Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Hierarchy, Prophecy, and the Angelomorphic Spirit: A Contribution to the Study of the Book of Revelation's Wirkungsgeschichte

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Hierarchy, Prophecy, and the Angelomorphic Spirit: A Contribution to the Study of the Book of Revelation's Wirkungsgeschichte

Article excerpt

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Thanks to the work of scholars such as Ulrich Luz and Dale C. Allison, Jr., Wirkungsgeschichte (usually rendered into English as "reception history") has come to be regarded as a necessary part of biblical scholarship.1 Recent years have seen the publication of a volume on Revelation in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, as well as of a book, authored by Judith Kovacs and Christopher Rowland, on the reception of Revelation in Christian tradition.2

In what follows, I propose an interpretation of several passages in Revelation that deal with ... and prophecy. I explore the possible fusion of horizons between the views expressed in the book of Revelation at the end of the first century, the views of certain second-century writers, in particular Clement of Alexandria, and, to a certain degree, the views of today's scholars on Revelation. The witness of Clement is extremely valuable because he is very self-conscious in committing to writing certain oral traditions inherited from earlier authoritative, even charismatic, teachers, whom he refers to as "the elders." This is especially true of the surviving portions of his Hypotyposeis-the Excerpta ex Theodoto, Eclogae propheticae and the Adumbrationes? It is generally admitted that in these works the voice of the elders is heard more often and more clearly than in other Clementine writings.4

I argue that Revelation exemplifies an archaic "angelomorphic" pneumatology similar to the one discernible in other early Christian writings, one that occurs in tandem with Spirit christology, within a theological framework still marked by binitarianism.51 will clarify my use of "Spirit christology" and "binitarianism" at a later point. As for "angelomorphic," this term, coined by Jean Daniélou, is now widely used by scholars writing on the emergence of christology.61 follow Crispin Fletcher-Louis's definition and use it "wherever there are signs that an individual or community possesses specifically angelic characteristics or status, though for whom identity cannot be reduced to that of an angel."7 The virtue of this definition is that it signals the use of angelic characteristics in descriptions of God or humans, while not necessarily implying that the latter are angels stricto sensu.


The earliest surviving commentaries on Revelation is that of Victorinus of Poetovio, composed around 258-260.8 The works by Melito and Hippolytus did not survive; a few scholia are ascribed to Origen.9 There is, however, much that can be learned about the exegesis of Revelation prior to Hippolytus and Origen. It is certain, for instance, that a passage in the scholia ascribed to Origen finds an exact match in Strom.

It appears that Clement of Alexandria's notes on Revelation (as well as on the Apocalypse of Peter) were part of the eighth book of the Hypotyposeis.11 It is not dear whether Cassiodorus, who commissioned a Latin translation of this work, possessed only excerpts of the Hypotyposeis dealing with some of the catholic epistles (since he only mentions Clement's commentaries on these NT writings), or whether he not only took care to "purge" the Hypotyposeis of "offensive" ideas, as he does admit, but also thought it best to leave out certain passages, such as, for instance, the scholia on Revelation.12 In any case, the Adumbrationes consist only of scholia to 1 Peter, 1-2 John, and Jude.

We are fortunate, however, to possess Cassiodorus's commentary on Revelation, contained in his Complexiones. To the degree that passages in Cassiodorus's commentary reflect the theology present in the Adumbrationes, the commentary may represent views that go back to Clement and the "elders."


Revelation refers several times to a mysterious group of "seven spirits" (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). …

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