Some notes for a Girardian reading of the Book of Revelation

Developed from a talk prepared for «La Philo éclaire la Ville», Lyon, France, Jan 23-26 2020


René Girard did not write a great deal about The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, also known as the Book of the Apocalypse[1]. When Girard referenced biblical texts of an apocalyptic tenor, he made preferential use of the text known in New Testament Studies as “the little apocalypse”. The Marcan version of this (Mark 13, 1-37) is the most complete and synthetic, though elements of it appear in the other two synoptic Gospels as well as in Revelation.

Some have wondered why an author whose writing, from his first book, Deceit desire and the Novel, to his last, Battling to the End, is so thoroughgoingly “apocalyptic” and for whom the interplay of violence and things sacred is so central, should not have dedicated more attention to the mother-of-all violence-drenched sacred apocalyptic texts. And that seems a fair question, one to which he does not give us an explicit answer. If I were to place a bet on the reason, it would be: that unlike with the “little apocalypse” texts from the Gospels[2], no reader can get very far into Revelation without quickly finding themselves face to face with a symbolic, historical and exegetical world with which we are unfamiliar, and with which people have been largely unfamiliar since fairly shortly after it was written. Reading it properly requires dedicating a considerable amount of time and energy to getting a feel for its “code”,  its “imaginaire”, which is that of the priestly groups who served the Temple in Jerusalem up until its destruction in A.D. 70, and which was quickly lost in the subsequent absence of the daily routines of Temple life. Given this, then relative to the specific points which Girard wanted to bring out, why engage in a mining operation in Revelation requiring extraction at a depth of several hundred metres, when there’s a Synoptic river on the surface, from which the nuggets to be panned are more than sufficient for the task? Thus, the depth mining task has been left for us.

As you can imagine, in a simple presentation like this, there is no room for a full reading of a long and complex ancient text. Hence my title: “Notes for a Girardian reading”. However what I can hope to share are some of the ways in which the Girardian insight and the text of the Book of Revelation do map onto each other in remarkable ways. I would suggest that the psychological revolution which occurs as we take on board that the “other is prior to the self of desire” is indispensable in recovering something of the ancient monotheism that sustains the text. And the relationship between culture formed by scapegoating and Christ’s undoing of that – in other words, the Girardian take on “Atonement” – turns out already to have been central to the narrative structure of the text. Even to the point of an understanding that something definitive has been achieved that brings time to an end and opens up two different ways of being human.

However, before we get to such matters, I wish to start with a question of definition, since our word “apocalyptic” is bandied about in a variety of contexts without close attention to what is in fact being referred to. I am here, as everywhere when looking at the book of Revelation, wholly indebted to Margaret Barker’s commentary[3], the one which most makes sense to me, by far. Barker points out that we use the word “apocalyptic” to describe prophetic-seeming texts concerned with violence, destruction and the end because of the Book of the Apocalypse. The book has given the name to the genre. So when people come across earlier texts of the same sort, whether in the Hebrew Bible, or in the many post-exilic writings which have become available to us, for instance through Qumran, these are referred to as apocalyptic. However, this is slightly misleading. For the genre, from its inception in Isaiah and Ezekiel, Daniel and Habakkuk, is concerned above all with Temple Visions: what was seen in the Holy of Holies by High Priests or such visionaries as found themselves being drawn into High Priestly visions. The elements of violence and the end are, of course, present in these texts. But they are more like the cosmological framing of the visions than what the visions are really about.

The Temple visions were centred round the Living One, the Most High, in the Holy of Holies. They were accompanied by a series of prophetic understandings of the cataclysmic consequences of that which was lived out in heaven, before and outside time, coming towards being lived out on earth, in the midst of time. The same Temple Visions from the First Temple were kept alive in the second Temple period by priests, and particularly by exiled priestly groups and writers. Such groups gave us, for example, IInd and IIIrd Isaiah. Many of these were protesting what they regarded as the takeover of the Hebrew religious and cultural world by the “Judahites” – those who had come back from exile in Babylon with their new, much more textually-focused, religion[4]  and had set up the Second Temple. The dissidents regarded the Second Temple as an apostate operation, mostly run by scoundrels and thieves, and waited with longing for the return of the real Temple. They had no scruple in referring (as Ezekiel had) to the Temple setup in Jerusalem as “Babylon” and as a whore.

Once we understand that the central axis around which the “apocalyptic” genre flourishes is that of Holy Place visions it becomes possible to look at the relationship between those visions and the violently sacred cosmological shake-ups which accompany them with more understanding. For these violent cosmological shake-ups are structured liturgically. Notably with relationship to the ancient rituals of the Ascension/Enthronement of a priestly, kingly, divine figure, and that of the Atonement, in which Creation was renewed. I would like, if I may, to try out with you a very fine distinction between the assumption that texts are “cataclysmic” – essentially related to violence and destruction – and the assumption that they are “visionary” – centring around the things of heaven which have a highly nuanced incidence to cataclysmic reality as experienced and lived through by the visionary group. I make this distinction because our modern use of the word “apocalyptic” whether with reference to nuclear war, climate change, or species extinction seems to me more or less synonymous with the word “cataclysmic” and to have little room for the original “visionary” element.

Please bear with me while I try to explain then something of the “visionary” world which will enable us to relate to the “cataclysmic” in a significantly different way. I warn you, however, that theological thinking is slow thinking for reasons which will I hope become clear. It is much more like feeling your way into a new relationship than it is achieving clarity about a new definition. And it is here that I think René Girard’s insight is so helpful, both as to method and as to content. I’ll try to show how by setting forth some of the building blocks for slow thinking in this area.

1. God

Girard explained, in his first book, that we desire according to the desire of the other. Jean-Michel Oughourlian then fleshed this out in terms of practical psychological understanding by showing that “the other’s desire is prior to the self-produced by desire”, and that this is so true as to enable us to say that “the Other is consubstantial with the self’s consciousness”[5]. With this, we have for the first time in centuries, an understanding of the “self” and of the “other-self relationship” which makes it possible to recover monotheism not as an idea (and it is a bad idea) but as an anterior protagonism dwelt in by us and opening us up to discovery. When dwelt in, slowly, over time, it enables a particularly striking way of living amidst everything that is such that we begin to be set free from gods, which is to say, from every self-deluded participation-by-projection in being run by the cultural and social order which has brought us into being.

