Literary critic and publishing lawyer Kirsch (God Against the Gods, 2004, etc.) adds yet another volume to the sprawling corpus of work on the New Testament Book of Revelation.
Part biblical commentary, part socio-religious history, this study adds little to the field. Starting with a discussion of earlier Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, the author moves into a commentary on Revelation itself. Here, he flounders. Kirsch consistently derides people throughout history for coming up with incorrect answers to the book’s mysteries, but he seems certain that his own interpretations are accurate. He sees Revelation as a statement about the times in which it was written, not as a work of prophecy. Thus, he declares, the book’s “mysteries” are merely coded references to Rome, Caesar, etc. It seems quite an act of hubris to boldly declare that there are obvious answers to one of history’s most mysterious and fervently argued-over texts. Kirsch’s flippant remarks are also off-putting: comparing emperor worship rituals to the Pledge of Allegiance, for instance, or competition among Roman cities for a temple honoring the emperor to competition over winning an NFL franchise. The author eventually moves on to the history of how Revelation has been interpreted and used and abused by Western Christianity. In this discussion, he is more competent, and his work is more useful. Beginning with early arguments over the text’s legitimacy, Kirsch goes on to describe Revelation’s influence on individual visionaries such as Hildegard of Bingen and its role in such historical movements as the Crusades and reforms of the papacy. Moving westward, he describes the unbridled impact Revelation has had in America, spawning entire new denominations and giving rise to sometimes frightening cult movements. He closes with a discussion of the apocalypse in the atomic era, as well as Revelation’s role in popular culture.
Pulp critique of the ever-popular End Times.