The Visions in John´s Revelation

Nov 2016
514
Germany
#1
(I had to split the full text into three posts)

With a probability bordering on certainty, the author of Revelation never used psychedelic means, since this would not have been compatible with his purist attitude and the use of drugs was, moreover, a characteristic of Roman culture which John (= J) certainly rejected. To my knowledge there is no other case of drug-induced visions known in the history of Jewish and Christianity. The ´visions´ of Rev must and can be explained differently.

The breadth of possible interpretational approaches ranges from a literary interpretation (i.e. the text is to be taken literally and the author has visioned everything exactly as he describes it) to a literary interpretation (i.e. the author fictsicts a vision that he has constructed literarily).

In the middle between these poles lies the interpretation of Rev as a mix of vision and literature (i.e. the author has authentically combined the visionary with the literary read).

Closer to the literary interpretation is the view that although the author had ecstatic experiences (ASCs, Altered-States-of-Consciousness), these had little or nothing to do with the concrete content of his text, but merely strengthened him in the feeling of being a ´chosen one´ with the right to give his religious message the highly artistic form of a ´Vision´ in the tradition of Jewish prophetic/apocalyptic literature (Ezekiel, Daniel, Enoch, etc.). Personally, I agree with this interpretation and will justify it at the end.

Some researchers (e.g. Felicitas D. Goodman 1990, Ioan P. Culiano 199, Rev-expert Leonard Thompson 1996 and B. J. Malina/J.) are also interested. J. Malina/J. J. Pilch 2000 ) believe to be able to recognize essential parallels between a shamanic spiritual journey and the ´visions´ of Revelation. I think that such parallels exist, but do not sufficiently substantiate the assumption that the author has actually experienced a spiritual journey comparable to a shamanic experience.

In the following I present in detail arguments for a shamanic-visionary interpretation, which I can understand up to a certain degree, without recognizing it as compelling. Too much, in my opinion, speaks for a largely literary construction of the content of Revelation.

On pro-visionary argumentation:

It is based to a large extent on the formula "I was in the Spirit", which supposedly refers to an OBE (Out-of-Body-Experience). It appears twice, namely at 1,10 and 4,2. The passages are in the Luther translation:

Rev 1:

10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a
Great voice as a trumpet,
11. who said: I am the A and the O, the first and the last;
And what thou seest write in a book (...)


Rev 4:

1. After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven;
And the first voice which I heard had spoken with me as one
Trumpet that said, Get up, I will show thee what is after this
should happen.

2. And immediately I was in the Spirit. And behold, a chair was set in the Heaven, and on the chair sat one;
3. And he that sat was as as the stone of Jasper, and
Sarder (...)


"Pneuma", the Greek word for ´spirit´, corresponds to the Jewish ´ruach´ (gramm. feminine), which means ´breath of God´ and is connotated with ´wind´. Undoubtedly, ´ruach´ also has the connotation of female fertility, as Gen 1,2 shows, where the ´ruach´ is breeding over the deep water (Hebrew: מְרַחֶ֖פֶת = = meraschapat), which can alternatively be translated as ´fluttering´ in the sense of the fluttering of a mother bird over her eggs. In New Platonism the Ruach corresponds to the ´world soul´ with its mediating position between the divine Nous (= platonic ideas) and the material, which inspired Christianity to its conception of the Trinitarian Holy Spirit, which substituted the repressed mother (goddess) of the classical triad father-mother-son - e.g. Osiris-Isis-Horus (cf. the above-mentioned hatching of the feminine ruach in Gen 1,2). In Luke the Ruach is the "Holy Spirit" who will "come" over Mary and is identical with the "Power of the Highest" (Luke 1:35). With Ezekiel, the Ruach appears as a wind that transports him from Babylon to Jerusalem, where he is observing apocalyptic supernatural events.

So the Ruach is a supernatural force that abolishes the laws of space and time and lets consciousness experience things that are unthinkable in the everyday world. For Jewish and Christian thinking this power is the expression of a personal God, it is the "Spirit of God".

