Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A celestial exposition of Revelation chapter 12

If you haven't been following some of the lively conversations in the Skeptiko forum since my conversation with Alex Tsakiris which was published last week in podcast form, you may wish to have a look if you're interested.

I have enjoyed engaging in some of the discussion, and answering a few questions to help clarify some of the assertions that I made during the interview and that I make in my writing and publications.

One of the conversations in the forum involved a question regarding an interpretation of Revelation chapter 12 which has been presented in a public video on YouTube and which employs some awareness of the celestial content in that chapter, but turns the analysis of that celestial content into a declaration that the passage is describing events which will happen in literal history and which will involve a literal "rapture of the church" -- going so far as to suggest a specific possible date for the beginning of those events in September of this year.

I believe that the interpretation which is being given in that video is mistaken, and that the analysis in the video arrives at a series of very highly charged conclusions which could easily mislead people who don't have a very thorough understanding of the language of celestial metaphor which the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories of the world use to convey their message.

In fact, this ancient language of celestial metaphor is not at all widely understood. Based on what I've seen in the video, the author of the video itself has a very incomplete understanding of the system of celestial metaphor, which is not surprising since there is plentiful evidence to argue that very existence of that system of metaphor was deliberately obscured during the rise of literalist interpretation of the Biblical scriptures (and during the period when decisions regarding which texts would be allowed into the Biblical "canon" were being made).

I use the terms "literalism" and "literalist interpretation" very broadly here, to refer to interpretation which argues that the scriptures of the Bible should be understood as describing literal events and people in terrestrial history, rather than as presenting profound esoteric metaphor which is not describing historical personages or events, nor intended to be understood literally in order to convey its message.

Because the video in question is coming from within a hermeneutic which I would say can definitely be described as "literalist," it tries to force the celestial metaphors which the author perceives in the Revelation 12 text into a literalist paradigm, and thus arrives at some conclusions which I believe to be extremely dubious.

Therefore, I offered my interpretation of some of the events and metaphors in Revelation 12 which I believe are being overlooked by those offering these types of very literalistic interpretations of the ancient scriptures. This video is by no means alone in offering these types of emotionally-charged pronouncements and "calls to action" based on what I believe to be a lack of understanding of the worldwide system of metaphor which operates in the ancient myths.

Since I went ahead and answered that question on the forum over at Skeptiko, I decided to also reproduce that answer here for the benefit of those who might not have seen it over there.

I also decided to create a short video (15:00 minutes) in order to illustrate the concepts a little more clearly.


Below is the written explanation (with diagrams) which I included in my reply on the forum:

Just as with the previous material on the star of Bethlehem by someone who wants to use it to support literalist teachings, I believe this video is deeply mistaken.

The events of Revelation are "fulfilled in the heavens" all the time, not just in September of 2017. That's because they are based on celestial metaphor. There is a chapter in my most-recent book, Star Myths of the Bible, which discusses Revelation in some depth and provides some specific explanation of a few of the Revelation episodes and events (if I were to cover all of Revelation it would be another multi-volume series of its own).

Let me specifically address the interpretations offered in the above video.

1. The author of the video has made some correct connections to specific constellations. The woman about to give birth described in the scriptural passage does indeed correspond to Virgo, in my analysis (this is almost indisputable, given the number of times and places around the globe that Virgo plays a role in myth as a woman about to give birth or who has just given birth). However, when the author begins to confidently match this constellation up with political states in existence today, and then relate it to geopolitical events, he is engaging in very misleading (dangerously misleading) exegesis. The fact that you have large numbers of people being told what to believe about politics, and where to send their money, based on misguided interpretation of "Biblical prophecy" is very dangerous. There are specific Biblical passages, including words attributed to Jesus, which pronounce dire warnings against teachers who mislead their followers.

2. The author of the video makes a couple of correct connections, and then completely misses many other important connections. I will explain some of them below. But let me say at the outset that if literalists who find these connections in the sky compelling would learn the rest of the system, then they would see that virtually every event described in the Bible can be seen in the constellations, including the crucifixion and the events described at the first Pentecost in Acts (I have a blog post which gives extended explication of the Pentecost event in Acts, which interprets that event celestially as well as showing some connections to similar episodes and symbology in the myths of ancient Greece, here). So, those literalists who start down this road of seeing connections between the stars and the events and episodes described in their ancient texts should be cautious, because they may discover that everything in those texts is based on the same system. This video even makes an allusion to the way Eve was taken from the side of Adam and notes how interesting parallels exist to the woman in travail in the Revelation text -- which is because they are both based on the same region of the sky (you can see the "rib" being taken from the side of the woman in my diagram below -- I believe it to be Coma Berenices, a faint constellation known as Berenice's Hair in English, which actually plays a role in a wide array of myths from around the globe).

