Archive for the ‘Domitian’ Tag

The Sounding of the Seven Trumpets   Leave a comment

Above:  The Locusts of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XI

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Revelation 8:1-11:9

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Symbolism is going full-throttle in Revelation 8-11.  I choose not to decode every symbol, but do opt to make some textual and historical sense of these chapters.

THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS

Revelation 8:1-6 depicts the opening of the seventh seal, which sets the stage for the sounding of the seven trumpets.

The first four trumpets round out Revelation 8.  The natural disasters–depicted as divine judgment–relate to human sins.  Actions have consequences.

Let us be careful, O reader.  May we not blame victims.  Those who live in Kansas will have to deal with tornadoes because tornadoes occur in Kansas.  Hurricanes and tropical storms strike the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  Earthquakes occur at fault lines.  Some events occur for natural reasons.  But sometimes collective human actions make matters worse.  Industrial pollution of a certain variety leads to acid rain.  Global warming/climate change makes weather more extreme, and severe storms more frequent.  Actions have consequences.

Revelation 8:8-9 contains echoes of Exodus 7:14-25, 1 Enoch, and the Sybilline Oracles.  In 1 Enoch 18:13, seven stars like great, burning mountains fall into the sea.  These are fallen angels (1 Enoch 21:3-10).  The Sybilline Oracles refer to stars (swords, figuratively) that will fall into the sea (3:672-684), as well as to a great star that will fall into the sea (5:158-161).  The great star will destroy Rome and Italy for Roman persecution of Jews.  In Revelation 8:8-9, the burning mountain represents a fallen angel expelled from Heaven to wreak destruction on the world.

THE DEMONIC LOCUSTS

The demonic locusts (Revelation 9;1-12) represent the Roman Empire, historically.  Echoes of the plagues on Egypt continue.  One may also detect allusions to Joel 1 and 2.

Revelation 9:1 depicts evil as functioning in the service of divine will.  This is not evil’s intention.  Yet the sovereignty of God makes evil work for good.

Members of each generation may identify contemporary demonic locusts.  Locusts come and go; the motif repeats.

ROMAN IMPERIAL PERSECUTION

The historical reference in Revelation 9:13-21 is the Roman Empire, persecuting Christians.  Recall, O reader, that “Babylon” is code for Rome in Revelation.  Again, the motif repeats with variations in the evil power of the time.

Also, the failure to learn lessons that history should have made abundantly clear is, depressingly, predictable.  Never underestimate human obliviousness, O reader.

EATING THE SCROLL OF DOOM

John of Patmos eating the scroll of doom ought to remind a serious student of the Bible of Ezekiel 1-3.

Revelation 10:1-11 contains many allusions to the Hebrew Bible.

SYMBOLISM AND NUMEROLOGY

Symbolism and numerology drench Revelation 11:1-14.  Imagine, O reader, being a Roman censor reading these verses.  You would experience confusion.  Cracking the code requires understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible.  Having a grasp of 1 Enoch 61:1-5 also helps.  In that text, angels with cords measure the righteous and the faithful, for protection against spiritual dangers.

Without getting lost in the proverbial weeds (easy to do), the time God will permit the Roman Empire to continue to rule will be like the time Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews (Daniel 9:27; 12:7).  Three and a half years–forty-two months–is a mystical and symbolic timeframe.  Emperor Domitian is like King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Revelation says.  Evil’s days of governing are numbered.

The Church will outlive its oppressors.  The Church–the seemingly dead two witnesses–will triumph.  God will destroy the oppressive powers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALBERT E. R. BRAUER, AUSTRALIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTINE THEVARPARAMPIL, INDIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND “GOOD SHEPHERD OF THE DALITS”

THE FEAST OF GASPAR CONTARINI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CARDINGAL AND AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT HEDWIG OF ANDECHS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRINCESS AND NUN; AND HER DAUGHTER, SAINT GERTRUDE OF TRZEBNICA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOZEF JANKOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941

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The Opening of the Seven Seals   Leave a comment

Above:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART X

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Revelation 6:1-7:17

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Without getting lost in the tall weeds of symbolism and numerology, one can consult books that explain the historical background and theological significance of Revelation 6:1-7:17.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

We begin with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They are, in order:

  1. Jesus, who rides alone, in opposition to the other three;
  2. War,
  3. Famine, and
  4. Death.

The progression of famine and death makes sense.  War is, after all, one of the leading causes of famine.