However, with regard to 1,10 and 4,2 it is doubtful whether the formula in the Spirit describes the same process in both cases. Basically, there are two ways to interpret the formula:

(1) "To be in the mind" means a subjective state of consciousness of J (= trance), which enables him to higher perception. Thereby J´s psyche (I prefer this term to ´soul´) remains in the body.

(2) "Being in the mind" refers to an objective event that is connected with an out-of-body experience (= OBE): J´s psyche is moved into a divine sphere.

In Paul´s description of his initiation (2 Cor 12,1-4) this distinction is addressed. The author shows himself so uncertain in the question whether he was "fourteen years ago" on his heavenly journey inside or outside his body that he even expresses this doubt twice in a few sentences:

1 For boasting is of no use to me: but I will come to the vision and revelation of the LORD. 2 I know a man in Christ; fourteen years ago (if he be in the body, I know not; or if he be without the body, I know not; God knoweth it) he was raptured unto the third heaven. 3 And I know the same man (whether he was in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows it); 4 who was raptured into paradise and heard unspeakable words which no man can say.
 
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Nov 2016
514
Germany
#2
Back to the Revelation of John.

The difference between 1,10 and 4,2 is first of all the starting point of the protagonist.

In 1,10 J is in an everyday environment, more precisely: on Patmos on the ´Lord´s day´, when the spirit effect begins. J is haunted by a supernatural figure (Christ) who stands in the middle of seven candlesticks and dictates letters to him (whereby the letter passages are possibly a subsequent insertion). Without the candlesticks, the scene could be interpreted as Christ's entry into the natural world. But their presence signals that, conversely, J has entered a supernatural space where he faces Christ.

The situation is quite different in 4,2, where John is still situated in the supernatural scene 1,10-3,22, perceiving a door ´in heaven´ through which he enters the heavenly sphere upon Christ's request. The repetition of the "I was in the Spirit" at this point makes only sense if it implies an increase of the previous being in the Spirit, because otherwise it would be superfluous, because the reader already knows since 1,10 that John is in the Spirit,

The question remains as to where the supernatural scene 1,10-3,22 is located within the universe of Revelation. Since John gains access to heaven only in 4,2 and Christ appears in heaven only as a lamb, heaven is definitively excluded as the location of that scene, which suggests an interpretation of the scene in the sense of above (1): Christ reveals himself - in analogy to various dream scenes in the Tanach - in the subjective consciousness of John. The only alternative would be a sphere that is neither earthly nor heavenly, which I do not think is an option.

Interim result:

If - contrary to my opinion - 1,10 et seq. and 4,2 et seq. are reports of supernatural experiences, then the first sequence is about an internal trance (without OBE) and the second sequence is either also about an internal trance with increased visions or about a transfer of John´ s psyche (OBE) to a place which J calls "heaven". An indication, albeit no evidence, for OBE is the call "Climb here" in 4,1 by the same voice that J addressed earlier in his trance and now sounds from "Heaven".

Here is something fundamental to say about the world view of the Judaeo-Christian apocalypticism. It divides cosmic history into three phases:

An original phase of timeless perfection (1) which, due to a disastrous event, changes into a phase of imperfection (2). Here the world is fragmented into space and time and characterized by dualisms such as light/darkness, good/evil, God/Satan, spirit/matter, angels/demons, etc. In order to restore the initial state of the world, the powers of good enter into a war against the powers of evil that rule the world of phase (2). At the end stands their defeat and the restoration of the originally perfect world (3) by eliminating all dualisms, i. e. everything that blocks the way of the kingdom of good and light gets destroyed, leaving a monolithic world of good (in Revelation: the "New Jerusalem"). In the Bible this developmental arch is illustrated by its beginning (Genesis = origin and loss of Paradise) and its end (John's revelation = restoration of Paradise). During phase (2) the kingdom of God does not disappear, of course, but is merely pushed into the distance by the dark powers (Satan and demons). This distance can only be bridged by (a) angels and (b) visionaries.

