Book of Revelation

Let’s talk about the book of Revelation because I’m sick of it. It has been used as a fear-mongering tool for televangelists, and shady preachers for generations and people think it’s some grand prophecy of the end times. The reality is interesting, though much more banal.

Revelation is an apocalypse, but that word doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. Apocalypse is Greek in origin (ἀποκάλυψις) and just means “revealing.” Specifically the revealing of some truth by a higher power to humans. It has nothing to do with prophecy or eschatology, per se. While Revelation does talk about the end of the world and does so with language and imagery that sounds like a drug trip, it’s less literal and more of a coded rebuke against Rome. Here’s why:

An apocalypse typically comes from a people in some peril. Revelation is commonly dated to 81 AD/CE, the period immediately following the first Jewish-Roman War, where the Romans captured Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple. We do not know how many were killed during the siege, but those who survived (estimates are 97,000) were taken as Roman prisoners. In particular, Jerusalem and the temple were of such importance that it is hard to overstate them, and the destruction left lasting scars. Revelation likely came from this, from a people traumatized by a massive culture/religion and population loss. Some of the visions directly relate to Domitian, who was the emperor of Rome at the time.

“But Revelation isn’t a Jewish text. It’s Christian!”. Not quite, no. Not as we would understand it today. While it’s not considered a part of the Tanakh, Christianity did not exist as a separate religion when this work was written. Christianity was still in its infancy and directly connected to Judaism, a Jewish sect. All of the earliest Christian works are heavily steeped in Judaism. The split happened later, in the 100s, and the primary, explicitly Christian works wouldn’t be produced until the age of the early church fathers, the so-called ante-Nicene period, before the first Nicene council.

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