The Hebrew scriptures attest, in a variety of ways, to the process of a people being discovered by God-who-is-not-one-of-the-gods, God who is more unlike the gods than like them, and therefore is more like no-god-at-all than like a god. And what should be noticed is that they have not discovered an idea. The scriptures are monuments to  a “having-been-discovered”. The astounding thing about the Hebrew revelation is that it implies a complete psychological reversal from what we typically take to be the case: we are not the starting point in this process. In fact we ourselves, and everything that is, are a secondary form of existence. This constantly contemporary “secondary-ness”, rather than any discussion about a big bang, the dating of antiquity and the like, is the central issue concerning how the word “creation” impacts us. Secondary-ness is not to be confused with words like “passive” or “dependent”. Those have inappropriately negative psychological associations because they suggest we should be submissive to some or other form of outside power which is greater than us, and with whom we are potentially in rivalry.

However that would be seriously to misunderstand the relationship between God who is not a member of the universe of existing things, and the universe of existing things of which God is not a member. Because God is not among the universe of existing things, God is not in rivalry with anything that is, and is able to create, move and sustain everything that is without displacing it. God is not an object within our ken, something about which we can know, like a distant galaxy through a telescope or a virus under a microscope. On the contrary, everything that is is an object in God’s ken. Which means that everything that is is secondary. And that this is not a form of diminishment or passivity as though there were a non-secondary way of being that might be possible if only we were to fight against some power which is holding us back. It is the condition of possibility of being a member of the universe of existing things, including, in the case of humans, the condition of possibility of growing in freedom, authenticity and discovery of who we really are. This understanding is first and foremost something sunk into: a form of knowing relaxation which is appropriate to finding yourself, as part of everything that is, held in being, as it were from behind. Thus you are able to enjoy the ride and praise both the experience and the One holding it all in being and taking it somewhere.

This is why the Temple visions and their “imaginaire” are so important if we are to get a glimpse at what is going on in Revelation. For the Temple visions understand exactly the difference between what happens this side of the Veil, that is to say, within material reality, everything that is; and what “happens” on the other side of the veil, in the Holy Place, which was both built, and understood, to be the symbolic residence of “before, outside, and beyond time”. In other words, where God, who is not a member of the universe of existing beings, “resides” beyond time or space. What the Temple visionaries perceived very clearly is that all the negative paring away by which, when talking about God, we remove necessarily human cognitive elements concerning time, space, power, goodness, gender, colour, species, number and so on, should not leave us with an hygienic, blanked-out, nothing-faced God. Quite the contrary: when we say God is one, this is not a mathematical use of the number one, as opposed to say, seven or sixteen. It means that God is so vastly more pullulating with both singularity and multiplicity than anything we can conceive that only our number “one-as opposed to nothing at all” can begin to hint at the sheer richness. When we say God is neither male nor female, and has no gender, this is not so as leave us with a dehydrated, desiccated being of indeterminate gender identity, but to point towards the hugely more gender-abundant nature of God for whom “male” and “female” in their existing created forms are unimaginable understatements of real qualities. When it is said that God is the unmoved mover, this is not an indication of a tediously stationary or indifferent quality: it signals a boundless and untrammelled energy of protagonism in motion such that nothing secondary is in any sort of rivalry with it at all, and so has no possible sort of leverage over it.

However the Temple visions, in addition to showing a bizarre display of number, colour, gender and motion (Ezekiel’s in particular) are not merely lessons in divine effervescence and exuberance – though they are that. They are understood to be part of a prophetic visualisation concerning something “coming in”, a divine figure, who then has something of the human about them, and this human element is seen ever more clearly as we move from 1st Isaiah to Ezekiel, to Daniel and then to 3rd Isaiah. There seems to have been an ever clearer focus not on God using an “outside extra” to do something, but some power “within” God doing something in, and among humans, and eventually as a human. These are visions of “within” God. Hence their controverted nature even at the time, and certainly since, by those of a more hygienic disposition.

2. Atonment

The liturgical structure which gave shape to these visions was the ancient rite of Atonement. We have a hygienised version of this in the Book of Leviticus which seeks to project back into pre-Temple life a key rite of the recently destroyed First Temple with a view to allowing a textual form of observance in the absence of the Temple itself. Alongside the rite of Ascension to the Throne of a royal priestly figure who became divinised, Atonement was the most important of the First Temple rites. The symbolism has some similarity with that of ancient Ugarit (1500-1200 BC), and may well hark back to a much more ancient time when someone was sacrificed and subsequently divinised, in exactly the way described by Girard[6]. Indeed, Girard’s description of the King as a “victim with a suspended sentence” points to a trajectory whereby the King is then able to sacrifice someone on his behalf, and so undergo the divinisation “granted” by the victim – a trajectory I’ll spell out shortly. Whatever the background story, which yet-to-be-made archaeological finds may eventually enable us to piece together, by the time we have hints of the First Temple priesthood, the royal priestly figure was held symbolically to sacrifice himself on behalf of the people, thus simultaneously requiting and avenging the violence and sin which had threatened creation, condemning it to futility. This futility – a malaise among the people – was when the secondary function of everything that is had become so disfigured that it was no longer able to point up, bear witness to, reflect, the goodness and glory of the Creator. Now however, “peaceful order” was re-created by Sacrifice, and Creation was once again able to give off the glory of the Creator. In the First Temple the divinised royal priestly figure would take hold of two identical lambs or goats, one to be killed as a stand-in for his own self-offering up to death, and one to be expelled as a stand-in for Azazel, the demon of the wilderness or chaos. Those people then covered by the blood of the slaughtered lamb, which was the “Lord’s”, were on the inside of renewed creation; while those on the outside experienced the wrath and vengeance of creation locked into futility against itself.

