A Commentary on the Apocalypse of John

Edmondo F. Lupieri Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids November 9, 2006
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This is an English translation of a 1999 Italian commentary. It is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the Book of Revelation. Although it includes an interpretation of the text, the unique value of this volume is in its approach, as described in the introduction. The introduction is not primarily concerned with typical introductory matters such as authorship, date, interpretive approaches, and others. After discussing the history of interpretation Lupieri states that he generally rejects postmodern approaches to the book and instead wants to “reconnect with the traditions of historical-critical research” (p. 12). He believes the author was firmly rooted “conceptually and literarily within the tradition of Jewish thought that we call apocalyptic” (p. 13). Thus much of the introduction describes this world and surveys its literature (pp. 13–43).

Concerning authorship Lupieri does not make an identification. However, on “purely stylistic and linguistic” grounds he does not think it is possible that it is the same author who wrote the Fourth Gospel (p. 43). This claim is not supported with data, and he does not deal with whether the genre could account for some of the differences. He acknowledges that some see a “conceptual affinity” with the Gospel, and he concludes that the author was familiar with both John and Paul. Based on relationships between Revelation and some other apocalyptic literature Lupieri dates the book between A.D. 70 and 100.

Following the introduction, the book includes the entire Greek text of Revelation from the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland text (which is essentially the same as the current 27th edition and the United Bible Societies third and fourth editions) with six differences from the apparatus (usually favoring Codex A—in 2:22; 6:17; 7:2; 13:15 [change not in A]; 16:11–2; 19:7 [p. ix n. 1]). The book also very helpfully includes an entire English translation in diglot form with the Greek (Greek on the left and English on the right). The translation philosophy of the Greek text of Revelation into Italian is “highly literal, so that the modern reader might get a sense of the strangeness that a cultured Greek person would have felt when reading/hearing the Apocalypse” (p. xxix). This strangeness may be apparent to modern readers; however, they may not sense the same “strangeness” the original audience felt when listening to the Greek for the first time. Nevertheless the attempt is welcomed, and those who know Greek will appreciate seeing conveniently the original that underlies the translation.

The commentary itself is packed with extrabiblical references, thereby drawing the reader’s attention to the apocalyptic world as described in the introduction. This is a helpful feature, but it seems to be at the expense of discussing portions of the text itself. The commentary does not follow a phrase-by-phrase or verse-by-verse format. Generally a Greek phrase introduces a section (without translation and sometimes with an ellipsis in the middle of the phrase). Not all phrases or even verses are covered. The result is that a lot of material is missing. For example Revelation 2:1 is introduced, but only about half of the verse is discussed (Ephesus is not even mentioned), and then verses 2–5 are not discussed (pp. 114–15). This procedure leads to other omissions that would be of interest (e.g., 3:20 is not discussed). Also grammatical issues are seldom considered in any detail. For example the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) is assumed to be a plenary genitive (without using the label), that is, “revelation from Jesus Christ” and “revelation about Jesus Christ”), but no support is given for this view.

Lupieri’s approach gives readers options they might not otherwise find. His emphasis on the Jewish apocalyptic leads him to conclude that Babylon in chapter 17 is Jerusalem (p. 249). He suggests that the beast from the sea in Revelation 13:1–10 is an incarnation of Satan (pp. 201–4; see also 218). Lupieri’s discussion of the number 666 is detailed and interesting (pp. 212–18). He seems to acknowledge that the beast from the land in Revelation 13:11–18 is a pagan religious power with allusions to imperial cults (p. 209). However, he then suggests the beast may also refer to corrupt Judaism (pp. 209–10). Such conclusions are a result of his focus on Jewish apocalyptic; however, this background does not demand these Jewish-centered conclusions. Often this literature presents a righteous Israel in conflict with a foreign power. The traditions in apocalyptic texts could also point to the identification of Roman authorities who were hostile to the church (and of course future powers). Readers will find Lupieri’s discussion of the millennium helpful. His careful reading of the text influenced by other apocalyptic texts such as 1 Enoch lead him to see differences between Revelation 20 and other Jewish “millennialist” texts. The millennium is focused not on earthly prosperity and well-being but on the rule of Christ during a period when Satan will be bound (pp. 315–16).

The book includes a ten-page bibliography and five indexes: modern authors, names, places, subjects, and reference (including biblical and other ancient texts).

A problem with Lupieri’s approach is his failure to incorporate Roman material into its conceptual world. True, the author of Revelation was a Jew. But he and his readers lived in the Roman Empire. Thus one cannot assume that they were isolated from the influence of Roman culture. At times Lupieri’s conclusions seem to emphasize the possible over the probable. For example the suggestions of Jewish adversaries throughout (i.e., the beasts, Babylon, etc.) significantly minimizes the political reality of the first century in Asia Minor. Roman ideas and material may have provided a more balanced approach. However, the Jewish-centered apocalyptic approach is refreshing and unique.

This commentary provides a perspective on Revelation not often emphasized, namely, the Jewish apocalyptic. Because of this, it can provide new insight to the study of Revelation. Its unique perspective gives students access to ideas not often given in traditional commentaries on the book. It discusses noncanonical literature extensively, which can enhance one’s understanding of the book. However, it will not meet the needs of most pastors and students. It will serve best as a supplement to more traditional commentaries.

—Joseph D. Fantin

January 1, 2010
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2010 vol. 167 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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