"The Patmos Public Library: Good, Bad, or Indifferent?

" A Paper Read to the Chicago Society for Biblical Research Chicago, IL, October 29, 1988

In

suggesting

a

title

for

this

presentation,

I

foolishly assumed the mantle of a comedian.

Little did I expect

that the title would lead many to assume that I would be offering the latest on the archeology of an island off the coast of Asia Minor, with particular emphasis on a noble public structure for the intellectual benefit of a handful of convicts. My greatest fear is that a half-dozen archaeologists showed up specifically to hear the latest on the excavation of the Patmos Public Library. They will no doubt exclaim, with apologies to My only hope is that by

Walter Mondale, "Where's the Slides?"

the conclusion of this paper, the title will be justified at least in part. One of the most vexing problems in the study of apocalyptic literature concerns the frequent use of allusive references to previous literature such as the Old Testament. As you may have noticed, in the latest issue of Biblical Research I published an article entitled "Elusive Allusions: The

Problematic Use of the OT in Revelation."

In that article I

pointed out the great need for further work on the problem and probed into the results of literary criticism to find fresh ways to address the problem with respect to the Book of Revelation. For those of you who have not read the article, I would like to

summarize its argument briefly. On the first page of the handout you have received you will notice a chart: Numbers on left = passages from seven trumpets Names on top = major commentators on Rev who addressed the issue Numbers in chart = # of allusions to OT claimed for passage by commentator Bottom numbers = # of allusions to OT claimed for entire section by commentator Careful examination reveals serious irregularities in

judgment: 25 to 109 Ford and Dittmar Ford and Hühn Nestle and UBS 288 to 1 Careful examination of the way these commentators dealt with specific allusions demonstrates even greater irregularities than those revealed in this chart. This evident chaos of

citation compels me to the conclusion that most, if not all, of the major commentators on Revelation have not done consistently critical work in the evaluation and listing of allusions to the OT in the Apocalypse. This further suggests the need to develop

appropriate methods by which proposed allusions can be tested.

The work of literary critics has more and more, in recent years, been called into service in the interpretation of biblical texts. In the aforementioned article, therefore, I

turn to the work of critics of English and American Literature to see if they may already have developed refined methods of evaluating an author's allusive use of earlier literature. My

search was rewarded with the insight that allusions must be carefully distinguished into two types, called direct allusions and echoes. A direct allusion is when an author consciously

points the reader to a particular context in earlier literature. Such an allusion may be limited to a couple of words, or even the simple mention of a name or an idea.1 An echo, on the other

hand, is where the author uses a familiar concept but is totally unaware of any prior literary context. The concept is simply

"in the air," a "live symbol" which, in the case of Revelation, is sometimes said to be drawn from "stock apocalyptic." A wellknown literary critic calls an echo a "flash in the brainpan." Critical to the correct interpretation of an allusion is a sound judgment on whether the author intended a direct allusion or not. If the author of a document is merely echoing

an earlier idea, it would be incorrect to import the literary

A good example of a direct allusion is the statement "Where's the slides?" in the introduction to this paper. I consciously referred to Walter Mondale's use of "Where's the beef?" as a reference to Gary Hart's unwillingness to be specific about his ideas in the 1984 election campaign. But your appreciation of the allusion is further enhanced if you perceived, as I hope you did, that underlying Mondale's usage of the phrase was the hamburger commercial featuring the prototypical "little old lady."

1

context in which that idea can be found into the interpretation of her document. To interpret an echo correctly one must search antecedent and contemporary literature for clues as to the echo's meaning, but since the author was unconscious of any literary connection between her use of an echo and earlier usage, we should not assume such a connection. The problem arises in how to determine when an author was consciously pointing the reader to an earlier context as an aid to understanding her intention. Since the author himself

can no longer, in the case of Revelation, be consulted, we must freely admit that we are dealing in the realm of probabilities. The interpreter's task is to gather all evidence that might point to the author's intention in the matter and weigh the likelihood that the author had a prior context in mind at a given point in his work. The evidence for a direct allusion is two-fold,

internal and external. evidence of sufficient

Internal evidence has to do with the Does one find in the text ideas and/or literary

the text itself. parallels of

wording,

structures to make it reasonable that the author's choice of wording was significantly dependant on an earlier work?

Certainly multiple pieces of internal evidence would encourage the conclusion that there was a cause and effect relationship between the language of the antecedent text and the language of the text being studied.

