2012 Book of Revelation

This year, session 2 is a joint session with the New Testament: Use and Influence seminar.

Session 1

Debbie Lewer (University of Glasgow)

Visualising Revelation: Max Beckmann’s Apocalypse 1941-3

This paper makes a case study of a significant work of modern German art drawing on the book of Revelation: Max Beckmann’s 1941-3 graphic cycle of 24 lithographs titled The Apocalypse. The series was privately commissioned by a German collector and made in the context of Beckmann’s exile from Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The images involve a mixture of iconographic traditions and Beckmann’s own idiosyncratic, personalised visual language. They relate both to specific verses in Revelation and to contemporary events, as the statement that accompanied them on publication made clear: ‘This work was produced in the fourth year of the Second World War, when the visions of the apocalyptic visionary became terrible reality.’ 

The paper will examine Beckmann’s Apocalypse in the light of the preceding few decades’ tradition of apocalyptic imagery and thought in modern Germany. It will consider how and why Beckmann’s visualisation of Revelation differs from other interpretations from the earlier First World War period, such as in the work of artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Ludwig Meidner. It will also situate the series in relation to the cultural politics of the 1920s in Germany, including the backlash against what some perceived as an almost ubiquitous, generic ‘apocalypticism’. Finally, it will reflect on specific images from Beckmann’s Apocalypse in relation to older representations from the German late Gothic (including Albrecht Dürer’s celebrated woodcut cycle of 1498) and Beckmann’s public reputation in the era of the Weimar Republic as an artist of the so-called ‘Gothic spirit’.   


Session 2

Jonathan Downing (University of Oxford)

The Women Clothed with the Sun: The Reception of Revelation 12 in British Millenarian Movements 1780-1820

The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have frequently been noted as experiencing a revival in apocalyptic and prophetic modes of thinking. The revolutions in France and America and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars prompted renewed speculation about the omens and images presented in prophetic biblical texts such as the Book of Revelation. Chapter 12 of the book, which describes the conflict between the “woman clothed with the sun” and “the great red dragon” emerges as a key text for several key writers and movements within the period. This paper will examine closely three women who identify themselves with this character: the prophet Joanna Southcott; the leader of the Scottish Buchanite sect Elspeth Buchan; and Sarah Flaxmer – a defender of the so-called “Paddington Prophet” Richard Brothers. We will thus explore how each of these women “decodes” this biblical figure – partly to bolster their own personal authority, but also to anchor their interpretations of contemporary historical events and for their expressions of future hope.

Susan Sklar (University of Oxford)

Ultimate Forgiveness?  Reading Revelation 22.17 through the eyes of William Blake

Two centuries ago William Blake created an illuminated epic Jerusalem, which reconfigures imagery, structures, and themes from the Book of Revelation.  Blake’s apocalypse reveals apocatastasis, the universal salvation from which no one is excluded.   He does not, I believe, underminine John’s Revelation in Jerusalem: he allows the Spirit and the Bride to have the last word – as she does in the drama of John’s Apocalypse. Blake’s Jerusalem is what Blake calls an Emanation:  integral to God, connecting humanity to the divine through what Blake calls “fibres of love” – which originate in Jesus who (in Blake) is inseparable from Jehovah.   Blake’s Jerusalem, the bride of Lamb, is (like Jesus) both human and divine – and as feminine as Jesus is masculine.  She seeks to transform fallen humanity.  Even Babylon, who tries to destroy her, is finally incorporate in Jerusalem and Jesus: all creatures ultimately dwell in what Blake calls “the Divine Body, the Saviour’s Kingdom.” 

In Jerusalem William Blake seeks to deliver humanity from the blight of accusation:  damning those who are different and/or threatening severs individuals and nations from what he calls, “the Religion of Jesus, forgiveness of sins.”  Unveiling the subtext of apocatastasis in John’s Revelation reveals that the Bible can end, not with condemnation, but with the restoration promised in Genesis:  the tree of life may be accessible to all. 


Session 3

Sarah Underwood Dixon (University of Cambridge)

“The Testimony of Jesus” in Light of the Tradition of Higher Wisdom through Apocalyptic Revelation

The phrase hē marturia Iēsou has generated a considerable amount of debate within Revelation studies, with scholars proposing various views regarding the interpretation of the genitive construct and the understanding of the manner and content of the testimony. This paper discusses the idea that “the testimony of Jesus” should be understood as referring to the book of Revelation itself. Although a handful of scholars have argued for this interpretation, it is often disregarded due to the difficulty in understanding how those described as “having the testimony of Jesus” (using the verb echō; 12.17 and 19.10) could be understood as “having the words of the Apocalypse.” 

I hope to provide further support for this interpretation by arguing that the tradition of wisdom being revealed through apocalyptic visions provides a background against which to understand the phrase. Both Daniel and 1 Enoch contain internal self-references to their corpus, as well as references to characters described as receiving and subsequently proclaiming the wisdom revealed in the apocalyptic visions. These same features can be observed in the book of Revelation, suggesting that “having the testimony of Jesus” can be better understood in the light of the tradition of higher wisdom through apocalyptic revelation.


Garrick Allen (University of St Andrews)

Text and Context: Sources and Exegetical Techniques in Revelation’s use of Zechariah 4

It is widely agreed among scholars that both Revelation 5.6b (in conjunction with the three preceding references to “seven spirits”) and 11.4 allude to Zechariah 4.10 and 4.14 respectively. The majority of scholars and commentators note these references and move directly to a theological interpretation of how the references relate to the central idea of this chapter from Zechariah: that the plans of God are accomplished “not by might nor by power, but by my spirit” (4.6). However, few pause to discuss the mechanics of the allusion. What version of Zechariah 4 is the author of Revelation working with and does he use it consistently? Also, how is this allusion crafted? What exegetical mechanics or scribal techniques does the author employ? How do they relate to the contemporary exegetical habits of Second Temple Judaism witnessed at Qumran, in inner-biblical allusions, and other early Jewish literature? This paper seeks to identify the source text for these allusions and to discuss the exegetical mechanics used in their employment. The primary purpose of this paper is to better understand the complex exegetical mind of the author of Revelation by laying the textual and contextual foundation of his use of Zechariah 4.