Now, as is obvious, there is no liturgy without a narrative: something is going on that has a beginning, a middle and an end. And a narrative which makes some sense to those who undergo it. However, Priestly thought was well aware that all those things which happen as part of a narrative in the rite have already happened simultaneously in the Holy Place. For the Holy Place stands in for “before, outside, beyond” material reality. The word that the Priests used to refer to the sense of “the time before creation” was ‘olam, for which “eternity” is too hygienic a translation, since the Hebrew conveys a sense of distant past, continued present and future all at once. Indeed, when we use phrases like “Before the foundation of the world” or “Forever and ever” or “In saecula saeculorum” we are using translations of ancient liturgical phrases pointing to that sphere in which past, present and future are simultaneous in a reality vastly more complete than our own. So it was understood that the Temple Rites were a certain participation in a secondary, created version of The Real Thing which had already happened, was already happening, and will already happen. The Ark of the covenant and other historical artefacts were visible reflections of something much more real. The Law itself was a shadow (a negative reflection) cast on earth by God’s Wisdom (or eternal law) in whom these “things” were “already” alive.  The hope and prayer were: that this “already” should be instantiated, become real, “on earth as it is in heaven”, hence that exact phrase in the Lord’s Prayer.

3. The coming together of heavenly and earthly reality

Given all this, I’d like to suggest that what we have in the Book of Revelation is a sustained visionary account of the way in which something that had “already” happened “simultaneously” in heaven, interacts with earthly reality. The nearest narrative liturgical account we have, as a description of the bringing into being of the New Creation, is that of Ascension-Coronation and Atonement. This interaction between heavenly and earthly reality takes place as a project of fulfilment of prophetic texts. The more recent of these, as discovered at Qumran, had indicated the coming of the promised Melchizedek priest to perform the definitive sacrifice in the first seven years of the 10th Jubilee, (which is to say at the time of Christ’s public ministry and death), prior to the great destruction at the end of the 10th Jubilee (which is to say starting in 66 A.D. and leading to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.).

Please allow me to use a silly image. Imagine a semi-circular date line, rather like the smile on a smiley emoji. Let us imagine that the upper left, as we face the smile, is the year 1000BC, a good approximate date for the period in which David is purported to have imagined, and then Solomon built, the First Temple. And the upper right is our own time heading off indefinitely. In between we have the run down through the prophets, the destruction of the Temple, the exile, the Second Temple, the Greeks, the Maccabees, the Romans and so forth up until a point, which can be anywhere thereafter on the smile, where we have the events of the time between Jesus’ ministry and the end of the tenth Jubilee. Which is to say between about 27 A.D. and 66 A.D.

Now imagine that there is a giant, flashing disco-ball at the point where, if the semicircle were a circle, its centre would be. This is a flashing polyhedron with far more facets than we can count, from which come out lights of hugely different colours. This is simultaneously present to every moment of the date-line. That which had always “already” happened was always fully present to every moment, as it had been to every moment in which time existed. However since it was not part of linear narratival reality, it could only be glimpsed as a mixture of presence, past, promise and prophecy: of something that is, and was, and will be, as it is coming in. And as it was so glimpsed it also produced an ever-changing alteration in the human understanding of a cataclysmic historical “present”. Whether that of the Assyrian invasion, the Babylonian destruction, the Greek or Roman occupation, and finally, Titus’ destruction of the second Temple in 70 A.D.

Now imagine, difficult though it may be, that although the flashing disco ball is as simultaneously present to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, to David, Isaiah, and Judas Maccabeus, as it is to us, nevertheless, as our narrative capacity has been fed over time, as it was in the life of Israel, so elements of what “always already has happened, is happening and will happen” become clearer. So the figure of a human/divine “coming in” becomes clearer, through Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and eventually to Zechariah the priestly father of John the Baptist, and then to John the Baptist himself. The disco ball is both still where it always was – simultaneously equidistant and ever present to each generation, but the “real thing” seems to be, and is, coming into ever closer focus until all its elements, which are simultaneous “in heaven”, become enacted “on earth” in discrete historical moments: Jesus’ Baptism, Transfiguration, handing over in Gethsemani and Crucifixion; then the Resurrection, Ascension and New Creation. Notoriously neither of the last three of these are capable of clear narrative accounts, being for us elements of the unspeakable (Spanish has for this the lovely word “inenarrable” meaning unable to be dealt with narratively). They are now lived by us as elements of the Real Thing which have already happened, including for us, and yet we are being stretched into them by hope.

4. Johannine simultaneity

Now let me see if I can illustrate this approach to living out the disco ball simultaneously in heaven and in real time by putting side by side two texts possibly by the same author[7], certainly within the same authorial world. In John’s Gospel[8] we read the following:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.  I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

So, John sees the heaven open and sees some ancient symbols from the disco ball turning into history. First Noah’s dove finally settling on someone in the midst of the waters, meaning that the wrath of the waters, the ancient symbol of a violent creation, was exhausted forever. Then the Son of God, a way of referring to a High Priestly figure. Then the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, a human being whom he recognized and to whom thereafter he bore witness.

Compare this with the visionary of Revelation chapter 4, also called John. After the “Letters to the Churches”, the Revelation properly speaking starts with “a door opening in heaven” – and the same voice that had spoken to John earlier invites him in. The voice is that of Jesus, an Angelic High Priestly figure, to judge by his robe and the lampstand from whose midst he speaks. Immediately John is on the inside of the Throne vision, that of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel. The one on the throne is too brilliant to be described in detail. There are colours and animals, jewels and a sea, voices, lightning and thunder. But there are twenty four thrones round about the throne, and the twenty four ancients from the thrones follow the animals in giving glory to the Living One “forever and ever”. The number twenty four correspond to the twenty four priestly “courses” whose establishment was attributed to David, before Solomon had even set up the Temple, so that worship would be perpetual[9]. In other words, this is what has always already been going on in heaven, accompanied by the worship of Israel, “before” Jesus’ coming.

