book of apocalypse

Sculpture José Resende / Esco;a Polytechnic USP / São Paulo / photo: A.Saggese
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By FRIEDRICH ENGELS*

Commentary on One of the Books of the Bible

A science almost unknown in this country, except to a few liberal theologians who plan to keep it as secret as possible, is the historical and linguistic criticism of the Bible, the investigation into the age, origin, and historical value of the diverse writings that make up the Old and New. New Testament.

This science is almost exclusively German. And besides, the little that has penetrated beyond the borders of Germany is not exactly the best part of it: it is the latitudinarian critique that prides itself on being complete, without prejudice and, at the same time, Christian. Books are not exactly revealed by the Holy Spirit, but are revelations of divinity through the holy spirit of humanity, etc. Thus, the Tübingen school (Bauer, Gfrörer etc.)[I] it is most prominent in Holland and Switzerland as well as in England and, if people go a little further, they follow Strauss. The same bland but utterly ahistorical spirit governs the renowned Ernest Renan, who is but a poor plagiarist from the German critics. Of all his works, nothing belongs to him but the aesthetic sentimentality of the penetrating thought and the diluted language that surrounds it.

One good thing, however, Ernest Renan said: “If you want to get a distinct idea of ​​what the first Christian communities were like, don't compare them with the parish congregations of our day; they were like local chapters of the International Workers' Association”.

Is this right. Christianity took hold of the masses, just like modern socialism, in the form of a variety of sects and even more conflicting individual views – some clearer, some more confused, the latter the vast majority – but all opposed to the ruling system. to "the powers that be"[ii].

Take, for example, our book of apocalypse, from which we shall see, that, instead of being the darkest and most mysterious, it is the simplest and clearest book in the whole New Testament. For the moment, we must ask the reader to believe what we are about to prove. little by little5. That it was written in the year 68 AD or January 69 AD, and that it is therefore not only the only book in the New Testament whose date is really fixed, but also the oldest book. Through it we can see the reflected image of the characteristics of Christianity in AD 68

To begin with, sects and sects over and over again. In messages to the seven churches in Asia[iii], there are at least three sects mentioned, of which we otherwise know nothing: the Nicolaitans, the Balaamites, and the followers of a woman here typified by the name of Jezebel. Of the three, it is said that they allowed their followers to eat things sacrificed to idols and that they enjoyed fornication.[iv]. It is a curious fact that, with every great revolutionary movement, the issue of "free love" comes to the fore. For a group of people, like revolutionary progress, like a shaking off of the old traditional shackles, no longer needed; to others, as a welcome doctrine, which comfortably covers all manner of free and easy practices between men and women. The latter, of the philistine type, seems to have a small advantage here; for "fornication" is always associated with the consumption of "things sacrificed to idols," which Jews and Christians were strictly forbidden to do, but which, at times, it might be dangerous, or at least disagreeable, to refuse. This evidently shows that the free lovers here mentioned were generally inclined to be friends with everyone, and everything but martyrs.

Christianity, like every great revolutionary movement, was made by the masses. It appeared in Palestine, in a way totally unknown to us, at a time when new sects, new religions, new prophets were appearing in droves. It is, in fact, a mere mediation, spontaneously formed out of the mutual attrition of the most progressive sects, and then made into doctrine by the addition of theorems of the Alexandrian Jew, Philo, and later of strong Stoic infiltration.[v]. Indeed, if we can call Philo the doctrinaire father of Christianity, Seneca was his uncle. Whole passages in the New Testament seem almost verbatim copied from his works.[vi]; and you will find, on the other hand, passages in Persius's satires which seem to be copied from the – hitherto unwritten – New Testament. Of all these doctrinal elements there is no trace in our book of apocalypse. Here we have Christianity in the rawest form in which it has been preserved for us. There is only one dominant dogmatic point: that the faithful were saved by Christ's sacrifice. But how, and why, is completely elusive. There is nothing but the ancient Jewish and pagan notion that sacrifices must be propitiated to God, or the gods, transformed into the specifically Christian conception (which, in fact, made Christianity the universal religion) that the death of Christ is the great sacrifice, and that this is enough once and for all.

No trace of original sin. None of the holy trinity. Jesus is “the lamb” but subordinate to God. Indeed, in one passage (15:3) he is placed on an equal footing with Moses. Instead of one Holy Spirit, there are “the seven Spirits of God” (3:1 and 4:5). The murdered saints (martyrs) cry out to God for vengeance:

How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt thou delay in avenging our blood against the inhabitants of the earth? (Apocalypse, 6:10) – a sentiment which was later carefully removed from the moral-theoretical code of Christianity, but carried out practically with revenge once the Christians took control over the pagans.

