This week in the apocalypse

Scott Paeth plucks some choice nuggets from a recent interview with theologian Jürgen Moltmann, in which he discusses eschatology:

“Eschatology is not only about the future, but about the present of that future.”

“If we expect a catastrophe at the end, why should we preserve the world? Apocalyptic expectations of a catastrophe at the end is the most dangerous thing in the world, because it destroys what should be preserved in the name of God here and now.”

“The final judgment has not so much to do with the good and the evil, or the good guys and the bad guys, but with the victims and the persecutors. We should look forward to the final judgement with joy, because it is the establishment of God’s justice. It is a creative judgement that brings justice to the victims.”

 At Cataclysmic, Michelle Mikeska encounters the World’s Worst Books, “Why the Left Behind Series Should be Left Behind.” Mikeska hits on several of the key ways in which Tim LaHaye misreads and mishandles the book of Revelation:

A common assumption found in Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series is that the ultimate aim of apocalyptic texts like Revelation and Daniel is to provide a detailed, if coded, blueprint of future events. Prophecy has no other purpose than this. This becomes problematic when we start reading both prophetic and apocalyptic texts. The major and minor prophets in the Hebrew scriptures seem to have a different goal. The aim of these texts is not primarily in providing a detailed forecast of events, but to present a possible future based on Israel’s repentance or lack thereof. The goal of Biblical prophecy is to encourage the faithful and challenge the wicked to repentance.

… Apocalyptic texts are almost always written in times of  acute suffering. The apocalyptic portions of Daniel were most likely written during the malevolent reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Revelation during the persecutions under Domitian. This means that Revelation and Daniel must be read through the lens of suffering and oppression. What is the result? A reevaluation of what it means for God to return as judge.

Elsewhere at that same fine blog, Mike Skinner posts a two-part response to Mark Driscoll’s invocation of Tim LaHaye’s killer Turbo Jesus as part of a diatribe against pacifist “pansies.” In the second part, Skinner looks at nonviolent ways of “Interpreting the Violent Imagery of Revelation.”

Bruce Chilton, a professor of religion at Bard College, has a handy one-page summary of premillennial apocalypticism and its political effects, “America’s Apocalypse: Armageddon in Jerusalem.”

The tug of war between Premillennialism and progressivism shifted in 1909. That was when Cyrus Scofield first published his Reference Bible; the book consisted of the King James Version with Premillennialist notes. (He later included a chronology dating creation to 4004 BCE). Seismic events in the history of the twentieth century favored the rise of Premillennialism. World War I gave the lie to the idea of the steady progress of Western civilization, and particularly to idealistic views of the efficacy of government. Scofield scoffed at the idea of progressive evolution; most people would be left behind in apocalyptic chaos while only true believers were raptured.

Nick Ahern turns to New Testament scholar Richard Hays of Duke to summarize “Three Ways to Read the Book of Revelation“:

1. Predictive: The more dominant view throughout Church History, it reads the text of Revelation as ‘literal’ and as a transcript of historical events. It is usually considered to include varying contemporary political/religious events. The Gulf War, The Soviet Union, etc. I find this to be a poor translation of literal events, especially when it is contingent on our current situation. Thus we read back into Revelation our current circumstances. Highly problematic for me.

2. Historical: Instead of being read as a prediction, Revelation is to be read as a commentary on political events within the context of the original author of Revelation. Hays states that like the Book of Daniel, Revelation is a resistance document. Simply, the imagery evokes the intended meaning of, say, Caesar and the Roman empire. This is a more attractive interpretation as it affirms the original intent of the author and grants a window into the views/symbols/ideals of the time.

3. Theopoetic: One reads this text as a theological and poetic representation of the spiritual environment  within where the church finds herself. It is thus a prophetic confrontation of all earthly pretensions of power. This allows for a stronger sense of ethics, and seems to drive most fluidly within the context of apocalyptic literature, especially with the imagery there within.

Note that Nos. 2 and 3 are not mutually exclusive.



Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 30: 'Thank Heaven for little girls'
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 29: 'Sorrow Floats'
Taking too much too lightly
Setting half the trends we know
  • Raj1point618

    O hai, I’z back, k? K, so ennywayz, YARRR, I were sailin’ from Cape Horn to the Antarctic Peninsula when them Furious Fifties wrenched me schooner off course and shipwrecked me upon these ‘ere shores of Slacktiv-

    Okay, I had just finished reading the entire 14-part core series and the prequel trilogy of The World’s Worst Books (TM), and started wondering whether there were others out there who found the theology, ethics, and writing in these books as appalling as I did. Little did I realize that my search would lead to some of the best friends I have ever had and membership in a truly remarkable community. I don’t remember how long it took me to start commenting, but I had a fairly short Lurkerjahr. I first thought of Slacktivist as “that Left Behind Fridays forum”, but it didn’t take me long to discover Fred’s other writings

  • arcseconds

    There are worse corpora to select than the works of Seuss :-)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    *waves hello!* Welcome back ashore. :P

  • Raj1point618

    Hey, Amaryllis! I’m back! *hugs*

  • Raj1point618

    O hai Piu- uh, I mean, Invisible Neutrino!

  • J_Enigma32

    “Eschatology is not only about the future, but about the present of that future.”

    This isn’t entirely true, IMO.

    See, eschatology strikes me as being less about the future so much as it’s the idealized past projected forward onto the future. It has nothing to do with an actual future, or the present for that matter, since they’re constantly living in the past. Their ideal era, when things were simple, when life made more sense, when children respected their elders, and when the world had a predictable order and structure to it; a golden age (which is why this appeals so much to authoritarians). It was never about the future. It’s a past that never existed.

    What’s more, eschatology is more than just the past projected on the future, it’s a total and categorical rejection of any future that doesn’t fit with their projected past. Take, for instance, the response to marriage equality. This is a sign of the end times, right? They should be celebrating this, because they’re supposedly looking forward to the end of the world like the nihilists they are, but they’re not. And they’re not because even though the world is supposed to end, it refuses to fit their projection of what there past/future should look like.

    Lastly, in addition to all of the above, eschatology, as Fred has pointed out before, is very deeply anchored in death denialism; a rejection of the very idea of death before they can see their “golden age” come to pass.

    In fact, I’d take it further: eschatology isn’t even about the end of the world. Eschatology is a study in paranoia, denialism, and rejection of reality itself, couched in morality plays*

    * The other day I realized there were parallels between satire and apocalyptic literature, and I wonder if the two might be a related genre; both run a very good risk of becoming extremely dated and having their meaning lost on later readers. Both make use of imagery to reveal some truth; we typically associate satire with humor, but satire isn’t all fun and games – in fact, Nineteen Eight-Four was satire, and so was Brave New world. I wonder if you could consider apocalyptic literature and writing a type of satire.

  • Turcano

    Well, American evangelicals don’t read Amos. (For a fun exercise, the next time you go to a church, check the fore-edges of the Bibles in the pews. Wear and smudging is a good indicator of how often a particular passage is read, and I’ll take any bets that the Minor Prophets will be as white as the day they left the printers.)

  • P J Evans

    well, it is saying things in a way that won’t get them into quite such hot water as if they said it straight out.

  • Turcano

    When I was at Biola working on a Master’s in linguistics, I had to take two Bible courses, so I took Old and New Testament Survey. For the latter course, each student was to give a presentation on one book of the New Testament. Mine was the Book of Matthew, and I remember covering the eschatological portions of the book in a manner that included all three perspectives, which I later learned was a Swedenborgian interpretation. I did well on the presentation, but that portion did get a lot of dirty looks.

  • Amaryllis


    * hugs*

    Oh, that brings the old days back. How’ve you been?

    *more hugs*

  • Hummingwolf

    Depends on the church. Some of the Dominionist churches are fond of Joel–or at least they are fond of referring to themselves as “Joel’s Army,”

  • konrad_arflane

    And for all the flak the KJV takes (deservedly, I’m sure) for its inaccuracies, in that section, the NIV takes more liberties with the original*.
    While there’s some parts of the KVJ version you might reasonably change to make the language more contemporary without altering the content, the NIV has gone quite a bit further than that; changing “have not charity” to “didn’t love others” is editorializing**, plain and simple. It may be for a good purpose, but that doesn’t make it unproblematic.

    *I don’t know Greek, but I’ve seen a lot of translations of that verse into various other languages, and they all agree much better with the KJV.

    **I don’t object to changing “charity” to “love”, that’s probably entirely justifiable, it’s introducing “others” that’s editorial.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah, I most often use the NIV myself, but I have to note that it features the partisan translation of Exodus 21 with miraculous safe delivery text.

