[ by Charles Cameron — in whose borrowed opinion, if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light ]
Here’s another DoubleQuote that doesn’t fit my usual format, but sets up an interesting dynamic anyway. This just in, from Joel Rosenberg:
Mother Jones article: “Oh Magog! Why End-Times Buffs Are Freaking Out About Syria”: A friend ju… http://t.co/Witrm6gSkP
— Joel C. Rosenberg (@JoelCRosenberg) September 4, 2013
I find it charming that we can read the opening paragraphs of a Mother Jones piece about Joel Rosenberg on on Rosenberg’s own site. Here are the first paras — or grafs, as my friend Danielle would say:
In early 2012, bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill for a meeting with an unidentified member of Congress to discuss the end of the world. “I thought the topic was going to be the possible coming war between Israel and Iran,” Rosenberg explained on his website. “Instead, the official asked, ‘What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?’”
For the better part of an hour, Rosenberg says, the writer and the congressman went back forth on something called the “burden of Damascus,” an Old Testament prophecy that posits that a war in the Middle East will leave Syria’s capital city in ruins—and bring the world one step closer to Armageddon. As Rosenberg put it, “The innocent blood shed by the Assad regime is reprehensible, and heart-breaking and is setting the stage for a terrible judgment.”
But Rosenberg and his anonymous congressman aren’t alone in viewing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s actions through a Biblical lens.
That’s my first shoe. And here’s Richard Bartholomew, the blogger at Bath’s Notes, dropping the second:
Isaiah: "Sorry, when I said Damascus will be destroyed, I meant 3,000 years from now. I've no idea about current Assyrian threat." #isaiah17
— Richard Bartholomew (@Barthsnotes) September 4, 2013
Okay, here are some observations of my own, which I wrote a while back…
Which comes first: history or Revelation?
Just as nature and scripture can be “read against” one another, each perhaps illuminating the other at times, so in the case of one particular scripture — the Revelation — the book is “read against” history: there’s a long history of interpreters attempting to “translate” the book into contemporary political terms.
Luther is one who tried his hand at this:
Since it is meant as a revelation of what is to come, and especially of coming tribulations and disasters for the Church, we can consider that the first and surest step toward finding its interpretation is to take from history the events and disasters that have happened to the Church before now and to hold them up alongside these pictures and so compare them with the words. If, then, the two fit and agree with each other, we can build on that as a sure, or at least an unobjectionable, interpretation.
But Bernard McGinn makes a shrewd comment on Luther’s process, in his article on Revelation in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode‘s Literary Guide to the Bible:
Earlier interpreters, such as Joachim (but not Augustine), had also claimed to find a consonance between Revelation’s prophecies and the events of Church history, but they had begun with Scripture and used it as a key to unlock history. Paradoxically, Luther, the great champion of the biblical word, claimed that history enabled him to make sense of Revelation…
So: which direction should theologians “read” the analogy between Revelation and history in?
Should they, like Luther, start with history and try to “shoe-horn” the Book of Revelation to fit it, or vice versa? There are two very different processes here, and the results may be correspondingly different — but when people today read accounts of Revelation which propose that the “end times” are nigh, they seldom even ask the question: which came first in the interpreter’s mind?