Whassup with that “one-third the hosts of heaven” stuff?

Since that shadowy character HP has lately taken to investigating the even darker figure of Satan in the dim reaches of LDS protology, David J and J. Watkins want to talk about the “third part” thing. And since I’m writing my dissy on Revelation and since I had way too much Mt. Dew after dinner, I’m going to oblige.

First off, the easiest way to handle the whole thing is to rely strictly on DC 29:36-37 and be done with it:

And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for behold the devil was before Adam. for he rebelled against me saying “Give me thine honor, which is my power, and also a third part of the hosts of heaven he turned against me because of their agency, and they were thrust down and became the devil and his angels;

Anytime Revelation gets called in on anything but its own terms, you will be lucky if you are only tormented by demonic cavalry from the abyss for five months. So if you click “read more,” you asked for it…

Here’s the relevant passage from Rev 12:3-4a:

3 Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. 4 Its tail drags a third of the stars of the sky and hurled them down to the earth.

The first sign was the astral woman, dressed in the sun, standing on a moon, and crowned with twelve stars. Her dress is the latest in regal fashion among the cosmic crowd, but her vulnerability overshadows all else: in a very terrestrial fashion this celestial woman is pregnant and cries out in birth pangs and great distress.

The dragon is described in equally cosmic/regal terms: he likewise appears in the sky, has seven crowns and most ominously is so huge, powerful, and inclined toward violence that his tail drags “a third part” of the stars from the sky. Two words in v. 4 are interesting.

  • First, the word “drags” (syrō) is in the present tense, while the surrounding verbs are aorist (simple past in English). This use of the present is called the “historical present” and it imparts a sense of vividness or drama to stories.
  • Second, the word ouranos (sky/heaven) is in the singular, suggesting that it should be translated “sky” rather than “heaven.” The point is this: while the dragon is out of reach of folks on the earth, he’s not affecting anything in heaven, either. (BDAG s.v. ”ouranos”)
  • So you know what? Those stars are just stars and the closest parallel to this idea is what happens with the sounding of the fourth trumpet (8:12). One-third of the sun, moon, and stars were struck so that a third of them became dark and both the day and the night lost light for a third of the time. Whatever that might mean.

    OK, Mogget, that is really boring. And you might be making too much of John’s notorious grammar…

    OK, but I did warn you to stick with the D&C… There are number of Jewish myths that talk about the fall of a Satan figure. For example, there’s 2 Enoch 29. In this case, God is talking:

    But one from the order of the archangels deviated, together with the division that was under his authority. He thought up the impossible idea, that he might place his throne higher than the clouds which are above the earth, and he might become equal to my power. And I hurled him from the height, together with his angels.

    These myths have one common theme: the Satan-character falls from heaven because of his pride. This comes ultimately from Is 14:12-15:

    12 How have you fallen from the heavens, O morning star, son of the dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who mowed down the nations! 13 You said in your heart: “I will scale the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, in the recesses of the North. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!” 15 Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit!

    This is helpful because we learn that the name “Lucifer” comes from the Latin translation of the Hebrew hêlēl in this passage. The entire phrase “O morning star, son of the dawn (hêlēl ben šahar), comes from two deities otherwise known from the Ras Sharma texts. I don’t know about the noun hêlēl but the cognate verb means “to shine brightly.” The other term, šahar, is some kind of a deity associated with the dawn. Anyway, in its original context, this passage is a taunt song directed toward a Babylonian king, possibly Nabonidus.

    Mogget! Back to the d[oggone] angels, already!

    Well OK. But you can still go with the D&C, you know… Anyway, if we let the stars be angels, there’s another problem. The dragon just deposited them rather violently on the earth but the war’s going to be fought in heaven. How about we just use Jude 6?

    6 The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgment of the great day.

    While we’re on the topic of gloom, the weather was terrible today, but in spite of that I now have thirty baby tomatoes. And check out that adjective “eternal.” I bet it’s an intensifier rather than a temporal indicator, meaning that those are some really mondo chains rather than that they’re going to last forever.

    But returning to the immediate challenge, Jude is a step forward: we’ve finally got fallen angels that got that way on their own rather than being involuntarily slammed to earth with no mention of God’s role in the whole process. The problem here is that the angels seem to be in chains, not out running amuck fighting wars, tempting people, and making anti-social nuisances of themselves. And they’re still not in heaven, either.

    Look. The stars are angels, they’re an all-volunteer force, and they’re in heaven. Get on with the war!

    OK, OK. mumble, mumble, D&C, mumble, you’ll be sorry, mumble, mumble. The next thing is to ask when all this is supposed to have taken place. There are three possibilities:

    1) In the pre-existence.

    2) At the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    3) At some point closer to the eschaton than John’s personal present.

    Since I’m finally getting sleepy, you tell me. When does John suggest that the dragon was cast down from heaven?

