Sources of John's vivid imagery

by Doug Mason 20 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    In common with other apocalyptic writings, such as Daniel and 1 Enoch, John’s letter employs vivid, memorable imagery. As with the other elements of his Apocalypse (Revelation), John draws on existing sources for his material.

    Meanings inferred from the images need to keep the following firmly in mind:

    1. The symbols had to have meaning for and be clearly understood by his immediate intended hearers.

    2. John intended that these images encourage those hearers to “overcome”, then and there.

    3. John anticipated that the Coming of Jesus was imminent, “soon”.

    It is my belief that the images were intended to depict earthly opposition (Rome and apostate Jews) as well as heavenly opposition (wars in heaven involving Satan).

    The writers/compilers of Daniel also employed vivid imagery. They wrote while their community was under threat by Antiochus Epiphanes. Through the use of vivid images, John and Daniel were able to pass on supportive messages to their respective communities.

    For his symbols, John made full use of the array of material available to him. There was no Canon of Scripture at the time.

    The following citations on the imagery of the seven-headed beast provide Jewish and non-Jewish sources available to John.


    Common to both Yahweh and Baal was also a constellation of motifs surrounding their martial and meteorological natures. The best-known and oldest of these motifs is perhaps the defeat of cosmic foes who are variously termed Leviathan, ‘qltn, tnn, the seven-headed beast, Yamm, and Mot. (The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, page 85, Mark Smith).


    A seal from Tel Asmar (ca. 2200) depicts a god battling a seven-headed dragon, a foe identified as Baal’s enemy in CTA 5.1 (KTU 1.5 I).3 (and reconstructed in 30) and Yahweh’s adversary in Psalm 74:13 and Revelation 13:1. A shell plaque of unknown provenance depicts a god kneeling before a fiery seven-headed dragon. Leviathan, Baal’s enemy mentioned in CTA 5.1 (KTU 1.5 I).1 (and reconstructed in 28), appears as Yahweh’s opponent and creature in Isaiah 27:1, Job 3:8, 26:13, 40:25 (E 41:1), Psalm 104:26, and 2 Esdras 6:49, 52. In Psalm 74:13-14 (cf. Ezek. 32:2), both Leviathan and the tannînîm have multiple heads, the latter known as Anat’s enemy in 1.83.9-10 and in a list of cosmic foes in CTA 3.3(D).35-39 (= KTU 1.3 III 38-42). This Ugaritic list includes “Sea,” Yamm//“River,” Nahar, Baal’s great enemy in CTA 2.4 (KTU 1.2 IV). In Isaiah 11:15 the traditions of Sea//River and the seven-headed dragon appear in conflated form:

    And the Yahweh will utterly destroy the tongue of the sea of Egypt, and will wave his hand over the River with his scorching wind, and smite it into seven channels that men may cross dry-shod.

    Here the destruction of Egypt combines both mythic motifs with the ancient tradition of crossing the Red Sea in Egypt. The seven-headed figure is attested in other biblical passages. In Psalm 89:10 the seven-headed figure is Rahab, mentioned in Isaiah 51:9-11 in the company of tannîn and Yamm. The seven-headed enemy also appears in Revelation 12:3, 13:1, 17:3 and in extrabiblical material, including Qiddushin 29b, Odes of Solomon 22:5, and Pistis Sophia 66. Yamm appears in late apocalyptic writing as the source of the destructive beasts symbolizing successive empires (Dan. 7:3). J. Day has suggested that this imagery developed from the symbolization of political states hostile to Israel as beasts. (The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, pages 86-87, Mark Smith).

  • venus

    symbols, imagery, allegories, parables ... are all obscurantism, created over 41000 warring sects. God would not resort to such means (1 Cor 14:8)

  • OrphanCrow
    venus: symbols, imagery, allegories, parables ... are all obscurantism....God would not resort to such means (1 Cor 14:8)

    God is a symbol, an image, and an allegory

    God is obscurantism

    It doesn't matter if you quote some obscure biblical text...God is still a symbol, etc etc. That is where "he" resides - in metaphorical language

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    Yes Venus,

    You are citing a guy who created symbols, imagery, and a whole lot more. He is the guy who invented symbolism of baptism, invented the symbolism of the "Last Supper", who heard voices in his head, spoke with the spirit of a dead man, and experienced flashes of blinding light inside his mind.

    It's all myth. Supernatural superstition. Only opinions. Read the history of the introduction of the gods into the world of the Israelites.

    I feel that what should interest you more is the way that the male writers of the Bible took so much effort to write the Israelite goddesses out of existence, and as a result created a misogynist religion, with all the consequences in our day.

