Zur Bildersprache des Johannes von Patmos:
Untersuchung der Johannesapokalypse anhand einer um Elemente
der Bildinterpretation erweiterten historisch-kritischen Methode
(NTAbh nf 34; Münster: Aschendorff, 1999.  Pages,  x + 300.  DM 88.)
by Georg Glonner

Reviewed by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D., Los Angeles, CA  90045

This book, focused on four pericopes from Revelation but also including broader discussion of the use of images in ancient apocalyptic literature and its modern interpretations, is well written and very detailed. As the subtitle indicates, Glonner basically applies standard historical-critical methodologies, but the main contribution of this study is the careful analysis of the symbolic images of Revelation and their connections with previous prophetic and apocalyptic works.

Glonner first summarizes the literary features, historical contexts, and theological aspects of Jewish apocalyptic, seen as an outgrowth of both the wisdom and prophetic traditions of the OT. He then situates the Book of Revelation clearly within this stream of Jewish apocalyptic writing, although he acknowledges that it is unique in certain ways. Next, he discusses the role of images (Bilder) in human life, suggesting nine "grammatical rules for the reading of images" according to the revelatory, emotional, polyvalent, polarizing, timeless, mediating, psychological, contrasting, and visual aspects (rules based on I. Riedel, Bilder in Religion, Kunst und Psychotherapie: Wege zur Interpretation [Stuttgart: Kreuz, 1988]). He also proposes four steps for the proper analysis of the imagery in Revelation: to describe the images and their components, to determine the origins of the motifs, to observe John's adaptation of the motifs, and to grasp the message of the images. He argues that the images in Revelation are taken mostly from the extensive imagery of the OT, while some are influenced by nonbiblical apocalyptic sources (on which they are not directly dependent). John's creativity as an author lies mainly in his combination and adaptation of older Jewish images rather than in the creation of new ones.

The four main chapters are comprehensive, well documented, and identically structured, although G. never explains why he chose Rev 18:9-24 (the lament over Babylon's Fall), 13:1-18 (on the two beasts), 4:1-11 (on worship before the throne), and 10:1-11 (on the angel and the little scroll), respectively. In each chapter, he first provides a German translation of the text followed by a helpful synopsis of cross-references (listing Ezekiel, Daniel, other OT and NT books, and Jewish apocalyptic sources in tabular format). Then he applies textual and literary criticism, as well as criticism of form and genre, to the pericope. Although not much is new in these sections, they are convenient surveys of the pertinent critical issues. Each chapter contains detailed analyses of John's imagery, especially of his use and adaptation of the pertinent images from the older Jewish sources.

While many of G.'s detailed observations are convincing, no scholar would agree with all of his interpretations. In chap. 2, he limits most of the discussion to Rev 18:9-24, even though his own structural analyses suggest that the pericope begins at 18:1. While G. often argues that the images of Revelation have connections both to OT images and to contemporary historical events, he sometimes dismisses historical allusions without convincing arguments. More problematic is his unexplained assertion that the blood imagery of Rev 18:24 is related to Matt 27:25. Particularly interesting are his contrasts, in chap. 3, between the false worship of the beasts (Rev 13) and the true worship of the lamb (Rev 5), and his interpretation of 666 as a generic symbol for the Roman emperor rather than a particular individual. Problematic, however, is his frequent but unjustified naming of the second beast as "the anti-Christ," which does not appear anywhere in Revelation.

Glonner's main point is that John not only stands within the stream of Jewish prophetic and apocalyptic tradition but also sees himself as the last prophet before the eschatological judgment. Moreover, G. argues that the sociohistorical setting of Revelation involves not only the persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities in Asia Minor but also the internal divisions caused by the Nicolatians.

The many untranslated Greek and Hebrew words limit the reading of this revised doctoral dissertation to scholars and advanced graduate students. However, in chaps. 1 and 6 G. deals more broadly and less technically with the interpretation of images. Each of the four exegetical chapters ends with a section of conclusions in which G. summarizes the main points of that chapter. Similarly, the conclusion of the whole book is a convenient summary of the main points presented in each of the previous chapters. The bibliography is extensive, but the works listed in it are almost all by German scholars. There is a comprehensive index of citations from biblical and nonbiblical ancient sources, but unfortunately there is no index of subjects. The number of typographical errors is fairly small: some Greek words are mistakenly printed in Latin fonts (on pp. 79, 99, and 236), and there are a few errors in biblical references or in the German text. Despite these minor problems, the book is interesting and well worth reading.

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This page was last updated on  August 23, 2006