John now perceives a book – an act of communication capable of narrative – sealed with seven seals, the number of perfection, meaning also completion. And the same angel asks who is worthy to open the book – that is to say to interpret it and its incidence in human reality by means of the seven seals. And no one is found. However one of the priestly elders from the thrones (was his name Zechariah ?) tells John not to weep, since one who has already carried off the victory – again please note, always already done – the Lion of Judah, offspring of David: he will open the book and the seals. So, please notice this is someone who has already carried out the victory, and is yet a son of David, so a human. Which corresponds to what John the Baptist says in the Gospel text: “After me comes one who was preferred before me, for he was before me”.

Then John sees, in the middle of the throne, surrounded by the animals and elders, exactly what John the Baptist saw: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.[10]

So, if you like, the full content of the ancient Holy Place Throne vision, the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne as one slain, concerns the full working out in human time of the already completed atonement and enthronement liturgies which thus inaugurates creation (which of course seems like a new creation from the perspective of those involved in time). The new song is the unfolding in earthly time of the human response to what is being revealed as having been now instantiated in their midst, and as chapter five continues, the fulness of what has already been achieved becomes living and present in the midst of all creatures who are thus all able to find praise.

5. And on into the vision…

As Chapter six begins, we pass to the opening of the seals, each one of which indicates a different moment of incidence in the human sphere of the working out of the atonement liturgy. These quite probably refer backwards in time to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Greek period, and at the same time forward to the period between Jesus’ death and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (to judge by the prophecy that accompanies the third seal, attributed to Agabus who is also known in Acts 11, 27-28). The sixth seal seems to be one angle on the crucifixion, and is understood as a sign of wrath by those for whom it is not a sign of forgiveness. It is the cataclysmic culmination of those for whom the worldly narration of power and violence is their source of meaning. Both Matthew and Luke, each in their different ways, describe the crucifixion with elements of this cataclysm. But not all are on the “wrathful” side of the lamb. Chapter 7 is the account of those for whom when the Lamb was slain, they worshipped him, those from history prior to the crucifixion, from the tribes of Israel of the distant past and those from all nations going into the future from the perspective of the writer: these evidently have passed through judgment. However, thereafter the final interpretative seal is opened, that in the light of which the resurrection is judgment and the angels begin to interpret all history from the perspective of the slain lamb. Chapters 8 and 9 explore this with reference to a number of kingdoms and empires, including Parthians, Romans and others, from both the distant past, and contemporary to the first century. Then in chapter 10 once again the angel is both the same as, and separately interpretative of, the moment of the crucifixion: the slain lamb and the son of man come in glory are the same thing, and the lamb is shown to be the same as the lion who roars, taking us back to the Lion of Judah.

John now understands something of the density of the crucifixion which he hadn’t understood before in this astounding accumulation of references and symbols from the Hebrew Scriptures. That understanding is shown in the little book which is taken from the hand raised to heaven to swear solemnly that time will be no more – the stretched out hand of the Crucified one. And it is a message which is both immediately sweet, and bitter to the stomach. Everything has been fulfilled, and yet the coming of the New Temple, and hence the New Creation, is happening in the midst of the terrible events of the thirty years or so leading up to the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

I have not the time to go into detail, but the fullness of the consequences of the already-having been lived-out Atonement and Enthronement are then demonstrated, from Chapter 12 onwards, with relation to the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecies, those conserved in Mark 13, concerning Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

As has long been noted, Josephus, a Jew of priestly family who apostasized from Judaism and joined the Romans in the run up to the Siege of Jerusalem, going so far as to prophesy on behalf of the Emperor Vespasian, was contemporary to these events. He describes the same happenings, and even some of the same prophetic signs, though naturally his point of view does not coincide with those of the different groups inside the besieged city, or that of John. Yet the coincidence does make it very clear that the immediate prophecies underlying chapters 12-19 are all related to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Temple. And yet it is not only Jerusalem’s Temple, but the whole world of the violent sacred which is being cast away for ever[11]. And at various points in these chapters we also find quotes from the prophecies of the “Little Apocalypse”: the advice to leave the city and flee from its violence, the notion that the coming of the son of man is like a thief in the night.  And also the various ways in which the moment of the Crucifixion are recalled.

For instance, the seventh angel bearing the cups of the wrath of God, that is to say the perfection and bringing to an end of the moment of God’s wrath, pours that cup out into the air, which is where the crucified one is. As that happens, the strong voice comes from the throne in the Temple: “it is done”. In other words, Jesus’ dying words in John, are where the Holy Place and the Temple really are. And his death is “simultaneous” with the destruction that followed some forty years later. The thunders and lightnings which follow are the Johannine equivalent of the rending of the Temple veil of the synoptics. And immediately the city is broken into three parts, following Zechariah’s prophecy concerning “that day”[12].

Now I hope it becomes clear then that what we have is a vision of how the different pieces of the heavenly rite worked out until such a moment as the rite had been fulfilled, every part of it acted out in human reality, in such a way that time in its old, liturgical sense has come to an end.

6. Creation and Violence

Girard pointed out that in the ancient myths which deal with such things, accounts of creation are derived from accounts of salvation, not the other way round. In other words, the socially functional element is much earlier than the speculative cosmological element. A human collective undergoes some sort of cataclysmic incident which is resolved when all but one find that they have survived, but that one of their number has mysteriously left them, with only the cadaver before which they stand as a sign. They perceive not what they have done (a collective murder) but what has been done to them (a power disturbing when present, and powerful when absent, has granted them peace). As the collective finds that it is able to live peacefully, with a new order, permitting better crops, more cattle and so on, it tells the story of how a strange mixture of gods and villains brought about the beginning of everything that is known through some violent act of killing or expulsion, and that the group is the beneficiary of this account of creation. This is how the group knows whom to worship and so forth, telling a grateful story, obeying the prohibitions necessary to avoid rivalry spinning into violence, and sacrificing in imitation of the original act, while always understanding itself to be in some sense at one remove from, not responsible for, the original act.

