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I know there were some who wondered why Bosco’s post was allowed up. The answer is simple – the point of view he comes from is not an uncommon one, and there is very little point complaining his comments are sometimes off the point, and then not allowing him to post. There is another reason this post was worth publishing – it illustrates vividly why some in the early Church did not think that the book should become canonical, arguing that it was a book which the faithful might well misunderstand, and from which they might draw misleading lessons – quod erat demonstrandum by Bosco.

The book belongs to a genre common at the time known as apocalyptic literature – this genre is characterised by the use of symbolic and allegorical language. To read such a genre literally, insisting that because it was inspired by the Spirit it means what it says would be absurd – Jesus is quite clearly not a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. Read aright, we get the intended message. Jesus is, of course, the sacrificial lamb, the final offering for our sins. The number 7, symbolises perfection – that was the number of days of the Creation and the day God rested. We see seven proclamations to seven churches (chapters 2–3), and three sets of seven-part visionary narratives: the seven seals (4:1–8:1), the seven trumpets (8:2–11:18), and the seven bowls (15:5–16:21). So when we are told he letter is to 7 churches, that doe not mean (as Bosco appears to think) there were only 7 churches in the world – were that so then we should have to wonder what happened to the church in Jerusalem in Acts. The book is written to the seven churches in Asia – it actually states that – so there’s no excuse for reading it and thinking what Bosco does.

Its message in that we find in all apocalyptic literature – that God is coming to judge and to redeem, and that the powers of evil and empires will clash before God establishes the fullness of his kingdom. There are about 700 references in the book to the Old Testament – and the implications of this are well set out in an excellent post here, which is very good on numerology and the identity of ‘the beast’:

the number of ‘the beast’ is the same as a the number of a man’s name (in this case Nero Caesar) since both add up to 666. This ‘solution’ to the puzzle of Rev 13.18 has been known in academic circles since the 1840s, but sadly has still not filtered down into popular reading

As for the identity of the Great Whore of Babylon, the clue to the answer is in the text: ‘The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.’ This is a clear reference to the seven hills of Rome. John’s readers would have understood this, it was only with the toxic anti-Catholicism of the early Reformation that men identified that with the occupant of the Vatican rather than, as John meant, the Pagan Emperor who was persecuting Christians.

We have lost the art of reading the book in the way its first hearers would have done so, though modern scholars have done a good job of reconstructing it. As the same expert has written:

three features—of possible literalism, of transferability, and of power—are writ large on the history of the interpretation of Revelation. Some have read it thinking there really will be beasts emerging from the sea, that there are living creatures and rainbows in heaven, that our destiny is to sit on clouds playing harps (chapter 14), and that we will pass through pearly gates. Others have been able to identify people and institutions in their own world quite happily with the beasts and dragons, the woman clothed with the sun and the harlot riding the beast. And every generation has found this to be a text of extraordinary power—for good or otherwise

The idea that it can be read literally is not confined to Bosco, and his contribution yesterday suggests the limitations of that approach. Those who want to understand the book – and its importance, might like to follow this link.