  • Jamoche

    When the original is “caritas”, “love for others” might be a more accurate translation than “charity”. So whether it’s editorializing depends on context.

  • Jamoche

    All the Psalms need to be translated by poets. Fortunately most of my experience with them is in sung versions, but every so often even those are clunkers.

  • MikeJ

    This means that Revelation and Daniel must be read through the lens of suffering and oppression.

    I’m sure your average teabagger will be happy to tell you all about the suffering and oppression the dusky usurper is inflicting upon them. They claim to believe that raising the top tax rate 2% on people making more than $250,000 is the same as destroying the Temple.

  • Matri

    Worse. Being forced to not be mean to people who make less money than they do and who like different things is a fate worse than death!

    C’mon, Obama is forcing them to be healthier than they are now! Can you imagine the eternal torment that brings?!

  • Matri

    As I understand it, it was supposed to be God who gave The Message. It pretty much went like “It’s Rapture time, Imma gonna destroy the world and everyone in it, except for those stupi-I mean faithful enough to join my club right this instant.

    The Message was delivered via demonic messengers, all of whom promptly got More Dakka’d to death. Except for the one sent to China (I think) who received a fate worse than death: Hours of speech proclaiming the greatness of their Glorious Leader.

  • anon

    Irenaeus, who heard from Polycarp a disciple of John thought Revelation was a prophecy of future events, as did practically all in the earliest Christian communities.

    Nobody had even heard of the preterist claim “Nero is the 666″ until the 4th/5th centuries! And of course “Babylon” is just ancient Rome…except an alliance of ten kings burns it down. and it sits in the middle of a desert. When did Rome EVER meet those criteria?

  • Lee

    The problem I have with that is that the Bible implies that we can never have a world based on the rule of justice and mercy. Jesus’ message of peace has been virtually demolished by Revelations and end-times theology.
    The paranoia brought on by end-times theology is guaranteed that we will not have world peace anytime soon. Christians see everyone as the enemy as do many other religions as well. Muslims pretty much have the same ideology except when Jesus returns he is supposed to cast into hell all the “infidels” who worshipped him as a God. I guess the most peaceful religions would be Buddhism and Hinduism as they tend to focus more on the inner world than the outer world and believe that inner peace can lead to outer peace in the world.
    What is disturbing is all the paranoia about the UN setting up a “one-world” government. It seems pretty likely that Revelations was talking about the Roman Empire which did cover most of the known world at that time. But unfortunately Christians view any cooperation, however benign, with the UN as some evil conspiracy.

  • christopher_y

    The psalms and the Song of Songs should have been translated by Seamus Heaney. Genesis and Exodus should be done by somebody who has made a reputable version of Hesiod, or Homer if that’s too hard to find. Some of the minor prophets could be treated by an expert on Middle English spiritual rants. I don’t know how you would best get the feel of the Samuel-Kings-Chronicles sequence: possibly something Macauley-esque. Ezra and Nehemiah would be challenging, and in a different way so would Isaiah and Ezekiel.

    But the New Testament needs to be translated into no nonsense colloquial English that reflects the no nonsense colloquial Greek it was written in. It isn’t a national epic; it isn’t lyrical. It’s straightforward narratives and a collection of correspondence, which shouldn’t be disguised as anything else. (Revelation, of course, should have been translated by the late Jim Morrison of the Doors.)

  • J_Enigma32

    And at the same time, the beast has seven heads and on each head is seven crowns. Given Rome is built on seven hills, It’s pretty obvious who’s getting attacked here.

    Further more, as I’ve said before, the word translated as “mark” can also mean to a stricken image, like that of a coin. Given Revelation was likely published on the heels of Masada and the outcome of the First Jewish Revolt, where in the Hebrews attempted to mint their own currency, and it mentions nobody can buy or sell without the mark/money of the beast (that is, Roman money replaced the Masada coins the revolting Hebrews printed), it seems to me like that imagine is an attack on Rome. Figure they all happened over the course of less than 20 years (Nero ruled until ~66CE, the Revolt started in 66CE, it ended in 74CE, Revelation was completed ~79CE) and you’d be a fool to deny they’re in some way connected.

    Now as far as Rome being attacked by ten kings and burned down in the desert – I’m not aware of what poetic imagery is in use here. As I mentioned below, apocalyptic literature is like satire. Both rely on veiled metaphors to attack current policies of unpopular figures, and both run the risk of being misinterpreted by later generations who don’t understand the idioms, poetic imagery, and allusions being made using argot, jargon, and slang of the time.

