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Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Apocalypse of John

- Saint John on Patmos

Although I don't mention it often, I appreciate belonging to a group blog - friendly skripture study - in which we discuss spiritual writings, usually the OT and NT. We're just starting a new project - the last book of the NT, Revelation. Wikipedia summerizes the contents of the book thusly ...

... After a short introduction (ch. 1:1–10), it contains an account of the author, who identifies himself as John, and of two visions that he received on the isle of Patmos. The first vision (chs. 1:11–3:22), related by "one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle", speaking with "a great voice, as of a trumpet", are statements addressed to the seven churches of Asia. The second vision comprising the rest of the book (chs. 4–22) begins with "a door … opened in heaven" and describes the end of the world—involving the final rebellion by Satan at Armageddon, God's final defeat of Satan, and the restoration of peace to the world ...

I've never read Revelation before, but I could not help but be aware of its end-of-the-world theme, as it's pervasive in our populat culture ... just check out the popularity of the Left Behind books, for instance. My first exposure to the book of Revelation, however, was not (thankfully :-) Tim LaHaye's books but a movie my boyfriend took me to when I was in college ... The Seventh Seal. Wikipedia says ...

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 film directed by Ingmar Bergman, most notable for the scenes in which a medieval knight (played by Max von Sydow) plays chess with the personification of Death, with his life resting on the outcome of the game. The film was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1957. The title is a reference to the passage from the Book of Revelation used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." (Revelation 8:1)

I was really touched by the movie, especially its existential pov, and as I look back on it, I realize that I am very much like the main character in my view of life and God ...

Antonius Block (von Sydow), a knight, returns with his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) from the Crusades and finds that his home country is ravaged by the plague. To his dismay, he discovers that Death (Bengt Ekerot) has come for him too. In order to buy time he challenges Death to a chess match, which allows him to reach his home and be reunited with his wife after ten years away. The knight's faith is war-weathered, and this theme is stressed in one of the greatest scenes in the movie: the knight gives confession to a priest about his doubts whether God actually exists ....

In another powerful scene of a witch burning, the knight is asked by his squire whether he sees in the victim's eyes God or a vacancy. The disquieted knight refuses to acknowledge the victim's and, in a way, his own emptiness despite his doubts about God. The knight realises that he would rather be broken in faith, constantly suffering doubt, than recognise a life without meaning ....

- Death and the knight play chess

Not the most cheerful film :-) and the mental image I came away with of the breaking of the seventh seal, and the consequence of pestilence and death, was vivid. I'm hoping, though, that the reading our scripture group gives Revelation will help me get a better picture of its meaning. That won't be an easy row to hoe, of course - Revelation is known as one of the most difficult and controversial books in the New Testament. It barely made it into the canon, and the number of differnt schools of its interpretation are legion.

Wish us luck, and if you have the time and interest, drop by the scripture blog and leave a comment :-)

* For another movie about the breaking of the seventh seal, take a look at The Seventh Sign, not especially profound, but unusual for the fact that Jesus is one of the characters, played by Jurgen Prochnow.

* Read about Søren Kierkegaard, whose theology is said to have informed Bergman's movie.


Blogger Darius said...

I did read revelation but I think maybe not all the way through after that first time - otherwise, I read the rest of the NT in its totality several times over the years. I can see why there would be so many different interpretations. It's so crammed with symbols and numbers...

To me, it wasn't at all revelatory... In fact, as I think about this, how can a book conspicuous for lack of agreement over what the heck it means be called the book of "revelation??"

Somebody has to ask the obvious questions, right...?

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Forrest Curo said...

It doesn't necessarily reveal the same thing to the same person every time. Like everything else in the world, to some extent it acts as a mirror--and thus you get the "timetable of scheduled disasters" types of interpretation, from people who find that appealing.

How revealing can a dream be? We are all of us stark giggling bonkers when we fall asleep, so far as I know, and yet a lot of our thinking in that state does continue to make sense when we surface in the morning. Some dreams are about too much cabbage the night before; some of them come with serious content.

If you think of Revelation as a dream addressed to Western Civilization, there's room for a great many interpretations there.

