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Revelation - Understanding John's Apocalypse

Revelation - Understanding John's Apocalypse

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Published by Anthony E. Larson
Full of curious beasts and combinations of beasts, The Book of Revelation is one of the most perplexing in all of scripture. Evidence suggests that in an effort to reach out to converts gentile nations and put Jesus Christ in a context they could understand, John the Revelator borrowed on pagan images and traditions from other cultures.

• For more essays from this series: http://mormonprophecy.blogspot.com/

• For online classes, videos, newsletters and published books exploring this material in depth:
http://www.mormonprophecy.com/prophecy,_ancient_history_and_the_restored_gospel_002.htm

• Your questions or comments are welcome: anthonyelarson@gmail.com
Full of curious beasts and combinations of beasts, The Book of Revelation is one of the most perplexing in all of scripture. Evidence suggests that in an effort to reach out to converts gentile nations and put Jesus Christ in a context they could understand, John the Revelator borrowed on pagan images and traditions from other cultures.

• For more essays from this series: http://mormonprophecy.blogspot.com/

• For online classes, videos, newsletters and published books exploring this material in depth:
http://www.mormonprophecy.com/prophecy,_ancient_history_and_the_restored_gospel_002.htm

• Your questions or comments are welcome: anthonyelarson@gmail.com

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Published by: Anthony E. Larson on May 06, 2011
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THINGS AS THEY ARE, WERE ARE TO COME
Revelation: Understanding John’s Apocalypse
ANTHONY E. LARSON

For example. Evidence suggests that in an effort to reach out to converts from the gentile nations. Gentile religious and cultural traditions were very different from those of Judaism and Christianity. including Romans. WERE � ARE TO COME The Book of Revelation is one of the most perplexing in all of scripture. the mystery of that book vanishes. there is much more to discover. a virtual ‘Rosetta Stone’ of the cultural traditions common to 1st century Mediterranean and Middle Eastern peoples.Revelation: Understanding John’s Apocalypse Copyright © 2006 Anthony E. Egyptians and Babylonians. full of curious beasts and combinations of beasts. most notably the Apostle Paul. This put the fledgling church on the horns of a dilemma. Thanks to a revelation given to Peter. Greeks. They see it solely as a eschatological writing—a revelation of future tribulations to befall the world in a period of physical and political upheaval immediately preceding the second coming of Christ. This . Let’s look at a summary of the situation that led to John’s vision. While it is certainly all that. the gentiles believed in a multiplicity of gods while Christianity taught of only one God. Larson THINGS AS THEY ARE. L DS scholars and church members alike fail to notice vital elements of John’s New Testament book. Revelation. Christianity’s early leaders. they initiated a campaign to win converts from non-Jewish or ‘gentile’ cultural groups. With the aid of a new perspective. Revelation becomes a pivotal document. John the Revelator borrowed on pagan images and traditions from other cultures. had expanded their missionary efforts far beyond Palestine and its roots in Judaism.

Struggle between Babylonian characters. and his seat. Tiamat. Evidence for this is found in several examples of Revelation imagery. and saw a beast rise up out of the sea. melding them into a new. and upon his horns ten crowns. . John’s Revelation was part of that strategy. demonstrating the ‘borrowing’ nature of his account. “And I stood upon the sand of the sea.Revelation: Understanding John’s Apocalypse 3 and many other fundamental differences made proselytism difficult for the newly born religion. chapter 13. which are also found in ancient sources that predate John’s writing. “And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard. and great authority. What was needed was a strategy to find connections. having seven heads and ten horns. left and Marduk. we read of a rather remarkable beast. common ground with the religious traditions of their ‘pagan’ neighbors to make Christianity more palatable. and his feet were as the feet of a bear. and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. it had to win converts. In Revelation. His vision was an attempt to reconcile the cultural and religious traditions of the Gentiles with that of the Jews. and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power. if the new church were to survive and flourish. common tradition for the Christian church that would allow it to appeal to both communities. Yet. right.

To assure the reader that this illustration and John’s depiction stem from the same. It depicts the epic myth of the celestial battle between the beast.” (Revelation 13:1-3.) When we consult sources outside the Bible and Israelite tradition. we also see this beast – wounded head and all – depicted in Mesopotamian cylinder seal art hundreds of years before John described seeing it in vision. Marduk. and his deadly wound was healed. and all the world wondered after the beast. we find that this story is a rhetorical rendition of a Babylonian tradition. Babylonian ostracon. identical tradition. note the specific features of the beast: looks like a leopard. there can be little doubt that they both stem from . The wings on both Tiamat and Marduk represent their power to move about in the heavens as do the winged birds. After comparing these two examples of Babylonian art to the Revelation narrative. Tiamat and the thunderbolt god. as depicted in Babylonian fine art. feet of a bear and a lion’s head or mouth.Revelation: Understanding John’s Apocalypse 4 “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death. This Babylonian ostracon clearly shows the multi-headed leopard form (note the spots) of the beast. complete with a slash mark on one of the heads of the beast. as John described it – including the slash mark of Marduk’s sword across one of the heads. Astoundingly.

and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. these jars were funerary furniture used to house various organs of the deceased during internment rites. This discovery allows for only one of two conclusions: Either this is a rather remarkable coincidence. and the second beast like a calf. They are also found in the Joseph Smith papyri. As we shall see from the next example. and the third beast had a face as a man. The Egyptians employed the heads of a baboon and a jackal rather than the Israelite designation of a calf (ox) and lion. These four are also seen everywhere in the Egyptian tradition that long predates John. John also reported seeing four other beasts in heaven. or it is an instance of borrowing from older. it was most likely a borrowing. Named after Canopus. just as the names of . “And the first beast was like a lion. This variation is typical from culture to culture and across time.) Egyptian canopic jars were used for storing the organs of mummified persons. The four creatures depicted on lids of these Canopic jars were said to be the sons of Horus.” (Revelation 4:7. In his epic vision. an area in the Nile delta region. pagan tradition by John.Revelation: Understanding John’s Apocalypse 5 the same mythical tradition of the battle between Marduk and Tiamat.

kings. John created an admixture of ancient cultural motifs and Christian beliefs that would give the ring of familiarity to doctrines of the early Christian church among any of his ‘gentile’ contemporaries—a calculated attempt to give Christianity the proper traditional underpinnings necessary to validate any religion. each one calculated to show Christ’s place in those traditions.blogspot. thus making it more acceptable to a much wider audience. from left to right: a man. Here is the answer to the riddle that is Revelation: The multitude of pagan gods became mythic characters and images in John’s vision— the strange beasts. the same gods varied.com/ For online classes. creatures. As it turns out. a baboon.mormonprophecy.Revelation: Understanding John’s Apocalypse 6 The four creatures used on Egyptian canopic jars show up in the Joseph Smith papyri. we can now see John’s vision with new eyes. women and other icons—in a revised series of sacred dramas.com/ . newsletters and published books exploring this material in depth: http://www. But there is no mistaking that the four creatures seen in prophetic vision also adorned the burial art of Egyptians for many centuries before John penned his Apocalypse. This is a remarkable discovery. Given this alternative view. For more essays from this series: http://mormonprophecy. videos. These two examples amply demonstrate John’s borrowing of pagan tradition and imagery for his own vision. almost all the imagery in Revelation can be traced to common religious traditions of that day and time. a jackal and a hawk.

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