Item description for A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization by Jonathan Kirsch...
Overview An evaluation of how the book of Revelation has significantly influenced history and the modern world cites its place at the heart of culture wars between governments and religions, discussing such topics as how it was nearly cut from the New Testament, the role of the book in the fall of the Roman Empire, and its use in the establishment of foreign policy.
"[The Book of] Revelation has served as a "language arsenal" in a great many of the social, cultural, and political conflicts in Western history. Again and again, Revelation has stirred some dangerous men and women to act out their own private apocalypses. Above all, the moral calculus of Revelation—the demonization of one's enemies, the sanctification of revenge taking, and the notion that history must end in catastrophe—can be detected in some of the worst atrocities and excesses of every age, including our own. For all of these reasons, the rest of us ignore the book of Revelation only at our impoverishment and, more to the point, at our own peril."
The mysterious author of the Book of Revelation (or the Apocalypse, as the last book of the New Testament is also known) never considered that his sermon on the impending end times would last beyond his own life. In fact, he predicted that the destruction of the earth would be witnessed by his contemporaries. Yet Revelation not only outlived its creator; this vivid and violent revenge fantasy has played a significant role in the march of Western civilization.
Ever since Revelation was first preached as the revealed word of Jesus Christ, it has haunted and inspired hearers and readers alike. The mark of the beast, the Antichrist, 666, the Whore of Babylon, Armageddon, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are just a few of the images, phrases, and codes that have burned their way into the fabric of our culture. The questions raised go straight to the heart of the human fear of death and obsession with the afterlife. Will we, individually or collectively, ride off to glory, or will we drown in hellfire for all eternity? As those who best manipulate this dark vision learned, which side we fall on is often a matter of life or death. Honed into a weapon in the ongoing culture wars between states, religions, and citizenry, Revelation has significantly altered the course of history.
Kirsch, whom the Washington Post calls "a fine storyteller with a flair for rendering ancient tales relevant and appealing to modern audiences," delivers a far-ranging, entertaining, and shocking history of this scandalous book, which was nearly cut from the New Testament. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the Black Death, the Inquisition to the Protestant Reformation, the New World to the rise of the Religious Right, this chronicle of the use and abuse of the Book of Revelation tells the tale of the unfolding of history and the hopes, fears, dreams, and nightmares of all humanity.
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More About Jonathan Kirsch
Jonathan Kirsch, a book columnist for the Los Angeles Times and author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Moses: A Life and The Harlot by the Side of the Road, writes and lectures widely on biblical, literary, and legal topics. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, President of PEN Center USA West, and a former correspondent for Newsweek, he lives in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Kirsch currently resides in Los Angeles, in the state of California. Jonathan Kirsch was born in 1949.
Reviews - What do customers think about A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization?
The world is going to end NOW! Oops, I meant NOW! Wrong again! This time I really got it: NOW!! Awe, shoot. Jun 5, 2007
I find it amazing that since the intertestamental period, apocalyptic doomsday prophets have been declaring the imminent end of the world, it never happens, and yet people continue to listen to the Hal Lindseys and Tim LaHayes of the world. This book brilliantly tells the history fo Revelation and the ways people have used it throughout history to try to scare the world into some system of belief or action, and I realized just how ridiculous the whole enterprise is. As a former evangelical, it makes me ashamed that I used to buy into all the Left Behind stuff, but scholars like Kirsch have helped me see things more rationally.
An Excellent Work of Textual History Jun 4, 2007
Kirsh does an excellent job of enlightening the textual history of the strangest book of the bible. From tracing the origins of apocalyptic texts that came before to working to piece together a picture of the author this is a masterful work on the textual history of Revelations. Just as interesting as the textual history is the look at how Revelations has been viewed and used from the early Christians, the Middle Ages, the colonization of America, and our modern views of the text and the idea of an apocalypse. Over all a well documents and entertaining history.
The Book Reflects Poor Research and Biases May 10, 2007
Kirsch has a full bibliography for his book but he has very few who are considered to respected in the field of studies on the Apocalypse. Any discussion of Revelation should include authors such as David Aune, Richard Bauckham, Beasley-Murray, Caird, Koester and others. It is all too typical of someone determining the conclusions before they have begun their research. Unfortunately, the Apocalypse has been hijacked by dispensationalists who think they have all of the answers and cynics who have an agenda against any religious writings.