  • P J Evans

    My first thought was Isaiah or Lamentations.

  • P J Evans

    Remind them of the spiritual that says ‘no more water, the fire next time’. God only promised not to use water again; there wasn’t a promise not to destroy everyone.

  • Jim Roberts

    I’ve grown to like it more since our pastor started using it. There may be more accurate translations, but it’s clear, concise, and I understand it well.

  • Jim Roberts

    This is why I love my church with all its warts. We’ve done entire sermon series on Hosea and Habakkuk and the teachers touch on the minor prophets quite often. They avoid discussion of Babylonians with donkey-like penises and such, but, really, that makes sense.

  • Winter

    Nero reigned until 68CE, and the civil war of 69CE (AKA, the Year of the Four Emperors) led to a minor lull in Roman operations for that year since Vespasian’s appointment as commander expired with Nero. And, you know, his going off to become emperor himself.

    Babylon as a symbol for Rome the oppressor in a Jewish context makes sense; after all, the Jews were enslaved in Babylon until that city was conquered and they were freed.

  • Jenny Mingus

    Hi, Mouse here, I just thought I’d pop in and announce I’ve started updating my snark of Left Behind: the Kids. Now that I’ve done that, I leave you to your thread.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    YAY! I shall go over and catch up! :D

  • konrad_arflane

    The original is not “caritas”, which is Latin, but “agape” in Koine Greek. I don’t know how well or poorly those two words map onto each other, though – it might be a distinction without a difference. I’d argue for simply translating it with “love”; it’s not perfect because it’s overbroad, but it avoids forcing a particular interpretation which may or may not be correct.

    Anyway, my general point is that aside from the general (unavoidably) old-fashioned language of the KJV, it appears (through comparison to translations into other languages) to be much closer to the actual text of the original than the NIV, which takes several liberties for reasons that aren’t always particularly obvious.

  • TheOldMaid

    I was googling around to see if they wrote anything after Glorious Appearing .
    After that series or after that volume? They’ve done both. A series on the four Gospel writers (“Mark’s story: a novel” for example). Also a volume still in “Left Behind” land about life AFTER Jesus comes back. It’s supposedly a Jewish paradise, with two Jewish characters mentioned in it (one resurrected, one living the Version 1.0 life). I believe there is a Jewish (well, Yiddish) word for it: chutzpah.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Um, I realize just saying “Christians” is more convenient than saying “fundamentalist / dominionist / right-wing evangelical Christian groups” – but there are millions of us Christians who don’t fit that pattern. Don’t believe in the Rapture. Don’t spend the church year trying to torture Revelation into contemporary political fortunetelling while ignoring the Gospels. Don’t hate everybody outside the walls of our church building.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I just looked at your blog post – sounds like an interesting project.

  • Timothy (TRiG)

    Good to see you back, Raj.

    I have no recollection of how I came here myself.


  • Lee

    Sorry about that. I need to be more careful with my writing. I know there are many Christians not like that and in fact I like progressive/liberal Christians. That is why I like hanging out here.
    I was raised as a fundie and so when I think of Christianity then my mind automatically goes there. I promise to do better!

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Tsokay. I started out as a fundie too – that can leave some deep scars.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I was looking for things after Left Behind. I didn’t know about the book you mention, but I’m a lot less inclined now to read it than I would have been then. >.>

  • Fusina

    I grew up with the RSV–makes it tricky looking up verses as I know them with a slightly different wording than the KJV. But I agree with you on the NRSV, they kept the poetic feel of the Psalms while giving a more contemporary feel to the prose.

  • roninsheep

    I came here via librarything, which said that Fred was ripping apart the LB series… and as it had been *required* reading at one of my schools, I wanted to see if anyone else felt that it was the complete crap that I thought it was… and from the first reading of his takedown, I was hooked.

    Oh and also, I’ve been a lurker for ages. XD

  • alfgifu

    Hey, Raj, good to see you here again. Not sure if you’ll remember me, as I’ve been a semi-lurker all my time, but I’m just wondering – are you spectralbovine over at MarkReads/Watches?

    (Over there I’m an almost-complete lurker and am months behind on the West Wing, but have been enjoying spectralbovine’s comments.)

  • FearlessSon

    They did a samplectomy of that page some time ago. Too many flame wars kept breaking out.