Feast upon the Word Blog

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Revelation 1-3: Towards an Epistolary Reading of the Apocalypse

Posted by joespencer on December 11, 2007

Eugene Boring:

We study Revelation because it is in our Bible. However, John did not write it as the “last book of the Bible”; it was a letter to Christians he knew and for whom he felt a pastoral responsibility. However, by “letter” we do not mean a private communication. The letter was not intended for private, silent reading but was written to be read aloud in the worship services of the churches of Asia. We should not picture the original readers as poring over the pages of the document in silent, individualistic contemplation or puzzlement but gathered in the community of praise and prayer, hearing the letter read forth by the worship leader . . . . John stands in the tradition of the Pauline churches and is influenced by the Pauline letter form and its use in worship. John expects his letter to be read forth to the assembled congregations, after which the worshipers will celebrate the Eucharist.” (Revelation, pp. 5-6)

Jurgen Roloff:

The book opens with an epistolary address that strikingly resembles the openings to the Pauline letters (1:4-8), and it concludes with an ending that is customary in letters (22:21) . . . . By no means may one, as frequently happens, regard these epistolary elements as insignificant additions to the “true” apocalypse in the later main sections (4:1-22:5), or even as secondary ornamentation. Closer examination shows instead that they are inseparably connected to the rest of the book by various thematic references . . . . It was incumbent on the prophets, who still played an important role in the life of the church in the first century, to announce to the churches the will of the exalted Lord, revealed to them by the Spirit, as a binding, shaping message for the life and conduct of believers.” (Revelation, pp. 7-8)

Margaret Barker:

[Paul] told his Galatian converts how he had resisted the demands of the Hebrew Christians when they insisted that the Law be kept (Gal. 2.11-12). Paul was very conscious that the Jerusalem church did not accept him as a genuine apostle; what he taught was suspect (Gal. 1.11-12; 2 Cor. 11.21-22). How he countered this accusation is very interesting. He said that his gospel came through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1.12) suggesting that a revelation from Jesus Christ was recognized by his opponents as the source of authentic teaching, as in Revelation 1.1. Paul was emphatic that even “an angel from heaven” (Gal. 1.8) should not turn them away from his teaching. He was alarmed at the success the Hebrew Christians had had among his Galatian converts, and one wonders whether it was a claim to heavenly revelation, like that in the seven letters, which had been so influential. “Who has bewitched you? How can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain” (Gal 3.1, 4.9-10). (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 97)

Jacques Lacan:

I am offering this reader an easy entryway into my style by opening this collection with “The Purloined Letter,” even though that means taking it out of chronological order. It will be up to this reader to give the letter in question, beyond those to whom it was one day addressed, the very thing he will find as its concluding word: its destination. Namely, Poe’s message deciphered and returning from him, the reader, so that in reading this message he realizes that he is no more feigned than the truth is when it inhabits fiction . . . . With this itinerary, of which these writings are the milestones, and this style, which the audience to whom they were addressed required, I want to lead the reader to a consequence in which he must pay the price with elbow grease. (Ecrits, pp. 4-5)

I’m not sure how much I ought to add to all the above, which is already long enough to tax the interest of anyone following these posts. But a bit of explanation is in order, and I’d let to get down to some of the details in the first three chapters of Revelation.

The superscription of the entire book deserves extended treatment, there is no question about that, but I haven’t the space here to give it any. If anyone is interested, I can post in a comment a rather curious “translation” of the first three verses that I once worked out (I had just read Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” and decided to write in between the lines of several different translations at once… the result is too much fun, but hardly rigorous in any sense). I’ll begin, here, with verse 10, right after John’s quite traditional epistolary opening.

The situation is quite clear: it is “the Lord’s day,” and John hears a trumpet behind him, and then turns around to see a seven-branched lampstand. A bit of simple logic here: if John turns around and face the menorah, then he was facing, a moment earlier, the table of shewbread in the Holy Place of the Old Testament temple. The temple setting is absolutely vital for a number of reasons (the movement of the seven letters will deliver John and his readers, in the end, at a door that opens in heaven… they will pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies), and it is signaled as early as the first verse of the book (John is being visited by angels bringing further light and knowledge) as well as the third (the reading/hearing situation described is so clearly ritualistic/liturgical that the temple-like setting must not be missed). If these details are not being misinterpreted, one can picture John performing the priest’s function, doing his work of changing the shewbread and the wine on the Sabbath. In a sense, he is attending to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, to the Eucharist. This ritual is suddenly disrupted by a trumpet’s voice and an associated vision that comes from behind him.