End Times Apr 20, 2007
How Do You Think the World Ends? Shifting one's perception, from seeing the glass as half empty to seeing it as half full, creates a minor miracle. It changes an impoverished world into one of opportunity. Does that count also as an actual change in the real world? Some say yes, some say no. Could this difference in understanding be fueling today's culture wars? In his book, A history of the end of the world: How the most controversial book in the Bible changed the course of western civilization (HarperSanFrancisco), Jonathan Kirsch presents the history of the book of Revelation, from the time of conception through it's impact upon current events. Revelation's basic theme is that history is something God planned in advance. There are good guys and there are bad guys, both with support from divine sources. The end is preceded by a major battle between Good and Evil. Good finally triumphs and Earth is restored to its rightful condition of peace and harmony. We all know that story. Revelation has some thematic elements so common to human nature that it seems to justify, if not invite, certain human predilections. Apocalyptic (the Greek equivalent of the Roman term for "what will be revealed") books, authored through divine intervention, was common at the time Revelation came into being. One Jewish source mentions over seventy other "future histories," or divinely channeled accounts of the end of the world, which were held in sacred regard. Apocalypses were found among the Dead Sea scrolls. End of the world prophecies existed in most other cultures, each having an equivalent thematic form. Kirsch places the first apocalypses around the time of Zoraster in Persia. He suggests that the Hebrew versions began after Alexander the Great invaded Judea, when Jewish culture was under threat of the foreign, and much more liberal, culture of Greece. The Hebrew apocalypses thus emerged to combat the cultural invasion by casting anything Greek as part of the "evil empire," while divisions among the Jewish people began to reflect this difference in values. Thus the apocalypses became a tool in what we now call the "culture wars." Kirsch describes a pattern, manifesting from Biblical times on up to our modern era, where those who perceive they are suffering because of the behaviors of other groups of people, who have heinous values, and look forward to the day when Good will triumph over the Evil ones to create a New Age of Peace. Thus Revelation seems to be a timeless archetype of political struggle powered by religious fervor. From the earliest time, however, the theme that the "end of the world is at hand" proved to be an unfulfilled claim. To bolster the power of the apocalypses, therefore, it became useful to view these texts as symbolic, leading to various interpretations of their meanings. Augustine (354-430, A.D.), for example, an influential theologian of the early Christian church, argued that Revelation shouldn't be taken literally, but as an allegory of the "moral conflicts within each person." Kirsch traces the history of Revelation as it continues into the New World, firing the imagination of the Pilgrims. It played a role in Joseph Smith's founding of the Mormans. It plays a role today in the thinking of the current United States administration. It continues to fit the way people experience their struggles. One interpretation, however, that Kirsch never mentions, is the one that two influential symbolists independently envisioned. Edgar Cayce, operating from a deep intuition, and Carl Jung, a psychiatrist who studied comparative religion and mythology, both saw Revelation as a blueprint for a radical shift in consciousness. In this interpretation, Revelation is a process of enlightenment that changes the person's perception of reality, especially that of the human-God relationship. Cayce identified the experience as coming to know oneself as an individual yet one with God. Carl Jung interpreted the Christ symbol as a portent of a transformation of consciousness similar to Cayce's description. After such an experience, the person lives in a totally different world. If Revelation is symbolic of an inner process, can it tell us anything about the future of the world? Suppose many people were to experience enlightenment. Would the world "out there" become different because so many people are experiencing reality in a new and different way? Edgar Cayce speaks of the return of Christ as an inner event that more and more people will come to experience. Jung predicted an increase in this transformation as reflecting the coming "Aquarian Age." Both men saw consequences for world history arising from the collective effect of the transformation of individual lives. However, whether ridding the world of evil requires an external extermination or an internal transformation seems to be a question that plagues us today. A reconciliation of these two viewpoints is probably in order. Henry Reed [...]
Maybe three and a half stars... Apr 4, 2007
The good news is Mr. Kirsch seems to be well researched. Plenty of references to backup his claims. However he is overly verbose is his diatribe against religous matters. He makes one little mistake when he speaks of Job's wife and children being killed. Actually it was just his children since his wife latter makes an apperance and tells him to curse God and die. One curious thing I've found about the dubious nature of Revelation is how THE BEAST and the number 666 are not mentioned in OLD TESTAMENT. And then there's the fact that the Jesus character never mentions these either. I still reccomend this book to any critical thinker.