Revelation with a ‘pre-Christian’ core?

The Angel Appears to John. The book of Revelat...
The Angel Appears to John. The book of Revelation. 13th century manuscript. British Library, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Tabor writes –

In the references below I have put these interpolative elements bold italicized brackets. This exercise strongly suggests that these are later additions to an original Jewish text inserted to “Christianize” a book that in its origins had nothing to do with Jesus. This is a rather astounding phenomenon and once one sees it it seems clear that the underlying original text remains intact and makes complete sense without these references:

via Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered? | TaborBlog.

His exercise is remarkably mundane and based on the same subjective movements employed in the Q camp. We simply have no hard evidence of a ‘pre-Christian’ apocalypse in Revelation.

And yet…

Tabor’s argument has merit and I would have no disagreement with those who can see such things. My only real disagreement is drawing too fine a line between Judaism and Christianity at the stage when this was written and implying early Jewish believers in Jesus ‘Christianized’ pre-existing documents. Like the Didache, Revelation would be leftovers. Well, a basic core of it anyway.

Sidenote – several scholars see in the Didache a pre-existing document likely used by later believers in their worship. Not to draw too close to anachronistic imagery here, but Wesley used the 39 Articles of Religion from the Anglican Church to draw up his 25 Articles of Religion for Methodists groups. Wesley was not yet independent, but remained Anglican. He simply used what he had and what was familiar. 

As I have previously stated, my position on Revelation is that it is built on Psalm 2. I further believe ancient liturgical practices are incorporated inside of Revelation. Fitting, I believe, since Psalm 2 and liturgy would most likely go together. Jewish believers in Jesus, like they do with other works, would see a natural enough structure to give them something to use to build their new community. After all, they aren’t really separated from Judaism of the time. It is possible the Jewish author, one who believed in Jesus, took a pre-existing liturgical document and made use of it for his community. It was familiar, safe, and served his theological purpose. The pre-existing document, a pre-midrash of Psalm 2, fitted nicely with Jesus becoming enthroned as the Lamb. And remember, any such pre-existing document would not necessarily not belong to the new group, especially if they saw themselves in continuity with Moses and the Prophets.

It wasn’t ‘Christanized;’ it was reworked to include the new order of things.

In other words, we shouldn’t really call works ‘Christian’ until we get to certain times in the 2nd century nor should we assume there was an agenda to ‘Christianize’ Jewish documents. This is anachronistic.

So, while we may have a pre-existing core, we cannot really say it is Jewish and the added material is Christian. Such a dichotomy likely did not exist at the time. Rather, we have a pre-existing liturgical framework Jewish believers in Jesus used to plug in their theological statements. I do not, however, believe we can easily remove the core, if there is really a core, from the overlaying layers.

As far as the author, I am not as convinced as some the name ‘John’ is not the author’s real name. I mean, Mark is but a surname.

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12 Replies to “Revelation with a ‘pre-Christian’ core?”

  1. Joel, thanks for your comment here on my post. You are of course correct, the term “Christian” as I use it is being used in a very general sense–trying to write for a general audience. Maybe a better term, to keep things in the wider diverse family of “Judaisms,” including the Nazarenes, would be “Jesus” material–i.e., what is often called “Christology,” in which the salvific figure of Jesus is central in a text.

    What amazes me about this particular text are the loose and easy overlay of this “Jesus” material on the core text. It reminds me a bit of the Greek version of Josephus on Jesus in Antiquities 18. One can quite easily “remove” the elements that are obvious overlays. I don’t think you could do this with any of Paul’s letters, or the Gospels, or really any of the other N.T. documents other than the letter of James. I think what might be gained by this is some insight into a non-Jesus or pre-Jesus apocalyptic sectarian version of such a view of things when Jerusalem not Rome was the focus…in other words, pre-70 CE I think.

          1. The golden tongued father of antisemitism. Yet, if the church had listened to him, God’s blessing might be considered something more than mere accumulation of material wealth in this life.

  2. Tabor conjectures that the Lamb refers to a generic image of the suffering “Son of Man,” returning triumphantly in the clouds of heaven, taken from Dan 7:13-14, where it is understood to be the corporate people of the ‘saints of the Most High,’ as well as the corporate nature of the “Suffering Servant” in the four “Servant Songs” of Isaiah.

    That’s going to be a long, hard swim upstream to establish that, even with mask and fins. The Lamb is worshiped in chap 5 of Rev. Where in Isaiah’s Servant Songs is the Servant ever worshiped? And where in Daniel is the son of man implied to suffer?

    And I guess Rev 2:9 and 3:9 will have to be cherry-picked out as well… unless it’s one of those anti-Jewish Jewish apocalypses that were so common…

    1. I think we need to look at identity formation, to be honest, but over all, I think you are near to right. That’s why i do not think we can or should look at this as a core v. added-to text. We cannot separate it so easily as we’d like.

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