Beal, Timothy. “The Book of Revelation: A Biography”, (Lives of Great Religious Books 29), Princeton University Press, 2018.
The New Testament’s Most Mystifying and Incendiary Book
From the time that I realized was Jewish and not really privy to the holy books of other religions, I have found the Book of Revelation to be an enigma and great fun. Of course we did not have a copy in our home as all religions books that were not Jewish had no place . As I matured, I was able to sneak glances at friends’ homes and at the library. I was particularly mesmerized by The Great Whore of Babylon and the other stories of destruction.
“Few biblical books have been as revered and reviled as Revelation.” There are those that hail it as hail it as the pinnacle of prophetic vision and the cornerstone of the biblical canon. There are those that see it as the key to understanding all that is— the past, present, and future. Others deride it and denounce it as the work of a disturbed individual whose terrible dreams of inhumane violence should never have been allowed into the Bible. Timothy Beal gives us a concise cultural history of Revelation and the apocalyptic imaginations it has brought about.
We go back the book’s composition during the Christian persecutions of first-century Rome and then look at the book’s influence today in popular culture, media, and visual art. Beal looks at the often-contradictory lives of this sometimes horrifying and often inspiring biblical vision. We see how such figures like Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen made Revelation central to their own mystical worldviews. We explore how and how the vivid works of art it inspired have kept the book popular even as it was denounced by later church leaders like Martin Luther. “Revelation” has been attributed to a mysterious prophet who was known only as John and the voice that we hear in the book is unlike any other in the Bible. Beal shows how the book is “a multimedia constellation of stories and images that mutate and evolve as they take hold in new contexts, and how Revelation is reinvented in the hearts and minds of each new generation.” I have friends whose parents totally denounce Revelation while the children, adult sons, believe every word.
Beal traces how Revelation continues to inspire new diagrams of history, new fantasies of rapture, and new nightmares of being left behind. I must say that I believe that my mouth stayed open as I read this and as I questioned how could anyone believe this? Then I remember that Moses spoke to a burning bush and we believe that. We see the diverse uses of Revelation that go beyond the theological and ecclesiological.