The Climax of Prophecy by Richard Bauckham, T&T Clark, £29.95. Revelation, Vision of a Just World by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, T&T Clark, £9.95
THE LAST BOOK OF the Bible is often neglected, as a work of lurid wishful thinking, a patchwork of Old Testament imagery, written in botched Greek for vengeful persecuted Christians. Professor Bauckham's series of studies shows just how shallow this view is. To begin with, the structure is not that of two documents simply tacked together, but is highly complex and artistic, with interlocking elements and clearly marked transitions. The numerical symbolism is extraordinarily developed, revolving around threes, fours, and sevens.
The relationship of the material to its context in the circles of Christian prophets in
Asia Minor is fascinatingly presented. Some of the imagery is shared with contemporary Jewish apocalypses, though probably derived from earlier tradition. Similarly indicative of a lively and flourishing Christian community in the background are the slight variations from the Gospels in the sayings of the Lord.
From different points of view two especially valuable chapters are on the Worship of Jesus and on the Economic Critique of Rome. The former shows how monotheism is preserved, despite the strongest statement in the New Testament of the divinity of Jesus, by the association of the worship of Jesus
Chris not so wi expe the r Chris were the po social wonl
in the one worship given to God. The importance of the latter study is that it shows the early Christians were not so taken up with their expectation of the return of Christ that they were blind to the political and social ills of the world around them.
Schussler Fiorenza's book is a revision of her 1 9 8 1 commentary on Revelation. Most of the introduction (which comprises one quarter of the book) is taken up with outlining the approach to be taken, one element of which is, of course, feminist criticism. It
Early tians were taken up th their ctation of eturn of t that they blind to litical and ills of the d around them'
abounds in technical terminology ("polysemous images and tensive symbols"). I find that important ideas sometimes go unexplained: the notion of the "concentric pattern of epistolary inclusion" which determines the structure is never justified; it would be valuable to know how it is "a conic spiral moving from the present to the eschatological future".
In a short commentary of this kind it would be unfair to expect the detailed explanations offered by Bauckham's scholarly articles. But the discerning reader should be aware that the comments and explanations spring from a depth of teaming comparable. This does not appear to be the case, and there are frequent occasions when the discussion would have been enriched by knowledge of his articles, let alone his sources.
HENRY WANSBROUGH OSB