This Eucharistic theme is of some importance, since Revelation ends with the words of the ancient Eucharist (as found in the Didache as well as in Paul’s epistles). And this means that the entire book forms a massive inclusio: it begins and ends with the Eucharist, with the bread and wine, with the incarnational liturgy of the sacrament. In a sense, the entire Apocalypse can be said to be a kind of commentary on the sacrament, a strange exploration of the meaning of that ritual. (And how might one approach Margaret Barker’s argument that all of this is to be traced back to the baptismal experience of Jesus in light of all this? There is much more to think about here.)

The remainder of chapter 1 is given to the vision of the “one like unto the Son of man,” who then commands John to write the letters to the seven churches.

The seven cities to which the letters are written are laid out in roughly a circle on a map. They are addressed in order. At the conclusion of the sevenfold sequence is the parting of the veil, the opening of a door in heaven (John is in, remember, the Holy Place, and now the veil is parted and he is introduced into the Holy of Holies). The seven letters thus trace a movement from priesthood to high priesthood, from priesthood to kingship (cf. the “kings and priests” theme of ch. 1), and they do this by drawing on a series of themes taken from the Garden of Eden. This circling up of things before the veil is a significant theme (one can find it echoed in, for example, Mosiah 2:28, where Benjamin gathers the people in a circle about the temple so that he can pass through the veil and join the circle of angels above in their singing and shouting praises to the One on the throne, which is precisely what John will do in chs. 4-5): one could say that John is being given the task of gathering up the seven cities into a kind of true order so as to unlock the veil and allow John to be “angel-ified,” to become a part of the angel priesthood Margaret Barker so often describes (this is what is at stake in Isaiah 6, by the way).

An obvious progression marks the seven letters taken in sequence if they are read in terms of the commendation/condemnation pair that inhabits each letter: (1) patiently waiting for further light and knowledge, but not seeking to return to God’s presence thereby; (2) proving faithful after all, but a great trial is to come; (3) a trial has been faithfully endured, but some are teaching license without charity; (4) charity is to be found, but adultery is going on; (5) garments are now going undefiled, but perfection has not been attained; (6) perfection has been obtained, but the people are weak; (7) these are strong, but as yet undecided. That the last of these fails still is of some significance: none of the seven cities has everything in order, but together everything is at once problematic and overcome. Is this a call for unity?

The threats and promises are, as has already been mentioned in others’ comments, all related to the temple (and, explicitly, to Eden). The seven promises are especially interesting: to eat of the tree of life; to avoid the second death; to eat the hidden manna and to receive the white stone; a scepter and a star; clothed in white and written into the book of life; made a pillar in the temple and given three names; enthroned. That is: entrance into the garden and access to the tree of life/resurrection; the promise of eternal life; a stone with a new name; the tokens of kingship; the royal robe and genealogy; the key to the veil; and the throne itself. Through this progress one becomes a king/queen (with access to the Holy of Holies) and not just a priest/priestess (with access to the Holy Place).

Now, I know what will inevitably be said in response to all the above: this is speculative. Well… yes. It is. But what I’m trying to do more than anything in the above is to probe the images, to press the context, to induce something to emerge out of the mess of details. And that amounts to a kind of wager: taking a gamble on a few of these interpretations opens up some interpretive possibilities, and I’ll be interested to see what kind of fruit they bear. So, lest anything of the above be regarded as simply irresponsible, let it be known that I am quite aware that it is grounded in a kind of wager. In fact, I’d much prefer to take a look at each and every verse in extended detail (far more important results come out of that kind of study than broad, sweeping interpretations anyway), but what I’m trying to accomplish in these posts is to raise questions and possibilities more than to make any interpretive decisions.

But that leaves me with one other theme to explicate here: the number seven. Jim mentioned in one of his two posts Ford’s analysis of the seven-fold structure of the seven-fold structure of the seven-fold structure (etc.). It is worth reading, especially because she discusses the possibility that there was originally a series of sixes that were later reworked into sevens. I don’t buy the redactional move she’s making here, but I do think there is something behind it: John’s series of sevens might best be described as a series of six-plus-ones (cf. my podcast on Isaiah’s six-plus-one woes this morning: http://othonors.mypodcast.com/2007/12/Isaiah_5_Part_1-64037.html). This is important I think, and Robert has already made mention of what I think is behind all of this.