Emperor Domitian issued an unpopular edict in 92 C.E.  He forbade the laying of new vineyards in Asia Minor and ordered the conversion of half of the vineyards into agricultural land.  The backlash forced Domitian to rescind this edict.  This incident inspired 6:6:

But do not harm the oil and the wine!

In context, the wage in 6:6 was a starvation wage–the price of wheat was sixteen times what it should have been, and the cost of barley was exorbitant, too.  The level of inflation was consistent with wartime scarcity.  Greed frustrated that artificial scarcity and accompanying famine.

Sadly, war, famine, and death have remained ubiquitous since antiquity.  Human nature has not changed.

THE MARTYRS IN HEAVEN

The question of the martyrs in Heaven (6:9-11) is understandable.  Even in Heaven, they are impatient and not entirely happy.  These are the ones whose bodies became sacrifices on the Earth and whose souls became sacrifices in Heaven.  This scene is similar to some scenes in Pseudepigraphal literature.  The prayers of the persecuted righteous, seeking revenge and justice, ascend to Heaven in 1 Enoch 47:1-2; 99:3; and 104:3.  God will answer these prayers in the affirmative, we read there.

What do you intend to do, you sinners,

whither will you flee on that day of judgment,

when you hear the sound of the prayer of the righteous ones?

–1 Enoch 97:3, translated by E. Isaac

2 Baruch 21:19-25 echoes that theme.  That passage begins:

How long will corruption remain, and until when will the time of mortals be happy, and until when will those who pass away be polluted by the great wickedness in this world?

–21:19, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

That is a fair question.

That passage concludes:

And now, show your glory soon and do not postpone that which was promised by you.

–2:25

Revelation 6:9-11 inspired part of a great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900):

…yet saints their watch are keeping,

their cry goes up, “How long?”

and soon the night of weeping 

shall be the morn of song.

In the meantime, Revelation 6:11 tells us, the martyrdoms will continue.

DIVINE JUDGMENT AND MERCY

Revelation 6:12-17, drawing on images from Hebrew prophets and the Assumption/Testament of Moses 10:4-6, presents a vivid depiction of divine wrath.  Divine deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors.  How can it be otherwise?

Part of the good news, in the Assumption/Testament of Moses, is:

Then his kingdom will appear throughout his whole creation.

Then the devil will have an end.

Yea, sorrow will be led away with him.

–10:1, translated by J. Priest

I am getting ahead of the story, though.

THE SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD

Revelation 7:1-8 borrows from Babylonian cosmology, in which the planet was a square, with an angelic watcher of one of the four winds stationed in a corner.  Daniel 7:2-3 also uses this cosmology and describes the winds as destructive agents of God.  This understanding also informs the Syriac Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-John (chapter 5), and the Questions of Bartholomew (4:31-34).

The sealing (for the preservation) of the servants of God (Revelation 7:3) is similar to a scene in 2 Baruch 6:4-8:1.  The sealed do not receive protection from earthly harm and martyrdom.  They do go to God after they die, though.  The number 144,000 is a fine example of numerology.  One may recall that there were 12 tribes of Israel and that 1000 indicated a large, uncountable quantity.  In context, the meaning is that a vast, uncountable throng of Christians from every people and nation must join the ranks of martyrs before the condition of Revelation 6:11 is fulfilled.

That is not encouraging news, is it?  Yet the news that these martyrs are in Heaven does encourage.

Forces of evil have the power to kill bodies.  Then they have corpses.  These forces can do nothing more to harm these martyrs.

The Gospel of John 16:33b depicts Jesus as telling his apostles:

In the world you will have trouble,

but be brave:

I have conquered the world.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those words occur in the context of the night Jesus was about to become a prisoner.

