Sean Michael Ryan’s Hearing at the Boundaries of Vision: Education Informing Cosmology in Revelation 9 (Library of New Testament Studies, The) is a careful and interesting study of how different ancient hearers or readers would have heard the Apocalypse depending on their literary education. Someone equipped only with the OT, for instance, will hear Joel and Exodus in the plague of locusts (Revelation 9), but someone with tertiary education in Greek literature and science will recognize astronomical allusions in the references to lion heads and scorpion tails and five months of torture (5 months being the approximate time between Leo and Scorpio).

Some of the most interesting material in the book, though, comes in the last chapter, where Ryan examines how actual early readers of Revelation read Revelation. He assesses the readings of Victorinus, Tyconius, and Oecumenius and tries to discern what their “mental library” consisted of. Along the way, he has comments like this: “Victorinus, drawing upon the earlier exegesis of Irenaeus . . . equates the four Gospels with the faces of the four living creatures . . . , although in an unusual order, placing the Gospels of John and Matthew first, the apostolic pair whom Victorinus cites most frequently in his extant publications. Interestingly, Victorinus also specifies the structural organization of the Pauline epistles, dividing them into two sets: letters to churches and letters to individuals, the former group comprising letters to precisely seven churches (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi, and Colossae), viewed as having a comparable universal significance to the letters of the seven churches in Rev 2-3” (p. 155).

We can push Victorinus’ insight a step further: Revelation contains seven letters to the churches of Asia, and then an eighth letter to the church at Babylon, Jerusalem. Paul likewise writes to seven churches in Gentile territory, and then an eighth to the Hebrews. A tight symmetry, and one that makes one want to buck the modern consensus about the non-Pauline authorship of Hebrews.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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