Starting out on the journey of reading Revelation, one is struck by how orderly things are to begin with: John is told to write to seven Churches and then we are given these letters to read; he is called up to the Throne Room of God and witnesses the slaughtered Lamb receiving a scroll with seven seals (we are immediately alerted to the numerical repetition) and then we are told what happens when the Lamb removes each numbered seal – that is, until we reach the sixth seal, and that’s where things become more complicated. Before the seventh seal is broken, other important events take place, and the succeeding visions seem to part of what happens as a result of breaking this seventh seal. The following series of seven trumpets is also interrupted, but the last series, of seven plagues, is told as one uninterrupted vision. Are these indications of an original, simpler, document that has been edited, or is Revelation actually a unity that has a more complicated structure than might at first appear?
One of the ways in which to test these theses is to examine the narrative structure of the book to see how the different parts fit together, and how they move the story forward. This should, at least, give an idea of whether or not it could be conceived of as a unity. Although a good editor might be able to achieve a document where we can’t see ‘the join,’ in Revelation ‘the joins’ are so obvious and intrusive that we must wonder if the material was intended to be there in the first place.
For the purposes of this exercise I’m using two books that identify themselves as ‘narrative commentaries.’
James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009.
David L. Barr, Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation, Salem: Polebridge Press, 2012 (2nd ed).
Barr especially is very helpful in understanding the nature of how literature works, and, in particular, how this difficult literature works.