The fundamentalist and literalist Christian generally accepts the New Testament Apocalypse as an accurate record of visions actually seen by its alleged author. The critical Christian scholar has always found the meaning and interpretation of these visions a serious problem. The problem is quite simply, how does one reconcile faith and belief with credibility and reality? Most of this stuff when taken literally is just outrageous.
To the unbiased modern reader the fantastic setting of the book, macabre images, and the death and destruction at the hands of God seem farfetched. At best the book seems a farce, like some rather primitive and grotesque pseudo science fiction fantasy. At worst, it seems the pathological outpouring of a religious bigot and fanatic.
Yet, despite its visionary and bizarre superficial appearance, the Apocalypse turns out to be a rather straight forward textbook. The subject matter is abstruse, but the presentation is logical and orderly from start to finish. Had the book been written in 1990 in undisguised language we would recognise it instantly for what it really is. That is far from being an account of the end of the world, the fantasies of a religious fanatic, or a mere cryptic chronology of political and religious intringue.
We would find it rather beside Jung in the Psychology section of any well stocked bookstore. For it has everything to do with the study of the human psyche. It has nothing to do with religion or politics, except to expose religion for the superstitious sham that it is, and to use the religious and political jargon of first century Jewish Zealots to diguise its true meanings.
Despite its appearance to the contrary, the Apocalypse is a very coherent whole. It is symmetrical in its composition, with every detail fitted into its appropriate place. In its clear, orderly arrangement and concise statement the book is a model of precise literary workmanship. But the Apocalypse was composed purposely to confuse and to mystify. It contains a series of elaborate puzzles, some of which are based upon the numerical values of certain Greek words. These key words serve to verify the correct interpretation of the more important symbols in the book. As well, these key words provide the necessary clues for interpreting the remaining symbols. Thus, the book contains all of the elements necessary to understand its hidden meanings and to verify the correctness of that understanding.
Christian literalists have failed to solve these various riddles only because of their dogged insistence on reading the book simply as a straight forward account. To the literalists there are no riddles! They see only what the book appears to be on the surface and nothing more. The literalists insist that the meaning of the book is simply what their superficial reading can make of it and that there are no hidden meanings or interpretations.
Surprisingly, it takes only a little discrimination to recognise clearly that the visionary style of the book is mere artifice. Whatever his reasons, the author utilized symbols and a rather simple yet ingenious cipher to mystify uncritical readers and to disguise the real meaning of his work.
The author's cipher continues to mislead the profane and to protect the author's hidden message from the literal and sentimental churchmen into whose keeping he entrusted it. For two millennia the orthodox have treasured and revered this, to them, incomprehensible text. They have even enshrined the Apocalypse in their canon of sacred scriptures, a place of reverence to which it above all their sacred books is entitled.
Yet this mysterious, metaphysical treatise remains elusive and totally baffling to the orthodox. The author apparently knew that if the narrow minded and literal understood the true meaning of the Apocalypse they would most certainly have destroyed it. They would never have permitted its hidden message to see the light of day, since to do so would initiate the beginning of the end of their church and the messianic politics that instituted it.
Indeed, the Apocalypse was written for the undoing of that very church which has so carefully preserved it through these many centuries! It was written for the undoing of literalism and fundamentalism. It was written for the undoing of religion and theocracy. Furthermore, the author used the churchmen's own superstition to ensure that in their messianic zeal they would not tamper with the text and thus inadvertently corrupt the secret message hidden within it! And preserve it faithfully they have done, more so than any other of their "sacred" books.
Before the printing press made the mass production of books feasible, all written works were at the mercy of copyists. Few books escaped error whether by intent or accident from one tediously handwritten copy to the next. Religious books suffered particularly at the hands of political zealots trying to foist off on the mostly illiterate and unsuspecting masses their own pet theological opinions.
If you think the New Testament has been immune, think again. Most of the books of the New Testament have suffered extensive corruptions of their original text. As well, there are serious variations between surviving manuscripts.1 As a result, only the naive still hold to the notion that the New Testament is anything but a theological patchwork.
Whatever the original message of the Gospels it has been encrusted many times over by contradictory and conflicting religious and political credos and superstitious nonsense. Indeed, the churchmen themselves are the prime culprits in the reworking of the original text of the Gospels to justify their own theological and political agenda.
The author of the Apocalypse was justified in disguising his work and thus protecting it from destruction. His dire warnings to any who would dare tamper with the text proved extremely effective.
Of all the books of the New Testament, the Apocalypse has suffered the least apparent corruption. More ancient manuscripts exist of the Apocalypse than of any other New Testament book. Remarkably the many extant versions of the Apocalypse differ little from one another.
The surviving manuscripts of the Apocalypse differ primarily in rather slight variations of word order, the omission or inclusion of specific articles and connectors, and the substitution of synonyms. Various attempts at "corrections" of supposed grammatical errors occur as well. These latter are in many instances incorrect themselves, thus clearly demonstrating the inferior Greek of some Medieval redactors.
The sober assessment of serious biblical scholars concurs that the Apocalypse has survived remarkably free of emendation.2 Some apparent substitutions have rendered a few isolated passages questionable. But these have not affected the overall meaning of the work.
Properly understanding the deep metaphysical and psychological nature of the Apocalypse eliminates most if not all of the remaining apparent exegetical difficulties with the text. These problems are repetitions, interruptions and passages out of context.
When the extremely clever and artful composition of the Apocalypse is appreciated, the genius of the author shows very clearly. Given the extremely technical nature of the subject matter and the task of encoding it behind a facade of zodiacal symbols and theological and political fabrications, the literary style of the Apocalypse must suffer at times. Hence, most of the difficulties with the text can be accounted for in this manner.
Based on the studied assessment of modern critical scholarship, we can feel a well justified assurance that the Apocalypse as we have it today remains essentially as the author or authors wrote it. Further,we can trust that the author's cipher still remains intact and that the several conclusions drawn from decoding that cipher remain valid.
We can express further confidence in our conclusions from the manner in which the interpretation here offered presents itself. With a thorough and rigorous consistency and a detailed coherence each point builds upon what precedes and leads to what follows. Mere speculation or supposition could hardly be expected to exhibit such complete and specific consistency.
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