- Reading Revelation at Easter Time by Francis J. Moloney
Reading Revelation at Easter Time
Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2020
224 pages. Paperback. $24.95.
The back cover of Father Francis J. Moloney’s Reading Revelation at Easter Time describes it well as “an imaginative reconfiguration of almost everything Christians have thought about Revelation.” It is a companion volume or simplified version of his new full-length commentary—The Apocalypse of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020), intended for use alongside the prayer of the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is beautifully written, and while its author does not attempt to have “all the answers,” it still requires above-average biblical acumen to easily understand. In addition, some of the novel theories the author presents would require reference to the full-length commentary and other literature, as some of their premises remain debatable.
Moloney’s treatment presumes that John wrote the Apocalypse during the reign of Domitian, a judgment that governs the interpretation. [End Page 314] Given his view that no evidence points to a major persecution of Christians in Asia Minor during this reign, the question needs to be raised: why the pervasive violent imagery of martyrdom? Moloney answers that Revelation is a book about the saints of the Old Covenant, whose faithfulness has now been joined to and exalted in Christ’s paschal victory. To that end, he presents the various “sevens” as interpretive retellings of the sacred history of Israel, seen from the point of view of Christ’s death and resurrection. Other notable interpretive moves include seeing the Greek phrase ἐν τάχει (1:1; see also 22:20) as not meaning “soon,” but “quickly”; thus, Moloney contends that it refers not to an imminent coming, but rather describes “how” (as opposed to “when”) Christ will come: suddenly and unexpectedly. The author also notably follows E. Corsini in his view of 12:1–6 as depicting the fall of man, rather than concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary; he continues this interpretation to hold that ἡ γυνή of 12:1 is also the same person as the great whore of chapter 17, and the bride of the Lamb in chapters 19–22. He sees in these images the story of humanity’s fall from grace into a state of ambiguity, into hard-charging, satanic dissolution, finally into renewed potential for grace and divine life through the death and resurrection of Christ.
The book has several interesting features. Its bibliography is decisively modern. Its structure, based on the liturgical use of the Apocalypse in the Office of Readings, allows one to read along with the Church. Where a section is not covered in the Office of Readings, or is found prominently also in other parts of the liturgy, the book has a different typeface, presumably to allow one to skim through to find the parts one is looking for more easily. This feature will help some and frustrate others. It needs to be read with one’s copy of the Apocalypse open beside it, as the author often makes reference to verses by number without providing the text. It shines in its clear, unashamed discussions of judgment and damnation on the one hand, and of the present-tense justification of the saints on the other; of the role of demons in history; and of the unity of God’s household law of salvation between the two covenants, Old and New.
The complete absence of typology is this book’s greatest weakness. With no such concept in sight, the exegete is forced into hardline, [End Page 315] either/or judgments that may be unnecessary. For instance, Moloney interprets the judgment scene in chapter 15 of the Apocalypse as referring not to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple or to the end of the age, but to the judgment of the Israel of the Old Covenant (116). Typology would allow us to understand all three of these events as interrelated, and thus allow the possibility of John referring to more than one of these options. Similarly, Moloney claims that the saints in the Apocalypse are saints of the Old Covenant...