The number seven appears in Daniel and in Revelation in terms of a simple algebraic formula (one that deserves matheme-atical attention, you Lacanians!): x, 2x, + x/2 (time, times, and the dividing of time). This breaks the number seven up into three parts, each a double or a half of another (1, 2, 4 or 4, 2, 1). And this is the “structure” of the ark of the covenant: four corners (held up, in every vision of it, by four figures/beast/angels), two cherubim, and the One Lord. This three in seven or seven in three is of some importance for a number of reasons (one can read the three degrees of glory into this, for example: the beasts in their fourfold manifestation, as laid out in D&C 77, occupy the telestial world–remember that man is included in that list; the angels or sons of God occupy the terrestrial world, and God–the Gods–occupy the celestial). But that only really gets us started on the number seven.

This number occupies, of course, a rather important place in the first chapter of the Bible. One of way of sorting out the two creation stories is to recognize the seven-fold one as yet to come to pass (I think Paul is making this argument in 1 Corinthians 15, but I’ll have to refer you to my podcasts on Genesis 1-3 at the same site mentioned above to listen to the full argument). What I think this way of reading does for us is this: it allows us to recognize in the number seven a kind of mark of the eschatological, of the full-blown celestializing of man (in God’s likeness/image), the iconizing of human beings. The seven-fold reading of history (to which Revelation, as interpreted in D&C 77, is entirely dedicated) is thus entirely a ritual/liturgical understanding (not a historical understanding): this is the way history must be read (in the book in the hand of God, in fact), is written, so to speak, though it is not how it “happened” or “happens.” In the number seven, then, we can read a kind of ordering of things, the imposition of a divine order that divides things into three levels in a marvelously mathematical way. Revelation, as a whole, becomes an exploration of that ordering experience, a laying out of the basics of what such an ordering of things amounts to (note, please, that I am as yet leaving out so much of what that really means, that I am not yet even attempting to sort out what that history or things or anything like that must amount to).

This ordering of things is thus, as we are warned from the snippets I’ve included above, entirely liturgical and epistolary: John is communicating to seven particular cities a way that the might understand themselves in light of the Genesis liturgy, in light of what Christ has made possible. The particular circumstances are absolutely vital, because John is calling these seven cities to a most important task, and that absolutely must not be missed. But if we have purloined this letter, let us begin to recognize what is really at stake here: how does the sacramental liturgy allow us to rethink the seven-fold meaning of the creation/fall story of Genesis, and how does it call us to the work?

Now, a final warning–one that I should attach to everything I say about Revelation over the next week: THIS IS REALLY SLOPPY! An, unfortunately for everyone else, I’m not going to take the time to clean these up (this took me almost two hours today as it is!). What you’ll be receiving in these posts is, I hope it is clear, my rambling thoughts as influenced by extended study in Revelation, but I am hardly trying to work out a coherent, careful argument. If this starts some discussion and some serious study in the Apocalypse, I’ll be quite pleased. But please, please, please do not take any of the above as anything like a definitive argument: you’ve caught me after Thrasymachus has left and I’m getting out on the table, for the benefit of my friends, a few of my as yet unrefined thoughts and musings.

I hope you all enjoy!

29 Responses to “Revelation 1-3: Towards an Epistolary Reading of the Apocalypse”

  1. nhilton said

    Joe, thanks for this here plank I’ve walked down just to…fall into the depths of the ocean, even if it was an enjoyable walk. Could you please ANSWER your posed question: “how does the sacramental liturgy allow us to rethink the seven-fold meaning of the creation/fall story of Genesis, and how does it call us to the work?” I’d REALLY like you to suggest some answers here. I like the question but I don’t know what to do with it. And I don’t understand your Genesis connection to Revelations. Am I just stupid?

