Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students

Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students

Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students

Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students


This wide-ranging introduction to the interpretation of the Apocalypse comes from scholars who have worked together for over a decade as members of the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar on Reading the Apocalypse: The Intersection of Literary and Social Methods. Each chapter provides an overall reading of Revelation that grows out of a particular methodological approach. The primary approaches include historical, literary, and social analysis, which are then used in combination with other reading strategies including social conflict theory, philosophy, women's studies, ethics, History of Religions, Postcolonial Studies, and popular culture. Each of the essays focuses on a specific text from Revelation and shows how the method used helps interpret that text, and how diverse methods produce divergent readings of a text. Contributors include David L. Barr, Paul B. Duff, Ronald L. Farmer, Steven J. Friesen, Edith M. Humphrey, Jon Paulien, Jean-Pierre Ruiz, and Leonard L. Thompson. Developed as a resource book for undergraduates, this work will also prove useful to more advanced students, clergy, and others who wish to explore how methods shape our understandings of texts. All will benefit from up-to-date discussions by some of the leading scholars studying Revelation today. Paperback edition available from the Society of Biblical Literature (


David L. Barr

The main purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to some of the variety of methods (or ways of reading) the Book of Revelation today and to show how these methods elicit a variety of meaningful interpretations. Our goal is always to probe the various ways Revelation can be understood, while being self-conscious about the tools we use. Still, we are not interested in the tools so much as in the results they produce. Among the approaches gathered are historical, literary, social, philosophical, ethical, political, and cultural ways of reading. Before I explore these approaches, however, it will be useful to review briefly the history of the reading of Revelation. It is a work with a complex and conflicted history.

The Book of Revelation was written late in the first century (95 is the commonly accepted date, though a few argue for a date as early as 65), but the earliest comment on its interpretation comes from the next generation. Even then Revelation generated controversy; here is how Eusebius described the views of a second-century interpreter named Papias (fl. c. 125):

He says that after the resurrection of the dead there will be a period of a
thousand years, when Christ's kingdom will be set up on this earth in
material form. I suppose he got these notions by misinterpreting the
apostolic accounts and failing to grasp what they had said in mystic and
symbolic language. For he seems to have been a man of very small intel
ligence, to judge from his books.

This contrast between a “material” interpretation (imagining that the events

For a good summary of the history of the interpretation see Arthur Wain
wright, Mysterious Apocalypse: Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Abing
don Press, 1993).

Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.11–13; Eusebius's views will be discussed
further in chapter 2, “Ordinary Lives: John and His First Readers.”

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