The Book of Revelation: A Different Kind of “Apocalyptic” Text
May 3, 2016
Prompted by a recent guest lecture on the Book of Revelation given here, I pondered to myself again how unusual the book is. We (scholars) typically associate Revelation with a body of ancient texts that we classify as “apocalyptic” writings. But, actually, Revelation stands out in a number of interesting features that may signal something historically significant.
Typically, for example, “apocalyptic” texts are pseudonymous, fictively ascribed to some ancient figure such as Abraham, Moses, Enoch or Ezra. And typically, the texts pretend to be revelations given to such a figure about events that were “future” for him, but are actually recent/past events for the real readers. Examples include the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Book of Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, and a few others. But perhaps the most well-known example is the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, especially Daniel 7–12.
The intended message in these texts seems to be to say to readers that those recent events (which are often such things as destruction, war, etc.) don’t signal God’s lack of control or care, for the texts claim that God forewarned about them. The texts seem intended to comfort readers and assure them that God is really in charge, and so their faith is well placed.
It may be that the main reason for ascribing these writings to this or that figure of the biblical past was that by the time these texts were composed it was widely thought among second-temple Jewish circles that prophecy had ceased. So, you couldn’t easily hope to get a text accepted if it was presented as some new writing and revelation.
But Revelation is different in a number of striking ways.
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