    21 Replies to “Whassup with that “one-third the hosts of heaven” stuff?”

    1. To answer the real questions seriously:

      The mythic background is assumed but the precise myth is debated. Prime contenders are Leto-Apollo-Python, Baal-Yamm-Mot, and Isis-Osiris-Horus-Typon-a partridge in a pear tree. The majority opinion is L-A-P.

      Is that to triton ton asteron a fractional measure or the third in a series?

      As far as I know the two options are grammatically indistinguishable, so context is the deciding factor. In this case, conveying the dragon’s size and power seems to be the intent, so I think that the fractional reading is required.

      But I could be wrong AND you just never know with John. It’s not in either Wallace or Blass, Debrunner, and Funk but I don’t have Mussies or the like here at home. I will come back up if I need to amend my thoughts.

      Anyway, why would anyone want to make it read as the third element in a series rather than a fraction? Attempts like that usually have some sort of apologetic interest in the background, but if so I’m missing something in this case.

    2. The reason that some people prefer to read it as a third element in a series has to do with traditional LDS readings that justify a “spiritual” Israel. At one point, this sort of thought was used to justify the denial of the priesthood to blacks (the middle third were “fence-setters” and the like). Today it isn’t used to that purpose but is instead used to justify other perceived or real inequalities (“why was I born into a white, middle-class, LDS, American household instead of in a shack in darkest Africa? Cause I was in the most righteous third!”). If there are other uses for this approach, I have yet to hear them.

    3. I may be misinterpreting your whole premise here, but it seems that you are suggesting that the casting down might have occurred at time other than the pre-existence. (Yes, that time is also mentioned as a possibility.)

      If you take HP’s view on Satan’s plan, doesn’t it have to take place in the pre-existence – before Jesus comes to Earth to be its savior? I know I’ve seen (on other, i.e. disreputable, blogs) the suggestion that the War in Heaven is going on now. //hatever.

      (Thanks for the reminder about the tomatoes – I need to ask my source if she’s planting them this year!)

    4. Good stuff Mogget.

      I see all sorts of supports for my favorite model of the eternities (MMP) in this stuff…

      One-third of the sun, moon, and stars were struck so that a third of them became dark and both the day and the night lost light for a third of the time. Whatever that might mean.

      See my theory about what it might mean here . (Basically that the “third part” who didn’t get bodies for this world were the wicked in the last mortal world and that the second resurrection means they missed this mortal opportunity to progress.) (Hehe..)

      These myths have one common theme: the Satan-character falls from heaven because of his pride.

      Exactly. I love it. I suggested that the Satan character in the garden narrative represented our pride in this post. I suspect that whole tale might be an allegory.

      When does John suggest that the dragon was cast down from heaven?

      I’d say at the judgment after every inhabited world and before the next world everyone who is not exalted will soon inhabit! (I’m sure y’all are loving this, right 😉 ) So I suspect it is both in the pre-existence and in the eschaton.

    5. Mogget, I thought Jude 6 referred to the account in the Book of Enoch of the story of the “angels” (the city-of-Enoch-in-the-sky-dwellers) who came down to earth and fornicated with the the earth-women? Therefore, they were bound in chains and Enoch got the responsibility of being jail-keeper of sorts, until the final judgement.

    6. all sorts of supports for my favorite model

      As long as you don’t confuse readings in support of your models with historical-critical readings, that is, as something that might have been on John’s mind. Or perhaps, you could confuse them, but the rest of us won’t.

      We only do historical-critical faith-promoting rumors around here…


      whole tale might be an allegory

      Probably not, at least from a critcal perspective. The genre is best described as an etiological tale. I’m not sure that Hebrew lit of the second milleniuum BCE featured the allegory yet.

    7. Jude 6 referred to the account in the Book of Enoch

      Yup. I’m just screwin’ around, mostly, on my way to a larger point.

      used to justify other perceived or real inequalities

      Oh fer cryin’ out loud.

      If you take HP’s view on Satan’s plan, doesn’t it have to take place in the pre-existence

      Yup. My thoughts, expressed in a bit of mostly self-caricature, are this:

      1) The idea of fallen angels, and of Satan as a fallen angel is very old.

      2) That said, Rev 12 is not the best canonical support for the LDS idea because there are so many issues.

      3) I usually cite the D&C and urge folks to sing “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet” with extra feeling at their very next opportunity.

    8. 30 tomatoes?! That’s amazing! Mogget that’s grea… Wait, FHL already stole that joke? Crap!

    9. Ok, no seriously, so I think I have something to add here. I’m doing some related study for Richard Draper and he happens to have Aune’s 3 volume commentary on Revelation and it makes a good case that this pericope shouldn’t be considered a part of John’s natural flow of visions.

