The Destruction to Change

August 27, 1956

Since the beginning of written history, man has been obsessed with the ending of the world. The Hebrew and Christian apocalypse myths, or The Book of Revelation and The Book of Daniel, are two of the most prominent stories about how the world will end. The Book of Revelation, however, is a collaboration and combination of symbols and visions taken from the Hebrew Bible texts.
The Book of Daniel, the Hebrew myth, was written by Daniel during 605 and 530 B.C.E. The apocalypse scriptures are contained within chapters 7 -12, in which Daniel sees a series of visions that show the destruction of the world. In his first dream Daniel sees four beasts. These beasts are the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the beast with horns. These beasts are said to represent the four great kingdoms, that are to be established when the end of the world is near. (Heaton 58) The New International Bible suggests that the beasts represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. (NIV 770) His next vision describes two animals, a ram with two horns and a goat who fight amongst themselves. In the vision, the ram has one horn broken, and in its place a new horn grows with four branches. The vision of the two-horned ram was to represent the kings of Persia and Media, and the goat represented the Greek empire. The broken horn with its prongs was to represent the comings of four more great nations that were to arise from the horns of the ram. However, it is told that these nations would not have equal power, and therefore fight amongst themselves.

During his visions, Daniel prays for the sins of man and God answers him by saying that these visions are to be a forewarning of what would come if the people of Isreal didn’t atone for their sins. After being given this reply, Daniel is given another vision. This time it is of a man dressed in white linen, with a belt of gold, and a voice “like the sound of a multitude.” This man was to describe to Daniel all that would happen at the end of the world. This man sent his servant, Michael, to show Daniel what will happen at the end of all time. Micheal describes how “the great prince that protects all of the people will arise. That there will be many disasters and distress like never seen before, and that multitudes that sleep in the dust of the earth are to awake.” (NIV 775) Daniel is then told to seal the book, without the knowledge of when it shall happen. Then these visions were forgotten until the writing of the Book of Revelation.

The Book of Revelations was composed from the earlier texts of Isiah, Ezekiel, and Joel. However the bulk of symbolism was taken from Daniel. (Leeming 77) Jesus’ Apostle John was said to have written Revelations during his exile on the Island of Patmos, around 90 and 96 A.C.E. Revelations is one of the most disjointed and hallucinogenic of all the Books in the Bible, says Duling and Perrin of The New Testament, 3rd ed. (457) In the book John describes many visions, in great detail, of how the world will end. For the sake of simplification the visions have been grouped into seven main blocks by the New International Bible. Beginning with chapters 1-3, John is visited by an angel whose name is unknown. Here he is told to write a series of letters to the heads of seven churches detailing the deeds, good and evil, of all of them. These churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philedelphia, and Laodicea. Each of these churches, like the four kingdoms in Daniel, represent seven great nations that are to arise at the time of the end of the world.

The next great vision is set in chapters 4-7 and deal with the selection of a Lamb to open the seven seals of the scroll held in the right hand of the person who sat in the throne. Here it seems that only a worthy person is able to break the seals, and begin the end of things. Then as each of the seven seals are broken, John describes what effect this has on the world itself. During this time, John describes how many people are to be chosen for salvation _ 144,000 people total. Twelve thousand are to be selected from each of the twelve tribes of Isreal. Chapters 8-11 describe the destructions are to follow seven trumpets after they are blown. Here, the physical destruction of the world is outlined by John. Afterwards there is to be a great battle between God himself and Satan, with Satan losing and having to face the seven bowls of God’s wrath. Babylon, is then set to trial to be judged by God. Here, Babylon can be seen as a symbol of Rome, or Earth as a whole, with all its human inhabitants standing trial for their sins. God decrees the fall of Babylon and in its place he erects a new world free from all the trials of the old world. In the last series of visions, John is shown the new world , a world similar to that of the land of Eden from the Book of Genesis. The new world is peaceful, with no hatred and is devoid of sin, a land where all creatures can get along in harmony.

The biggest similarity is how the two books are inter-related. The Christian myth is an elaboration and collection of symbols taken directly from the earlier biblical texts of Isiah, Ezekiel, and Joel, with heavy emphasis on the symbolism from Daniel. (Leeming 77). Both books share visions of how the world is destroyed. According to each text, there will be fire, hailstorms, the dead awakening, and some sort of numerical pattern as to how and which people are saved by the hand of God. Each text describes the savior, whether it be God himself or Jesus, as being robed in white, with long flowing white hair. There are also similarities in the way that each book uses numbers.

This significance of numbers is important to both myths; but, it seems to have greater importance in Revelation. Both books use it to signify cities, people to be saved, and in Revelation it is seen in the seven seals, and seven trumpet blasts. Daniel mentions that there are to be four great nations during this time, whereas the Christians believed there would be seven. It seems that where Daniel mentions four things to come to be, the Christian myth expands and replaces the four with seven. To the Hebrew the number four represents perfection, and when John used these symbols to write the Book of Revelations he then replaced four with seven, the Christian version of perfection. (Duling and Perrin 458) The number seven is also repeated many times in Revelations, perhaps suggesting that even though the world is being destroyed there will be good things to follow.

In writing the apocalypse myths each society revealed their fears about what is to become of the world. To each culture, the myths had a functional purpose for describing the end of the world. They were also a reflection of the times when the stories were written. The Christian myth was written during a time of hardships. Whereas the Hebrew myth was written before a troubled period of politics.
“Apocalypse revelations are symbolic attempts to penetrate the darkness, which provide ways of imagining the unknown, not factual knowledge.” (Collins 215) This quote represents the fundamental basis for which apocalypse myths are written for. The Hebrew and Christian myths are just some of the examples of how societies choose to express the fear of what the future may have in store for all of humanity.

In looking at the differences of each apocalypse myth, each culture shows how they would react to the changing world. The creation of the apocalypse myth marked a time of change from one “death of a reality” to the beginning of a new one. To the Hebrew, Daniel is not just an apocalypse myth warning them of the end of the world. Its images of destruction are meant to show humanity how they should react to the changing times of political struggle, where the Jews would face hard times of persecution. However, the Christian myth is very different. Written in a time when Christianity was still struggling to survive, its message was of hope and perseverance in the face of disaster. It taught them that after all the hardships there will always be a new beginning, “a new Garden of Eden,” waiting to be discovered.

Using similar symbols and metaphors also helped each culture to define themselves. By interpreting different acts of God, each culture, had its own view of how things should be numbered for use in metaphor. Numbers were easily used to define the world around themselves and created a pattern of order in a period of chaos. For the Hebrew, the number four was seen in the four directions and seasons. To them the number four was perfection created from the hands of God himself- he that made the seasons, and the created the world. To the Christians, since God made the world in seven days, they believed that the number seven was to represent perfection.

By using Hebrew sources, the Christians were able to construct an outlet for their fears of the future. The Book of Revolution destroys this world only to create the dawning of a new world- free from all hatred and injustice. Maybe one day all that is written about the goodness and harmony of mankind will surmise and the new Garden of Eden will become a reality and not just another myth.

Works Cited
Collins, J. The Apocalyptic Imagination New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984.

Duling, D. and Perrin, N. The New Testament, 3rd edition. Florida: Harcourt Brace and Company,1994.

Heaton, E.W. The Book of Daniel London: SCM Press Ltd., 1956.

Leeming, D. The World of Myth London:Oxford University Press, 1990.

The Student Bible, New International Version Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1986.