Book Notice: Reading Revelation in Context: John’s Apocalypse and Second Temple Judaism

Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston, eds. Reading Revelation in Context: John’s Apocalypse and Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019. 208 Pages. $21.99 (paperback).

Reading Revelation in Context is the third installment in Zondervan’s Reading in Context series edited by Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Maston. The three editors are all Ph.D. graduates of the University of Durham whose works emphasize the relationship between early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism. Blackwell and Maston currently teach at Houston Baptist University while Goodrich is associate professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In this work, the editors and the other contributors present Revelation alongside early Jewish apocalypses in order to demonstrate the conceptual relationship between the two contemporaneous streams of thought. By making their readers aware of the similarities and differences between these two apocalyptic streams, the authors present an interpretive option for Revelation that has been neglected due to an overemphasis on the Seer’s relationship to the Roman Empire and its imperial cult. Reading Revelation in Context provides unique contextual grounding for John’s Apocalypse within the worldview of Jewish apocalyptic writings.

Each contributor to Reading Revelation in Context follows a general pattern in the layout of their respective chapters: (1) They introduce the passage from Revelation under examination. (2) A comparative text from Second Temple Jewish writings (usually from the pseudepigraphal apocalyptic works) is briefly examined to establish comparative literary and conceptual commonalities with the Revelation passage. (3) Finally, the passage from John’s Apocalypse is expounded based on the relevant findings in the comparative text. This third section often contains a comparison/contrast of the two texts with helpful tables for easier grasp of the conceptual overlay. The contrasts are often illuminating because they demonstrate what sets John’s writing apart from the prevailing Jewish eschatological hopes. The consistent structure of each chapter makes this resource very accessible to scholars, pastors, and lay leaders.

Overall, the editors have assembled a noteworthy group of brief essays from leading Revelation scholars that urge the reader to reexamine any preconceived hermeneutical biases they have brought to John’s Apocalypse. The collection as a whole does not fit comfortably into any of the popular interpretive schools of reading Revelation (preterist, futurist, idealist, dispensational, etc.). Instead, it encourages the reader to examine each passage on its own terms in light of similar Jewish apocalyptic writings. Some will initially find this approach challenging, but the approach seeks to honor both the text and its original audience. The volume achieves a remarkable level of coherence in spite of the various denominational backgrounds of its contributors. The greatest tensions arise from occasional reversion to interpretations centered on the Roman imperial cult instead of allowing the Jewish background of the comparative text to inform new ideas (e.g. Nero as the Beast in Revelation 13). Nevertheless, this work opens up new avenues for interpreting Revelation. The editors and contributors deserve high praise for Reading Revelation in Context, and they leave their readers hungry for more through their presentation of the interplay between Second Temple Jewish thought and the book of Revelation.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Jason B. Doty, who is a research assistant for the Center for Biblical Studies and a PhD student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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