Friday, April 3, 2020

Apocalyptic? #2: Reading Revelation through the Mirror

I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Ἐγὼ [I AM] τὸ ἄλφα [ALPHA] καὶ τὸ Ω [OMEGA], πρῶτος [PROTOS] καὶ ἔσχατος [ESCHATOS], ἡ ἀρχὴ [ARCHE] καὶ τὸ τέλος [TELOS],

(Revelation 22:13—See also Revelation 1:8 and 11 and 21:10)


These words from Revelation were cited in the previous post to illustrate the concept of entelechy (a process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end) and to introduce our discussion of the end. 
In this post, they are cited to indicate that entelechies (the one in Revelation, included) are frequently mirror images.  If the same person is BOTH the First AND the Last, BOTH the Beginning AND the End, we can visualize a single person looking into a mirror.  The individual appears BOTH Outside the mirror AND Inside the mirror as equidistant images of the VERY SAME INDIVIDUAL.  Think of a jump rope, with identical handles on either end.  Envision matching bookends, with correspondingly identical books arranged between them by twos.  One matching book on one end matches the other matching book at the other end, and so on, until you reach the two matching books in the middle, standing next to each other. 
Look at your own image in a mirror.  Your matching ears are on the opposite sides of your face, with your matching eyes and matching cheeks next, and your nose with its matching nostrils in the middle.  Further down your body, you have matching little fingers at opposite sides of your matching hands, working their matching ways through your other fingers to your thumbs, bordering matching wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders, and matching sides of your chest in the middle.  Likewise, your little toes to big toes, calves, knees, thighs, hips, to your navel.  The biological world, from bats to birds to butterflies, from rhinos to scorpions, continues the pattern.  This mirror image arrangement has fascinated humans for thousands of years.  Today, we call a word, such as “rotor” that has its letters arranged in mirror image (spelled the same way, backwards and forwards) a palindrome.  Just two months ago (on February 2nd, 2020) we experienced a date that is symbolized as a palindrome in both American and European dating systems.  In the American system we abbreviate it (by month/day/year) as 02/02/2020.  In the European system we abbreviate it (by day/month/year) as 02/02/2020.   Either way, it is a palindrome, a mirror image.  Now, consider the opening words of the Gospel of John in the Greek:  Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”).  Notice that the word καὶ (“and”) stands right in the middle.  Then, on either side of καὶ are the words ὁ Λόγος (“the Word”), in mirror image.  Then on either side of ὁ Λόγος are the words ἦν (“was”) in mirror image.  Finally, although not exactly the same words, on the ends are the prepositional phrases Ἐν ἀρχῇ (“in the beginning”) and πρὸς τὸν Θεόν (“with God”).  Scholars agree that John intentionally was writing in mirror image, here.  Jesus used this mirror image construction in Matthew 23:12: “But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  The human mind operates on this mirror-image principle.  The technical or scholarly terms for this phenomenon are “chiasm” or “chiasmus” or “chiastic.”  The first three letters in these words are:  CHI.  Chi is the Greek letter that resembles the English letter X.  It is the first Greek letter in the word Christ, and therefore it became an abbreviation for “Christ” in the word “Christmas/Xmas” (Google: “Stan.Point Merry Xmas Atheists”).  Since the letter Chi (X) is a mirror image with two arrows pointing to each other, it became the symbol for this phenomenon:

“Chiasm was used as a literary device in the ancient world, in Babylonia, Israel, Greece, and Rome. It fell out of use, however, and in modern times the existence of chiasms in ancient literature was only recognized by a few scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries. This changed in the middle of the twentieth century, when Nils Wilhelm Lund wrote Chiasmus in the New Testament. ‘Since these seminal studies the study of New Testament chiasm has blossomed, until today recognition of chiastic structure is common in full-scale commentaries and other scholarly works. The study of Old Testament chiasms has likewise begun to come of age.’”

Lund offered a ”chiastic” outline of the Book of Revelation in 1942, but his observations were considered too revolutionary by the herd mentality of Revelation scholarship, at the time.  His chiastic outline of Revelation is reproduced below, courtesy of  

According to, “Biblical writers and prophets often used forms of poetry to write down their messages from God.”  Chiasm was one of those poetic forms, as I argue in Chapter 5: The Poetics of Revelation from my book Revelation:  The Human Drama.  Greek scholar John Kirby claims that Homer’s two great epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey are written as mirror images of each other.  And I assert that the Book of Revelation is written in mirror image to the rest of the Bible:

“Kirby claims that it is a ‘fact that rhetorically . . . [the] plot-trajectories [of the Iliad and the Odyssey] are mirror-images of one another.’  If Homer could produce works that are mirror-images of one another, then John could produce a work that is the mirror-image of an entire corpus of literature--the Judeo-Christian scriptures.  I believe that this is precisely what John does in Revelation.

