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The Esoteric New Testament, Part III: John and Apocalypse

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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.

Recommended Reading:

John, Various:

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).