    My question is: "What is it that gives the power of mythology over the human mind?"


  • scratchme1010

    Like your post. Interesting point of view.

  • cobweb

    Yes its interesting stuff. I'm still a bit fuzzy on it so you've inspired me to do some reading. I'm wondering for example : it seems pretty clear that the beast is Rome and the name of the beast 666 seems to be a reference to Nero. There is also a verse about 7 kings - 5 fallen, one is and one to come ruling for a short time. That also seems to point to Nero as being the ruler at the time of writing as Nero is the 6th emperor and the next one only lasted 6 months or so. But that doesn't fit with the date of the Revelation being written which is around 95. There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory resolution to this and so there are competing ideas. If he was talking about kings as emperors rather than world empires then this indicates his view of the imminence of the end.

    Your question about the power of mythology over the human mind. Mythology has a great deal of effect in manipulating our conceptual framework. I think of the difference between the Abrahamic tradition of good/bad as being opposite - with people and things falling into one category or the other. This creates black and white thinking which isn't nuanced and seems to be a recipe for conflict and domination. Compare that to the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang where there are two forces that are complimentary and interconnected. In Japan too there seems to be none of the mythology that generates black and white thinking and they focuses on kiving in harmony with nature. I have watched Japanese anime like spirited away and its very striking to see the difference to Disney cartoons for instance - good characters can do unpleasant things & unpleasant characters can do good things - its mixed up so characters you initially think of as bad you end up liking. Its very different. Their mythology therefore seems to have created a different way of viewing everything that fosters more acceptance and toleration in my view.

    I listened to a series of conversations with Joseph Campbell a while back who has interesting things to say about archetypes in mythology. Its amazing how similar the archetypal imagery is from culture to culture. There are themes and motifs and stories that seem to resonate with humans everywhere. But he suggests it would be better for us as a civilization if we could abandon the Abrahamic structure that focuses on good vs bad & judges people - views certain things like sex as linked to shame and sin etc & create new myths that are more harmonious, flexible and enlightened.

  • Bobcat

    Hey Doug,

    Speaking of Revelation drawing on symbology from other sources, you wouldn't to happen to have available a pdf of this book would you?

  • hoser

    Smoking cannibas or ergot poisoning or a combination of both.

  • betterdaze

    In Mesopotamia, the slaying of a seven-headed serpent was one of the traditional exploits of Ninurta. It also has a well-defined place in the Canaanite mythology, where the beast is the Ugaritic Lotanu, the biblical Leviathan, the dragon of the sea that is vanquished by the storm-god (Baal, Yahweh). — The Melammu Project, Heracles and Hydra.

    Shell-inlay inscription dated to Early Dynastic Sumer (ca. 2800-2600 BC) showing the god Ninurta battling a seven-headed serpent.

  • Hanged Man
    Hanged Man

    According to occult teachings....anytime you see the number is connected to the 7 planets....and the zodiac

    For example......look at this composite character in Revelations 1:13-16.

    13 "And in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength."

    Manly Palmer Hall says this about the being in the book "The secret teachings of all ages".

    "In the opening chapter of the Apocalypse, St. John describes the Alpha and Omega who stood in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Surrounded by his flaming planetary regents, this Sublime One thus epitomizes in one impressive and mysterious figure the entire sweep of humanity's evolutionary growth--past, present, and future."

    He then tells us the being represents the seven planets.

    "The Logos-figure described is a composite picture of the seven sacred planets: he has the snowy-white hair of Kronos ('Father Time'), the blazing eyes of 'wide-seeing' Zeus, the sword of Ares, the shining face of Helios, and the chiton and girdle of Aphrodite; his feet are of mercury, the metal sacred to Hermes, and his voice is like the murmur of the ocean's waves (the 'many waters'), alluding to Selene, the Moon-Goddess of the four seasons and of the waters."

    Kronos is Saturn.

    Zeus is Jupiter.

    Ares is Mars.

    Helios is the Sun.

    Hermes is Mercury.

    Aphrodite is Venus.

    Selene is the Moon.

    The seven planets.

    The seven wonders of the world are all connected also to the seven planets.

    Colossus of Rhodes is the Sun.

    Temple of Diana/Artemis at Ephesus is the Moon.

    Pyramids of Egypt are connected to Thoth who is the Egyptian god Mercury.

    Hanging gardens of Babylon are connected to Semiramis/Venus.

    Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is connected to Saturn.

    Pharos of Alexandria is connected to Mars.

    Temple of Zeus at Olympia is connected to Jupiter.....again the seven are the seven days of the week.

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