The relationship between salvation through some bloody act of murder and the later development of this into an account of creation can be found in many more societies than can be explained by ancient intercontinental dissemination. The Enuma Elish gives just such an account in which Creation is the result of an intradivine battle in which Marduk finally kills Tiamat, and creation pours out of her ripped-open pregnant belly. In the Rig Veda, Puruşa is similarly dismembered leading to the creation of everything. Meanwhile in far away America, the same tale was told among the Aztecs concerning Coyolxauhqui.

In fact, the actual dynamic of what is going on is not difficult to decode. A group has recently found itself set free from a tumultuous period of internal violent rivalry which threatened it with destruction. The group quite naturally assumes not that it has mimetically cohered into a lynch mob and murdered a convenient member of the group, but that its newfound peace and order is a sign that they were right to kill that specific person. Furthermore the peace they now enjoy is not simply the fact that they were all bonded together, their rivalry ended, in that one act of murder, but is a gift from that special one. That one must have been powerful both to be as disturbing as he or she had been in whipping up all the rivalry and violence; and to be as generous as he or she has been in giving them peace. So it is scarcely surprising that eventually the victim is divinised, becoming a god. And in accounts of “how we came to be who we are” told by the group, the sort of peace and order granted by the expelled one becomes the most easily understood analog for the process of bringing everything into being: themselves, their crops, their cattle, their order, their belonging and so forth.

At the same time it is very important that those involved do not know clearly what they have done. There is a certain “miscognition[13]” going on.  They have not perceived that it was an aleatory lynch mob that had come up with a murder and then justified it mendaciously. Rather, for it to work, they genuinely need to “know wrongly” the real “specialness” (for good and evil) of the victim, and the “ordained” way in which that special one was killed among them. This leads inevitably to a projection of the original killing into a “heavenly” panoply: narrative sense following on from the real results of a real event which has been clothed in necessary self-mystification. It is not long before the account of the beginnings becomes the necessary justification for the ritual repetition of the acts and prohibitions which in fact long preceded it.

Please notice that this means that ever since we have been human our relationship to “everything that is” has been idolatrous in the strict sense that we have had no access to it other than through the collective delusion of sacrifice. It is in the midst of this that the Hebrew rite of Atonement starts to have such special meaning. And this is not because it is in any simple way a denunciation of the relationship between human sacrifice and creation. Rather on the contrary: by keeping alive the elements of what was fairly obviously a human sacrifice staged with stand-in animals, one which was necessary for the making or renewing of Creation, it kept alive the necessary links which made it possible to see through to the original lie[14]. In other words: some group of wandering Aramaeans or ancient Canaanites found themselves sticking with old and terrible things where all their neighbours were prettifying them into apparently nicer, but much more mendacious things. Our proto Hebrews insisted on wrestling with these terrible things honestly, which is one of the reasons why the priestly and the prophetic seem to be at each other’s throats in much of the Hebrew Scriptures as we have them. It is one of the reasons why complaining to and fighting with God seem so frequent in the Scriptures. It also underscores the constant passion for truthful and non-white-washed accounts of people’s lives. And this is why there is so much violence in the texts: because its authors and editors were slowly learning to refuse to attribute all such violence directly to God, despite all the evidence of the facile convenience of such stories, and the element of human responsibility was becoming clearer all the time.

Given this, it is not surprising that post-exilic Jews found themselves refusing stories of creation that come from violent clashes between sacrificing divinities: the text of Genesis 1 specifically side-swipes Babylonian religious and royal mythology, with its creation through bloodletting. And not long thereafter, in 2nd Isaiah we get an absolutely clear statement that God-who-is-not-one-of-the gods spoke things into being absolutely limpidly, so creation is taken out of the realm of violent stories for good, and God’s role as the Creator becomes one who is entirely good.

In other words, the last element in mythology was undone first: the creation story. Along with that, all sacrificial ritual elements became open to suspicion as no longer linked to creation. It is scarcely surprising that thereafter the prohibitions became stronger as a way to provide group identity, so a people based on a law became possible, and then necessaary, with the law itself being separated from royal or priestly function, and the lawgiver having written into his script that he could not offer atonement[15]. Someone else[16] would come and do that. In such a world, the old rite of Atonement continued to be performed, but had far less bite on people’s lives than when it was, as in the first Temple, the central rite. Instead, the post-exilic rite of Passover (by no means the same as whatever Passover meant in the first Temple period) managed two things brilliantly: by recasting the story of the return of the Judahites from Babylon as the exodus of the whole Hebrew people from Egypt it offered a narrative and a series of rites and celebrations which were designed to include all Hebrews (indeed, to make Yahwistic Judahites of them). It also resolved a terrible struggle of conscience: one with which the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel had wrestled concerning the sacrifice of the first born as demanded by God. A practice which had been normal in Israel, as part of the Canaanite cultural world. The resolution involved telling the story of God demanding that his first born be set free to worship, while killing all the first born of the Egyptians who were holding Israel back. And simultaneously offering ritual ways to redeem the first born.

So creation and sacrifice move into the background, and salvation and law take over the narrative. God is worshipped as Creator, of course, but the act of creation becomes something done in the past. It is into the midst of this world that the ancient memories of the rite of atonement being finally fulfilled point to something more than the merely cultic. Memories of the time when The Most High was seen in visions in the Temple, and Atonement was the central feast, before the Deuteronomistic writings had appeared, persisted and were held to by different groups in Palestine contemporary with Christ. These of course were strongly disapproved of by those for whom all such things harked back to an idolatrous past when compared to their own religion of salvation in a legally structured way of life. When the long promised atonement sacrifice actually happens, in real time, it makes flexible the relationship between salvation and Torah, for law is still too closely linked to putting to death – it is still too easily made into a reflection of the self-mystification of the scapegoating original. So law too, as well as sacrifice, is subverted from within; it is detached from automatically pointing towards created order, making available an approach to creation that is no longer any sort of reflection of the original culture based on scapegoating death.