Crystal, sorry, but I've blundered into your site in the course of trying to find out what happened with my invitation to friendly scripture study. I think I managed to post a comment as "Other" but the site doesn't recognize what I thought I gave it this afternoon. Suggestions?

7:56 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Forrest - sorry, I've been away from the computer all day. I think David is the master of the scripture blog, in that he's the one who knows how it works. I'll see what I can see, though. Anyway, welcome aboard! :-)

12:39 AM  
Blogger Darius said...

Forrest: I do like your phrase, "stark giggling bonkers" along with your dream comparison.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

Hi Crystal. I was away from blogs for a few days and am just now catching up on your recent entries. As far as Deloney's and your request about my conversion experience, it will come someday -- someday...

I think Revelation is a wonderful, beautiful, weird book. From what I understand, although it is important eschatologically, it also has to be understood as directed to the Church of the time it was written. The approach many people have towards it -- using your secret agent decoder ring to find out which current politician you dislike is the antichrist -- is unsound in incorrect.

One element of my dissertation brushes up against the 9th-century Spanish commentary by Beatus of Liebana (google that for some beautiful illustrations) as well as the use of apocalyptic imagery in charters. It seems that for them, it was as much about the royal power of God (and how that reflected on earthly royal power) and the strength of the church as it was about the end of the world.

Also, I'm reading the Book of Daniel in Latin with a friend. Crazy-wild imagery did not begin with Revelations, but was in a tradition.

I think Jeff has a link on his blog to Frontline's special on the Apocalypse, which is a good introduction to the whole thing.

8:48 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

we couls start another blog - True Conversions :-)

I think your idea of the purpose of Revelation is right. I've been reading a little about Dispensationalism and the effect it's had on current end time views ... the idea of the rapture and the second coming and the connection of the beast and a present day politician. One of the adherants of that philosophy is Jack Chick, a notorious anti-catholic comic book publisher.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

I'm very familiar with Jack Chick -- an unbelievably hateful fellow, but whose wee comics are so silly they're entertaining. I remember when I read one that said that Catholics "bow down and worship the little wafer god," I thought, "What a great band name -- 'The Little Wafer Gods'."

By the way, The Seventh Seal is a great, great movie.

10:27 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm lucky I had a boyfriend in college who loved movies ... I ended up seeing a lot of ones I wouldn't have chosen myself ... if only I'd been bright enough to understand them.

I didn't see 'The Little Wafer Gods' on your Band Names page :-)

10:48 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

It's not on there? What a terrible mistake. I'll tend to that.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Seven Star Hand said...

Hello Crystal and all,

I pose to you and others that the context and meaning of these ancient texts have been lost on those confused by the assertions of religious leaders and founders. Ancient wisdom has been purposely recast and obfuscated into religion and mysticism. Consequently, the interpretations presented about the sources and meaning of these texts and the philosophy and cosmology of ancient Hebrew sages is completely wrong. Before you scoff and write me off, you should understand that I speak from personal experience...

Understanding the Fatal Flaws in Judeo-Christian-Islamic Prophecy

Remember the saying that "the truth will set you (and others) free?" How does "opening one's eyes to the truth" relate to "making the blind see again" or "shining the light" or "illuminating a subject?" Notice the inherent symbolism associated with this supposed New Testament "miracle?"

As certain world leaders strive to instigate a fabricated "battle of Armageddon," it is vital to understand and spread the truth about these ancient texts to help bring about an end to such abominable evil. You can never expect philosophies based on lies and great error to lead to peace and harmony. How many more millennia of terrible proof is necessary before humanity finally gets a clue that most have been utterly deceived by the very concept of religion.

Without it, Bush, the Neo-Cons, and their cohorts could never have gained and retained political power by manipulating an already deluded and susceptible constituency. Likewise, their thinly veiled partners in crime, Bin Laden and his ilk, could never have succeeded in their roles in this centuries-old Vatican-led grand deception.

We are all trapped by a web of deception formed by money, religion, and politics. The great evils that bedevil us all will never cease until humanity finally awakens, shakes off these strong delusions, and forges a new path to the future.

Here is Wisdom...


5:34 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Seven Star Hand,

I visited the links you gave and what was there was interesting. I don't agree that all religion is false, but I know many do feel that way. Thanks for commenting.

7:47 PM  

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