Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Synopsis

"Rather than covering the same ground as other commentaries, the authors address issues of altered states of consciousness, the ancient economy, honor and shame, social deviance, group formation processes, and purity codes. Their use of comparative material from the Old Testament, Pseudepigrapha, and Greco-Roman writings will open a window for the reader on ancient Mediterranean perceptions of activities in the sky in relation to those on earth. This interpretation enriches our reading of the Bible's most provocative book by clarifying how John's astral visions deepened hope in the midst of the early churches' struggles." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Historically minded interpreters of the Book of Revelation have assiduously sought a range of historical contexts which might provide the information necessary to interpret this book in terms of its author and his original audience in the first-century Mediterranean world. On the other hand, relevance-seeking Bible readers have looked for contemporary social signs of the times that might be made to fit the scenes in the Book of Revelation and thus demonstrate what is soon to happen in our own historical period.

This commentary seeks to track its author on his sky journeys and to understand what it was that he had to see in the sky, and subsequently interpret the way he did. Thus it comes down on the side of historically minded interpreters. Yet the absence of the sky dimension of life in those historically oriented works often reveals an extremely academic perspective that lends itself to anachronistic concerns. For the inhabitants of the sky formed an integral part of the social environment of the period of the first-century Mediterranean world. As the noted classicist Ramsay Macmullen had observed nearly thirty years ago: “From the period of the Roman Empire alone, the surviving astrological corpus matches in bulk the entire historical corpus; and though examined in detail by students of ancient religion, language, and science, it has been quite neglected by the social historian" (1971:105). We might add, it has also been neglected by biblical interpreters. the huge amount of astronomical and astrological (there was as yet no distinction between the two) documents from the Greco-Roman period makes it quite obvious that for the contemporaries of Jesus, Paul, and the author of Revelation, sky and land constituted a single environmental unit, a single social arena.

The authors of this commentary take the author of Revelation at his word. If he said he went into the sky, we believe that in his estimation, he went into the sky. He was not writing pious, polemic fiction in some university office. the questions, then, are: How did people in antiquity go into the sky? What did they expect to see in the sky? How did they learn to read the sky? What was the social function of sky reading (astronomy/astrology)?

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