Naturally, Christianity presents itself as a mere sect of Judaism. So it says in the messages to the seven churches:

I know your tribulation, your indigence — yet you are rich! —and the blasphemies of some who claim to be Jews [non-Christians] but are not—on the contrary, they are a synagogue of Satan! (Apocalypse, 2: 9)

And again, in chapter 3, verse 9, “I will give you some of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews but are not” (Apocalypse, 3:9). Thus our author, in the 69th year of our era, had not the slightest idea that he would represent a new phase of religious development destined to become one of the major elements of the revolution. So, too, when the saints appear before the throne of God, there are initially 144.000 Jews, 12.000 from each of the 12 tribes, and only after them are admitted the heathens who have entered this new phase of Judaism.

Such was Christianity in AD 68, as described in the oldest and only book in the New Testament whose authenticity cannot be disputed. Who was the author we do not know. His name is John. He does not even pretend to be the "apostle" John, for at the foundation of the "new Jerusalem" are "the names of the 12 apostles of the lamb" (21:14). Therefore, they must have been dead when he wrote. That he was a Jew is clear from the abundant Hebraisms in his Greek, which far exceed the bad grammar by far and even the other books of the New Testament. That the so-called Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, and this book have at least three different authors, is clearly proved by their language, if the doctrines they contain, clashing completely with each other, do not prove it.

The apocalyptic visions that make up almost the entire book of "Revelation" are, in most cases, taken literally from the classical Old Testament prophets and their later imitators, beginning with the Book of Daniel (about 190 BC, and prophesying things that had taken place centuries before) and ending with the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal mixture in Greek written shortly before the beginning of our era. The original invention, even the grouping of the stolen visions, is extremely poor. Professor Ferdinand Benary, to whom I am grateful for his course of lectures at the University of Berlin in 1841, in which[vii] proved what follows, by every chapter and verse, whence our author has borrowed all his pretended views. Therefore, it is no use for him to follow our “John” through all his whims. We had better get to the point that uncovers the mystery of it in all the events of this curious book.

In stark opposition to all his orthodox commentators, who expect his prophecies still to be fulfilled, after more than 1.800 years, "John" never refrains from saying: "Blessed are the readers and hearers of the words of this prophecy, if they observe the which is written therein, for the Time is at hand” (Apocalypse, 1: 3).

And this is especially the case for the crisis he foresees and evidently expects to see.

This crisis is the final great struggle between God and the “Antichrist” as others have called him. The decisive chapters are 13 and 17. To leave out all unnecessary ornamentation, "John" sees, rising out of the sea, a beast having seven heads and ten horns (the horns do not interest us at all). "One of his heads looked mortally wounded, but the fatal wound was healed." (Apocalypse, 13: 3)

This animal had power on Earth, against God and the lamb, for 42 months (half of the seven sacred years), and all men were compelled during that time to have the mark of the animal or the number of its name on their forehead or on their foreheads. right hand. “Discernment is needed here! Let him who is intelligent calculate the number of the Beast, for it is a man's number: his number is 666!” (Apocalypse, 13: 18)

Irenaeus, in the second century, already knew that, by the wounded and healed head, it meant the Emperor Nero. He had been the first great persecutor of Christians. On his death a rumor spread, especially in Achaia and Asia, that he was not dead, but only wounded, and that he would one day reappear and spread terror throughout the world (Tacitus, Ann. VI, 22)[viii]. At the same time, Irenaeus came across another very ancient scripture, which made the number of the name 616 instead of 666.[ix].

In chapter 17, the beast with the seven heads appears again, this time ridden by the well-known Red Lady, whose elegant description the reader can observe in the book itself. Here, an angel explains to John:

The Beast you saw was, but is no more... The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings, of whom five have already fallen, one exists and the other has not yet come, but when he comes, he must remain for a short time. The Beast that was and is no more is himself the eighth and also one of the seven… The woman whom you saw, in short, is the Great City that is reigning over the kings of the earth. (Apocalypse, 17: 8)

Here, then, we have two clear statements: (1) The Red Lady is Rome, the great city that reigns over the kings of the earth; (2) at the time the book was written, the sixth Roman Emperor reigns; after him another will reign for a short time; and then comes the return of the one who "is of the seven," who was wounded but healed, and whose name is contained in that mysterious number, and which Irenaeus still knew was Nero.

