Book reviews

Court, J.M., Myth and History in the Book of Revelation

This book does not discuss the whole book of Revelation, but a selection of six fragments is addressed. After a prefatory chapter on the history of interpretation of Revelation, the author concentrates on the letters to the seven churches, the plague sequences, the two witnesses, the woman clothed with the sun, the beast and the harlot, and finally The New Jerusalem.

For the ‘seven churches’ part of Revelation, Court heavily depends on the work of Ramsay. This chapter provides a detailed historical interpretation of chapter 2 and 3 of Revelation, and Ramsay’s and Court’s emphasis on history in this part of Revelation is quite convincing. In the plagues chapter also Court relies on the work of another scholar, R. . H Charles this time. The tables illustrating the close connection between the synoptic Apocalypse and Revelation 6 are highly elucidating.

The next chapter, on the two witnesses, provides many interesting observations, but the main thesis that these two witnesses are a veiled presentation of Peter and Paul, in my opinion is wrong. The subject of Revelation 11:11-13 is clearly Jesus, but as the previous are indisputably warlike, this chapter challenges the traditional time frame. That Court does not even make a beginning with connecting ‘Jesus’ and ‘war’ is quite disappointing. While in the ‘churches’ chapter Court took the history track, later on he seems to pursue a kind of equilibrium between ‘history’ and ‘mythology’, which looks quite artificial. Rome, Nero and emperor-worship for example are mentioned, but the historical connections Court presents are insufficient, as I believe this writing is veiled history in its entirety (crowned with a revenge phantasy for the near future).

Despite these remarks this book is the best I have been reading on Revelation so far. The ‘churches’ and the ‘plagues’ discussions are excellent, many observations throughout all chapters are worthwhile, and the notes contain a lot of suggestions for further reading, especially the Old Testament pseudepigrapha like the Sibylline Oracles, 4 Esdras, 2 Baruch and 1 Enoch. The other notes and references to further literature are more or less dated, as this book has been published in 1979. Court also introduces the terms ‘historicizing’ and ‘dehistoricizing’ (without mentioning ‘rehistoricizing’ which is also an important part of this spectrum), and at the end of his conclusion he rightly attributes Revelation, as well as the other apocalyptic writings of that era, to the Qumran Essenes.