But internal evidence alone can be deceptive. Authors may use parallel language because they both reflect a common source or were influenced by a common cultural heritage. is where external evidence comes into play. concerns what we can learn about an Here

External evidence exposure to

author's

antecedent literature from sources outside the text. What books did he have in his library? habits? What do we know about his reading

What kinds of books were his contemporaries reading at The clearest external evidence would come from a Of

the time?

biography that described the author's reading practices.

comparable value might be historical works that deal with the influences that made an author what he was. Demographic and

archeological studies might shed light on the general reading habits of the age and geographical place involved. Unfortunately, regardless of one's view of the

authorship of Revelation we have little or no external evidence concerning the author of the book. reading habits are unknown. His personal life and

How helpful it would be if we could

know whether the Patmos Public Library was good, bad, or just indifferent! But we at this time have no contemporary source

that offers any useful details about John's life that would help us in the process of evaluating his allusions to the OT and other antecedent literature. In the face of this reality, we are left with whatever evidence can be drawn from the text of Revelation itself, and

from our general knowledge of the times in which John lived. The crucial contribution of this paper is to examine the

possibility that we can expand on the external evidence by a creative exploration of previously unnoticed phenomena in the text of Revelation itself. What I am specifically referring to

is the evidence in the book of Revelation for the author's use of previous works as a whole. This means more than just listing

proposed allusions to earlier works, it means analyzing the cumulative effect of apparent allusions to a specific background document in order to gather evidence that might point to the author's familiarity with the book in the form in which we now have it. This procedure admittedly entails the danger of

circular reasoning.

For example, we create a list of the direct Then we use that list to

allusions to Daniel in the Apocalypse.

determine whether or not the author was likely to have read Daniel carefully enough to allude to it regularly. If we decide that he did it strengthens our view that our list of direct allusions is correct. But while such reasoning is somewhat

circular, it appears to be our only window into the author's reading habits at this time. And if both tasks are carefully

done, they should increase the certainty with which we can speak of the author's use of direct allusions. I doubt that any

scholar today would try to explain the multitude of parallels between Daniel and Revelation as fortuitous. And unless we can

find an intermediate work that contains all the same parallels it must be conceded that it is virtually certain that the author of Revelation worked directly from a copy of Daniel that is substantially similar to what is available to us today. To get a clear picture of an author's alleged use of an antecedent document, it is not sufficient to list the total number of direct allusions to that document. It is necessary to

demonstrate a wide spread of usage throughout the antecedent document. For example, if the author of Revelation alludes once each to five different portions of the book of Amos, it is far more likely that he was familiar with Amos than if he alluded five times to one passage in the book. The multiple citation of

that single passage could be attributed to an intermediate source or to the possibility that the statement or idea was "in the air" as a result of the influence of Amos in the author's community. Even a cursory glance at the percentages in the table on page 2 indicate that Joel, Zechariah and Daniel stand out in terms of the broad scope with which the author of Revelation made use of their language and ideas. In the second rank are

the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel, nearly a tenth of which are alluded to at some point in Revelation. What may come as a surprise is the relatively low ranking of the Psalms. In terms of raw statistics, there are

more allusions to Isaiah and the Psalms in Revelation than to

any other OT book, and such numbers ought to be taken into consideration. But the proportional method used in the tables

factors in the size of a source document which in part accounts for the large number of references to Isaiah and the Psalms. Both of these books also contain a considerable number of memorable aphorisms such as "I am the First and the Last" and "The Lord reigns" which are repeated over and over in

Revelation.

Such aphoristic repetition increases the quantity

of references without increasing the likelihood that the author was broadly familiar with the contents of that source. Both

Isaiah and the Psalms are alluded to roughly twice as often as the number of verses referenced. In the case of Daniel the A

ratio is nearly three to one, with Amos nearly four to one.

large number of allusions, therefore, does not necessarily translate into a broad familiarity with the content of the book as a whole. The Psalms rank second in terms of total number of

allusions, but only fifteenth in terms of the percentage of the book referenced. Isaiah and Daniel, on the other hand, rank

high in both measurements. By way of contrast, repeat references to Zechariah and Ezekiel are relatively rare. In each case the total number of

allusions is only slightly greater than the number of verses referenced. This finding would appear to substantiate the

assertion of Goulder, Vanhoye and others that Revelation follows the structure and content of Ezekiel section by section.

