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Thread: The Book of Revelation

  1. #1
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    The Book of Revelation

    Part I - The Nature of the Visions

    Most likely the author of Revelation never used psychodelic drugs, since it would not have been compatible with his extremely puristic attitude. The ´visions´ of John must and can be explained differently.

    The breadth of possible interpretational approaches ranges from a literary interpretation (i. e. the text is to be taken literally and the author has seen everything exactly as he describes it) to a literary interpretation (i. e. the author creates a vision that he has constructed purely literarily). In between, and this is the most common explanatory approach, is an interpretation of the Revelation as a mix of vision and literature (i. e. the author has combined the visioned with the reading literarily). I personally tend to the literary interpretation with the addition that, although the author had ecstatic experiences (ASC) that these have nothing or little to do with his text in terms of concrete content, they merely encouraged him in the subjective feeling of being a ´chosen one' who has the right to express his religious message in the tradition of Jewish-prophetic/apocalyptic literature (Ezechiel, Daniel, Henoch) to give the form of a vision.

    Anyone who suspects among the readers that I want to trivialize or disparage the Revelation by doing so must ask themselves whether he has seen enough of the relevant international specialist literature, which knows no prohibitions on thought and has analysed the Revelation consistently critical of its source and without misguided thought. The fact that the Revelation is a highly demanding (artistic) work on a literary level is, after all, unanimous consensus among experts.

    But the question remains: Vision (fact), fiction, or fact-fiction?

    Some researchers (e. g. Felicitas D. Goodman 1990, Ioan P. Culiano 199, Revelation expert Leonard Thompson 1996 and B. J. Malina / J. J. Pilch 2000) believe to recognize essential parallels between a shamanic spiritual journey and the ´visions´ of the Revelation. I believe that such parallels exist, but do not adequately justify the assumption that the author has actually experienced such a journey of spirit. One argument of the Spirit Journey Theory is the reference to the so called ´interpretative angel´ (17,1), which reminds of the´spirits´ who are used to accompany a shaman on his journey. Another argument refers to the formula "I was in the spirit".

    It was not uncommon in early Christian congregations to stimulate several gifted persons through certain techniques, especially ritual chanting (see Eph 15:18-19) to make supposedly prophetic statements interpreted by the rest of the congregation, see e. g. 1 Cor 14:26 ff:

    26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

    In the following I present in detail arguments for a shamanic-visionary interpretation, which I can comprehend to a certain degree without acknowledging it as imperative. In my opinion, too much speaks in favour of a largely literary construction of the content of the Revelation.

    As to the pro-visionary reasoning:

    It is based to a large extent on the formula "I was in the Spirit", which at least in Rev 4,2 supposedly refers to an OBE (Out-of-Body-Experience). It appears twice, at 1,10 and 4,2 in the Luther translation:

    Rev 1:

    1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, like a trumpet

    Rev 4:

    4:1 After these things I looked and saw a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, like a trumpet speaking with me, was one saying, "Come up here, and I will show you the things which must happen after this."

    4:2 Immediately I was in the Spirit. Behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting on the throne 4:3that looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald to look at. (...)

    ´Pneuma´, the Greek word for "spirit", corresponds to the Jewish word "ruach" (gram. feminine), which means "breath of God "and is connoted with "wind ". Unquestionably, ´ruach´ also has the connotation of female fertility, as Gen 1,2 shows where ´ruach´ breeds above the deep water, which can alternatively be translated as ´fluttering´ in the sense of a mother bird fluttering over her eggs. In neo-Platonism, the Ruach corresponds to the "world soul" with its mediating position between the divine nous (= platonic ideas) and the material, which inspired Christianity to its conception of the Trinitarian Holy Spirit, who called upon the repressed mother (-goddess) of the classical Triad Father-Mother-Son - e. g. the Triad Osiris-Isis-Horus - substituted (cf. the above mentioned hatching of feminine ruach at Gen 1,2). In Luke's case, Ruach is the "Holy Spirit" who will "come" over Mary and is identical with the "power of the Most High" (Luke 1:35). In Ezekiel's case, the Ruach appears as a wind that transports him from Babylon to Jerusalem, where he observes apocalyptic supernatural events.

    Ruach is therefore a supernatural force that cancels the laws of space and time and allows consciousness to experience things that are unthinkable in the everyday world. For Jewish and Christian thought, this power is an expression of a personal God, the "Spirit of God".

    However, regarding 1,10 and 4,2 it is doubtful whether the in-spirit formula describes the same process in both cases. There are basically two ways of interpreting the formula:

    (1) "To be in the spirit" means a subjective state of consciousness of J (= trance), which enables him to have a higher perception. At the same time John´s psyche remains in the body.

    (2) "Being in the Spirit" refers to an objective event associated with an out-of-body experience (= OBE): John´s psyche is transferred into a divine sphere.

