Saturday, May 3, 2008

Apocalyptic Literature

I am in the midst of preparing a lecture on Apocalyptic Literature that I'll be delivering at our Training College in a couple of weeks. In the Bible, the best known example of Apocalyptic Literature is the book of Revelation - it's also the least understood book.

The apocalyptic genre is characterised by a recognisable connection between past, present and future. It originates from a time of suffering that generates a pessimistic view of the present, looks to the past to explain the current situation, and to the future for redemption.

I suspect that one of the reasons that these writings are so often misinterpreted is that they are read from a completely different context. I remember being told once that much of the Bible is written from the underside of society, from the perspective of oppression, persecution and suffering. It is the story of a people taken into slavery in another land, continually conquered by empire after empire, their most precious temple repeatedly reduced to rubble, a people twice sent into exile - followed up by the story of a Messiah who spent most of his time with the poor and the marginalised before being crucified by the authorities.

If we concede that this view of Scripture has some validity - and I believe that it does - then we might also have to acknowledge that we will understand it better when our own context is closer to that of those who wrote it. When we align ourselves with the poor and the vulnerable, when we stand beside them and not just above them, we may just begin to read the Bible with a different interpretive lens.

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