The events in the Kingdom of God's sphere are accordingly detached from the conditions of the space-time continuum. Therefore, it would also be compatible with the special "A-logic" of this sphere to interpret the First Horseman as the earthly manifestation of Christ in Rev 6,1-2, although the heavenly Lamb-Christ called upon this rider. Thus, that A-logic is comparable to the psychoanalytical laws of dream to a large extent.

As to the shamanistic interpretation of Revelation:

What parallels exist between John´s descriptions and the typical characteristics of a shamanic soul journey? Such characteristics are among others:

1) Communication with invisible beings (spirits)
2) Social application of the visionary, especially the healing of a sick person
3) Journey through heavenly spheres
4) The visioned person can be memorized

There is no doubt that Revelation meets these criteria. As far as paragraph 2) is concerned, the ' social application' of the text consists in its moral claim (i. e. to deter the congregations from idolatry) and in its comforting role (against state repression in refusing idolatry).
 
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Nov 2016
514
Germany
#3
Nevertheless, these parallels are not a compelling proof for a shamanic background of Revelation. Pattern 1)-4) was also used in the visionary literature of Judaism and by its use the author could make up an eventful journey to heaven. I come to this tradition now.

Heavenly Journeys and contact with spiritual beings were religious elements of all ancient cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia and Greece. This spiritual tradition is rooted in prehistoric shamanism and was in the service of kingship only in historical times, for example in Assyria, where the kings heard the opinion of goddess Ishtar by oracleizing priestesses. In the Ancient Orient, oracle priests belonged to the standard crew of a royal court. The oracles were mostly concerned with the fate of the king or his dynasty, but not of the entire people. Thus prophecy was an instrument of preservation and legitimation of royal power, what did not exclude admonitory criticism of the king by oracleizing priestesses.

In competition with the kingly oracle, a freelance form of prophecy developed in Israel, which produced a high-quality visionary literature (Ezekiel, Henoch, Baruch, Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel) on which the author of Revelation could build stylistically and contentwise.

If one looks at the symbolisms of Revelation, one can discover in almost all cases a traditional historical pattern, which makes the assumption redundant that the author has' visioned' the symbol on a supernatural level. This can easily be seen in scenes 1,10 et seq. and 4,2 et seq.

The seven candlesticks in 1,12-13 have their model in Zechariah 4,1, where it says:

1 And the angel who spake to me came again, and woke me up as one was awakened from sleep, 2 and said unto me, What seeest thou? And I said, I see; and behold, there stood a candlestick, all golden, with a bowl on it, and seven lamps on it, and seven tubes on each lamp.

The symbolic content of the number 7 is derived from Babylonian astrology with its seven heavens. The Menorah in the Jewish Shrine is a concrete model for visionary seven-armed candlesticks. However, it probably wasn´t the Menorah, but Zechariah´s ideas that served as model for John´s vision. Similar pictures can also be found in Ex 25,37 and Apk Bar. 21.

Accordingly, the ´seven torches´ around the throne of God can be interpreted in 4,2 et seq. as inspired by the torches in Apk Baruch and in Ez 1,13, where John only had to add the seventh number, which is omnipresent in Revelation anyway.

The 'sea of glass' before the throne could be stimulated by 1 Kings 7:23-26 and Ez 1:22, where in both cases the pictorial language points to the crystalline nature of the soil before the throne of God.

The four beings around the throne, lion, bull, man and eagle, John found at Ez 1:10:

Their faces were like a human being in front, and on the right side like a lion in all fours, and on the left side like an ox in all fours, and on the back like an eagle in all fours.

These beings go back to the signs of the zodiac of Babylonian astronomy, where they stand for the following planetary gods: 1) Taurus = King's God Marduk, 2) Leo = War God Nergal, 3) Eagle = Wind God Ninurta, and 4) Man = Wisdom God Nabu.