    This distinction is addressed in Paul's description of his initiation (2 Cor 12:1-4). The author is so uncertain about whether he was "fourteen years ago" on his heavenly journey inside or outside his body that he expresses this doubt twice in a few sentences:

    1 The glory is of no use to me; but I will come upon the face and revelation of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ; fourteen years ago, if he was in the body, I know not; or if he was out of the body, I know not, God knows it, he was enchanted unto the third heaven. 3 And I know the same man (whether he was in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows it); 4 he was enraptured into paradise, and heard unspeakable words which no man can say.

    Back to John´s Revelation.

    The difference between 1.10 and 4.2 consists in the protagonist's initial situation.

    In 1,10 John is in an everyday environment, more precisely: on Patmos on the' Day of the Lord', when the Spirit effect begins. J is haunted by a supernatural figure (Christ) standing in the midst of seven candlesticks and dictating letters to him (whereof the passages of letters are possibly a subsequent insertion). Without the candlesticks, the scene could be interpreted as Christ's entry into the natural world. But their presence signals that, conversely, John entered a supernatural space where he confronted ´Christ´.
    Last edited by Tammuz; 12-04-2017 at 09:52 PM.

  2. #2
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    The reference to Felicitas Goodman was interesting. I don't know if Revelation was the result of a shamanic trance, but if it was there would probably be a community about the writer of Revelations in which the ceremony was conducted with set postures and drums beating.

    This sentence is interesting: "Ruach is therefore a supernatural force that cancels the laws of space and time and allows consciousness to experience things that are unthinkable in the everyday world." The perspective of that sentence assumes there exist "laws of space and time". I am just pointing it out because it is not obvious that any laws of space and time exist.

    I see Revelation as a book written by someone familiar with Zoroastrian traditions and suffering from the unacceptable political situation of the Jewish people at that time.

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    Before touching upon comments from other users I would like to post the second half of my analysis of the vision subject. The text is like the one of yesterday translated from German with the new German translation service "DeepL" (using a supercomputer on Island performing 5,1 petaflops on the basis of ´convolutional neural network´), what is clearly superior to other digital translation services. I´m using digital translation for the first time. However even DeepL is not quite perfect, so one has to proofread the result. Yesterday I neglected proofreading so that some errors were left. I hope the text below has turned out better in this respect. I will continue the thread with more articles on themes such as the ´woman of the Apocalypse´ and the ´New Jerusalem´. The series was originally written for a German history forum.


    The situation is quite different in 4,2, where John is still situated in the supernatural scene 1,10-3,22, perceiving a door ´in heaven´ through which he enters the heavenly sphere upon Christ's request. The repetition of the "I was in the Spirit" at this point makes only sense if it implies an increase of the previous being in the Spirit, because otherwise it would be superfluous, because the reader already knows since 1,10 that John is in the Spirit,

    The question remains as to where the supernatural scene 1,10-3,22 is located within the universe of Revelation. Since John gains access to heaven only in 4,2 and Christ appears in heaven only as a lamb, heaven is definitively excluded as the location of that scene, what suggests an interpretation of the scene in the sense of above (1): Christ reveals himself - in analogy to various dream scenes in the Tanach - in the subjective consciousness of John. The only alternative would be a sphere that is neither earthly nor heavenly, which I do not think is an option.

    Interim result:

    If - contrary to my opinion - 1,10 et seq. and 4,2 et seq. are reports of supernatural experiences, then the first sequence is about an internal trance (without OBE) and the second sequence is either also about an internal trance with increased visions or about a transfer of John´ s psyche (OBE) to a place which J calls "heaven". An indication, albeit no evidence, for OBE is the call "Climb here" in 4,1 by the same voice that J addressed earlier in his trance and now sounds from "Heaven".

    Here is something fundamental to say about the world view of the Judaeo-Christian apocalypticism. It divides cosmic history into three phases:

    An original phase of timeless perfection (1) which, due to a disastrous event, changes into a phase of imperfection (2). Here the world is fragmented into space and time and characterized by dualisms such as light/darkness, good/evil, God/Satan, spirit/matter, angels/demons, etc. In order to restore the initial state of the world, the powers of good enter into a war against the powers of evil that rule the world of phase (2). At the end stands their defeat and the restoration of the originally perfect world (3) by eliminating all dualisms, i. e. everything that blocks the way of the kingdom of good and light gets destroyed, leaving a monolithic world of good (in Revelation: the "New Jerusalem"). In the Bible this developmental arch is illustrated by its beginning (Genesis = origin and loss of Paradise) and its end (John's revelation = restoration of Paradise). During phase (2) the kingdom of God does not disappear, of course, but is merely pushed into the distance by the dark powers (Satan and demons). This distance can only be bridged by (a) angels and (b) visionaries.

    The events in the Kingdom of God's sphere are accordingly detached from the conditions of the space-time continuum. Therefore, it would also be compatible with the special "A-logic" of this sphere to interpret the First Horseman as the earthly manifestation of Christ in Rev 6,1-2, although the heavenly Lamb-Christ called upon this rider. Thus, that A-logic is comparable to the psychoanalytical laws of dream to a large extent.