Counting with Augustus, we have: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, the fifth. The sixth is Galba, whose accession to the throne was the signal of an insurrection of the legions, especially in Gaul, led by Otho, Galba's successor. So our book must have been written under Galba's reign, which lasted from June 9, 68 to January 15, 69. And it predicts Nero's return as imminent.

But now the final proof – the number. This too was discovered by Ferdinand Benary, and since then has never been disputed in the scientific world.

About 300 years before our era, Jews began to use their letters as symbols for numbers. Speculative rabbis saw in this a new method for mystical interpretation, or Kabbalah. Secret words were expressed by the figure, produced by adding the numerical values ​​of the letters contained therein. This new science they called "gematriah" - geometry. Now this science is applied here by our "John". We have to prove (1) that the number contains the name of a man, and that man is Nero; and (2) that the solution presented is valid both for the reading of 666 and for the equally ancient reading of 616. Take Hebrew letters and their values ​​-

NeronKesar, Emperor Neron, Greek NéronKaisar. Now, if instead of the Greek spelling we transfer the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew characters, the nun at the end of Neron disappears, and with it the value of 50. This brings us to the other ancient reading of 616, and so the proof is as perfect as it gets.[X].

The mysterious book, then, is now perfectly clear. "John" predicts Nero's return around AD 70 and a reign of terror under him, which is to last 42 months, or 1.260 days. After that time, God appears and defeats Nero, the Antichrist, destroys the great city through fire and binds the devil for a thousand years. The millennium begins, and so on. All this has now lost all interest except ignorant people who may still try to calculate the doomsday. But as an authentic picture of early Christianity, drawn by one of them, the book is worth more than all the rest of the New Testament.

Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), socialist/communist theorist and activist, is the author, among other books of The origin of the family, private property and the state (Boitempo).

Translation: Lucas Parreira Álvares, with revision of Gabriel Perdigao to Verinotio – Online Journal of Philosophy and Human Sciences.

Originally published in Magazine Progress, vol. II, no. 2, August, 1883.

 

Notes


[I]The Tübingen school, made up of a group of liberal German Protestant theologians, was founded in 1830 by Ferdinand Christian Baur, a professor at the University of Tübingen. (Unlike the Tübingen group of theologians that existed in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, it is sometimes called the neo-Tübingen school.) Its followers engaged in a critical study of early Christian literature, notably the New Testament. Without essentially abandoning the confines of Christian theology, they were the first to investigate New Testament sources. Early in his philosophical career, David Strauss also belonged to the Tübingen school, but later his criticisms became much more radical. The school disintegrated in the 1860s. Engels gave a detailed description of this school in his article “On the History of Early Christianity”. [NEI]

[ii]From the original: “thepowersthatbe”, expression used to refer to groups of individuals

who have power/authority over something/someone in particular. [NT] 5From the original: “by-and-bye".

[iii]Apocalypse, 2:6, 14, 20.

[iv]From the original: “fornication".

[v] The Stoics – disciples of the philosopher Zeno of Citium, who taught at the Stoa in Athens. Hence the name of this Hellenistic and Roman school of philosophy, founded in the late 1th and early 1rd centuries BC. Among its followers were ancient philosophers such as Seneca (2st century AD), Philo of Alexandria (XNUMXst century AD) and Marcus Aurelius ( XNUMXnd AD). Stoics sought to corroborate the inner independence of the human personality, but at the same time they showed an extreme sense of resignation to the surrounding world and made no attempt to change it. Stoicism introduced a strict division of philosophy into logic, physics and ethics. He exercised considerable influence in the formation of the Christian religion. [NEI]

[vi]See the chapter “Seneca in the New Testament” in Christ and the Caesars by B. Bauer, pp. 47-61.

[NEI]

[vii] Ferdinand Benary gave a course of lectures at the University of Berlin and simultaneously published them in the JahrbücherfürwissenschaftlicheKritik (Berlin, n. 17-20 and 30-32 for 1841). [NEI]

[viii] The reference is inaccurate. See Tacitus, Stories, 2, 8. [NIE]

[ix] Irenaeus, RefutationandOverthrowofGnosisfalselysocalled. (Against the Heresies), V, 28-

  1. [NEI]

[X] The spelling above the name, with and without the second nun, is that which occurs in the Talmud, and is therefore authentic. [NEI]

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