Q&A: Revelation as Jewish Literature

Revelation as Jewish Literature

What genres does the book of Revelation employ?

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Answer

One of the most obvious genres in the book of Revelation is the genre of letters. You have letters to the seven churches, which some have compared to imperial edicts and so on, but official kinds of letters. But the rest of the book of Revelation is a genre that's much less familiar to us, to many of us in the twenty-first century, and it's a mixture of what we could call prophecy and apocalyptic. It has features that very much resemble the language of the Old Testament prophets. Pretty much everything could be accounted for on that basis alone. But some of the features that are most distinctive and repeated in the book of Revelation are also those features that often appear in Jewish apocalypses, a certain kind of Jewish literature that emphasizes heavenly revelations and so on. With regard to even those elements, those elements appear in some of the earlier biblical prophets, Ezekiel, Daniel, and so forth. But because they're so unfamiliar to us — to many of us at least in most of our cultures in the twenty-first century — it's valuable to immerse ourselves in the language of the Old Testament prophets to get a better understanding of the book of Revelation.

Answer by Dr. Craig S. Keener

Dr. Craig Keener teaches New Testament studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.