation. This work is addressed to Christians, and relationships in the work are formed from the viewpoint of a Christian community. From the seer's point of view, there are questionable members of the churches in Asia Minor—those who follow prophets or prophetesses who are John's rivals (e.g., Jezebel, the Nicolaitans). John threatens those people with the eschatological appearance of Jesus, soon to come. In all these conflicts and disagreements, however, all worship God and the Lamb, however misguided some of those Christians are from John's point of view. He refers to those who reject Christian worship and refuse to repent (e.g., 9:20-21), but those are not the people upon whom John focuses. His visions are for the Christian worshipping community.
The worship of the one on the throne and the slain Lamb thus serves two complementary functions: First, it establishes an egalitarian communitas among Christians, and it helps to establish a clear boundary between Christians and nonChristians, as it places the followers of the Lamb at the center of the universe. The throne and the Lamb are at the center; if one's face (whether on earth or in heaven) is not pointed in the direction of the throne and the Lamb, one looks to the periphery of the universe. Worship establishes what is truly real and therefore what is true: the presence of the Lamb beside the throne is revealed in the seer's vision—a disclosed mystery—but it is no less real and true because it is known only through revealed knowledge. True worship reveals the way things really are, and true worshippers form an egalitarian communitas around the center.
Let us be clear at this point. The boundary formed by worship is not a social boundary expressed in a different sphere, as though the social boundary between Christian and non-Christian determines the form of worship in heaven. Rather, the boundaries formed in worship—like the boundaries formed by heavenly forces, by eschatological events, and by social relations in the province of Asia—reveal dimensions of the seer's world. No one dimension can claim causal priority over the others; each equally reflects true knowlege about the world. The social boundary between Christians and non-Christians expresses in the region of social experience that which a liturgical boundary expresses in the region of worship. The whole grid of boundaries (social, eschatological, heavenly/spatial, liturgical, psychological) involves distinctions between true knowledge and deception, authentic self-expression and false consciousness, service to the true god and idolatry. No one boundary region simply codes or allegorizes another boundary region. As in Einstein's notion of time and space, each boundary region is a coordinate in a multidimensional reality.
Hymns in the Worshipping Community
Just as hymns and liturgical celebrations within the Book of Revelation make present the kingdom of God and his just judgment prior to the dramatic narration of those eschatological events, so hymnody generally in the early Christian church celebrates God and his Christ and brings their presence into the worshipping community. Singing involves a double movement. It is a movement from the human to the divine, a human act of praise; but it is also a movement from the divine to the human, a making present of the God. Hymns can be sung only if the Spirit impells. 23 The evocative power of the hymnic word becomes a means whereby one encounters the power and reality of the God to which one responds. Hymn singing, like all other acts of worship, involves both response and encounter. 24 Tertullian writes about the psalmist David that the singer "sings to us of Christ and through his voice Christ indeed also sang concerning himself" (Tert. Carn. 20). Through hymnic performance Christ becomes present. Hymns function within the Book of Revelation as they functioned in the worship life of the early church. More precisely, a reality apprehended in an eschatological context as future was realized as present in the worship of the early church through the evocative power of the hymnic word (see Thompson 1973; Barr 1984, 47-49).
Because hymns were vehicles of sacral power, they were probably sung as preparation for receiving revelatory visions. In a certain kind of Jewish mysticism called merkabah hymns prepare the mystic to see the divine glory (see Rowland 1979, 152). Gruenwald notes that hymns are learned to serve as theurgic protectives on behalf of the visionary who ascends and decends through cosmic spheres. 25 Many of those Jewish hymns do not read, however, as magic formulas; they are lyrical songs of praise "in their tone and form" (Gruenwald 1980, 103). The songs learned are "songs of praise said by the angelic beings, and even by the Throne of Glory to God" (p. 104). Gruenwald concludes, "Whether these hymns were said as autohypnotic means or whether they were recited in heaven as protective means, their numinous quality establishes them as outstanding specimens of Jewish poetry in Talmudic times" (p. 104). Magical papyri from the Greek world may also have been used in receiving revelation (see Aune 1986a, 82-83). It is possible that some of the heavenly, hymnic liturgies found in the Book of Revelation served the purpose of preparing the seer to receive and handle revelatory visions.
Apocalypses in the Worshipping Community
The Book of Revelation itself engages the worshipping community. Reading and listening to the Book of Revelation are themselves liturgical acts in the worship life of Christians in western Asia Minor. The final link in the chain of revelation takes the form of a beatitude for those who receive the work: "Blessed are the reader and those who listen to the words of the prophecy and keep the things written in it" (1:3). The chain of revelation is complete when the Book of Revelation is read in Christian services of worship; that is, the book itself becomes liturgical material for the churches of western Asia Minor (see Schüssler Fiorenza 1981, 19; Gager 1975, 56).
Moreover, the seer receives his visions "on the Lord's Day" (1:10)— in sacro tempore —the day of worship in the early church, 26 just as he expects them to be read in the worshipping community. Prophetic revelation is both received and proclaimed in the context of worship. Those comments by the seer square with Paul's, who states that an "apocalypse" makes up a part of the service when Christians gather for worship (1 Cor. 14:26). At the end of a discussion on spiritual gifts, Paul describes a service of worship: it includes, among other things, the singing of hymns and the proclamation of apocalypses (1 Cor. 14:26). Certain rules govern: if one prophet is speaking and someone else gets an apocalypse, the first should give the floor to the second. A form of contagion may here be suggested; that is, listening to an apocalypse may evoke the spiritual experience of receiving an apocalypse. Aune suggests that one of the liturgical functions of the Book of Revelation was to evoke "a new actualization of the original revelatory experience" of the seer (see Aune 1986a, 89). According to Paul every prophet should be allowed to give his revelation, so that all the people can both learn and be comforted. The prophet can use any one of several forms of worship: a prayer, a hymn, a revelation, or even a teaching. The important thing is that the services be orderly and controlled. The true prophet, even when he is "in the Spirit," has control (1 Cor. 14:32). The close connection between worship and apocalypse in the Book of Revelation thus conforms in several respects to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.
There is, thus, a reflexive character to the Book of Revelation: the use of the Book of Revelation in the churches reflects the interconnection of heavenly worship and eschatological drama within the book. In both Revelation and the early church, worship serves as the context and setting in which eschatological narratives (such as the Book of Revelation itself) unfold. Furthermore, in both Revelation and the churches of Asia Minor, worship realizes the kingship of God and his just judgment ; through liturgical celebration eschatological expectations are experienced presently. Hymns, thanksgivings, doxologies, and acclamations realize in the context of worship the eschatological message. Worship, then, becomes a context that integrally relates the visions in Revelation with John's original revelatory experience and the re-presentation of John's experience in the life of the worshipping community. The Book of Revelation, by functioning in communal worship of Asia Minor as heavenly worship functions in the book itself, links heaven and earth. The work mediates its own message.
[ Continue to Ch.5 ]