The Beast in Revelation 13:1-18 wasn’t Emperor Nero, but rather a sea monster constellation.
Who or what is the Beast in Revelation? Is it Antichrist? Is it even human? Many readers react to Apocalypse or the book called Revelation the way many viewers do after watching a film by David Lynch. In other words, confused.
Last post, with much help from Context Group scholars Bruce Malina and John Pilch, I dealt with Revelation, the very misunderstood final book of the New Testament canon. It’s a book of visions by John the Seer (Revelation 1:9), compiled and edited into a single work by an unknown “Compiler” (Revelation 1:1-3). So much evolution happened to books like this one that would eventually be recognized as Christian Scripture.
Evolution and development wasn’t limited to the writings. Theological concepts found within the library called “Bible” also evolved. To see what I mean, watch this video:
The Beast & Other Sky Chimeras
Within these visions, we learn about the actions of the Beast, a terrible sea beast (Revelation 13:1-18). Well, it isn’t really a sea beast. Instead, the Beast is a “Sky Beast over the Sea.” Indeed, all of the beasts featured in the book of Revelation are actually sky beasts. The entire menagerie of beastly deities of John’s visions are chimeras, dragons, and other sky creatures ancient Israelites conceived.
Chimeras are mythical creatures, combinations of different animals. You can find chimeras all over the skies. I am speaking about constellations. Constellations teem the book of Revelation. Angels, bearing flaming eyes, many eyes like peacocks, and bearing wings like birds, with human bodies or faces, are essentially chimeras. That’s also true for sphinx-like, or griffin-like, angelic beings, such as the four living creatures of Revelation 4:6-8. Understanding that, it isn’t difficult to see what John sees. He’s in trance looking at the constellations Leo, Taurus, Scorpio, and Pegasus (Thunderbird)—all situated on the celestial equator.
Fantastical chimeras, and beasts with multiple heads and eyes, like those described in John’s visions, were held by ancient Israelite lore to populate the earth before the Flood. The same kinds of creatures likewise populate the sky vaults. Consider the chimera Capricorn, essentially a goat-fish hybrid. Or Centaur and Sagittarius, combinations of men, horses, and in Middle Eastern traditions, scorpions. Or Pegasus, the cross between winged bird and horse.
So as you read Revelation, please try to keep in check your ordinary 21st century, Western, astronomical way of interpreting the skies. No one had such a scientific perspective in antiquity. Ancients like John the Seer regarded almost all constellations, whether humanoid or beastly in shape, as rational, living beings. You and I don’t look at stars and constellations that way, but the Bible does.
Revelation 13: Beginning of Time
So what is going on in Revelation 13:1-18? First we need to understand the context of Revelation 12:1—16:21, the greater section in which we find it. Originally, before “the Compiler” (Revelation 1:1-3) edited several of John’s (Revelation 1:9) separate works together into one document, this section was its own separate text.
Basically, Revelation 12:1—16:21 was a set of described visions about the long ago past. How long ago in the past? Very long ago, way in the past! These visions dealt with the cosmos existing before the Flood (Genesis 1:1—6:13). John wrote it to explain why the present condition—for John the Seer and his audience—existed. Everything taking place in this section of Revelation 12:1—16:21 already happened. It does not concern the future.
The Characters Aren’t Human!
So what did John experience? Something long before the Roman Empire, long before any Israelites or other humans existed, even before Adam came to be. He saw visions depicting sky events at the beginning of time, in the first week of creation. In trance, John sees Virgo (Revelation 12:1-2) pregnant with a cosmic child, Aries (Revelation 12:5; see also 5:6-13). They are menaced by the Dragon (Revelation 12:3-4, where Scorpio = tail, Libra = seven heads). Next, Orion (Michael in Revelation 12:7) comes to champion them and a sky war breaks out. All this takes place before human beings, before creation was completed.
Then Revelation 13:1-18 shows the aftermath of this sky war and sets up the evil of Genesis 6:1-4 (see also 1 Enoch). The action takes place in the sky vaults over the antediluvian earth, probably over Mesopotamia. The time period is before the Flood. This is mythic time, folks.
Identifying the Beast of Revelation
Arriving at Revelation 13:1-18, we encounter a “Sea Beast,” really a Sky Beast rising along the horizon of the sea (our translations botch this). According to Bruce Malina and John Pilch, this can only be the constellation Cetus (called in Babylonian, Tiamatu, and in Hebrew, Tehom). Cetus is the Sea Monster in the sky vaults. This constellation, like the Dragon (Scorpio-Libra) it represents and relates to, is found in the southern sky. It’s ten “horns” are really dorsal protuberances, like scaly bumps on a crocodiles back, or dorsal fins on a fish.
According to Revelation 13:2, this beast was like a leopard, having bear-like feet, and a lion-like mouth. Malina and Pilch explain that the bear feet refers to its powerful and violent acts. Its mouth refers to its powerful speech. This sky beast over the sea functions as vice-regent to the Dragon. It rules in the days leading up to the Flood. It isn’t Rome or Nero.
Interestingly, as the centuries passed on, people lost the original context. Why not discover why, in this follow-up post, HERE!