Let that sink in, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF GABRIEL RICHARD, FRENCH-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN

THE FEAST OF OBADIAH HOLMES, ENGLISH BAPTIST MNISTER AND CHAMPION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN NEW ENGLAND

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Introduction to the Apocalypse of John   Leave a comment

Above:  Revelation Title (French)

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from a copy of the Louis Segond revised translation (1910) of the Bible

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READING REVELATION, PART I

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Revelation 1:1-20

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Rev[elation] is widely popular for the wrong reasons, for a great number of people read it as a guide to how the world will end, assuming that the author was given by Christ detailed knowledge of the future he communicated in coded symbols.

Father Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), 773

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…Revelation does not speak about our time, it does speak to it.

–M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (1989), 62

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THE APOCALYPTIC GENRE

Reading a book within its genre matters.

Consider the apocalypse in Daniel 7-12, for example, O reader.  The author wrote in the first century B.C.E.  He mostly wrote history as prophecy.  But when the author started writing about the future (relative to him), he got details wrong.  This was par for the course, given the genre.

Apocalyptic literature, written in images and symbols, is politically subversive of tyranny.  The genre offers hope during difficult times, encourages the faithful to remain faithful, and contrasts the world order with the divine order.  Apocalyptic literature uses the future as away to address the present.

I lay my theological cards on the table at the beginning of this project, O reader.

  1. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian.
  2. I am a student of history.
  3. I am an intellectual.
  4. I know the historical record of failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming and failed identifications of the Antichrist.
  5. I tell you, O reader, that the rapture is a fiction from the mind of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
  6. I know that Darby’s Dispensationalism, popularized further in C. I. Scofield‘s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” remains a widespread interpretive system.
  7. I affirm that Christ will eventually return, but only once.  The rapture requires two Second Comings.
  8. I have no interest in prophecy conferences, but care deeply about loving like Jesus daily.

Apocalyptic literature has much to say about our present.  This content remains politically subversive.  That is fine.  I approve of subverting injustice, tyranny, slavery, economic exploitation, and needless violence.  They are antithetical to the Kingdom of God.

Apocalyptic literature is also optimistic.  In the darkness, the genre proclaims hope that God and good will triumph in the end.  Apocalyptic literature, therefore, stiffens the spines of discouraged, faithful people.  Good news of the deliverance of oppressed people doubles as judgment of the oppressors.  The genre invites us to ask ourselves:

Whose side am I on?

In summary, apocalyptic literature immediately moves past preaching and gets to meddling.

THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN AND RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY

Certain passages of the Old and New Testaments, in their contexts, support submission to earthly authority.  The Apocalypse of John has none of that.  Revelation tells us that the Roman Empire was evil, antithetical to the Kingdom of God.  This is the message that made the text treasonous long ago and still inspires many people to resist tyranny.  One may read, for example, of Christian opponents of Apartheid (in South Africa) drawing inspiration from the Apocalypse of John, even as the national government prosecuted and persecuted them.  Today, in dictatorships, certain Christians are reading Revelation as they emerge in their struggles for justice.

REVELATION IN THE BIBLE AND LECTIONARIES

Revelation is a liturgical hot potato.  The major lectionaries include little of it.  The Eastern Orthodox lectionary excludes the Apocalypse of John.  The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) explains:

While seen as canonical and inspired by God, the Revelation is the only New Testament book not publicly read in the services of the Orthodox Church.  This is partly because the book was only gradually accepted as canonical in many parts of Christendom.  In addition, in the second and third centuries Revelation was widely twisted and sensationally misinterpreted, and the erroneous teachings brought troublesome confusion to Christians–a trend that continues to this day.

Genesis and Revelation constitute fitting bookends of the Christian Bible.  Genesis opens with mythology–the creation of an earthly paradise, followed by the end of that paradise–to be precise (Genesis 1-3).  Revelation concludes with a vision of God, having finally defeated evil once and for all, restoring that earthly paradise and establishing the fully-realized Kingdom of God (Revelation 21-22).

THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN

Revelation came from 92 to 96 C.E., at the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian.  Emperor-worship and the worship of the goddess Roma (Rome personified) were parts of conventional Roman patriotism and civic life.  The Christian refusal to participate in these cults made Christians seem unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst.  Persecution was generally sporadic and regional at the time, but it was a constant threat.  “John of Patmos” (whoever he was) wrote to seven churches in commercial cities in western Asia Minor.

