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