    Another question re: #7, Since I celebrated my wedding anniversary on 07/07/07 this year do I now have a perfect marriage? :)

    Kidding aside, Joe, I appreciate the 2 hours you spent putting this together. I like reading your thoughts but could benefit from a bit more specifics, even if that limited the expanse of your thinking. Additionally, if you painstakingly typed the quotes from the authors at the beginning of your post, it may help you to know that I find YOUR original thinking much more interesting to read than these excerpts. Short excerpts are best because they let me know where you’re coming from. I mention this because if it took more than cutting & pasting, subtract that effort from your 2 hours & perhaps you’ll have more time to write your own “book.”–warmly, Nanette

  2. Rebecca L said

    Spectacular speculations though, Joe. Much to think about here. A couple side questions before I really try to get my mind around this–

    What are the words of the Eucharist? Where can I look at a more extended argument equating the eucharist and the temple rituals?

    Do you buy Barker’s thesis that these admonitions to the churches are directed against Paul? If so, was that because they were written before Paul presented himself to the Jerusalem leadership?

    I have trouble seeing the Laodiceans as the most perfect of the lot (i.e. I’m not yet completely convinced about the progressiveness of the ordering.)

    I love the Genesis-temple connections and am excited to see how the 7s unfold.

    Really marvelous, Joe. Thanks for putting the time and effort into getting this in print.

  3. Joe Spencer said

    Nanette #1,

    For the moment, I can only respond with a brief explanation of what happened as I wrote this post. Really, I had no idea where I was headed, and what came out was quite a bit different from anything I might have expected. What emerged is, in many ways, very unsatisfactory to me (which I imagine can be sensed by the multitude of caveats that inhabit its later paragraphs). I am entirely convinced that the best work in the scriptures is always done at the level of the individual passage, verse, or even phrase. But I’ve done nothing of this here. Which is another way of saying that I myself walked down that same plank. And the questions I posed are questions in response to which, it seems to me, entire books ought to be written. So I don’t know that I’ll be providing any ready answers any time soon (though I would encourage anyone and everyone to get such a discussion started!).

    As mentioned in the post, the several podcasts on Genesis 1-3 on my seminary lesson podcast site are a detailed, textual look at this question of the seven-fold structure of the creation, what it means, what Paul says about it, and how that relates to Revelation (though I only make this last connection briefly in those lectures). I realize that listening to the four lectures in question means a three hour commitment… but I’m hardly apologetic: what do the scriptures mean to us, after all? :)

    Since I type about 100 wpm, entering in the four quotations was a matter of a couple of minutes, barely a dent into the two hours I spent writing up the post, so I’ll probably continue to include them. Their inclusion here seems to me, in the end, to be the richest part of the post, the most textually interesting (especially the clash between Roloff/Boring and Barker and how that clash can be rethought in terms of Lacan’s elusive words). As I have time tomorrow (!) I’ll see if I can’t expostulate on why those several quotations seem so important to me.

    In a word: I would much rather do textual work, but I can’t seem to get anybody but Robert to work consistently with me on any textual project on the wiki, so I resort, often enough, to the broader, theological, overly assuming, theoretical discussion that necessarily comes out of me when discussing things on the blog. Oh well. :)

  4. Joe Spencer said

    Rebecca #2,

    The Didache (“teaching”) is a document readily available (I’m sure it’s available online). Passages 9-10 are dedicated to the Eucharist. I’ll quote just the last words of the final prayer of the liturgy here: “May grace come, and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let him come; if anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha! [translated: “Come thou!”] Amen.” (Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, 155) Compare this with Revelation 22:17, 20-21: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely…. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

    The most extended discussion I’ve come across of the connections between the Eucharist and the OT temple is Margaret Barker’s The Great High Priest, which is a simply fantastic read.

    I too am a bit iffy about the progression. Some of what I wrote up (including that bit of progression among the seven condemnations/commendations) came from some old notes I was fishing through. My guess is that I was thinking primarily of the “Amen” theme in the letter to the Laodiceans, but I wrote those notes down a couple of years ago, and I hadn’t the time to dig through them in enough detail this morning (cf. my lament in response to Nanette about not being able to do anything at the textual level this morning). My hope is that I can work through two more rather broad considerations of Revelation as a whole in the next two days and then spend the remainder of the week I’ll be dedicating to this working on a more intimate level with the text itself. Here’s for hoping.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. Clark said

    Online Didache including all translations and the original text. Pretty nice online version. The dating is somewhat questionable still as I recall. Some actually put it as among the earliest of the Christian texts – perhaps from around the time of Paul. It’s definitely worth reading if only to compare and contrast the sacrament prayers in Palestine with those that evolved among the Nephites. (Some, arguing, based upon the use of Benjamin’s speech — FARMS has a paper on this as I recall)

    Some people make a big deal about the way the baptism is discussed in the Didache but when you realize that water is a precious and often rare commodity in the desert I think the discussions make much more sense. Use living waters (i.e. a spring) where possible, otherwise stagnant and if that is missing use what water you have. (Even if it’s only a few drops) It’s easy to see how the idea of sprinkling developed out of this.

