Recent Research on Revelation

By Stewart, Alexander E. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Recent Research on Revelation


Stewart, Alexander E., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Recent Research on Revelation. By Russell S. Morton. Recent Research in Biblical Studies 7. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2014, xii + 180 pp., $95.00.

Russell Morton is Adjunct Professor of NT at Ashland Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, and United Theological Seminary. He is well equipped to produce this review of recent research based on his prior monograph on Revelation (One upon the Throne and the Lamb: A Tradition Historical/Theological Analysis of Revelation 4-5 [Studies in Biblical Literature 11; New York: Peter Lang, 2007]) and his love for NT bibliography which has been fostered by thirty years as a theological librarian (p. x). After the initial two chapters on the history of interpretation and genre of Revelation, Morton structures the book around historical, literary, theological, pacifistic, feminist, and political perspectives. Morton assumes that no scholarly defense of dispensational premillennialism exists and explicitly excludes popular millenarian interpretations from his survey (pp. 7, 12, 156).

Each chapter essentially consists of a collection of book reviews by Morton as he surveys the recent research on Revelation. This could be seen as a critique of the book, since a motivated reader could gain much of the same information, evaluation, and critical engagement by reading the individual reviews of monographs published in the past forty years or so. Morton, however, makes several important contributions. First, he provides a one-stop shop for reviews of a wide range of significant recent authors. Second, he structures and organizes the recent literature by providing a bird's-eye view of how the different authors and perspectives relate to each other. Third, he allows the authors to interact with and critique each other. His chapters often provide a genuine dialogue between the various authors. Fourth, we are not dependent upon reviews written by a host of different authors but are able to benefit from the seasoned evaluation of a single reviewer. These benefits cannot be gained by the isolated reading of individual reviews.

Morton describes the purpose of this volume in the preface as bridging the gap between popular readings of Revelation and how the book is being read in the scholarly community. Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the history of interpretation leading up to the first half of the twentieth century. Chapter 2 provides a short introduction to the scholarly debate about the genre of Revelation. Morton surveys the contributions of the Apocalyptic Group of the Society of Biblical Literature's Genre Project, David Hellholm, Christopher Rowland, David Aune, Hans Dieter Betz, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Frederick Mazzaferri, David Mathewson, Gregory Linton, and David Barr. He concludes that "the definition of Revelation's genre as an apocalypse remains elusive" (p. 26) and supports an understanding of apocalypse that includes the "unveiling of heavenly mysteries in a visionary context, with the function of leading the recipients to accept the authority of and act in accordance with the seer's message" (p. 28). In this discussion he rightly highlights the importance of the hortatory function of Revelation.

Chapter 3 begins the main survey of literature by looking at historical-critical perspectives. Morton divides scholars here between those who favor a "history-ofreligions approach" that focuses on the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern background (Adela Yarbro Collins, David E. Aune, Gregory Stevenson, Franz Tóth, Christopher A. Frilingos, Colin Hemer, Steven J. Friesen, Bruce J. Malina, Jacques M. Chevalier, Sean Michael Ryan, and Rodney Lawrence Thomas) and those who focus on the Hebrew Bible and John's Jewish background (Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, G. K. Beale, Jean-Pierre Ruiz, Jan Fekkes III, Steve Moyise, Jon Paulien, Marko Jauhiainen, Alan S. Bandy, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Pilchan Lee, David A. Mathewson, and Håken Ulfgard). Morton succinctly reviews the main monograph(s) produced by each scholar while pointing out the essential contributions and any major weaknesses in their arguments. …

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