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Author(s): Simon Woodman
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For most people, Revelation is a book that is either largely ignored, or it is the object of such fanatical study and fanciful interpretation that it passes from the realm of the interesting and helpful into the realm of fantasy and speculation.
Much literature has been published in recent years on its interpretation some of which is scholarly and technical, and some of which is populist and accessible. The problem is that the technical and scholarly material frequently requires careful and detailed study, combined with an advanced level of knowledge, whereas much of the populist material tends toward the fanatical and fanciful.
The aim of this book is to bridge this gap. It is written with second and third year university students in mind, and would also be helpful for pastors and those in local churches who want to take seriously their study of this often (needlessly) confusing biblical book.
SCM are to be congratulated on this series of Core Texts (see also Mike Higton on Christian Doctrine, Karen Smith on Christian Spirituality and Brian Brock and John Swinton's forthcoming addition on Disability Theology), which are readable and on a certain level introductory, but not without merit as important contributions to scholarship themselves.
Revelation brings out highly contested to outright ridiculous readings and so Simon Woodman (Tutor in Biblical Studies at South Wales Baptist College) is to be thanked for providing an introduction to the book of Revelation that is measured and helpful. Woodman appears to have read, if not every, then almost every, book on Revelation and provides the reader with an interesting array of different voices that have interpreted the text both recently and historically.
The book is divided into three parts. Part one is an introduction the book, different ways it may be read, some of the key issues of debate and an overview of Revelation chapter by chapter. Part two is called 'Meeting the Characters' and this is an excellent introduction to all the different and many characters. Characters are grouped together - so Jesus, God and the Spirit; the people of God (i.e. the saints, the elders, the multitude, etc); the inhabitants of heaven and earth; and the forces of evil. There is a brief character study on each, drawing in Old Testament background, as well how the character is depicted or developed within the book. (Buy the book just for part two alone). Part three consists of three chapters that engage with the imagery and how the message of the book may have been heard by its first readers (and listeners) and those of us reading and hearing it today. This final section works in many ways as a piece of pastoral theology, showing how Revelation itself is ultimately a letter of pastoral care.
In recent years, the likes of Richard Bauckham and other scholars, have helped rescue Revelation from the fanatical and fanciful readings that either mean people read too much into the book or don't read it all. Simon Woodman's book is a welcome contribution to that endeavour. The Book of Revelation helps explain the often appears confusing nature of Revelation and gives us new avenues for its speaking to us today. So as the blurb on the back says, this SCM Core Text seeks to bridge the gap between academic and popular and is written with theology students, ministers and anyone who is interested in grappling with Revelation in mind. As I may have said before, the mark of a good piece of theology is its readability and this is very readable, accessible and interesting. I can't recommend it any more highly. I look forward to future books from Simon Woodman (especially because he's a baptist). http://www.andygoodliff.typepad.com/'Woodman eases the reader gently into his complex subject via brief but enlightening comments about genres and apocalyptic content, and different ways (historicist, preterist, futurist, idealist) of reading Revelation. Here his account of millennialism, amillennialism, post- and pre-millennialism is vital preliminary reading. There follows a useful summary of the book 'as seen through the eyes of the author'. The central section introduces us to the main players in the drama-Jesus, God and the Spirit; the People of God; the Inhabitants of Heaven and Earth; the Forces of Evil. The various images and their antecedents are closely examined and identified, for example the beast from the sea symbolizes Babylon/Rome, and the beast from the earth 'depicts Nero as the blasphemous mythology of Rome personified' (p. 168; for the gematria of Nero see pp. 170-71). The final section interprets the imagery of Revelation as 'a metaphor for the destructive effects of human idolatry' (p. 195), Rome being the manifestation of evil, the purveyor of violence, destined for judgment, the Church faithfully witnessing the way to creation's redemption. Revelation's author provides 'an alternative perspective on the life of suffering and death' (p. 229) awaiting his contemporary faithful, witnessing church. Woodman draws fully on modem critical scholarship, expounds clearly the scriptural and other background to John's imagery, invites readers (second-third year university students are in mind) 'to draw their own conclusions' at the end of each chapter, and includes a bibliography and indexes of references and subjects. This impressive exposition of a difficult book invites a second reading.'J.R. BARTLETT
Simon Woodman is Tutor in Biblical Studies at South Wales Baptist College, Cardiff and a Lecturer in the School of Religious and Theological Studies, Cardiff University.