    Anyway, if you read only one early text make it the Didache. It’s well worth reading.

    Sorry for the tangent, but I thought I’d mention the above since Joe mentioned the text and many readers might not be familiar with it.

  6. s james said

    Thanks Clark, nice site.

  7. Joe Spencer said

    Sorry Rebecca, I realized this morning that I had failed to answer you question about Margaret Barker on Paul…

    I don’t play very hard and fast with any of Margaret Barker’s interpretations, though I do take them all quite seriously. I suppose I like to let them shatter some horizons I might otherwise impose on the text, but I feel usually like I ought to be quite careful not to let her own interpretations become similarly imposing horizons for the text. The textual connections she makes in Galatians, though, do seem rather interesting…

    All: the FARMS paper Clark mentions is published in King Benjamin’s Speech: That Ye May Learn Wisdom. It is an interesting paper that I would recommend.

  8. Robert C. said

    Joe, I’m interested in your “translation” of the first three verses. Still chewing on the rest of this.

    Though, I will say that in thinking about the number seven in this 4=earth, 2+1=heaven way, I thought of something I hadn’t really quite thought about in this way in the Gen 1 creation account before, namely that the first 4 days explicitly do no mention animal life—symbolically, then, it seems the “hidden” message is that there is only genuine(/eternal?) life in heaven….

  9. Joe Spencer said

    With my apologies… and with a plea that frustrations with the following be directed towards Robert… my curious translation of the first three verses:

