Down below is a YouTube presentation of Revelation 12 done by a couple of BYU professors who style themselves as “Four Guys With Ties.” Before you have a look, however, read this:
In context, Revelation 12 explains the source of the evil and suffering experienced by John’s seven churches. The characterization of the participants, a pregnant woman, a dragon and eventually a baby, is drawn from the world of the ANE combat myth and so resists simplistic decoding. Its use, however, is fortuitous for John’s purposes because it would be intelligible, even familiar, to both Jewish and Gentile Christians.
The first thing John sees, which he describes as a “great portent,” is a woman. She is the Cosmic Woman, and as she is pregnant she is many motherly figures from the mythological past: Eve, Isis, Leto and Mary, at least. Most immediately, however, she is Lady Zion, whose travail gave Israel its Messiah (Isa 66:8), and her fragility is itself a fragile illusion because she is crowned, clothed and standing on the greatest glories of God’s creation.
The Cosmic Woman’s opponent is the Dragon. His aggressive power is symbolized by his ten horns and his ability to dislodge significant numbers of stars with a flick of his tail. The seven crowns indicate that he wishes to rule. Mythologically, he is the cunning serpent of Eden and the Python at Delphi, as well as YHWH’S opponents, Rahab and Leviathan. In this context, however, his foremost identity is that of Satan, the great opponent of God from the Second Temple period. He therefore stands before the woman, fully expecting to devour her child when she and the baby are weakest.
What of the man-child, a minor character in this scene? He is indeed Apollo and Horus, but the invocation of Psalm 2 via the notice that he would “shepherd the nations with a rod of iron” distinguishes him as Israel’s messiah. Here we have a third nativity story. Matthew and Luke have told us that through Jesus’ birth God will save his people from their sins, healing them through his suffering and death. John indicates that this birth is also the beginning of the end of evil itself prior to the creation of a new heaven and earth, which explains the dragon’s attention.
The story comes to its climax quickly. The man-child is born and caught up to God’s throne, while the Woman flees into a divinely prepared refuge. The Dragon initially follows his intended prey into heaven, and so begins a messianic war that will not end until the Second Coming. In this first clash, however, the Dragon is defeated and expelled from heaven so that he can no longer accuse the saints directly to God.
In wrath, the Dragon returns to the earth to continue his earlier work there by destroying the Woman. The imagery associated with the protection of the Woman in this second stage of the conflict recalls Israel’s story in the Exodus, as they were saved from water at the Red Sea and borne on eagle’s wings to Sinai (Ex 19:4). However, the earth is no more hospitable to the Dragon than was heaven because she swallows the water vomited up by the Dragon before it reaches the Woman. There is no sense in which this campaign against the Woman results in a partial victory for the Dragon, such as the apostasy of the LDS tradition, for the Woman is in her protected place before he attempts to strike and his efforts neither touch nor dislodge her.
Having been confounded a second time, the Dragon flees to his own refuge on the seashore. From it, he will marshal his forces for a last assault. His targets this time are the people of God who, like the messiah, are children of the Woman but are also John’s congregations. Although the Dragon’s anger may be great, John’s vision assures them they should not fear him. They are God’s people and under God’s protection, as were the Israelites. Moreover, the Dragon has been decisively exposed, for the mighty beast that seemingly rivaled the Woman has been doubly defeated, left standing bedraggled and alone on a narrow strip of sand. He is indeed a pathetic figure, and one is almost tempted to pity him his eventual fate in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.
Now go have a look at this, which is a presentation of the same chapter of Revelation by four of BYU’s newest hires in Religious Education:
Holy cow, what a public embarrassment! I can’t decide whether the content itself or the utter obliviousness of the participants to their own witlessness is more discomforting. And let’s not forget that it’s all out on the internet, which means it’s only slightly less eternal than God himself. Four Puds With a Prooftext, indeed.
Can you imagine Notre Dame putting something like this out? Would the junior faculty at Baylor do this? If they did, do you think they’d get tenure? Somebody go get Dana Pike, the chair of Ancient Scripture, and ask him why the Mormon world must put up with what is, as one of my colleagues has aptly put it, “juvenile naivety, overconfidence, and anti-intellectualism…which wouldn’t be so bad if it were just a few random Mormon guys filming themselves talking about scripture, but teachers of religion at a major university?” Please!
Do you know how this sort of thing happens? It happens because these four professors live in a bubble bounded by professional and personal acceptance of biblical illiteracy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen even one of them at SBL. I don’t see a single book authored by any of them that looks like something I’d want to read. I see no evidence that they have read much of anything about scripture, let alone a serious study of the best works in Revelation or any wider interaction with the NT. Their opinions and demeanor reflect what they read, write, and interact with. They have become their students because no one has required any higher intellectual or spiritual standard of them. And given the way religious education operates at BYU, if the snowflakes in the classroom seats are happy, there is no reason or profit for them to do otherwise. The Chair will be happy, the Dean will be happy, the Administration will be happy and the Church will be happy.
The glory of God is intelligence, or light and truth, but the implications of that seem not to have penetrated as far as one might like.