Sunday, April 08, 2012

Seeing signs for "End Times" in everyday events...

by Salman Hameed

Today's NYT has a review of a new book Revelation: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the book of Revelation. It looks like a fascinating read. One of the key points of the book is that not only do people have found signs for the End Times in their respective lifetimes, but that these signs have often been used for political purposes. Of course, Islam also has a rich imagery for the end times (here is a Wiki entry for Islamic eschatology). I have already posted about Turkish creationist Harun Yahya's obsession with End Times , and also with some recent TV shows in Pakistan mixing the 2012 Mayan calendar nonsense with Islamic apocalypse. On a purely academic level, I find these cultural borrowing and transformations quite fascinating.

But back to the new book on the book of Revelation:

 “Revelation” is from the Latin translation of the Greek word apocalypsis, which can designate any unveiling or revealing, fantastic or ordinary. Scholars also refer to the document as the Apocalypse of John. And that same Greek word provides the label for all sorts of ancient literature that scholars call “apocalyptic.” The biblical text purports to relate a real vision experienced by an otherwise unknown Jew named John — not the Apostle John, nor the same person as the anonymous author of what we call the Gospel of John. But we have no reason to doubt that his name was really John. It wasn’t an unusual name for a Jew. 
John wrote his vision, prefaced with messages to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern western Turkey), from the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. We may imagine John, Pagels suggests, as an old Jew who had lived through the Jewish war with Rome, during which Jerusalem was decimated and the Temple destroyed in the year 70. He may have seen the thousands of Jews killed and thousands of others carried to Rome as slaves. Bitter about the dominating imperial power, he may have wandered through Syria and Asia Minor, along the way meeting other followers of the crucified prophet Jesus, other “cells” of worshipers of the Jewish Messiah who was killed and mysteriously raised from the dead. 
But when he gets to western Asia Minor, he comes across many gentile Christians, quite possibly in churches founded by the now dead Apostle Paul. Unlike John, they seem to be relatively well off. They usually get along fine with their non-Christian neighbors. They may be prospering from the Pax Romana, the “peace” sustained by Roman domination. They are marrying and having children, running their small businesses, ignoring the statues, temples and worship of other gods that surround them.
For John, this Christian toleration of Rome and its idols is offensive. This is not a benign governmental power. It is the Whore of Babylon, arrogantly destroying the earth. John writes (in this theory) to warn the churches, and he relates his vision to provoke alarm at the Evil Empire. That vision predicts the destruction of Rome by angelic armies, followed by the salvation of faithful disciples of the bloody, horned warrior-lamb Jesus. Those who resist will, in the end, be rewarded.
And here is the bit about interpretations:
The Apocalypse, the Revelation to John, has over the centuries been read by many Christians to predict events that might happen in their own time. In the 1980s, journalists discussed President Ronald Reagan’s statements that biblical prophecies might be fulfilled in our days, when other nations would attack Israel and a great war would end with the Second Coming of Christ. But Reagan was just one in a long line bringing John’s prophecy into our times. 
Pagels, the author of “The Gnostic Gospels,” details how Revelation and other apocalyptic writings have frequently urged fear and hatred of ruling powers, if not so often armed revolt. Revelation was originally anti-Roman propaganda. Two centuries earlier, around 164 B.C., a Jew wrote down another series of visions in order to incite resistance against Hellenizing Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and their patron king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruler of the Greco-Syrian Seleucid empire. That book, published in the Old Testament under the pseudonym Daniel, is one of the earliest ancient apocalypses, and it influenced Jewish and Christian literature thereafter. Around A.D. 100, another Jew, not a Christian, recorded his own visions, nowadays known as 4 Ezra, also stoking the fires of anti-Roman hatred and prophesying Rome’s destruction. As Pagels illustrates, apocalyptic visions have been put to political purposes throughout history, down to the armies on both sides of the Civil War, echoed for Northern soldiers in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” but also inspiring Southern generals.
And you can find the same trends again and again and in different cultures. We all just want to live in a special time...

Read the full article here.         

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apocalypse is around the corner since thousands of years...LOL