A model for the 24 ´elders´ grouped around the throne of God (´elders´ = presbyters) does not exist in Jewish literature, but it is likely that this circle of persons or their number was inspired by the cultural environment of the author. Options include the traditional 24 Old Testament authors, the 24 hours of the day and the 24 lictors under Domitian (provided that Revelation was created during his time). Furthermore, the 12 apostles plus the 12 patriarchs come into question as well as the 24 priestly orders in 1 Chron 24,7-18 with their high significance for the temple service. As far as the person of the "elderly" is concerned, her white robe indicates her holy status. In Hebrews 11:2, the saints of the Old Testament are called "elderly" (presbyters). In combination with this, there is enough evidence of templates for the 24 "elders" surrounding the throne of God, which make the assumption of an original vision redundant.

In this way, one could go through the entire Revelation and prove scene by scene cross-references to literary tradition and social reality. Even if 5 or 10 percent of the content of Revelation could not be deduced from traditional history, it would be possible that in these cases the author has created his own fantasies and interwoven them with the rest of the material.

However, there is a pro-visionary argument that combines visionary authenticity with traditional historical dependency: in his trance states, the argument says, John has visionarily processed the symbolism he is familiar with from literature and cult. So this interpretation does not deny that John´s symbolism is largely learned by reading, but claims that he has unconsciously disguised his real trance states with culturally acquired symbols.

Finally, I repeat my own view on this subject:

The author knew of ecstatic experiences (ASC), but these had nothing or little to do with his text in terms of concrete content, but merely encouraged him to feel that he was a ´chosen one´ with the right to express his religious message in the tradition of Jewish-prophetic/apocalyptic literature (Ezekiel, Daniel, Henoch, Sacharja, etc.).) by giving the message the highly artistic form of a "vision". His use of the formula "I was in the Spirit" is based on real trance experiences, but does not support the assumption that the content of Revelation relies on such experiences.
 
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Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,603
Australia
#4
The Bible has been translated, adapted, revised and amended so many times in the last 2000 years it is difficult to know the intent of the authors of the Gospels.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,548
US
#5
Nov 2016
514
Germany
#6
The Bible has been translated, adapted, revised and amended so many times in the last 2000 years it is difficult to know the intent of the authors of the Gospels.
Firstly, the Revelation does not belong to the Gospels, secondly, the oldest remaining text version of John´s Revelation is from the 4th century, as part of the Codex Sinaiticus:

Codex Sinaiticus - See The Manuscript | Revelation |

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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#7
Many of the images of Revelation are references to Old Testament writings. For example, the 4 living creatures.ae not so.much references to Babylonian myths as to images found in Ezekiel chapter 1.

Revelations is one of the few surviving examples of a type of literature that was originally more popular, and the images were often well understood coded messages that people of the time.would know. These images would allow them to convey messages that would otherwise get them in trouble with the authorities. Such as the references to Babylon in Revelations, which was really referring to Rome. Coming out and talking about the destruction of Rome is not something that would have been advisable to say openly.

So I don't think you need to hypothesize some psychedelic drug to account for the images in Revelation. Even if we don't understand them, the i.ates of Revelation do catch ones attention.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,548
US
#8
Many of the images of Revelation are references to Old Testament writings. For example, the 4 living creatures.ae not so.much references to Babylonian myths as to images found in Ezekiel chapter 1.

Revelations is one of the few surviving examples of a type of literature that was originally more popular, and the images were often well understood coded messages that people of the time.would know. These images would allow them to convey messages that would otherwise get them in trouble with the authorities. Such as the references to Babylon in Revelations, which was really referring to Rome. Coming out and talking about the destruction of Rome is not something that would have been advisable to say openly.

So I don't think you need to hypothesize some psychedelic drug to account for the images in Revelation. Even if we don't understand them, the i.ates of Revelation do catch ones attention.
Yes. John of Patmos was a prophet. Like the prophets of the OT, he used imagery to convey. Much of the imagery is from the OT, and a follower would have been familiar with it. And Rome is at the center of his message, in the sense that it was the power which was subordinating and even persecuting the new faith.
 

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