The book of Revelation is best known for its cataclysmic imagery of the apocalypse.
But local scholars hope people will take away positive messages when they hear readings from Revelation during the second through sixth Sundays of Easter.
These particular passages told early Christians in words and images that they would be vindicated in spite of persecution, explained Father George Heyman, pastor of the Community of the Blessed Trinity in Wolcott and a professor at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
“The book of Revelation was written during a period of persecution and turmoil for Christians in order to give them hope,” Father Heyman said.
The book’s author drew a parallel between the persecution of Christians and the painful suffering of Christ, Father Heyman said, noting, for example, that Rev. 7:14 says, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
“Even though Revelation also is filled with gloom and doom, this section chosen is upbeat,” Father Heyman said.
The book was written in the apocalyptic tradition, which was used from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D., said Father Curt Cadorette, the John Henry Newman Associate Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at the University of Rochester. Apocalyptic literature was marked by symbols and imagery common to Christianity and Judaism. He said these apocalyptic terms are found in other literature of the time, such as the Dead Sea Scroll’s War Scroll, which describes a battle between good and evil.
“Certainly it’s the most oblique book in the New Testament, and historically there was quite a bit of debate about whether it should be included in the canon or not,” Father Cadorette said, referring to the collection of books that make up the Bible.
Father Sebastian A. Falcone, professor emeritus and a professor of the New Testament at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford, said the book of Revelation was included in the Bible because it plays an important role in reviewing the New Testament.
“We need to understand that it has been accepted by the church precisely because a lot of the book is a review of some of the major facets of the Scriptures,” he said.
Modern Christians have a difficult time putting Revelation into context, said Father Cadorette, noting, for example, that the apocalyptic tradition includes a different perspective on the concept of time.
“We have a linear notion of time, but this (book) is predicated on time ending,” he said.
Father Heyman said very little is known about the book’s author, identified as John, a seer who the text indicates had been sent to the penal colony of Patmos, one of the Greek isles. The book of Revelation is cast as his vision, Father Heyman said.
“He was well-steeped in the imagery of the apocalyptics, such as Daniel, Isaiah and Zechariah,” he said.
Although some early Christian thinkers identified this John as John the Apostle — in part because both were believed to have ministered in Asia Minor — many scholars today doubt that the authors are the same person. They base that conclusion in part on differences between the time frames in which the books were written and between the writing styles of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel, which many attribute to John the Apostle, Father Cadorette said. If the two authors were the same person, John the Apostle would have been extremely old by the time Revelation was written, he noted.
Instead, most scholars believe the book was written toward the end of the first century, Father Cadorette said, and that it most likely was written during the reign of the emperor Domitian, who was known for persecuting Christians.
Some historians read the book as containing a history lesson as well, Father Cadorette said.
“It seems to be a direct critique of Roman ruling of the time,” he said.