3. The author of the video states that understanding this passage "requires a working knowledge of ancient Greek." I would respond by suggesting that "a working knowledge of the language of celestial metaphor" would be helpful as well. This author has encountered a small taste of that language -- if he were to learn more of it, he could (I believe) hear the message of the ancient texts of the Bible (as well as the message of the world's other related myths) more accurately.

4. Below is my diagram of the region of the sky containing my interpretation of the celestial referents for the events discussed in the video, so that I can illustrate some of the parts the author of that video has missed:

5. Here is my explication of the passage:
a) Woman in Travail (ie, in labor, about to give birth) -- VIRGO.
b) Great red dragon with seven heads (described as a "wonder in heaven" by the way) -- SCORPIO
c) The man child she brought forth who is snatched up to God and his throne -- CORONA BOREALIS, the Northern Crown (labeled "N. Crown" above). This is a very obscure connection, but it is borne out across the myths. If you want to see it in operation in the famous Old Testament story of the Judgment of Solomon, see my discussion of it in my blog post here and in a video here). 
d) God and his throne correspond to -- HERCULES (his throne is most likely Ophiucus, not drawn-in with an outline in my diagram above).
e) Angels blowing trumpets in the Revelation visions are most likely associated with BOOTES.
f) The description of the Woman being saved by Wings of Eagles likely refers to AQUILA, the Eagle (and note that this constellation looks much larger in the sky in real life than it does in my star diagram above, as does Scorpio when you see it in person -- this star-chart utilizes Stellarium, an outstanding free open-source planetarium app, which distorts the size of the constellations in order to simulate constellations to your left and right, such that those on either edge of the screen appear larger and those in the center appear smaller, as if projected on the curved walls of a planetarium, or as if you are seeing constellations on a flat page that you would have to turn to the left and the right to see if you were outside).
g) The "water as a flood" which is cast out of the mouth of the serpent (and which the author of the above video does not really know what to do with, so he makes the extremely dubious assertion that it represents an invading army on the world stage of geopolitical events) corresponds to the constellation HYDRA (which itself is a serpent, but which has in its name a reference to water). This flood is intended by the serpent to "carry away" the woman, which as you can see it appears to be doing in the sky.

6. Below is another star-chart showing HYDRA and VIRGO more completely:

7. Note that in the above image, I have also drawn the outline for LEO the Lion, using the outline suggested by H. A. Rey (which is far superior to the outline used in most modern planetarium apps, smartphone apps, and Wikipedia entries). Note that Leo has MORE STARS than the nine that the author of the above video counts for Leo. The number of stars in a constellation is of course a very subjective matter, and depends on which outlining system you choose to use. The author of this video puts a huge amount of weight upon his count of stars in Leo, requiring THREE MORE to fit the prophecy (as he interprets it), which he then declares to be PLANETS (this allows him to declare this date of 23 September 2017 for the fulfillment of the prophecy). I would submit that this is an extremely dubious interpretation. You could count a different number of stars for Leo and then find another date where there are only two planets needed to fulfill the "twelve" number. It also goes without saying that planets are not stars -- and the ancients did not think they were either. In fact they seem to have known quite a lot about the planets.

8. In other words, the "child snatched up" is celestial in nature, and does not necessarily represent a "raptured church" AT ALL.

9. The most problematic part of the video, of course, is the fact that in spite of his evident ignorance of the celestial language of the scriptures (and the rest of the world's myths), the author of the video feels perfectly comfortable making confident declarations that "this means the raptured church" and "this means an invading army and an occupation" etc. 

10. The most objectionable part of the video, of course, is the author's warning that you'd better come to the same "faith" that he represents, or else you will be in grave danger for your immortal soul. This represents ignorance of the fact that ALL the world's ancient myths and sacred traditions can be shown to be using THE SAME system of celestial metaphor that underlies the scriptures which he believes to contain the ONLY truth that matters to anyone.

11. All that being said, I do not discount the possibility that there are actually powerful persons in positions to wield a lot of money and political influence who either actually believe these passages represent "end-times prophecy" that will play out on the world stage, or who are willing to cynically use people's belief in said prophecy to their own ends. If geopolitical events are manipulated in order to try to make it look like such prophecies are being fulfilled right before our eyes, then many could well be deceived by such erroneous misinterpretation of ancient texts.