The elaborate symbolism–including numerology–in apocalyptic literature prevented the uninitiated–in this case, Roman censors–from understanding the texts.

SYMBOLISM AND MEANING IN REVELATION 1

The only instance in which to interpret any number in the Apocalypse of John literally pertains to the seven churches in western Asia Minor.

Revelation 1 plunges us into the symbolic aspect of apocalyptic literature immediately.  Stars (at the end of the chapter) represent angels and lamp-stands represent churches.  Earlier in the chapter, Jesus has white hair, indicating holiness.  His eyes, like a burning flame, pierce to the heart of all things.  Christ’s “feet like burnished bronze” are stable and steadfast.  His voice, “like the sound of the ocean,” is the convergence of the truth of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus holds the Church–then a vulnerable group of house congregations–in his hand.  From Christ’s mouth emerges a two-edged sword (speech).  His face shines like the sun.  Christ is victorious, resurrected, ascended, and priestly.

The Roman Empire may have seemed to have had all the power and glory.  It did not.  The Roman Empire had executed Jesus.  Yet he had risen; his tomb was empty.  The power of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to the power of God in Christ.

That was treasonous, for, according to Roman coinage, the emperor was the “Son of God.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE EDWARD LYNCH COTTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CALCUTTA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH ALBERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND POET

THE FEAST OF HERBERT G. MAY, U.S. BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN ERNEST BODE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TYNDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND MARTYR, 1536; AND MILES COVERDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF EXETER

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Deeds and Creeds VII   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART III

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James 2:1-26

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Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

nor crush the needy at the gate;

For the LORD will defend their cause,

and will plunder those who plunder them.

–Proverbs 22:22-23, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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If I were inclined toward theft, I would steal from the wealthy, not the poor, for the same reason Willie Sutton (1901-1980) robbed banks:

That’s where the money is.

Robbing the poor is counter-productive.  Yet many tax codes do just that; they fall more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy, in percentage of income.  The poor cannot game the system, but the wealthy can.

James 2:1-18 reminds me of Proverbs 22:22-23, which I hear read before James 2:1-18 every Proper 18, Year B, in The Episcopal Church.  Both passages speak of proper and improper attitudes toward the poor.

Do not curry favor with the rich, we read.  James 2:1-13 refers to its context.  One may envision a rich man–a Roman nobleman–clad in a toga and wearing a gold ring.  Only a member of that class had the sight to dress in that way.  Such a man was also seeking political office.  To curry favor with such a man was to seek the benefits he could bestow.

Yet members of the wealthy class also dragged Christians into courts of law.  If the rich man in question was on the bad side of Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96), the Christian congregation allied with that wealthy man suffered imperial wrath, too.

Recall James 1:27, O reader:  Care for the widows and orphans, and keep oneself uncontaminated from the world.

God has decreed the poor the most valuable people (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Jesus taught that the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).  The Gospels teach that the first will be last, the last will be first, and those serve are the greatest.  God disregards and contradicts human social hierarchies.

The audience of the Epistle of James consisted of Jewish Christians, marginalized within their Jewish tradition.  They knew about the Law of Moses and its ethical demand to take care of the less fortunate.  Apparently, some members of that audience had not acted in accordance with those common commandments.

St. Paul the Apostle addressed Gentiles.  The author of the Epistle of James addressed Jews.  St. Paul understood faith and works to be a package deal, hence justification by faith.  The author of the Epistle of James used “faith” narrowly, to refer to intellectual assent.  Therefore, he wrote of justification by works.  These two authors arrived at the same point after departing from different origins.  They both affirmed the importance of faithful actions.

We read of two scriptural examples–the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) and the hospitality of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-23).  I stand by my criticism of Abraham in Genesis 22.  I refer you, O reader, to follow the germane tags, if you are inclined to do so.

None of that detracts from the summary of the faith-works case in the Epistle of James:

So just as the body without a spirit is dead, so faith is dead without deeds.

–2:26, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

That theme continues, in another context, in the next chapter.

The allure of status is strong; even Christians are not necessarily immune to its appeal.  The ultimate status that really matters, though, is heir of God.  No earthly political power has any say over that status.  Another germane status is bearer of the image of God.  All people hold that status inherently.  If we really believe that, we will treat each other accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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