Here to Stay for the Apocalypse

Revelation, as an apocalypse, seems to be inherently invested in the future, and of course a certain rendering of the future founded not in the historical present of its writing, but a future that will be radically disconnected from the present day, and in effect, will be totally disruptive and transformative.  As Kirsch writes, salvation in Revelation must await the reordering that the apocalypse will bring, which stands in contrast to the view of salvation in the gospels, as something actively achievable in the world in which we live today (58).  Revelation finds little hope for ourselves on this earth; salvation, and the apocalyptic moment, seems in want of a site, a place, if this earth is insufficient for such purposes.

A destroyed earth, perhaps heaven, and a new world to be rebuilt upon that, present themselves as candidates for a place for the apocalypse, yet I found quite intriguing Kirsch’s discussion of John’s, Revelation’s named author, obsession with the body, and with a particular view of the body.  The body carries a particular weight and importance for John, and if there is a significance to the body in Revelation, it is of a body which must be most ready for the apocalyptic event—in his rendering, this is a body which has been celibate.  The sexual being is made, in vivid detail, into the foil of the saved; there is an investment in a certain strain of purity which can be achieved only by celibacy (Kirsch 79-81).

At first, that sex and the body, or rather the body that has not been sexually active, would be so significant, seems unsurprising—religion, and various Christian denominations, are known for regulating sex, perhaps as a means of control, perhaps as a method of gatekeeping and group defining—but then again, Revelation is a text that is wholly in the future moment, not invested in a present-day chance of redemption or salvation.  The body is the active site, the place, from this present world which is retained into the next world of Revelation; whether or not the corporal body is said to continue into the future Revelation envisions, the body, and what one has done with the body, figures prominently in this apocalypse, as a key place to define and order the division of one world to the next.  In a world made totally anew, a place with little space for any remnants of our present existence, the body carries a certain importance that struck me as an idea to flag, and to continue to explore further this semester.

5 thoughts on “Here to Stay for the Apocalypse

  1. Joseph, the obsession with the human body in the Book of Revelation also struck me as noteworthy. It seems that out of all the messages, creatures and stories of the book – being celibate is the only concrete thing that John seems to lay out as allowing us to be saved. In fact, Kirsch says that “John sees sex as something dirty and defiling under all circumstances.” Even when there is a pregnant woman, the baby has to be protected from a dragon! Kirsch even talks about Hildegard of Bingen’s vision of a creature coming out of a woman’s vagina which Kirsch argues is inspired by the Book of Revelation. So, you’re right – John has a peculiar obsession with the body and sexuality that seems to be really out of place in the context of his apocalyptic book.

  2. I think John’s obsession with the body and with bodily purity adds to Revelation’s general ability to instill anxiety in readers. There is an obvious discomfort with sexuality and the body presented in John’s words. His own anxiety about sexuality and impurity comes through loud and clear. The presence of this anxiety is likely to make readers look at sexuality and purity differently, and raise concern in them for acting in an impure fashion. His own obsession is a strong tool for shifting the behavior of those who believe in and listen to his prophecy.

  3. I also noticed the strange fixation John seemed to have on sex and the human body. The idea of celibacy until marriage is a prominent philosophy in many religions. Yet here in the Book of Revelation, any sex at all is considered worthy of condemnation. “A certain discomfort with sexuality of all kinds, even within marriage, can be found throughout the apocalyptic tradition” (Kirsch 80). It seems strange to me that this has become the trend of religious and apocalyptic ideals. Sex is necessary for the survival of the human race. If everyone stopped reproducing, who would be left for God to judge when Judgment Day finally came around? One possibility for this obsession with sex, or rather the obsession against sex, is perhaps that it foreshadows the post-apocalyptic new world where death is no longer present, meaning reproduction would no longer be necessary.

  4. John’s obsession with the body and bodily purity is obviously a notable motif in the Book of Revelation. One possible explanation for this may be that John found the body as a means of connecting to his “hearers”. Much of the figures and objects that are included in this text are very abstract (ie: Heaven, God, angels, etc.) It would seem as though the body represents a universal entity that people of all kinds (both fundamentalists and nonbelievers) can relate to. Therefore, humans may choose to use their bodies as a tool to better their chances of progressing onto the New Earth. If they take control of their bodies, restrict their desires, stray away from fornication and wine, and preserve their purity, John gives them hope of passing God’s judgement. But one must not forget to consider the idea of false hope, which certainly prevails under the notion of morale propaganda.

  5. Another possible reason for John’s advocacy for celibacy is his knowledge of the pain that ensues during the parting of a parent and child. On judgment day, the possibility of being separated from one’s child for eternity may cause such immense misery that even perpetuity with God may be a curse. After all the death and agony caused by the apocalypse, maybe John decided to keep that added parental torment absent.

Leave a Reply