Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book of Fear?

Currently, all the different Presbyterian Women groups at my church are doing the same Bible study from the same workbook.  This is pretty cool, in itself; that is, women of all ages, in different groups, that meet at different times, collectively studying the same material.  But cooler, even, is that the study centers around Revelation - arguably the strangest, most difficult book of the Bible.

My group (young professional women) is only a chapter in.  Although it's already pretty neat - so I'll keep you guys posted the more we learn about this weird little book.

But the most revealing thing we've learned so far is about the historical background of an "apocalypse."  That word actually literally translates to "revelation" - and at the time this book was written, "apocalypse" was a genre of writing.  So in the way that we now recognize "mystery" to mean a genre of books that have certain characteristics (ie, suspense, baffling plot elements, crime, etc.), the readers in 70AD (when Revelation was most likely written) would have recognized an "apocalypse" story to also have certain characteristics (ie, fantastical events, weird symbols, mysterious creatures, etc.).  They also would've recognized that the story was not to be read literally.

Now think about that for a second.  Did any of you ever read the Left Behind books?  Have any of you ever been fear-taught Revelation at church - inducing nightmares of mean locusts and an antichrist?  Or have any of you ever been shown that video - the one with the four kids who are driving along in the car & get in an accident - sending two to Heaven and two to Hell?

Understanding the historical context and the original language takes the scary out of Revelation - in fact, the book is one mostly about hope.  It makes me wonder, though, why was the scary put in in the first place?  It's the question that plagues me every time I see Christian extremists doing things like marching outside a soldier's funeral saying that the war is going on because God is punishing President Obama for his tolerance of gays.

Who decided that, with all the different messages of hope and love in the Bible, that the most effective way to bring people to God was through fear or intolerance?

I don't have an answer (except that fear and violence "sells," I guess?).  But I'm really anxious to continue learning about this strange, often-unstudied book of the Bible.  I'll keep you guys posted if I learn anything else really unexpected.


LB said...

So, does what you've read imply that Revelations should not be read literally? If so, then how does it say are we supposed to treat all the other chapters in the Bible? Is everything supposed to be metaphorical?

Jackie said...

Historically, that GENRE of writing (apocalypse) was NOT read literally. And all the weird things that happen in Revelation are characteristics of the genre.

So if you wanted to put 2 and 2 together (as the writer of my Bible study does), the fastastic events that happen in Revelation should not be read literally by modern readers, either.

The Bible study we're doing makes no presumptions about other books of the Bible (except maybe Daniel [because that, too, is in the apocalypse genre]). So you shouldn't take what I'm saying about not reading Revelation literally to apply to anything but the GENRE of apocalypse studies (ie, the two books Daniel & Revelation).

(And, I mean, I'm sure there are 1000s of theories about if the Bible in general should be read methaporically or literally - but those aren't addressed by this Bible study [except in relation to Revelation.])