    The odyssey (theodicy?) begins. For this (right here!) is the Hermetic (even messianic) Word to Hell (once called Calypso, once called John, but first—primordially—named Jesus):
    “Let the Savior be unveiled, stripped bare, opened up, unconcealed, and just so called (by name) into the waters that he might be (or know, at least, that he is) anointed, for this is a gift wherewith God (herein surnamed Thesis) would prove him(self?), endow him(self?), clothe him(self?), and set him(self?) forth—double him, at the very least, with descending dove and fiery crown. This gift is to be (made) given precisely in that one, as king in the midst of his knights and as priest in the midst of his initiates, marks his own open face as the token regard that (beheld hold, thought thought) binds his bondsmen to him. Again, it is for this cause that the gift is to be (made) given: in being called face to face, or even hand to hand (in violent, dialectical combat), the (given) debt by which master becomes master and by which slave becomes slave might come to pass, might come for the very purpose of passing, might come to flaming sword to pass wounded by an angel, might come (again, precisely: as a primordial cutting, as the rift a river has always already cut into the essence of arrival) in passing (now crossing, now taking up the cross, being marked—even stigmatized—by a cutting wound that holds the body to the cross)—might come, after all, just to be canceled but perpetually remembered as an everlasting covenant (betokened in the mysterious trace—functionally the antidote—called circumcision).”
    Thus communicated, this Word came between two as communion or as token of community: laying their weapons together in a pile (that pointed undeniably at the excluded), the two took to wrestling. And as Hermetic Word made of Word to Hell rather Word to hold, and as Word to Hell made of Hermetic Word rather hermeneutic Word, only a (the, this) Word passed between them (Peniel)—and Word became mystery.
    Just so was it that I (a knight, an initiate, a bondsman) too wrestled with an angel sent to vex me, both to weigh me and to throw his weight against me. Weighty indeed was his mass, was our (celebrated) Mass (a veritable Communion): sent to send me, the messenger gave me sense, imbued me with meaning, endowed me with a bearing (a burden, a birthing), set before me a way. He, sent, and I, by consent, wrestled out this preface, a pre-Peniel, this sign of the sign, this delay of the following, a three-verse double(d) Word to send with the sending (even a commandment—a hand-to-hand-ing—to hand over with the following and yet sent manuscript). Double(d) Word: by this, my angel in the darkness at the Jabbok, the hermeneutically held Word was seconded, was signed (or better: co-signed), was marked with a name and face (Israel… Peniel), was given to the public (stigmatized, but as a work of art, an engraving), was known (even by the undeniably excluded), was given to be sent, was given in that it was to be sent. The sign (the Word) was counter-signed, was followed and thereby set to be followed, was made a call (a calling Word) to be echoed, relived, reenacted, or recalled (known again). I (after all): John
    John indeed, who held and so beheld: with my whole body I perceived in the angel both the contour and detour of God, his thrust and his parry, his approach and his retreat, his towering strength and his cowering escape, both marked as the statute (statue or boundary) binding and separating us in his proffering a proper name (Eidos Thesis, not Peniel—or, Peniel at one remove, Peniel doubled). Held and holding, I became a martyr: he touched my thigh as he spoke my name; he gave me a name as he circumcised me. Again, as (in that) he proved me most painfully, we became a (just one) metaphor, were united in carrying until birth, joined together as the very place (stead) the Word of God should inhabit. Manufactured (rendered a face by the hand-to-hand) statuary, we doubled the heart of the matter: face (ours: Eidos Thesis) answered face (theirs: Peniel), and we—in wrestling—were translated in translating, speaking (and spoken in) the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus the Anointed with the tongue(s) of men and of angels. And we chiseled (but with an aul) the Word and testimony of the vision into stone (from heart to stone to heart again) and deposited the record in the Holy of Holies, passing into that fiery place through the water of the Jabbok, wherein we, as Rahab, were pierced, were cut (by the problematic aul, by the problematic eyes, by the problematic of the proper name). Pierced there, nailed there, crossing there and crossed there, being-there, cut out of the elemental collective of veiled humanity and then thrown there, holding each other there in hand-to-hand combat still, we witnessed, did see with our eyes and did feel with our hands, and did know of a surety and do bear record of the logic of God, do bear in our bodies the marks of (the martyrdom of) Jesus Christ. Through this double deposition (both ascension and descent), we positioned ourselves at the foot of the (One on the) throne, wrestled firm(ament)ly before Him, deposited the testimony—a book—into, at last, His open hand.
    And blessed is he (he: always high priest) who crosses—and is crossed—there also. Blessed there, at that very place: there the tender—even wilted—plant blossoms; there the fruitless search finds success (Eureka!); there the depths of the foundationless are set (in)to (a) work; there the Word(s) of the dead language are translated; there the gay science of wrestling proclaims that (the) dead (one) is God; there, after all, blood is made oil. Only he who is there anointed (thrice: ear, thumb, toe) may cross over the floods (at first the Jabbok?) to the throne to retrieve from its grave the Word of the following: only crossing over the floods (now the Kidron?) to (in) the ark may one bleed under the weight of the olive press as did the Anointed. Blessed is he, then, who does the impossible, the initiate. The impossible, and yet more: let him bleed twice, let him double his wounds, let him make sure the place where he crosses, where he wrestles, where the blessed one nails him to the ground with the most blessed strength. In other words, let him wrestle the testimony from the hand of God, for that is a first chrism, a first naming, a first wrestle; but then, then and there, let him—now named the nameless, now called into being—carry the testimony back over the floods and into the promised land, translate the following in(to) the land yet (therein) to flow with milk and honey. Let him come, at last, into the garden (let, rather, the garden come in his coming), where is honey and milk, and let him speak the blossoming Word:
    “Eat, O friends, with me, for I bring you bread to hear and wine to speak. I have trodden the floods (a sea of glass and fire), and I have returned, faithful, to the earth, with bread (what is it?) from God to break with you, and with wine (to loose your tongues) as well to pour it with you. The bread, broken in violence, is a call, and the wine, spoken in silence, is response: doubly they are the singularity of a circumcised Word. A profession shall gather this throng to me: ye shall be keepers of our (pass)Word, guards (and just so a garden) of our circumcised—our cut, our marked, our scarred, our engraven—fate. Wheat, tender blade, shall grow in your midst as I speak the bread ye shall hear, but in answer ye shall thresh in violent drunkenness, trampling the kernels free in your performance of the bacchanalian dance. Just so shall this garden become a hold, and I a winged god. Now, therefore, let us feast and sing a hymn, for just beyond the flood (of Words) there approaches the holocaust, the opportune cutting that will double the circumcision of the following prophecy. The father, pure fitness, Kronos himself, spies us and our revel(ation), just beginning, and he will dig a grave for our freely performed Words: he holds a sword, speaks a sword. The spirit of the time(s), of this moment, however, answers to an event. Let us cut, though and then, to the chase, wherein ye shall persecute me, Word for Word, just as I have summoned you. In short—cut—let us wrestle before he wrestles us, the son(s), but we in meal and in song, in bloodless oblation. The procedure: I shall riddle out the rhythm of the ritual scar, reading out to you all I discern in the light of that cut, while ye shall interpret in response, shall intensely (in tension) come before me, shall step into the clearing my call opens by means of your intentionality. Listen, friends, with fiery Words, and then—therein—we shall be cut, pierced together for the fire we have wrestled from heaven: blind, we shall save Israel with a great salvation. Stand still, O friends, and hear the salvation of the Lord.”
    Thus let the blessed one speak the Word in a hermetically sealed hell. Theodicy (the odyssey?) ends.

