Members-only podcast episode
The Esoteric New Testament, Part III: John and Apocalypse
This is a special podcast episode for SHWEP members only
Already a member? Log in here to view this episode
In this special episode we come to grips with John, the source of the most potent veins of the intra-Orthodox esoteric in the Christian canon. In part one of this episode we try to figure out which John we are talking about here, and settle on the figure (a-historical, but alive and well in reception) of John the Apostle, author of the Gospel of John and Apocalypse of John or Book of Revelations. We then address these works in turn, first discussing John’s Gospel, with its extraordinary logos-theology and ‘demiurgic secret’, and then turning to the awe-inspiringly-esoteric Apocalypse, the irreducible vector of esotericism lying in wait for every attempt to make Christianity less weird.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Irenæus dates the Apocalypse of John: Against Heresies 5.30.3. On the beast 666: ibid. 5.30.1.
John, son of Zebedee in the NT: brother of James and son of Zebedee (Matt 4:21; 10:2, 22–24; 17:1; Mark 1:19, 3:17, 5:37; Luke 5:10, Acts 12:2). Other Johns in the NT: John Mark: Acts 12:12. James is brother of Jesus at Galatians 1:19 (so if this is the same James as the brother of John, that means ….). John the Elder, author of the three letters of John: the second and third Johannine letters say they are from ‘the Elder’; if they are by John, then this is ‘John the Elder’. John of Patmos, writer of the canonical Apocalypse: Rev. 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8.
The Apocalypse of John: John enters the heavenly throne-room: 4:1. The beast from the sea: 13:6–7. The whore of Babylon: 17:5 and 7.
The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse: see McAllister, Colin, ed. and trans. The Cambridge Gloss on the Apocalypse: Cambridge University Library Dd.X.16. Corpus Christianorum in Translation, 36. Turnhout: Brepols, 2020.
D. E. Aune. Magic in Early Christianity. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, volume 23.2, pages 1507–557. de Gruyter, Berlin, 1980, we cite pp. 1555-6.
On the beast 666: Ian Paul. Introduction to the Book of Revelations. In Colin McAllister, editor, The Cambridge Companion to Apocalyptic Literature, pages 36–58. The University Press, Cambridge, 2020, pp. 48-49:
‘In Rev 13:18, the identification of the “beast from the sea” with Roman Imperial power is confirmed by the gematria that identifies “beast’” with “Nero(n) Caesar” by transliterating the Greek terms into Hebrew letters: beast = θηριον = TRYWN = 400 + 200 + 10 + 6 + 50 = 666. Nero Cæsar = Νερων Καισαρ = NRWN QSR =50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200 = 666. This interpretation is confirmed internally by noting a similar identification of the angel in chapter 21 with the number associated with the holy city: angel = ἄγγελος = ANGLS = 1 + 50 + 3 + 30 + 60. And it is confirmed externally by the textual variant found in the Oxyrhynchus papyrus P115, where the number has been changed to 616—which corresponds to correlating “beast” in the genitive (thēriou) with Nero spelled without the final “n,” in both cases losing 50 from the value. In all these uses of numerology, the text of Revelation communicates its theological vision not only through its semantic content and metaphorical signification, but also through its structure and fabric.’
Guy Stroumsa. Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism. Brill, Leiden, 1996, 49-50.
M. A. Williams on Biblical demiurgic texts: Rethinking Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1999.
Secret Bonus Track:
Earl Fontainelle and his Pearl of Great Price, ‘The Angel of Death’ (Williams), Clifton Mansions Hootenanny, 2002.
David A. Lamb. Text, Context and the Johannine Community: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the Johannine Writings. A&C Black, 2014.
Pierson Parker. John the Son of Zebedee and the Fourth Gospel. Journal of Biblical Literature, 81(1):35–43, March 1962.
On the Acts of John, see Eric Junod and Jean-Daniel Kaestli. L’histoire des actes apocryphes des apôtres du IIIe au IX siècle: le cas des Actes de Jean. Revue de théologie et de philosophie, Genève, 1982, and the critical edition E. Junod and J.D. Kaestli, editors. Acta Iohannis. Brepols, Turnhout, 1983. See also:
Jan N. Bremmer. The Apocryphal Acts of John. Pharos, Kampen, 1995 and the more daring interpretations of:
P.J. Lalleman. The Acts of John: A Two-Stage Initiation into Johannine Gnosticism. Peeters, Louvain, 1998.
The Apocalypse of John:
P.-M. Bogaert. Les Apocalypses contemporaines de Baruch, d’Esdras et de Jean. In J. Lambrecht, editor, L’Apocalypse johannique et L’Apocalyptique dans le Nouveau Testament, pages 47–68. Leuven, 1980.
James H. Charlesworth. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume One: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, volume 1. Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 2021.
Steven J. Friesen. Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2001 [interacting with archæological evidence].
Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther. Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 1999.
Ian Paul. Introduction to the Book of Revelations. In Colin McAllister, editor, The Cambridge Companion to Apocalyptic Literature, pages 36–58. The University Press, Cambridge, 2020.
Christopher R. Smith. The Structure of the Book of Revelation in Light of Apocalyptic Literary Conventions. Novum Testamentum, 36(4):373–93, 1994.
John Sweet. Revelation. In John Barclay and John Sweet, editors, Early Christian Thought in its Jewish Context, pages 160–73. The University Press, Cambridge, 1996.
Leonard L. Thompson. The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse & Empire. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1990 [politics].
On Reception of the Apocalypse of John
Natasha O’Hear and Anthony O’Hear, Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
James T. Palmer, The Apocalypse in the Early Middle Ages (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
November 11, 2022
The esoteric Hank?
November 11, 2022
You know dat.
November 16, 2022
Re: the Apocalypse, and Paul’s writings–I still can’t understand their obsession with “fornicators” and “fornication” (what’s the Greek here?). That obsession really stuck out the last time I looked at that material. Paul et al. really wanted to destroy these people/have them burn in hell. Why? What was the big deal that made them so “hate-able”?
November 18, 2022
Revelation 18:3: For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
1 Corinthians 6:18: Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
The Greek is πορνεία; a pornē is a prostitute, so similar to the Latin root of fornication, ‘fornix’, a stew or brothel. These days the idea seems to be just ‘having sex while not married’ or something like that, but the original meaning was more to do with the sex-trade.
Why all the hate? Good question! I don’t have the answers here. I will say two things, though, which might help with coming to an answer.
1: early Christian movements, like the second-temple movements we know about which are like the cousins of early Christianity (like the Qumran community — not an ‘ancestor’ of Christianity exactly, but a very similar movement in some respects) were very concerned with ascesis in various forms, not just sexual, but especially sexual, and so were other late-antique spiritual movements like the Late Platonists. Why? A very good question. They thought sex was kind of a low, vain waste of human potential. But, again, why? Maybe they had bad sex.
2: Paul doesn’t as far as I am aware have an idea of hell. The whole heaven/hell dichotomy is developed, or at least solidified as the right story, much later (and purgatory added even later in the Catholic tradition, I think the 12th century or thereabouts). In very early Christianity no one seems to agree on what happens after you die, but the Jewish model that we see in some apocalyptic — the just get to live in maybe the second, maybe the sixth heaven, whatever heaven is adjacent to the divine throne-room, wearing nice robes and stuff, while the unjust just die and that’s it — may be the closest thing to Paul’s opinion that we can reconstruct. Serial reincarnation is also an option on the table, as are other models. So no hell, that’s the point.
Jan Bremmer’s book The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife has a good section on this — I think Chapter Two, if I recall aright.
December 24, 2022
You put a lot of emphasis on the need to delay the end of the world or make Revelation completely allegorical spiritual wisdom. But there is another approach, you have preterists (or, well, some groups of preterists, because there is partial preterism too) saying that the Revelation was already fulfilled. And it’s an approach that still has its followers and has been around for a few centuries, so it certainly shouldn’t be discounted when we look at the matter of the later interpretations of the Revelation of John.
December 24, 2022
Damn blog grabbing my Gravatar anime picture makes me look much less serious immediately.
December 24, 2022
I think you look very serious.
Tell us more of this preterism of which you speak so highly! I knew Swedenborg was an ‘it already happened’ guy, but I assume you are speaking of a wider movement?
December 26, 2022
I wouldn’t say that I speak of them highly, but I find them somewhat interesting. I’ve encountered them a few times, and though the concept was born among Roman Catholics during counter-reformation and initially didn’t find adoption among protestants, in a modern context, I have always encountered it among what you would generally describe as evangelicals.
The last encounter was the funniest one. I’ve listened to a podcast of a pretty different nature. Knowledge Fight is (almost) all about analysing Alex Jones’s InfoWars program. And his guests for one episode turned out to be preterists. They started attacking Jones’s obsession with Satan and generally implying that he is at best misguided and, at worst, not a real Christian if he rejects that the Revelation was already fulfilled and thus Satan was defeated. (Ep #730 of KF if anyone is interested).
So while it’s not a mainstream opinion by any means, it’s still alive and is definitely a more interesting approach for me than moving the end-of-the-world goalposts.
And if the non-mainstream opinions weren’t worth acknowledging, then this podcast would probably have much less to cover.
December 26, 2022
Thanks! Hearing Alex Jones berated for improper Christianity would of course be worth the price of admission on its own, but this is a really interesting take on Revelation in its own right. Definitely more interesting than the eternal hunt for the end times just around the corner, as you say, and much more in line with what Revelation seems to be trying to say (insofar as one can figure that out).