All these elements are finally lived out in real time by Christ going to his death, occupying freely the space of the one who is cursed by the law, both the lamb standing in for the High Priest and the lamb being expelled (or scapegoat) from the ancient liturgy, but also the lamb sacrificed at Passover to redeem the first born of Israel, its blood covering their doors. In this way Jesus finally reverses the whole structure of the ancient rites, thereby going back to, and revealing what was original: the order which was the reflection of one who was “a liar and a murderer from the beginning”[17]

Jesus performed an apparently archaizing act. He stood in for the lamb, which stood in for a human, giving himself to his disciples as bread and wine instead, just as had Melchizedek. This had obvious ramifications for the understanding of the Law, as Paul brought out insistently: if it turns out that we can put the Son of God to death, thinking we are doing God’s will, then the Law is no longer a sufficient guide to the goodness of God. And God has revealed Godself not as a civil or a religious legislator, but as the victim of the confluence of those two. No legal system can withstand the insight that for it, God is a seditious blasphemer.

We are also accustomed to understanding how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection affected a narrative of salvation – principally from death and its fear[18]. Less well treated has been the alteration of creation which they produced. Indeed, mostly we have been happy to leave the matter of Creation roughly where it was in 2nd Isaiah, as though Jesus and his coming had not made a huge difference to the picture we receive there. However, if we follow through with the logic we have seen (and to which Revelation is by no means alone in the New Testament in bearing witness), in fact the understanding of creation has gone through a prodigious change, one to whose consequences we are scarcely alive.

The best way I know to explain this is by looking at the different metaphors involved, the analogies if you like, between different human forms of “making” and the divine act of Creation. This assumes that all ways of talking and of understanding things are themselves fluid dimensions of the single symbolic universe that was opened up by a beginning of human culture in which murder and self-mystification went together. The first analogy for the bringing into being of everything that is, is the shared peace following a successful scapegoating. This morphs into the establishment of order as a result of some sort of sacred intervention among the group where an “outside” initiative leads to the dismemberment. This in turn becomes well wrought mythologies of creation and the provision of ordered food sources, tribes and so on, that flow from a directly “outside” divine series of violent interactions.

However, at the same time, there is a slippage even in the most apparently “religious” societies: few people “believe” in such nonsense, however happy they may be to go along with telling the tales, with the festivities and even the sacrifices involved as long as these are understood to be holding up the order which gives them a certain stability and identity. However, at the same time the more explicit such mythology becomes, the more it opens up the space for it to be critiqued and its opposite to be understood. This it seems was what was at work with the intellectuals of the Babylonian Exile: their own priestly account of creation and its relation to a self-giving death was, by the very fact of how comparatively little it had drifted from the original murder, if you like, a vaccination against the much more richly developed mythology of their conquerors. They were therefore able to critique that mythology thoroughly as if from within, giving us the priestly account of creation in Genesis. So they wrote of an order which is still sacred (the days of creation reflect the ancient Temple understanding of a movement outwards from the Holy Place from which the Divinised Priest-King would emerge to make sacrifice). However this order was spoken into being. Each day of creation begins “And God said…”. So the analogy of an order of creation is from God speaking things into being.

Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah had earlier used the language of “making” with relation to the Creator – the potter with relation to the pot, with the pot evidently having no idea as to the intention of the maker in making it, and therefore not being able to question that power with which they could never be in rivalry. However, the analogy, while it is good as regards the fact of our created-ness, is not so useful when it comes to the act of creation, since all potters make pots out of preexisting material and the whole point of creation not being a sorting out of some previous violent intra-divine entanglement was that it should be from nothing. And this was where 2nd Isaiah’s great statement of genuine monotheism[19] was also the definitive dismissal of any divine skulduggery behind everything that is: clear speaking, truth telling was the analogy of creation. This worked well at the time when the Deuteronomists were transforming a culture of sanctuary sacrificers into a culture of texts and law. It did however still make the analogy for the bringing into being of everything that is, susceptible to the violence contained in and by speech and laws.

The final analogy for creation is the New Testament one, and one which has obviously been so difficult for us to sink into that most people read the texts as though Jesus only really interfered with liturgy and law rather than in fact finally reformulating and “taking out” the last remnant of myth, the understanding of Creation. This is brought out explicitly in a variety of New Testament texts, which refer to Jesus as Creator, or to Creation in Christ, and narratively in Luke and John in striking ways. For instance, in Luke’s Gospel between the Garden and his death on the Cross, Jesus walks backwards through the first chapter of Genesis, from the garden, to the coming of darkness, the sun going out, and his breathing out his last, so that the breath -pneuma or spirit – returns to “prior” to creation (where it is in Genesis), and the veil of the temple is torn, the divisor between material reality and the Creator, so that at last, the Creator is seen as a falsely accused murdered man. The lie is definitively undone.

However in the breathing out of the Spirit upon the Cross, so as to take us outside Creation, and back to “before the first day” we are finally given a new analogy for the act of creation itself. Here let me mention a piece of theological grammar. It is the case that there is always a much greater dissimilarity between any human analogate – way of talking – and the divine reality that is being talked about, than there is a similarity. And so here, there is a vastly greater dissimilarity between the analogy and the act of creation than there is a similarity. But that does not make the analogy untrue, derived as it is from the inversion, the subversion from within, of the grotesquery of a human lynch murder, that from which our symbolic world has its birth. In fact, it makes it the very best hint of an understanding that we could possibly have. The final analogy we are given for the act of creation is that of a human giving himself up to death out of love and breathing out his last breath in an act of trust that his life, thus given, will bring into being something loving but which he does not control, following his own loving in the midst of a pattern of scapegoating.

When Paul refers to “Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God[20]” it is Creation language that he is using. The bringing into being of everything out of nothing looks more like a loving man dying than it does anything more apparently powerful, and the wisdom which brings anything into being, ordering it and structuring it, looks more like a seditious blasphemer forgiving those who are destroying him than anything else. In other words, and please go slow with what I’m about to say: the loving and understanding human desire to forgive those who are killing him is a closer analogy to the power of creation than any establishment of order. What we call “forgiveness” is prior to creation, and indeed the pattern of our being created is such that we only attain it through forgiveness.