    As to the shamanistic interpretation of Revelation:

    What parallels exist between John´s descriptions and the typical characteristics of a shamanic soul journey? Such characteristics are among others:

    1) Communication with invisible beings (spirits)
    2) Social application of the visionary, especially the healing of a sick person
    3) Journey through heavenly spheres
    4) The visionary experience can be memorized

    There is no doubt that Revelation meets these criteria. As far as paragraph 2) is concerned, the ' social application' of the text consists in its moral claim (i. e. to deter the congregations from idolatry) and in its comforting role (against state repression in refusing idolatry).

    Nevertheless, these parallels are not a compelling proof for a shamanic background of Revelation. Pattern 1)-4) was also used in the visionary literature of Judaism and by its use the author could make up an eventful journey to heaven. I come to this tradition now.

    Heaven Journeys' and contact with spiritual beings were religious elements of all ancient cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia and Greece. This spiritual tradition is rooted in prehistoric shamanism and was in the service of kingship only in historical times, for example in Assyria, where the kings heard the opinion of goddess Ishtar by oracleizing priestesses. In the Ancient Orient, oracle priests belonged to the standard crew of a royal court. The oracles were mostly concerned with the fate of the king or his dynasty, but not of the entire people. Thus prophecy was an instrument of preservation and legitimation of royal power, what did not exclude admonitory criticism of the king by oracleizing priestesses.

    In competition with the kingly oracle, a freelance form of prophecy developed in Israel, which produced a high-quality visionary literature (Ezekiel, Henoch, Baruch, Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel) on which the author of Revelation could build stylistically and contentwise.

    If one looks at the symbolisms of Revelation, one can discover in almost all cases a traditional historical pattern, which makes the assumption redundant that the author has' visioned' the symbol on a supernatural level. This can easily be seen in scenes 1,10 et seq. and 4,2 et seq.

    The seven candlesticks in 1,12-13 have their model in Zechariah 4,1, where it says:

    Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. 2 He asked me, “What do you see?”
    I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps.

    The symbolic content of the number 7 is derived from Babylonian astrology with its seven heavens. The Menorah in the Jewish Shrine is a concrete model for visionary seven-armed candlesticks. However, it probably wasn´t the Menorah, but Zechariah´s ideas that served as model for John´s vision. Similar pictures can also be found in Ex 25,37 and Apk Bar. 21.

    Accordingly, the ´seven torches´ around the throne of God can be interpreted in 4,2 et seq. as inspired by the torches in Apk Baruch and in Ez 1,13, where John only had to add the seventh number, which is omnipresent in Revelation anyway.

    The 'sea of glass' before the throne could be stimulated by 1 Kings 7:23-26 and Ez 1:22, where in both cases the pictorial language points to the crystalline nature of the soil before the throne of God.

    John found the four beings around the throne, lion, bull, man and eagle, in Ez 1:10:

    10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.

    These beings go back to the signs of the zodiac of Babylonian astronomy, where they stand for the following planetary gods: 1) Taurus = King's God Marduk, 2) Leo = War God Nergal, 3) Eagle = Wind God Ninurta, and 4) Man = Wisdom God Nabu.

    A model for the 24 ´elders´ grouped around the throne of God (´elders´ = presbyters) does not exist in Jewish literature, but it is likely that this circle of persons or their number was inspired by the cultural environment of the author. Options include the traditional 24 Old Testament authors, the 24 hours of the day and the 24 lictors under Domitian (provided that Revelation was created during his time). Furthermore, the 12 apostles plus the 12 patriarchs come into question as well as the 24 priestly orders in 1 Chron 24,7-18 with their high significance for the temple service. As far as the person of the "elderly" is concerned, her white robe indicates her holy status. In Hebrews 11:2, the saints of the Old Testament are called "elderly" (presbyters). In combination with this, there is enough evidence of templates for the 24 "elders" surrounding the throne of God, which make the assumption of an original vision redundant.

    In this way, one could go through the entire Revelation and prove scene by scene cross-references to literary tradition and social reality. Even if 5 or 10 percent of the content of Revelation could not be deduced from traditional history, it would be possible that in these cases the author has created his own fantasies and interwoven them with the rest of the material.

    However, there is a pro-visionary argument that combines visionary authenticity with traditional historical dependency: in his trance states, the argument says, John has visionarily processed the symbolism he is familiar with from literature and cult. So this interpretation does not deny that John´s symbolism is largely learned by reading, but claims that he has unconsciously disguised his real trance states with culturally acquired symbols.

    Finally, I repeat my own view on this subject:

    The author knew of ecstatic experiences (ASC), but these had nothing or little to do with his text in terms of concrete content, but merely encouraged him to feel that he was a ´chosen one´ with the right to express his religious message in the tradition of Jewish-prophetic/apocalyptic literature (Ezekiel, Daniel, Henoch, Sacharja, etc.).) by giving the message the highly artistic form of a "vision". His use of the formula "I was in the Spirit" is based on real trance experiences, but does not support the assumption that the content of Revelation relies on such experiences.
    Last edited by Tammuz; 12-05-2017 at 10:30 AM.

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