The overall picture indicates that the author of Revelation was unquestionably familiar with most of the later prophets and with the book of Exodus. While it is quite likely

that he was familiar with the entire OT as we know it, this method can, given the current state of the evidence, offer little conclusiveness with regard to the rest of the OT

documents (although the quantity of references to Genesis, Deuteronomy, Kings and Chronicles might encourage one to

consider John familiar with them even though less than two percent of any book is actually alluded to). A glance at the results with regard to the extracanonical literature is not particularly encouraging. At no

point can we say that there is conclusive evidence that the author of Revelation was familiar with any one of the listed documents. This is particularly surprising with respect to the While the evidence of Qumran may lead us to

book of Enoch.

believe that the book was fragmented in the first century, we would have expected that the apparent reference to so many portions of the book as we know it would have yielded a higher total of references and a larger percentage. We certainly

should not exclude the possibility that John was familiar with Enoch, the Psalms of Solomon or 2 Maccabees, but the evidence here collated is indecisive on that point. It rather points to

a special relationship between the author and the Old Testament, alluding to it more frequently and more comprehensively than to

other ancient sources. It may be profitable to compare the results obtained in this brief search with those which might be obtained when other lists of allusions to antecedent literature in Revelation are examined. Your suggestions with regard to reliable sources It might

for such an investigation would be greatly welcomed.

also be profitable to lay out in detail the pattern of citation as it is found in various source documents. Here we may also be

able to trace the possibility that John had read some of these source documents in fragmented form. It is interesting, for example, that 13 of the 14 verses alluded to in Ethiopic Enoch are found in the first two books, "The Parable of Enoch" and "The Similitudes of Enoch." There is also a solitary reference to one of the Dream Visions. Since the absence of the "Similitudes" at Qumran allows the possibility that that portion of Enoch could have been written after Revelation, it is not impossible that John was familiar only with the introductory book, called by E. Isaac "The Parable of Enoch (chaps. 1-36).2 By way of contrast, every chapter of Zechariah is

2

The Parable of Enoch (1-36) 8 verses The Similitudes of Enoch (37-71) 5 verses The Book of Heavenly Luminaries (72-82) The Dream Visions (83-90) 1 verse The Two Ways (Including the Apoc of Weeks) (91-107)

repeatedly referenced, with the exception of chapters 7-10 which are never alluded to, at least according to Nestle. This is a

curious omission since scholars inclined to divide Zechariah into two books from different eras generally divide the book between chapters 8 and 9. John's usage of both sections is

abundantly clear so if his edition of Zechariah was fragmented at all the apparent absence of chapters 7 to 10 in his thinking could offer a challenge to current theories of fragmentation. More likely, however, this omission simply indicates the

Revelator's relative disinterest in the content of chapters 7 through 10 with regard to his purpose in writing Revelation. One thing is most clear, no matter how valuable this type of research may ultimately prove, this presentation is only the barest hint of a suggestion toward how the matter ought to be approached. Hopefully this paper will stir a broader

interest in the whole question with the resulting fruitful interaction of many minds. In conclusion, we are not yet able to determine whether the Patmos Public Library, or whatever library might have been available to John at the time that he wrote

Revelation, was good, bad, or just indifferent.

It may even be

that no library was immediately available to him, that he was limited to the halls of his memory. But to the extent that we

can gain access to that library, in whatever form it took, we can enhance our ability to appreciate the fantastic mysteries of

this fascinating book.

REFERENCES TO THE OLD TESTAMENT IN REVELATION Total Allusions 43 79 12 10 27 8 5 0 3 12 25 16 15 14 2 6 4 13 163 8 0 1 260 102 2 154 152 14 18 27 1 1 5 6 2 4 0 51 8 Verses Referenced 25 57 5 10 14 6 3 0 3 4 11 10 6 3 2 2 1 11 88 4 0 1 127 61 1 120 56 10 13 8 1 1 4 2 2 4 0 38 4 Total Verses 1533 1212 859 1261 959 658 618 85 810 695 816 719 942 822 280 406 167 1070 2461 915 222 117 1292 1364 154 1273 356 197 73 146 21 48 105 47 56 53 38 210 55 Percentage Referenced 1.63% 4.70% 0.58% 0.79% 1.46% 0.91% 0.49% 0.00% 0.37% 0.58% 1.35% 1.39% 0.64% 0.36% 0.71% 0.49% 0.60% 1.03% 3.58% 0.44% 0.00% 0.85% 9.83% 4.47% 0.65% 9.43% 15.73% 5.08% 17.81% 5.48% 4.76% 2.08% 3.81% 4.26% 3.57% 7.55% 0.00% 18.10% 7.27%

The OT Books Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth I Samuel II Samuel I Kings II Kings I Chronicles II Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes Song of Solomon Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

REFERENCES TO OTHER LITERATURE IN REVELATION The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha I Maccabees II Maccabees III Maccabees IV Maccabees Tobit Baruch Wisdom of Sirach Wisdom of Solomon Psalms of Solomon Enoch

Total Allusions 0 6 3 18 4 1 17 13 7 24

Verses Referenced 0 10 2 4 4 1 4 5 5 14

Total Verses 924 558 228 482 298 213 1390 439 293 1061

Percentage Referenced 0.00% 1.79% 0.88% 0.83% 1.34% 0.47% 0.29% 1.14% 1.71% 1.32%

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