This is why it makes sense to talk of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world[21]”: everything that is has been given to us and is received by us as if it were the dying breath of a human who has been prepared to die to enable us to be free to take part in making something new. Which is exactly what happens also in John 20, 19-23 where a crucified man breathes into those he is creating[22], and indicates that the Creator Spirit he is breathing into them will now enable them to open up anything by forgiveness, and it is now in their hands and is their power: if they don’t do it, it won’t happen.

I hope you can see that we’ve moved backwards from the ancient mythical accounts of violent creation in some way related to bloodletting; all the way through the myth-making process, back to the humanly violent act which kicks the mythical world and the culture it underwrites into being. The result both fulfils and brings to an end the notion of atonement renewing creation. That is done, there is nothing left to do. We are left as humans in the midst of what is: free, responsible, unable to shift blame for things, able to think outside victimary causality, and, even more importantly, aware that we can dare to open up reality in a way that is trustworthy by forgiving and being forgiven: creation is something future in which we participate as we forgive and are forgiven, not a cruel mendacious order from the past which imprisons us.

This makes much more sense of how the end of the atonement world brings into being the New Creation at the end of Revelation in a city which is itself a huge perfect cube – in fact the Holy Place writ large. Obviously, therefore, there is no Temple in it, and external light is not necessary, for all present are alight with the light of the lamb.

7. Cataclysm and Death

Very quickly, I’d now like to point up one of the consequences of reading Revelation this way as regards the cataclysmic element which to so many seems to be what the book is all about. We can now begin to make sense of different “degrees of heavenliness” which the author, as the other temple visionaries, took for granted. There is evidently the “place” which is of God alone – the throne and the lamb – beyond all time and place. Then there is what is called “the heavens”, which is an intermediary sphere, dominated by angels. These are within creation, not outside of it, and as such participate in the dialogical[23], and thus the ambivalent nature of created order as we know it.

So, for instance “now war arose in heaven[24]” means that a tension among the different forms of transcendence thrown up by Creation as it is lived, is being resolved. Concretely, this takes the form of the casting down of the serpent-dragon. Which corresponds to Jesus’ saying in Luke 10,18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”, meaning that the transcendence produced by the old violent mechanism of mendacity and murder is now defeated, rendered nul. It depended on the dominance of death for its transcendence, and once death is no longer the last word, its hold is desacralized, even if the human practices and the institutions which undergird them, and are the product of that transcendence, still have strong sway on earth. Another example: we have “seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended[25]” The plagues appear to mean that the book of Leviticus is being fulfilled (and brought to its end), for the plagues are those of Egypt in reverse, the punishment for infidelity to the covenant, precisely as promised by Leviticus. And yet the angelic task is to pour out seven bowls of wrath, further elements from the ancient rite of Atonement. The number seven is that of perfection, meaning also bringing to a conclusion. But the narrative point is that this is the end of God’s wrath, and that the last bowl, which was the death of Jesus on the Cross, definitively drains the cup of wrath, which draining is finally acted out in the destruction of Jerusalem.

For those who say: “See, all this means that there is wrath in God, the Bible says so”, I want to say: exactly the reverse. This is the author’s way of saying: “there was never any wrath in God, and the way to explain that is narratively, with an account of how a false transcendence, which seemed to be operative within creation, was finally brought to an end by the coming in, and arrival at our level, of the true transcendence, which is original, prior to Creation, and is the beginning and end (Alpha and Omega) of all things. The coming in looks like nothing less than the violent undoing of violence. Since there is violence built into the basis of human symbolicity, we have no direct way of understanding that which is entirely without violence. Only by indirect intimation can we posit it.  However, the moment that which can only be understood as the prior undoing from within of a human sacrificial rite, has happened on earth, then “wrath” is seen for what it genuinely is. It is revealed as the human flailing about, and falling back on itself,  in the face of the definitive unviolent undoing of what is an entirely violence-laden sphere of meaning. The narrative account is the Hebrew, narrative way, and in my view, one way that is more sensitive than the Greek metaphysical propositional way, of making clear how it came about that we were able to learn that there is no violence in God. It also makes clear quite what a devastating effect that learning has had on a whole series of elements of human culture, for which the Jerusalem Temple as whore of Babylon is as good a symbol as any of the apparent wonder of false transcendence.

What I would suggest then is that the Book of Revelation opens up for us the way that human cultural reality is, in every generation, cataclysmic: wars and rumours of wars, revolutions, emperors, gods. And in every generation all this has been prettified by sacrifice: meaning, belonging, identity and so forth, all with death as its guarantee, murder made to look like sacrifice, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. There can scarcely be anything less cataclysmic-seeming than the slow, gradual, arrival in human time of the reverse of that: sacrifice being shown to be murder, death losing its power as ultimate guarantor of culture. Nevertheless, this arrival rocks to its core the very basis and possibility of any human culture. And that rocking is at the heart of what we call the Resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection was not a happy ending to a sad story. It was the seriously shocking revelation of the true beginning of the deathlessly effervescent true story in the midst of a futile and self-defeating parody which passed for the original. We have no narrative form for living this true story, other than what we are offered starting from the reversal of our narrative basis, lived in and from forgiveness. The defeat of death automatically, and devastatingly, relativizes all stories, all myths, all cultures and begins the terrifying process of the de-catastrophization of the human experience.

8. Desire and meaning

Finally, I think it important to bring out how this approach to reading Revelation matches the reading of the Little Apocalypse with a mention of which we began. This, you rember, is the collection of texts in Mark 13 in which Jesus prophesies the end of the Temple and the time of severe destruction and grotesquely bloody tribulation which did in fact occur in the run up to that event. However, what is central to these prophecies, and they must have been extraordinarily difficult to hold on to for Jesus’ followers in the intervening forty years, is that Jesus is constantly telling his disciples not to be distracted by all these things. He had, in Mark 11, 11-25, made his visitation of the Temple, found it wanting, declared its end, and prophetically enacted the ending described by Zechariah 14, 21. From that point on he is preparing his disciples not to attribute any form of sacrality to the Temple and whatever goes on in or around it in the period leading to its destruction. To run away from Jerusalem in the midst of the violence is something that should be done without any sense of betrayal of something sacred[26]. The cataclysmic human reality will throw up any number of elements of false transcendence – prophets, messiahs, signs: but they are not to be distracted by them, not to attribute anything of God to them. Instead they are to watch, to keep vigil – grēgoreite – (whence our name “Gregory”). It is the overwhelming nature of this distraction of the false sacred that leads him to describe the coming of the Son of Man as like a thief in the night. The real will emerge just out of sight of those who are distracted, almost as though the distraction were designed to lead the householders to be so preoccupied elsewhere that they leave themselves completely vulnerable to one whose coming in will seem to them like a sort of violence.

