Little over a weeks’ time we will begin our sermon series on arguably the most debated and speculated at piece of writing in the Western and Eastern biblical canons, the book of Revelation in our series entitled Letter From Patmos. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” Fortunately for St. John and G.K. Chesterton they were not prophets in the predictive sense of the word therefore they were spared from hearing the wild, escapists, end-of-world-forecasting fantasies that have been successful (think billions, not millions, of books and movies) in being propagated the past few decades. Most namely being the collection of novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. What has often been left behind by these and other “wild commentators” has been the Bible itself. With this firmly in mind I have spent as much time as possible with guides whom recent history has found to be not all that wild ( nor for that matter wildly successful at entertaining the masses as their counterparts have been) and would like to offer up a brief bibliography of the texts , both biblical and none, that have been the poet Virgil equivalent to me not as I journeyed through a fiery inferno but as I journeyed through the vision of reality for the 1st century as well the 21st century and everything in between, before and after, given to Poet John while in seclusion on the Island of Patmos. This summer and early fall at Lendrum Mennonite Brethren we have fifteen Sundays to engage this book which means much will regrettably be omitted and so for a slight consolation if there is something you want to engage with a little longer, linger on or cultivate more fully, it is my hope that this little bibliography can serve as a good place to start.
Canonical (The ancient writing collected in the Christian Bible) Books: Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the Psalms. Throughout the series I will be teaching from, unless otherwise noted, the New Revised Standard Version but any translation will do and if you don’t have yet have a Bible flag me down and I will set you up.
Non-Canonical (ancient writing not collected in the Christian Bible) Apocalyptic Books:
1 Enoch ( http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/enoch.html) ,
2 Baruch ( http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/2Baruch.html) ,
4 Ezra ( http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/Kjv4Ezr.html ).
If the book of Revelation will “bring a blessing to those who read it” why is the message seemingly so obscure?
The simple answer is that it isn’t obscure and that we have just lost the art or ability that would have been commonly held by Pastor John’s original congregations. As one commentator puts it “faced with the style of revelation, the modern reader who knows little about Biblical literature and its parallels is like a person who, though unfamiliar with stocks and bonds, tries to understand the Dow-Jones reports.” I argue that the best place to start engaging the letter of Revelation (outside of the book itself) is the Bible. While St. John takes pieces of every book of the Bible and makes it his own, he writes in the line of other Jewish prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the poets of Psalms. We would be well suited to learn from the same prophets and poets that shaped Theologian John. When it comes to having our imaginations first filled with the prophets and poets before we pick up the letter of Revelation Eugene Peterson goes so far as to warn “we have no business dealing with Revelation until we have (read the entire Old Testament)” which is a helpful reprimand but not entirely feasible for some who may be new or newer to the Bible. However it would serve a good purpose to say that the collected Christian canon should be engaged before we engage the non-canonical apocalyptic books (1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra).
Commentaries, Dictionaries and Introductions
The Revelation of St. John The Divine
Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2005 – 242pp. – $37.63
A Rebirth of Images
Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2007 – 350pp. – $44.26
J. Massyngberde Ford – Doubleday and Co.,1975 -455pp. – $44.99 (or free for loan from my library)
M. Eugene Boring, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 – 236pp.- $27.50 (or free for loan from my library)
Craig S. Kenner, Zondervan, 2000 -576pp.-$35.49 (or free for loan from my library)
Revelation for Everyone
N.T. Wright, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 -227pp.- $16.50 (or free for loan from my library)
J. Ramsey Michaels, InterVarsity Press, 1997 -265pp.-$18.99 (or free for loan from my library)
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings
Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2000 -465pp.- $71.50 (or free for loan from my library)
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
John J. Collins, Daniel C. Harlow, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.-2010 -1360pp.- $104.99 (or free for loan from my library)
To help with these ancient texts, no matter what they wrote in their introductions, modern commentators like Austin Farrer and J. Massyngberde Ford are demanding and call for a level of familiarity with the text and context of Revelation but offer the best example of the intent of St. John (Farrer) and assembly of the most current scholary material (Ford). I mention Borings Revelation because it is part of my favorite commentary series Interpretation and will use it extensively in our sermon series thus potentially making it redundant reading. Ehrman and The Eerdmans Dictionary on Early Judaism both contain only entries on apocalyptic literature and the book of Revelation so here I would suggest not a purchase but a visit to your, or my own, local library. All the remaining texts are accessible ranging from the slightly academic Revelation by Keener to the devotional approach of Wright and Michaels.
Revelation in the News
Revelations: Vision, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation
Elaine Pagels, Viking, 2012 – 246pp.-$29.50 (or free for loan from my library)
If are only going to read one book on Revelation make it one of these
Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination
Eugene H. Peterson – HarperOne, 1988 – 194pp. – $18.99 (free from my bookshelf)
The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions
Michael W. Pahl – Cascade Books, 2011 – 106pp. – $11.65 (free from my bookshelf or the LMBC Library but you really should buy it)
As someone who has made her academic career on Gnosticism I was shocked to find Elaine Pagels engage a most decidedly earthy gospel. One of Dr. Pagels many gifts is the ability to bring academic debate into the public square. She is able to articulate an interesting view of the writer John and presents a widely different approach than the one I will be taking which will most decidedly be in the vein of Peterson and Pahl.
Non-Religious Summer Reading You Could Justify as Revelation Work
In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
Margaret Atwood, Signal, 2011 – 255pp. – $26.99 (free from my bookshelf)
Cormac McCarthy, Vintage, 2007 – 304pp.- $21.00
The actual quote eludes me but I once an essay by Michael Chabon in which he wrote something like ” a religious systems of belief is beyond my grasp because of how much Science Fiction I have read” the quote, or idea, struck me as odd as it is precisely that type of literature (like Jeremiah, 4 Ezra) that create the right atmosphere to embrace a faith that has real life consequences on this earth here and now as represented in the letter of Revelation. Atwood displays how Science Fiction forms our imagination while Cormac McCarthy does just that.