the scroll/david

The hairier this thing gets the more we want to descend into allegory symbolism and subjective interpretation. The author of Revelation feeds this in us: in my vision. As if he is frightened we might take this stuff as literal.

While I’m post-modern enough to not see this stuff as having one and only one objectively determined sense, neither do I think the whole enchiladas is up for grabs. If Revelation can mean anything, then it means nothing. And if it means nothing it stops being text. This writing, for weal or woe is trying to communicate. It exists to inform and to transform and so the objective is determining the how the author might want us read this, how we might live differently should the author succeed in his purposes.


So where to begin. Six of the seven seals are broken and all manner of signs an portents are loosed upon the world. Are these magickal seals, the means of our destruction? Is God author of conquering armies, wars, famine, and death by sword, by famine, by plague and through wild beasts?

Forrest writes:

Or we can think of the scroll as a kind of “legal document”, a divine decree that will manifest that meaning. A Roman will, for example, needed to be sealed by seven witnesses. The writing on the outside may be a summary/description of the contents within, but their actual fulfillment demands a public reading.

I think this is a helpful opening here. Firstly, these seals are not the content of the scroll. They are the preamble to the content. A King’s will is about to be read, an edict empowering his heirs, establishing ruling structures, distributing wealth, gifts and power. The pretenders for the throne gather their armies to seize control. the reader of the scroll, the gathered assembly, knows this and calls out to them, “Come!” Do your worst.

The pretenders are divided against each other but united in purpose, they want to determine the outcome and they are prepared to kill to get it. And with the sixth seal broken open, we see how vulnerable, how impotent they are before the opening of the scroll.

Now this is my take. Is it any better than yours? That would depend on what we mean by better. It would depend on why we read and more importantly, why we try to interpret.

It seesm to me, the key questions here are 1) Are the Four Horsemen agents of God or part of the powers and principalities aligned against God and his people? and 2) Whose side are we on?

To upack these questions we need to look to our own reactions to the text and explore why we react the way we do. What is in our psyche or our history that responds this way? What is in the text that pushes those buttons?

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6 responses

  1. Jacques Ellul thought that the first (white) horseman was the Word of God. But suppose it is, instead, merely The Church, historically a plague as fearsome as any of the other three? We have then The Church, war, predatory capitalism, and the various natural/unnatural disasters that consign vast regions of the Earth (even of our own nation!) to death. Stars falling from heaven, the very Sun and Moon that rule the sky above us denatured… Certainly this is symbolic, but as you say, far from meaning “anything and nothing.””How long has the sky been gonewhile life went onunder blue parasols?How long has the Sun been blackwhile life carried on, carried on,continuedand the Moon smirkedin purple lipstick?” [Curo]Okay, images of disorder and ruin, familiar to anyone who’s read an honest history or seen a newspaper. “God’s work or the powers?” you ask?–“Good guys” or “Bad Guys?”It’s all one, in this context. God sits enthroned at the apex of the heavens, and the Powers work at his direction. It is the 4 living creatures who call these horses out–and these creatures represent the cardinal constellations of the zodiac! We have not, so far, had any explicit sign of a will contrary to God’s at work in this. We could take the whole series as a display of divine muscle–although that is not my view of God, either. How about: “This is what human history looks like–before we read the scroll which reveals the necessary purpose behind it.”

  2. I’ve doen a quickie internet search. There are some — who like me — see the White Horseman as a part of the conquering devastation that the otehr three respresent — and there arer thsoe whos ee him as Christ coming conquering on the clouds.Interesting dichotomy. Perhaps it can mean naything and nothing if we can interpret it in such diametrically opposed ways.

  3. Second thought. Your zodiac reference. The seven stars. Could they then by Orion’s Sisters (Pleiades)?

  4. The bible version I use says … White horse . . . bow: this may perhaps allude specifically to the Parthians on the eastern border of the Roman empire. Expert in the use of the bow, they constantly harassed the Romans and won a major victory in A.D. 62.

  5. The ambiguity of that white horse guy… This is one of many elements that at first seem paradoxical–but in this case at least, it comes from our own confused viewpoint. I’m thinking this rider does stand for “The Good Guys”, as we are prompted to imagine them. If this were a Western, he’d be wearing a white hat.This could stand for Roman civilization vs “the barbarians,” the Church vs the pagans, The Revolution vs the Oppressors, Texans vs the World–any cause a reader might imagine to be the Good triumphant in the world through “conquest”, that is, by force and violence. The notion of “Christ coming conquering on the clouds” could certainly be the ultimate example. In any event it stands for “OUR side” (whichever that might be) triumphant.Ultimately, then, its effect is corrupting and destructive–but that doesn’t become obvious until the other three horsemen follow.Malina & Pilch are inclined to take “the seven stars” as “the seven stars of Ursa Minor near the pole, “since everything in the sky was said to begin and procede ‘from the top of the sky.’ ” (ie near The Throne.) You could probably make a good case for them being the planets, widely believed to rule human destiny.

  6. That first horseman, as Malina & Pilch see it: “The riders of this scene are best explained with the insight that they bear typical traits of four sequential years of a recurring twelve-year series (called ‘Dodekaeteris’ in Greek.]…”In the opening of this scene, the first of the living creature constellations, Leo summons a horse with the command, ‘Come’… The horse is a kind of comet-star… It is of relevance here that in the ancient Mediterranean world, horses were essentially war animals, like tanks in our culture. Thus the mention of comet horses indicates catastrophe…”As for the bow, there is a constellation that rises with Leo, a constellation now known as Canis, the Dog. Earlier this constellation was called “the Wolf-faced Bowman,” or simply “Bowman,” or “Bowstar.” It rises with Leo (on calendars, the Dog star and Leo are combined.) There is even an Indian representation of a decan of Leo who ‘wears a wreath of white basil’ and ‘holds a bow.’

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