Finally, Jesus describes that for which they should be watching, that which is to be for them a genuine sign of genuine meaning, the authentic transcendent which is almost invisible in the midst of the smoke and mirrors of the false, the signs of the arrival of the Creator and Creation. He points these out to them by a series of times of day. They don’t know when he will be coming: the evening, midnight, cock-crow or in the morning. These times of day correspond exactly to events which happened a few days later, and every one of which is related to a moment of handing-over.[27] Jesus hands himself over to his disciples in the Last Supper, Judas hands Jesus over at midnight, Peter hands Jesus over (to betray and to transmit are the same in many languages) in the morning, and then the Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin hand Jesus over at midday. In other words, the coming of the Son of Man is to be perceived only in his handing over. True peaceful transcendence which opens up creation emerges in ones giving-themselves-away in the midst of the endlessly meaningless cataclysmic reality which is always with us.

I hope that it is clear how richly Girard prepares us for this time of advent-like vigilance. For the real asceticism which is suggested  is one concerning meaning. As humans we are desperate for meaning. We will vote against our interests, attribute divine status to charlatans, sacrifice the well-being of others, spend farcical amounts of money, anything to obtain meaning, or to hold onto meaning, prevent ourselves undergoing the loss of any meaning which suggests that we are special, worth something, not like them, whoever “they” may be. Anyone who challenges or threatens our myths of national foundation, of racial belonging, of gendered significance will be seen as an enemy. And it is a very sobering process to allow ourselves to sit through the loss of our national myths – our identity and our belonging – the loss of our racial difference, our roles received by gender. Or rather than loss, our letting go. For that is what the Greek word we usually translate as “forgive” means, literally: to let go. So what is it like, now, to find ourselves not distracted in fighting for or against such things? To be undergoing, in a world where the cacophony of cataclysm is louder than ever and where meaning is fought over with ever more visible violence, the sort of training that prepares us to receive as a welcome guest the one who we might otherwise be safeguarding against as against a thief in the night? This is the asceticism of learning to sit lightly to any identity we have grasped over against another, and undergo the silent, meaning-loss, drop into finding ourselves borne up by a name written in heaven[28].


As is clear, I have not offered a close textual reading of Revelation. And there are yet many details of symbolism and language which deserve a proper exploration. That is something, I think, best done, live, in discussion with people with the text and some professional exegetical commentaries before us. I hope, merely, that this attempt to show how Girard’s thought enables potential readers to fill in some of the background necessary to detecting what is really going on, serves as a preface, making the exercise of a shared, live, reading somewhat less overwhelming a challenge.

James Alison
Lyon, Madrid, Memphis, Mexico City
January-March 2020

[1] “Apocalypse” is the English transliteration of the first word of the book, the Greek word meaning “revelation”.

[2] I consider these briefly in section 8 of this paper

[3] M. Barker  The Revelation of Jesus Christ Edinburgh: T&T Clark 2000

[4] Among them were the writers and editors who gave us the Pentateuch.

[5] « L’Autre est consubstantiel à la conscience du moi » Un mime nommé désir p 58

[6] Girard theorizes how sacrifice leads to both the creation of gods, and eventually that of kings in Violence and the Sacred (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P) 1979 Chapter 4

[7] While John’s Gospel is written in idiosyncratic Greek, Revelation is a (sometimes erratic) Greek translation of an Hebrew or Aramaic original.

[8] Jn 1: 29-36

[9] The setting up of these “divisions” among the sons of Aaron, so that they should take turns in serving “before the Lord” is described in the First Book of Chronicles.

[10] Rev 5: 6-10

[11] Which is why later ancient readings which treated Babylon as Imperial Rome, and even Mediaeval and Reformation readings of the papacy as the Whore of Babylon may well be legitimate extrapolations of the way such a prophetic text works, so long as the interpretation is not fixated on only one particular instantiation of Babylonian Whoredom in time.

[12] Zc 13, 8-9

[13] This is my neologism for Girard’s word méconnaissance. Another good translation might be “self-mystification”.

[14] “lie” is perhaps too strong a word. For there is no deliberate attempt to fool others. And “mistake” is too light, for this “miscognition” is something that happens to them through which they come to a delusive form of knowledge taken to be true.

[15] Ex 32, 30-34 30 On the morrow Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

[16] Dt 18, 15-22 15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him.

[17] John 8, 44

[18] Hb 2: 14-15 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.

[19] Is 45, 18-19 18 For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it

(he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the Lord, and there is no other.19 I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in chaos.’ I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.

[20] 1 Cor 1, 23-25

[21] Ver 13, 8 lectio dificilior

[22] Using the same Greek verb as Genesis 2, 7 ἐνεφύσησεν.

[23] Paul, in common with a venerable rabbinic tradition, refers to the Law as having been “given by angels” (Gal 3:19) rather than spoken by God, regarding the “if you do this, then this; and if you do that, then that” nature of the Law to be incompatible with a purely divine origin, which would be entirely monological: “yes” or “no”, and in fact proven by Christ to be definitively “yes”.

[24] Rev 12,7

[25] Rev 15,1

[26] The evidence is that many of Jesus’ followers did just that in the run up to the final siege of Jerusalem. c.f. J Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) Jesus of Nazareth Part II Holy Week (London/San Francisco: CTS/Ignatius 2011) p 47.

[27] See D.H. Vanstone’s rich account of this in The stature of waiting (London: DLT)1972

[28] Lk 10: 20;  Rev 13: 8 – I take it that the two passages Lk 10:7-10  and Rev 12:10-13:8 are parallel.