     To take the rhetorical device of chiasmus to ‘the end of the line,’ a book may be written that is the mirror image of all previous sacred literature.  If the prior literature details the history of humankind, then John's book might in mirror-image account for the remainder of human history by going back-to-the-future, so to speak:

1.  If Genesis begins with the words, "God created the heavens and the earth," John can close with a description of God's "new heaven" and "new earth" (Revelation 21-22).

2.  If the first human ‘action’ was the anecdote of a ‘fall’ in the battle of woman vs. the serpent, John can penultimately describe the ‘conquest’ of the bride, the ‘new Jerusalem’ over the dragon (Revelation 19-20).

3.  If the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus, describes the ‘plagues’ upon Egypt which propelled Israel to the ‘Promised Land,’ John's antepenultimate act can be the ‘plagues’ upon the ‘land’ (of Israel?) which propelled the Jewish church from Palestine (Revelation 15-18).

4.  If the Jewish prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea) present Israel/Zion as the wife of God who played the ‘harlot’ and who therefore was threatened with ‘divorce,’ John might precede his ‘plagues’ with the telos of this threat--the ‘divorce’ scroll with seven seals, as seen by J. Massyngberde Ford (Revelation 6-11).

5.  If the Gospels present a mortal Jesus who is the servant of God, John might precede his ‘divorce’ of Israel/Zion with a picture of the exaltation of the Lamb in Heaven (Revelation 4-5).

6.  If the church in dispersion (to whom John is writing) was informed largely through the ‘epistles’ of Paul and others, John might begin his book exactly where the church is, with ‘epistles/letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor’ (Revelation 1-3).

     That ‘middle’ section (Revelation 12-14) omitted in the foregoing sequence may give evidence of a somewhat symmetrical form internal to Revelation as well.  It is in this section that John spells out his representative anecdote and builds his two major equational clusters.  I have not attempted to be overly precise in these divisions, but it is fascinating that the structure which falls into place is a ‘seven’ structure, surely a very plausible structure for a man who thinks consistently in terms of the number ‘seven.’  The structure adumbrated is only preliminary, however.  The most compelling argument on its behalf is John's obsession with ‘beginning’ and ‘end.’  God and the Lamb are both referred to as the ‘alpha and omega,’ the ‘first and the last,’ the ‘beginning and the end.’  It is ‘qualitatively’ significant that John ends his book with a ‘new’ creation.  If the ‘end’ is thus a ‘mirror-image’ of the ‘beginning,’ the chiastic impulse must be examined to see if it is operative in Revelation.”

Actually, there are two types of entelechy, each illustrated by two different mythical snake designs.  One is a circular design—the Ouroboros—that has a snake’s head swallowing its tail.
  This is active in Revelation, as we will see in future posts, but not what this post is about.

The second snake is a chiastic snake—the Amphisbaena—that has a snake with a head on both ends of the snake.  This is the mirror-image snake. 
As we look at Revelation, we will see that the two heads are two creations.  Genesis 1-2 is at one end, with the first Creation (Heaven and Earth).  Revelation 21-22 is at the other end with the New Creation (New Heavens and New Earth).  Next, Genesis 3 is at the first end with the Fall of Man because of the Serpent, and his subsequent death.  Revelation 19-20 is at the other end with Man’s conquest over the Serpent/Dragon and regaining eternal life.  Next, the Book of Exodus is at the first end with the Ten Plagues that propelled God’s people from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It is counterbalanced in Revelation 15-18 by the Seven Last Plagues that propelled God’s people out of the Land of Israel.  Next, the Old Testament prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea—predicted that God would divorce Israel.  It is counterbalanced in Revelation 6-11 by the Lamb opening the seven seals (which refers to the Jewish seven-sealed DIVORCE SCROLL) as God progressively divorces Israel, in favor of the Church, the bride of Christ.  Next, moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Gospels at the first end describe Jesus’ existence in his Earthly life.  It is counterbalanced in Revelation 4-5 by the picture of Jesus, now in Heaven, being worshiped, at God’s right hand.  Finally, moving from the age described in the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul and others speak to the churches in the world.  It is counterbalanced in Revelation 2-3 by Jesus sending epistles/letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. 

This is how you read Revelation through the mirror.  In future posts, we will break down each part of Revelation more thoroughly, but this is the structure you must understand in order to understand Revelation.

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