John's Apocalypse Vision


The Book of Revelation author called John was most likely none other than John the Apostle, the best beloved disciple of Jesus, the son of Zebedee and younger brother of James, a fisherman and fisher of men, and the first bishop of Ephesus. After all, the early Church did select writings by high-ranking authors like Apostles to canonize. Early Church fathers like Justin Martyr (Ephesus, AD 132–35) and Irenaeus (Smyrna, AD 140) state that John the Apostle wrote the Apocalypse. So the Orthodox Church chose to celebrate the 1995 nineteenth centennial of the Apocalypse on the day that John the Apostle died—September 26. The Catholic and many Protestant Churches hold too that John the Apostle was the author of Revelation.

Then why does John’s Greek in his Book of Revelation sound so odd and Hebraized in contrast to his Greek in the Gospel and Epistles? Some suggest that another John the Elder wrote it. But early Church fathers—including John[1]—commonly used the title Elder anyway. Nor do early Church writings mention any such John the Elder. Instead, a number of good explanations exist for the odd Hebraized Greek of Revelation, as follows:

John the Apostle, a native speaker of Hebrew (and Aramaic) dictated his vision report in Hebrew so fast that his Greek Jewish disciple Prochorus could only manage to write it down in Greek as the language whose script he knew best. As a result, Revelation Greek was unavoidably Hebraized.

This Hebraized Greek echoed the Hebrew of the many Old Testament prophecies that peppered the Revelation cocktail of John and acclaimed his mastery as a unique prophet with more in common with Old Testament prophecy than with early Christian prophetic traditions

Specifically, the Revelation events echoing the Temple’s tamid and Yom Kippur services called for Hebraized Greek too.

Hebraized Greek would have anyway targeted primarily Jewish readers back home in Judea and Galilee (as authors sometimes “Spanishize”, “Afroize”, “Cockneyize”, or “Irishize” their English for specific readerships). In contrast, John’s normal Koine Greek in his Gospel and Epistles would have targeted primarily Greek readers in the wider Mediterranean world.

As for genre, Revelation is a vision report spelling out a punctilious staccato narrative of real-time fast-flashing sights, sounds, feelings, scents, and tastes. In contrast, John’s Gospel is a stylish story telling about the life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.

The personal situation of John changed between the Gospel and Revelation. For the Gospel, he was probably a younger bishop living at home comfortably in Ephesus, still writing for himself. For Revelation, he was a bishop-in-exile, camping in a cave in his late eighties, with fading eyesight and no glasses, having to dictate.

Revelation might just have been originally written in Hebrew or Greek (as the Crawford Aramaic Text,[2] for example). However, scholars hold little hope for this possibility, saying that the original Revelation language was almost certainly Greek.

John deliberately cultivated Hebraized Greek in Prochorus to function as his vehicle for coding and transmitting the inclusive spiritual meanings of his vision.[3]

So folk no longer need to excuse the absurd, quaint, bizarre, and flawed Hebraized Greek of John as a high ranking Apostle wilting from age. Not at all! His Hebraized Greek is so extensively odd and so consistently flawed that it has to be deliberate. What he dictated to Prochorus and what Prochorus wrote became a vessel filled with codes.

Born in Galilee around AD 10, John was raised a devout Jew versed in the Scriptures that would suffuse his vision. His father Zebedee, his brother James, and he worked as Cohen and Sons, Fishmongers. Their best client was the distant Jerusalem Temple, to which they somehow delivered Galilee fish. Being Cohens, they were hereditary Temple-Priests, even close kin of the High-Priest. Further, John being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate,[4] indicating that he took an active turn serving as a Priest in the Temple. So he would know the Temple and its sacred objects well, not least the breastplate gemstones of the High-Priest that would shine as the foundations of New Jerusalem in his vision.

Christians hold John in high regard and celebrate him on his birthday like Jesus and Mary (rather than on his death day, like other saints). As he was dying, Jesus asked John as his beloved disciple to care for his mother Mary. John took Mary to Ephesus, the main port and commercial hub of Turkey,[5] where he became bishop. Later in the fourteenth year of his reign,[6] namely AD 94, the Roman Emperor Domitian banished John from Ephesus, sixty miles across the sea to an island called Patmos. Here, John accompanied by Prochorus made his home in a cave facing north-east to Ephesus.

No one knows exactly how the Revelation vision flashed, but perhaps as follows. Late one Friday winter afternoon in AD 95, a storm gathers over Patmos. At sunset, John and Prochorus sing in the Sabbath as the Bride, sup a very modest Sabbath dinner, close with prayer, and sit beside a flickering fire of resinous Patmos pine crackling at the mouth of the cave, sip from a flagon of Patmos retsina wine, and reminisce.

Patmos Cave where John saw his vision, and which is now a chapel


Suddenly, the storm breaks and shatters their peace with a vision. Its opening Angel tells John immediately to write everything down. So he orders Prochorus:

Prochorus! Write what I say! Now!

Prochorus scrambles for quill and papyrus and begins to record John’s nineteen-to-the-dozen didactic dictation verbatim, his tale pounded out by the storm as a single seamless script sewn together by scores of swift sayings and staccato and’s snapping the speed of the vision. The vision projects a view of their late beloved Temple on the wall of the cave as a backdrop. Its trumpets thunder warnings off the cave-wall. Its calamities quake the cave-floor. Its sacrificial ash and incense aromas gust up from the fire at the cave-mouth. Its spiritual lessons hail down into the herb-garden outside the cave. In this cave-turned-Temple, Priests perform rites and Levites sing psalms. Then right at the end, in a puff of spiritual smoke, the Temple vanishes, only to puff back up as the vast magical mushroom of New Jerusalem.