  10. robf said

    Apocalypse Wow

    A lot to chew on here, wondering if I’m following Joe/Colonel Kurtz off into the jungle on this one.

    What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans? That he had wisdom?”

    OK, so I watch too many movies. But I’m up for a word by word look at this on the wiki if Joe and anyone else wants to make the venture.

  11. Robert C. said

    Joe, thanks for providing this—it’ll take some chewing to digest!

    Rebecca #2 and Joe #4, just when I was ready to agree with your comments and scrap this progression idea, I read something about the promises at the end of each letter, in particular, forming a progression. So, building on a comment I think I made on Jim’s thread, here’s a more detailed progression that I’m thinking about now:

    1. In the Garden: “tree of life” (2:7)
    ..2. Fall: “second death” (2:11)
    ….3. In the wilderness: “manna” (2:17)
    ……4. Promised land: “power over the nations” (2:26-27)
    ….5. Purification: “white raiment” (3:5)
    ..6. Entering God’s house: “a pillar in the temple of my God”
    7. Sitting on God’s throne: “sit with me in my throne” (3:21)

    This also seems to parallel Israelite history (1-4 tracing Israelite history from the Garden up and through Joshua and Judges, 5-7 seem to follow the development of the first temple cult, starting with Samuel up and through the building of Solomon’s temple).

  12. nhilton said

    #5, Clark, thanks for that link. Which translation which short for time? I look forward to reading all at another time.

    #11, Robert, I love your organization here. You say “first temple cult.” Is present temple worship different or the same, relatively?

    Joe…alas…I must simply be over my head here & need to sign-off. Am I to understand that #9 is your translation of the first 3 verses of the first chapter in Revelation?

  13. Joe Spencer said

    Yeah, Nanette, that is what I meant… but I’ll hide behind the fact that I said it was curious. I was really interested in the idea of translation at the time and had been thinking too hard about Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator,” and so this is a rather poetic attempt to translate the Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German, French, and English into a single English text that weaves them all together. Which is another way of saying that it is not exactly a translation… but it remains something like a translation. Like I said: I’ll point to Robert for anyone who wants to make complaints. :)

    Robert’s reference to the first temple cult makes reference to the rather common way among OT scholars of referring to the temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians just after the Nephites left as the “first temple” (the “second temple” is the temple that was built after the exile). Hence, the “first temple cult” would be the practices performed at the temple before the exile, as opposed to those after the exile. There were, between these two, substantial differences, and Margaret Barker’s work is primarily dedicated to exploring those differences.

  14. cherylem said

    Still reading . . . . on to the next post.

  15. s james said

    AND when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.

  16. kimmatheson said

    Robert #11: Is the way that you arranged this seven-fold progression meant to indicate that you see it as chiastic? If anything, it seems to be Ring Composition (which I just learned about last night, so it’s on my mind!) to me, which might tie in nicely with the circular movement around the seven cities.

  17. Clark said

    I don’t have it handy, but there is a major apocalypse which I believe predates John’s that has a chiastic structure of 13 (an ascent and descent) with seven heavens with three key heavens being focused in on. It was one of the earlier merkabah like texts that many feel was used for meditative purposes and was found at Qumran.

