I have never much appreciated the work of Bart D. Ehrman, so why did I sign up to receive his latest book on the date of its publication? I’m speaking of Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End.
Actually, Ehrman’s book says very little about Armageddon. It’s mostly about the book of Revelation and the twisted history of its interpretation.
That’s why I wanted to read it. Revelation is a longtime interest of mine, and I like to know what others say about it. Erhman says nothing new or surprising, but he says it the same way he says just about everything: in a breathless, sensational, gee-whiz, Discovery Channel way that often sounds quite cynical.
He presents a straightforward account of how Revelation came to be the darling of crackpots and how its dreadful misinterpretation has infected public and private life worldwide. If you’re new to serious Revelation studies or want to be weaned off “end times” trash, this is valuable reading.
Then he gets into how he thinks Revelation ought to be interpreted, and here he gets into trouble.
After chiding fundamentalists and evangelicals for taking the bizarre symbols of Revelation too literally, he starts taking everything way too literally himself. John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, repeatedly warns his readers not to take what he says literally. Things are not this, he says over and over, only “like this.”
Even early on (page 31), Erhman snidely remarks that God apparently has body parts – and extremely wooden interpretation of John’s visions in chapter 5 of Revelation.
Ehrman’s jaundiced reading leads him to misread the lion and lamb symbolism. “The book is not about a lion that becomes a lamb; it is about a lamb that becomes a lion,” he says (page 160). No, no, no. You totally missed the point there.
Finally, he dismisses Revelation as revenge porn. “In the end, the right people will get what the wrong people have now” (page 172). He concludes: “…in my view, the God of Revelation cannot be the true God” (156).
The Jesus of Revelation is not the Jesus of the gospels, he says (206). The gospels present a unified portrayal of Jesus as the model of service to others. “I do not need to provide a full discussion of this here – that would require an entire book” (186).
I want to read that book, Bart. But this one and all the others like it, not so much.