This seminar will feature 12 weeks of blog discussion by six participants; this general post is the first volley in the series. Then, sometime in September (date to be determined), there will be a conference in Austin where the participants will each present a paper dealing with some aspect of these particular chapters. (I already have an idea for mine!) It should be great fun, and I'm looking forward to the experience.
After this initial post, the other weeks will be devoted to small portions of the text, on the order of three to five verses, so we will really drill down into some fine detail as the weeks progress. For this initial foray, it seems to me that we ought to focus on broader contextual issues affecting the chapters as a whole, and indeed the rest of the Apocalypse of which these chapters form the conclusion.
As I reread the chapters, I thought of two broad issues that I would like to roll out there for discussion. (Others should of course feel free to raise other broad, contextual issues in the comments to this post.)
1. The first is, to what extent are we constrained in our readings by modern scripture?
The first illustration has to do with who authored this book. The traditional position is that the "John" of Revelation is the Apostle John. This is certainly the most common point of view of the early external evidence, such as titles of the book as they developed in the manuscripts and attributions in the Church Fathers (the most notable exception being Dionysius). But my impression, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that on internal grounds most modern scholars would agree with Dionysius that the Gospel of John and Revelation could not have been written by the same man. These scholars acknowledge that Revelation was written by an otherwise unknown "John," just not the Apostle with that name. The Book of Mormon, however, clearly identifies the Apostle John as the author of Revelation (see 1 Nephi 14:18-27 and Ether 4:16). So does a modern Mormon student have leave to conclude that the Apostle John was not the author of Revelation, the Book of Mormon passages notwithstanding? Why or why not?
The second illustration has to do with basic approaches to the material in Revelation. The LDS Institute Manual for the NT in Section 12 describes basic scholarly approaches to Revelation. Under the caption "The Non-prophetic View" the authors describe two approaches. One is the preterist approach, which was influenced by the historical-critical schools of the scholarship of the last couple of centuries. According to this view, Revelation is describing events of the author's own day. Another school is the idealists, who read Revelation allegorically. Under the caption "The Prophetic View," the authors similarly describe two different approaches. The historicists see Revelation as describing the history of the church from the time it was written to the day of judgment. So while this material was future from John's perspective, most of it is past from ours. Finally, the futurists see the material in the book (after the letters to the churches) as relating to the last days.
The manual goes on to describe in contrast "A View Based on Latter-day Revelation." Since D&C 77:6-7 suggests that the seven seals represent the whole of the world's history in seven 1,000-year periods, we might call this the "dispensanionalist" approach. Given that according to this view the material in Revelation sweeps through the whole of human history, this suggests that portions of Revelation could be read from a preterist point of view, portions from an historicist point of view, but the bulk of the material from a futurist point of view (with perhaps a little allegorizing thrown in for good measure).
But are we bound to read Revelation that way? If there is relevant material in D&C 77, or 29, or 88, does that material in all events take precedence over how we may read the text?
The reason I am raising this issue is that it will affect profoundly how we read our given text, since much of that text has to do with something called the New Jerusalem. The idea of a New Jerusalem has a specific meaning in traditional Mormon sources. As summarized in McConkie, DNTC, 3:580-81 (and quoted in the Institute Manual):
To envision what is meant by this title [i.e., New Jerusalem], we must know
these five facts:
1. Ancient Jerusalem, the city of much of our Lord's personal ministry among men, shall be rebuilt in the last days and become one of the two great world capitals, a millennial city from which the word of the Lord shall go forth.
2. A New Jerusalem, a new Zion, a city of God shall be built on the American continent.
3. Enoch's city, the original Zion, "the City of Holiness. . . . was taken up into heaven." (Moses 7:13-21)
4. Enoch's city, with its translated inhabitants now in their resurrected state, shall return, as a New Jerusalem, to join with the city of the same name which has been built on the American continent.
5. When the earth becomes a celestial sphere "that great city, the holy Jerusalem," shall again descend "out of heaven from God," as this earth becomes the abode of
celestial beings forever. (Rev. 21:10-27)
2. The second issue for reflection I would like to roll out there is whether the traditional ordering of the material in our chapters is completely messed up.
I happen to have in my home library two different commentaries on Revelation: the two-volume International Critical Commentary by R.H. Charles and the Anchor Bible volume by J. Massyngberde Ford, which I bought used at a terrific religion used book store called Loomis near Minneapolis. I wanted to read through what these commentaries had to say on our selected chapters. Boy, was that a frustrating experience! Both commentaries assume that the original order and structure of this material was different than the traditional order, and so they present their commentary material in their posited order. It was very frustrating trying to locate particular verses this way. But my question is, is this German scholarship run amuck (especially given the lack of any textual evidence for these theories), or do we think there may actually be something to this conjecture?
The Anchor Bible volume has a two-page excursus at pp. 38-39 explaining this, under the caption "The Last Two Chapters." (This caption is a mistake; it is clear from the discussion that the author means the last three chapters. My guess is that he visually saw chapters 20-22 mathematically as 22-20=2, but of course chapters 20-22 inclusively totals three chapters, not two.) Ford points out that the text in various places in chapter 20 seems to fit badly. For example, the future tense occurs in 20:7, "Satan will be released," but then two verses later the past tense is used, where Gog and Magog and their forces "marched" and "surrounded." He gives several further examples.
The textual difficulties in chapters 21 and 22 are even greater. In particular, there are two different descriptions of the New Jerusalem that conflict with one another. At this point, I'll quote Ford:
P. Gaechter concludes that there are two new Jerusalems, one which coexists with the present world (21:9-22:2) and one which is eternal (21:1-4c, 22:3-5). the former will last until the disappearance of this heaven and this earth, and will then be replaced by the latter. The eternal city is the same as the temporal but it is transformed. According to Gaechter, the two descriptions follow one another in the wrong order. The description of the city which is of this earth should come before that of the eternal city: 21:9-22:2 and then 21:1-4c with 22:3-5. Gaechter also believes that the duration of the city on earth corresponds to the thousand years and the period of the chaining and imprisonment of Satan. When Satan is chained the way is opened for the conversion of the nations which the millennial Jerusalem resupposes; 20:3, cf. 21:4.
Gaechter suggests a triplet: 20:1-3, the chaining of Satan "for a thousand years"; 21:1-22:2, the millennial Jerusalem; 20:4-6, Christ and his saints reigning "for a thousand years." He brings chs. 20-22 into close relationship to Rev. 12. The millennial Jerusalem is the woman who is protected from Satan by his imprisonment. After the millennium there is another triplet of scenes: 20:7-10, Satan's release, last onslaught, and final ruin; 20:11-15, the last judgment and the condemnation of the wicked; 21:1-4c, 22:3-5, the eternal Jerusalem.
The book ends with the conclusion of the visions (22:7b, 10-13, 16b-17b, 20) of the epistle (22:21) and of the prophecy itself (22:18-19). the present writer believes that 22:16a, 20b, 21 are Christian interpolations akin to chs. 1-3. . . .
Satan's chaining 20:1-3
Millennial Jerusalem 21:9-22:2, 22:14-15 clausulae
Millennial Kingdom 20:4-6
Satan Unchained 20:7-10
Last Judgment 20:11-15
Eternal Jerusalem 21:1-4c, 22:3-5, 21:5ab, 4d, 5c-6, 7 clausulae
Conclusion of the Visions 22:10-13, 7b, 16b-17b, 20
Conclusion of the Epistle 22:21
Conclusion of the Book 22:18-19
So what do you think about this? The revised order makes sense, but is it necessary? Do you buy that it is original?
And again, feel free to roll out any other broad issues for reflection you would like the group to consider.