The storm and vision end as fast as they began. Now Prochorus says:

Master, let’s edit what I wrote!

But John flashes back:

No way, Prochorus! Leave it just as it is. Just as I said it. And just as you wrote it!

In AD 96 Domitian is assassinated and his successor Nerva frees the two exiles. They set sail for the mainland, and even though their boat capsizes en route, they and the Revelation scroll survive. John still swims, and a handy corkboard helps too. Back as bishop in Ephesus, John lives ten more years, until he dies naturally as Jesus’s only Apostle not to be martyred.[7]

Alas, the original scroll of the Book of Revelation has never been found. Just a few fragments of early copies remain. Full Revelation texts appear only later in the first books of the Bible called codices, such as the 4th century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and the 5th century Codex Alexandrinus.[8] The first Codex Sinaiticus (discovered, notably, in 1844) Apocalypse page looks like this:

Opening Codex Sinaiticus Folio of the Apocalypse of John


Codex Sinaiticus, First Folio of the Apocalypse of John

© The British Library

 We immediately see that its

CONTINUOUSBLOCKLETTERTEXTSETINCOLUMNSWITHNOCHAPTERORVERSE

NUMBERINGSNEEDINGSPACESBETWEENWORDSTOMAKEITLEGIBLE

would read much better with spaces as

CONTINUOUS BLOCK LETTER TEXT SET IN COLUMNS WITH NO CHAPTER OR VERSE

NUMBERINGS NEEDING SPACES BETWEEN WORDS TO MAKE IT LEGIBLE NO LONGER

Text with no spaces between words let terms like GODISNOWHERE read as both GOD IS NOW HERE and as GOD IS NOWHERE! Similarly, Greek letters like OI may end a plural word, or form a THE before the next word, or—and here’s the rub—be both. From the AD 300s spaces, and also punctuation marks, capitals, and chapter and verse numberings evolved. (Chapter and verse numberings, though useful, do hamper text flow at the cusps of Revelation Chapters 6/7, 8/9, 10/11, 11/12, and 12/13.)

The coded language of John spun as the veil of his Revelation bride has let her slim silhouette slip safely through eighteen centuries. The layers of her veil are literary devices making as good a hiding-place for the spiritual gems of John as obvious places in homes like fridges and bookshelves did once for physical gems. And as the Revelation tale advances from sealed to unsealed status,[9] John unveils its bride as the Millennial Sabbath-Bride of the divine civilization of New Jerusalem.




[1] 2John 1.1 & 3John 1.1; Aristion, Papias, The Alleged Presbyter John. http://newadvent.org/cathen/08492a.htm.

[2] For example, the Crawford Aramaic Text, which unlike other Aramaic versions translated from Greek often reads better than Greek texts that seem to mistranslate it—see Comments for vv. 2.22, 5.5 & 10.2.

[3] Old Testament prophecies, Beale, John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation, also Aune, 52C 1267–87

Unique prophet, Aune, 52A lxxvi

Crawford Aramaic text, This unique little-known text was named after the Earl of Crawford who bought it in 1860 and catalogued it as Crawford’s Haigh Hall, Wigan, no. 11. It now resides in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK. It was retrieved on 20071207 from http://www.netzarim.info/index.php/Nazarene.net/hantri/FreeBook/chapter6.pdf citing The Apocalypse of St. John in a Syriac Version Hitherto Unknown (1897) lxxix; Torrey, C. C. (1941), Documents of the Primitive Church 160; and Scott, R. B. Y. (1928), The Original Language of the Apocalypse 6, Schonfield (1927)

Hebrew accent, Aune, personal communication 2006/12/07

Native Hebrew and Aramaic speaker, Buth, First Century Spoken Hebrew, also Barclay, Orthodox Liturgy and Daily Prayers in a Hebrew Translation, Introduction

[4] Polycrates cited by Eusebius, Church History 5.24.2

[5] Turkey was then a Roman province called Asia

[6] Eusebius Chronicle, 3.20.5–7 cited by Aune, Word Biblical Commentary, Revelation 52A lix–lx

[7] James, The Apocryphal New Testament Acts of John

[8] Codex Sinaiticus Apocalypse, pp. 126verso–135recto. Codex Alexandrinus Apocalypse, pp. 4.125recto–334verso. Codices are made from sixteen-page gatherings or signatures, each of four papyrus sheets folded into an eight-leaf quire (Milne & Skeat 111, Codex Alexandrinus 4.8). The Codex Sinaiticus has pages of 33 x 37.3 cm, with text blocks of 26.5 x 24.3 cm, each with four columns of 24.3 x 5.7 cm set 1.4–cm apart, with margins of 3.2 cm and 48 lines, and uncial letters of 12.5 points packed some 13 to a line. The Codex Alexandrinus has pages of 25.2 x 30.6 cm, text blocks of 21.6 x 22.4 cm, each with two columns of 22.4 x 10.3 cm set 2.4 cm apart, with margins of 1.8 cm and 50 lines, and uncial letters of 9 points packed some 26 to a line

[9] From sealed in v. 5.1, 5.9, 6.1–8.1, 10.4 to unsealed in v. 22.10