  18. Joe, thanks for that explanation clarifying that there are several languages pasted together here through an English lense. NOW this makes sense…or at least more sense. :)

  19. Joe Spencer said

    Clark, let me know if you track that down. It would be interesting to compare it to 2 Nephi 9, which turns on 13 exclamations, 6 and 6, balanced on a central 1.

  20. robf said

    More on seven and the Book of Revelation from Margaret Barker:

    In the vision of the Book of Revelation, the fruit of the tree of life is promised as a reward for the faithful, and there are other ancient texts in the Hebrew tradition which describe the beautiful perfume of the tree of life and how its fruit would one day be given to the righteous (1 Enoch 25). This fruit is described as the ‘sevenfold instruction concerning his creation’ (1 Enoch 93.10). The tree of life was a source of knowledge about the creation, it was the source of life, and, as we shall see, it was the source of healing and renewal.

  21. Robert C. said

    Kim #16, yes I had a chiastic structure in mind since it seems that such a structure suggests some interesting things:

    1 & 7 = in the presence of God
    2 & 6 = leaving/entering God’s presence
    3 & 5 = trials (wandering) and purification (these pairing seems the weakest to me…)
    4 = triumph of God over enemies

    But I’m certainly open to thinking about other structural possibilities, and as I understand ring composition, it’s not mutually exclusive of chiasm (so thanks for the suggestion!).

  22. Rebecca L said

    Rob 21 and Kim,
    3&5 are also linked by “white” and perhaps by the role that manna plays in exacting obedience and identifying those that eat it as Christ’s own.

    Also, the white manna is linked with the white stone and a new name. This corresponds nicely with the Lord speaking of the white raiment, he says “I will not blot out his name…but will confess his name…” (Rev 3:5)

    Christ is the living bread, the true manna– we take him into us and take/receive his name. John 6:49-51). Of course, eating the hidden manna (the manna in the ark?) would have to happen in the Holy of Holies already, right?

    Christ in turn confesses us and our name before the father. I think it works nicely.

  23. Rebecca L said

    # 9 That certainly calls into question what is meant by translation, Joe! :) It reminds me of Ulysses.

  24. Rebecca L said

    Another seven– the priest sprinkles the blood 7 times as he performs the Day of Atonement offering.

  25. Rebecca L said

    #21 Rob

    Ok–last little comment for the night. What is a chiasm without a good center? I think that 4 is more than the triumph of God. Barker (again) points out that this section quotes Ps. 2, a coronation psalm. Also, she translates “give you the morning star” as “annoint you as a morning star.” The visual imagery, of course, refers to Christ, but also to the flaming brilliance that describes Christ.

    So.. here at the center we have a coronation (ours) which reinforces the meaning of the extremes (tree of life/throne), that we will return to God and not only rule over earthly powers, but sit on the heavenly throne as well.

    Thanks, Rob, for pointing this ordering out!

  26. Rebecca & Rob, Thanks so much for this joint thinking!

    I think Joe asked in the next post what the catalyst was for the opening of the seals, each one at the appointed time. Rebecca reminded me in #24 of this sprinkling 7 times by the high priest. As this is representative of the atonement, and perhaps baptism and all that embodies, this act may be a catalyst to the opening. I can’t imagine that the moment of “opening” is random, but rather based upon some evolution, or ripening, of earth’ inhabitants. This ripening mentioned over in 6:13 (see my comment at Joe’s next post: https://feastuponthewordblog.org/2007/12/12/a-book-sealed-seven-times-revelation-4-11/#comment-22032.

  27. Joe Spencer said

    I have officially been compared to James Joyce! I think the Lord can take me home now. :)

    The manna-stone connection is important, I think. There is a profound parallel between the sacrament drama and the giving a white stone, I think, especially if we read this latter drama in the framework of Isaiah 6. There is, of course, also Jesus’ mention of these together in the Sermon on the Mount: if your son ask for bread, do you give him a stone?

  28. Clark said

    Actually the manna-stone is much more symbolic of the liahona or seer balls. There’s a lot of structural “myths” regarding this. (The crystal ball in fairy tales being but one example) However such things were also a token of kingship. In a certain rite we symbolically receive a ball, a sword and a staff. (Hopefully that’s vague enough for everyone)

    I’ll look up that Qumran text when I get home.

  29. Robert C. said

    Rebecca and ponderpaths, thanks, great thoughts!

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