Sunday, March 26, 2006

Weird and wacky Revelation

I'm currently reading Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation by Malina and Pilch.

They show how Revelation is all about astrology. The various "beasts" the writer depicts are star constellations. The sky played a big role in ancient cultures, as they believed that all the stars were living beings who affected life on earth. They had a complicated series of myths about the history of the lives of these sky-entities (the constellations, stars, spirits etc), and how they had interacted with each other and the earth. There were known ways of going into a trance and speaking to these sky-beings, and learning secrets from them, and reading the heavens. The Revelation of John is very similar in style to a number of other such ancient sky-visions.

An interesting point that the authors of the commentary make is that the ancients didn't believe the sky could tell the distant future. What can be seen is what the stars have done in the past or are currently doing. The near future can be determined from the current activity of the stars, because since the stars affected what was going to happen on earth, studying the star-processes would tell you the near future (exactly like weather-forecasting). The writers take the rather interesting view that far from describing the future or even the Roman empire of the writer's day, most of Revelation is describing the distant past. (ie the time before and after the Flood)

The way Revelation depicts Jesus is interesting. He is described as the Lamb, a reference to the constellation Aries which was believed by the ancients to be the first-created and pre-eminant sky-being. He is described as holding seven stars in his hand (Ursa Minor = control of the future, due to its position in the sky) and having control of the seven spirits (of the 7 planets = ultimate power). John plays on the idea of Jesus as a slain Lamb: Aries is a Lamb with a broken neck; each constellation corresponded to a month of a year and hence on the first month (Aries) the Israelites would sacrifice a Lamb (ie at Passover); Jesus died on Passover and hence parallels the slain Lamb. John describes Christ as the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world" (because, of course, Aries had long been in the sky like that). It is somewhat amusing then if you think about it that the reason Christians today speak of Jesus as the "Lamb" is ultimately because the ancients saw some stars in the sky that looked like a Lamb and had that as their first month of the year. (We also have 7 days in our week and 7 notes in a musical octave because the ancients could see 7 planets (incl Sun and moon). And there are 24 hours in our day and 12 months in our year because there are twelve signs in the Zodiac)

Basically, according to the commentary, Revelation is the result of someone combining John's letter to the prophets of 7 Churches with a series of John's visions of the pre/post Flood drama unfolding (which are of little relevance to us, and were presumably meant to supplement the existing knowledge of the ancient events). For example, the 144,000 who haven't defiled themselves with women are referring to the angels who came to earth in God's service in pre-flood times but who didn't interbreed with humans.

The long and the short of it is that I'm inclined to conclude that there is little to nothing of value in Revelation for Christians today. The book was intended for a very select audience - christian astral prophets in seven particular cities in the first century AD who dealt in such visions. Even though we can now identify the references to all the beasts and the meanings of their colours and so forth, the entire story is one that does just not concern us. Though the writer tries to throw in a very occasional one-line "moral of the story", who really cares about the depicted pre-flood deeds of sky-beings? Such things were fascinating to the ancients because out of such myths they wove their understanding of the origin of their world, culture and people. In other words it shaped their worldview and gave their life meaning. Somehow I think stories of constellations fighting millennia ago wouldn't do it for most people today.

8 Comments:

Blogger Christina said...

Ah, astrology, eh...

The funniest thing about that kind of thing is that star constellations do move and change, hence (one of) the reason(s) that horoscopes are such crap - I've heard it said that the stars have changed enough that the current signs used for prediction(i.e the ones that we've been using for horoschopes for ever) are a bit out of whack... and so what people think are accurate readings might have been 500 years ago but aren't any more.

Or it just might be that the average horoscope is pulled out of a journo's ice cream container-full of appropriate phrases the night before deadline :D

27/3/06  
Blogger Scott said...

"...Christians today speak of Jesus as the "Lamb" is ultimately because the ancients saw some stars in the sky that looked like a Lamb and had that as their first month of the year."

Or because they saw that Christ was the fulfillment of the Passover lamb?

My initial reaction to your post is - perhaps looking too much at the packaging distorts the view of the package. There may be connections between some of these things, but Revelation's main concern is to communicate the gospel of Jesus, and it does it using more OT imagery/allusions and quotations than any other NT book. Surely this should be factored into any understanding of the book - the commentary sounds wacky indeed.

p.s. I recently read a great book on Revelation which i reviewed here

27/3/06  
Blogger Andrew said...

Or because they saw that Christ was the fulfillment of the Passover lamb?

Yes, exactly. But I think you missed the point that the Passover lamb WAS a lamb rather than anything else because the constellation of that month was Lamb-shaped. If the constellation had looked like a cow, it would have been a cow sacrificed at passover and hence Christ would be the Cow of God.

I struggle to see that "Revelation's main concern is to communicate the gospel of Jesus", by any stretch of the imagination.

27/3/06  
Blogger Scott said...

Ah, so it's not just the book of Revelation, but the OT sacrificial system which is based on astrology?

27/3/06  
Blogger Andrew said...

Passover was not part of the main Temple-Sacrifice system. I'm not aware of any direct connections between the Temple sacrifice system and astrology, but I imagine there are some as both astrology and sacrifice were common religious practices across many ancient cultures.

27/3/06  
Blogger Fraser Dron said...

I think the lamb imagery works well. Better than most animals: just imagine if John the Baptist had said "Behold, the tree-frog of God, who taketh away the sin of the world...". It's just far too silly. Also, the Latin term Agnus Dei is considerably less of a mouthful than Agalychnis craspedopus Dei.

27/3/06  
Blogger Kelly said...

Wow! It's really good you posted on this, because the Hare Krishna guy at work has been having big conversations with me about how Revelation is based on astrology + how astrology is therefore compatible with Christianity!

I still don't know what to think but your post was really interesting to get another viewpoint on it, because HK guy is kind of spun out + trippy when it comes to astrology + I can never take it seriously enough :)

ps - what do you think about Jesus' life in India?

29/3/06  
Blogger Andrew said...

Jesus' life in India?! Sounds wack.

29/3/06  

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