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A Postmodern Revelation

A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    A Postmodern Revelation
    Book Description:

    Chevalier reveals that the Book of Revelation was written as a polemical response to ancient astromythology and shows that concerns with natural and cultural history have supplanted the future-oriented visions of astrology and Christian prophecy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7865-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Plates
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1 Ends and Flickers of Doubt
    (pp. 3-51)

    This book explores the confrontation between and downfall of two modes of storytelling in Western history: astrology and eschatology – hence, divination and prophecy, or the cult of stars and the visions of Revelation. While both modes of discourse on time have profoundly marked Western history, they are now excluded from dominant concerns of the modern and postmodern world, having been reduced to pale reflections of the hegemonic signs they used to be. My intention is to bring both grand narratives back to life, if only through a postmodern dialogue with history. The journey begins with an overview of the...

  6. 2 Music of the Spheres
    (pp. 52-125)

    Ancient astrology rests on the assumption that motions of the heavenly bodies are divine in the sense of being all-encompassing, and also permanent and immutable features of the cosmos. At the same time, these motions are variable, observable, and measurable, and they produce interactive influences that can be acted upon, if only minimally.

    In the astrological perspective, attributes of eternity and infinity are predicated upon the lawful universe as opposed to any intangible deity or divine will governing the world from beyond the visible spheres. In the words of Manilius (Astronomies1: 518ff.):

    Everything born to a mortal existence is...

  7. 3 A History of Revelations
    (pp. 126-174)

    Although there is only one New Testament Apocalypse, there are many interpretations of the book, alternative readings which exegetes are bound to address when delving into the original text. ‘Explaining’ John’s writing thus entails doing several things: scrutinizing the reference text, exploring its response to its immediate context, showing how it speaks to particular audiences and other texts (Jewish, pagan), situating one’s readingvis-à-visother exegetic contributions, and then addressing the relevance of it all from the standpoint of modern readers. Far from being a simple hermeneutic reconstruction of one text through the writing of another – a straightforward encounter...

  8. 4 Alpha and Omega
    (pp. 175-196)

    The Book of Revelation is portrayed by John as anapokalypsis, the Greek term for ‘disclosure.’ Theunveilingof past history and the end of time has fomented many literal inquiries into the exact semantics and intentions of John’s writings. Against these restrictive approaches to Revelation, one should insist on the subtlety of the prophet’s presentation of his vision, ‘made known’ (semaino) to him by the hand of the angel, an expression derived from the rootsemeion, ‘a sign.’ The metaphorical language suggested by this word implies a roundabout unfolding of the future conveyed through sign-manifestations of Logos, the word...

  9. 5 The Seven Churches of Asia
    (pp. 197-222)

    The language of Revelation is largely metaphorical in that it constantly transfers to some words the sense conventionally attributed to other words. But why the transfer? Why must the word of God be revealed or disclosed through such convoluted symbolism? In an attempt to answer this question, Thompson (1990: 8) claims that the function of John’s prophetic language is to unify the world into an organic whole, ‘stitching earth to heaven, the present age to the coming age, local conditions to suprahuman processes, animals to divinities, and fire to water.’

    In the process of nesting or extending the environment through...

  10. 6 The Chariot of Fire
    (pp. 223-263)

    From a scene on earth, John’s vision shifts in Revelation 4–5 to a higher plane, a throne-room involving the whole cosmos. We now turn to the Sabian countertextuality of this complex throne-room composition, starting with memories of the Old Testament that inspired John’s description of the cherubs and the throne of God: to be more specific, Ezekiel 1 and 10.¹ Analyses that follow will show that the writings of Ezekiel and John pursue two complementary objectives: abolishing the cult of nature (sun, moon, stars) while also recuperating the powers of astromythology under the rule of God who reigns in...

  11. 7 Seven Seals and Four Trumpets
    (pp. 264-292)

    The first chapter of Revelation abounded in solar images of God. John’s vision began with evocations of the sun-faced, fiery-eyed, flame-footed likeness of the Messiah. The text alluded to the Lord’s death and solstice-like descent to the underworld. It also spoke of God’s Sunday visitation and resurrection, an event celebrated at springtime and centred on the Messiah’s ascent to heaven and enthronement as Ruler of all kings. Indirect references to the equinoctial aspects of the divine included the Alpha and Omega title assigned to the Living One and the circular route of the seven church-like stars (seven planets, Pleiades, Bears...

  12. 8 The Last Three Trumpets
    (pp. 293-326)

    In Revelation 9, scorpion-tailed locust demons rise from the abyss, forming a cloud of smoke covering the sun and sky and hurting unsealed humans for a five-month period. The demons have golden crowns, human faces, lion teeth, and the wings of horses and chariots of destruction. In the analyses that follow, we shall see that these evil creatures hark back to the Babylonian Epic of Creation featuring the sun-god Marduk conquering the dragon of chaos and forming the canopy of heaven with the dragon’s skin. On the astrological plane, the text will be shown to elaborate on the wrathful summer-to-winter...

  13. 9 The Sun-Robed Woman
    (pp. 327-358)

    Revelation 12 offers a cosmic tableau that sheds considerable light on the polemical underpinnings of Revelation. The vision merits quoting at length.

    Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth. Then a second sign appeared in the sky, a huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet. Its tail dragged a third of the stars...

  14. Conclusion: Signs of Logomachy
    (pp. 359-366)

    The notion that astral lessons of cyclical time can be read into ancient mythologies dates back at least to late antiquity. In hisSaturnalia, Macrobius claimed that Adonis stood for the sun. The Latin grammarian found confirmation of this in religious practices of the Assyrians and Phoenicians, including the sun-related cult of Venus. The goddess was said to mourn the sun that journeyed through the twelve zodiacal signs of the lower hemisphere, the realm of Proserpina. This was the time of the year when days got shorter, as if the sun had been carried off for a time by death....

  15. Postscript: In the Nearness of Evil
    (pp. 367-378)

    Revelation 12 offers hopes of eschatological redemption vested in such powerful figures as the man-child and the woman adorned with the sun. Both figures stand as signs of the future ‘containing’ (conveying, withholding) hopes of an older astrological imagination. As is the case for other interpretations offered throughout this book, this argument rests on evidence obtained from a comparative reading of Revelation and ancient astromythology, evidence often recognized by biblical scholars themselves. My interpretation, however, is intended to cast this evidence in a new light, one that emphasizes the polemical implications of John’s dream-like symbolism. To the extent that it...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 379-388)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 389-398)
  18. Index
    (pp. 399-415)