Jan 5, 2011

Hemer on Revelation as Apocalyptic

I recently found a used copy of Colin Hemer’s The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. As I was flipping through the book, I came upon the following paragraph under the heading “The Revelation as Apocalyptic.”

”The topic of apocalyptic needs to be considered first. I believe that the connection of the Revelation with earlier works of this genre has been overestimated. If apocalyptic, it is apocalyptic with difference. Previous samples were pseudonymous, and generally imitative and pedestrian. But if John used the machinery of a traditional form, he invested that form with a new dimension, and his work cannot be judged within the limits of a convention. The content is here important, even though the rigid and elaborate structure invites concentration upon the form. The imagery is used in a pointed and allusive way: the whole differs from much other apocalyptic in the kind of way that allegory is regarded as differing from parable. In extra-Biblical apocalyptic only perhaps the earlier Sibylline Oracles display any comparable concern with the details of geography and history, and the Fourth Book, which alone permits confident judgment on its unity and provenance, was written in Asia shortly before the Revelation (cf. J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, p. 96).”

I agree with Hemer. I have long questioned how some have examined extra-biblical apocalyptic works, identified a set of characteristics that appear to be common to those works, and then use those characteristics as a grid to interpreting the Book of Revelation without giving adequate consideration to the differences in the Book of Revelation itself. In my opinion, such an approach tends to flatten both the material in the extra-biblical works and Revelation.

Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, Biblical Resource Series, ed. Astrid B. Beck and David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 12.

1 comment:

Richard Fellows said...

Thanks. Interesting. Did the author us (some of) the characteristics of apocalyptic, not because he was committed to he genre, but because it allowed him to criticize the Roman empire in covertly in code? I know very little about Revelation, and would be interested in your thoughts.