David Frankfurter: The Book of Revelation as a Jewish Text

David Frankfurter, “The Revelation to John,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, second edition, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 538:

Revelation provides an important witness to a variety of central Jewish traditions in the first-century Eastern Diaspora. Meal purity is far more critical to John’s sense of religious purity (2.14,20) than Paul’s (1 Cor 8), and the text’s images of sexual impurity (2.20-22; 17; 22.14-15) suggest that sexual purity could-even in the Diaspora, far from the world of the Jerusalem priesthood and its particular regulations around zenut (Heb; sexual intercourse with those deemed foreign; Gk porneia) – carry strict interpretations in the effort to define community. The brief glorification of celibacy (14.4), coupled with a reference to the “camp” of the righteous (20.9), allies this text with the holy war rules of the Qumran scrolls. The central symbols of priesthood (1.6; 5.10; 20.6b), the twelve tribes of Israel (ch 7), and the Holy City (with or without a Temple [11.1-2; 21.1-22.5]) show the abiding value of these themes for Jews outside Judea, and even after the destruction of Jerusalem. In these ways, as well as in the adherence to texts of the Hebrew Bible like Ezekiel, we can speak of Revelation as having a fundamentally Jewish frame of reference.

The various, kaleidoscopic appearances of Christ do not mitigate this Jewishness, any more than the appearances of the angel Metatron or the “Son of Man” mitigate the Jewishness of the apocalyptic texts 1 and 2 Enoch or the early Jewish mystical texts of the Hekhalot tradition. The elevation of the executed Jesus represented no departure from Judaism for the author. Thus, increasingly, scholars are looking at Revelation as a Jewish text that reveals a heavenly Christ rather than a Christian text with Jewish attributes.

2 thoughts on “David Frankfurter: The Book of Revelation as a Jewish Text

  1. Maybe I’m missing something, but John (2.14,20) has nothing to do with meal purity.


    1. John’s concern in those texts is that people are consuming food that had been offered to idols. Sounds like purity concerning a meal to me.


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