I’m putting together my Revelation lectures for next week.  A few years ago I would have been a little nervous about doing something like this because the book is a bit intimidating.  Now I’m not so worried about it.

If you think about it you’ll probably be hard pressed to come up with a contemporary book like this one.  I don’t think anyone would allow the imagery into rational thought.  Dragons, candlesticks, seals (not the animals), lakes of fire (try to reconcile that one), and multi-headed beasts, it’s all a bit Tolkien for me. 

Here’s the key, if you can understand Tolkien, then you’re in the right frame of mind for Revelation.  One thing stands for another, and none of it is to be taken literally.  The problem in the application is one that has haunted literati for ages: you can never know authorial intent.  Never.  Even if an author writes a book that outlines how each symbol and character are to be interpretted, it doesn’t matter — you can never know.

That’s the rub with literature/art in general.  Once an artist allows his/her work to enter the world the interpretation is up to and is owned by the audience (regardless of who gets the royalty/residual).  The money is there (hopefully) to salve that very wound.

Take, for example, a poem.

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

What does it mean?  Is it something to you and something else to me?  Is it what Frost wanted?  Is it literal?  Figurative?

The answers to every single one of them are “yes” and “no” simultaneously.  Strangely enough, this is pretty advanced literary stuff, and you’ll know you’re not quite ready for it if you’re still arguing that the poem means what Frost meant it to mean.  I know, I know, I’m sorry – that’s just the way it is.  Even if we knew exactly what Frost intended, it makes no difference because intepretation is always open.  It means one thing for you and another for me and another for Frost, and so on. 

When you approach Revelation in this, the correct way, it becomes an entirely new quandary.  What do you do with a book, veiled in allegory, thick with symbolism, cryptic at best, and whose very name means something along the lines of “decoded” (not exactly, but a variant), when there is a large section of the population who is looking to the book for some type of direction and life application?  The literary inevitability is that no two people come away with the same answers.  Sure, some will say they believe it’s all meant to be read this way or that way, but that only happens because several people have aligned to one person’s interpretation.  It was one of the most debated inclusions in the canon, and barely won over the Apocalypse of Peter (which is equally useless and useful, again, simultaneously), mainly because interpretation is the fingerprint or snowflake of literature. 

All I can do is take the good ole Historical-Critical approach to this one.  Who, what, where, when, why, how, and the most critical, can it be proven?  99% of the time that last one will be no.

Oh, well.  We’ll get through it.  You give it a read, then evaluate whether or not the title should be Revelation or Frustration.  You’ll see what I mean.