A Survival Guide to the Biblical Apocalypse

The Book of Rev­e­la­tion is a strong com­peti­tor for weird­est text in all of ancient lit­er­a­ture. Or, at least, it is “the strangest and most dis­turb­ing book in the whole Bible,” says the nar­ra­tor of the video above from a chan­nel called hochela­ga, which fea­tures “obscure top­ics that deserve more atten­tion.” Most of these are super­nat­ur­al or reli­gious in nature. But if you’re look­ing for a reli­gious or the­o­log­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of St. John of Pat­mos’ bizarre prophet­ic vision, look else­where. The exam­i­na­tion above pro­ceeds “from a sec­u­lar, non-reli­gious per­spec­tive.”

Instead, we’re promised a sur­vival guide in the unlike­ly (but who knows, right) event that the prophe­cy comes true. But what, exact­ly, would that look like? Rev­e­la­tion is “high­ly sym­bol­ic” and very “non-lit­er­al.” The mean­ings of its sym­bols are rather inscrutable and have seemed to shift and change each cen­tu­ry, depend­ing on how its inter­preters want­ed to use it to for­ward agen­das of their own.

This has, of course, been no less true in the 20th and 21st cen­turies. If you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, for exam­ple, you were bound to have come across the works of Hal Lind­say – author of The Late Great Plan­et Earth (turned into a 1977 film nar­rat­ed by Orson Welles). And if you lived through the 1990s, you sure­ly heard of his enter­tain­ing suc­ces­sors: the bloody-mind­ed Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jer­ry Jenk­ins.

The Apoc­a­lypse has been big busi­ness in pub­lish­ing and oth­er media for 50 plus years now. Rev­e­la­tion itself is an incred­i­bly obscure book, but the use of its lan­guage and imagery for prof­it and pros­e­lyt­ing “made the Apoc­a­lypse a pop­u­lar con­cern,” as Erin A. Smith writes for Human­i­ties. Lind­say’s book sold both as reli­gious fact and sci­ence fic­tion, a genre lat­er evan­gel­i­cal writ­ers like LaHaye and Jenk­ins exploit­ed on pur­pose. The influ­ence has always gone both ways. “A kind of sec­u­lar apoc­a­lyp­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty per­vades much con­tem­po­rary writ­ing about our cur­rent world,” Paul Boy­er, Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin, Madi­son, tells PBS.

Whether it’s a dis­cus­sion of cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe, viral pan­dem­ic, eco­nom­ic col­lapse, the rise of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, or civ­il strife and inter­na­tion­al war­fare, the apoc­a­lyp­tic metaphors stack up in our imag­i­na­tions, often with­out us even notic­ing. Get to know one of their pri­ma­ry sources in the video intro­duc­tion to Rev­e­la­tion just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Wit­ty, Eru­dite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

Chris­tian­i­ty Through Its Scrip­tures: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty 

Free Online Reli­gion Cours­es 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Scott Mansfield says:

    Very help­ful video. One pos­si­ble cor­rec­tion for trum­pet three: Worm­wood and mug­wort, while both species of artemisia are dif­fer­ent. Worm­wood has a strong and bit­ter fla­vor and is used to com­bat anx­i­ety and depres­sion though too much can cause hal­lu­ci­na­tions, seizures, and kid­ney fail­ure. Mug­wort had sim­i­lar though much milder effects and was com­mon­ly used when brew­ing beer until hops came into wide­spread use dur­ing late Mid­dle Ages.

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