      For starters, it doesn’t start with John’s typical “and I saw” phrase. Instead we have the very detached, passive “and there appeared” intro. Also, it interrupts (in his opinion) the flow of the chronological progression of the narrative and obviously contains a description of past events (he thinks it’s the birth of the Messiah). In fact, he thinks the whole chapter is made up of Jewish and Hellenistic elements that are woven all together.
      He also thinks that since only the dragon reappears, the whole story could have been added just to introduce the dragon.

      Beyond this he says a lot of stuff Mogget already has (way to go Mogget!) but the feeling I’m getting from all of this is that this whole story is an insertion of, or flashback to, a past event that is critical to what John wants to do in the remainder of his book. All of this gets more complicated, though, when we consider that Joseph Smith and Co. taught that the baby in this pericope represents the political kingdom of God that was attempted to be established in the days of the Apostles. So the question is: did John combine two chronologically disparate events, did he combine two chronologically near events, or did Joseph and company hijack the baby and put a spin on it outside of its historical context (thus leaving both former options open)? I’m going to say that I think that John added the part about the dragon sweeping 1/3 of the stars and Michael jumping in in verses 7-9 just to make the connection of the dragon with Satan uber-clear. (and by the way Aune and others see the Michael mini-pericope as an insertion too)

      (or we could just go with the D&C…..) 🙂

    10. You certainly do have something to add!

      he happens to have Aune

      He might not be the only Mormon with a copy, either, but in this case you don’t even need the big guns. Anyway, Aune’s work with structure and source-criticism is, I think, superior to anything else now in print. His work with Revelation’s theology, however, purely sucks. If I wanted to know every pagan parallel in existence, I’d be in Classics.

      Have you read his intro sections on structure and composition history?

      the very detached, passive “and there appeared” intro

      Actually, there’s a third occurence of “appeared” in 11:19. And true to form Aune considers 11:19 the intro to 12:1-13 so they’re all together.

      obviously contains a description of past events (he thinks it’s the birth of the Messiah)

      Yeah, that’s one side of the intertwined issue of mother and child. But do you think he has a good handle on why the dragon chases the woman after she gives birth? That makes identification with the birth of the Messiah tough, I think.

      only the dragon reappears,

      Actually, the iron rod reappears in the hands of the white rider in 19:11-20. That, I think, is a key point. The dragon is set up opposite the man child; the resolution involves the return of the rod of iron to earth via the white rider.

      Did you notice that the Evil Trinity appear in chapters 12 and 13 and then disappear in chapters 19 and 20 in reverse order:

      false prophet
      false prophet

      the baby in this pericope represents the political kingdom of God

      Betcha a nickel JS was working on that rod of iron thing, too.

      or we could just go with the D&C

      Sigh. Revelation. Greatest story in the NT. Only book of the Risen Lord.

      Anyway, I don’t think you can ever get a decent answer to some questions and the s-c of Rev 12 is one of them. At some point, you have to deal with it as it now stands.

      How are you on recapitulation?

    11. “If I wanted to know every pagan parallel in existence, I’d be in Classics.”

      LOL, I couldn’t agree more. I definitely lean more towards the Jewish background than the possible Hellenistic connections. That and half of my classmates are all Classics students and none of them can understand why I’m an ANES major. The way I see it, what’s more important than Church related history?

      “That makes identification with the birth of the Messiah tough, I think.”

      I don’t think so but I confess I’m at home now and I didn’t read much past the first couple of verses. If Christ is the child, then the woman is the Church (not a difficult conclusion) and Christ disappears first and then Satan attacks the church until apostasy, which he definitely isn’t going to see I guess.

      “the iron rod reappears”

      I haven’t made this connection yet, mind explaining?

      “How are you on recapitulation?”

      What do you mean? Anyway, I too love Revelation. Working with Draper has been a dream job as an undergraduate. Question: any chance that you are pondering a future at the “Lord’s University”? Just curious. With Draper retiring in the next 4 to 5 years there is going to be a void in the “apocalyptic literature specialist” position.

    12. Can anybody please tell me how to get italics into my text here? It’s driving me crazy!

    13. Hey, so are the Dragon and the Beast separate things? I always assumed they were they same…

    14. Oui. The dragon stands on the seashore in 13:1 and calls up a beast from the sea.

      (Note: the AV thinks John is standing on the seashore.)

      Then he calls a second beast from the land. This second beast becomes the false prophet.

      Voila! Evil Trinity

    15. If Christ is the child, then the woman is the Church

      Hm. That one’s hard for me. It’s odd that the Christian church should “give birth” to the Jewish Messiah. I could buy Israel giving birth to the Messiah, or I could buy Mary, I guess. But then who is the dragon chasing?

      Or we could posit more sources. Or we could stick with the D&C…

      the iron rod

      This expression shows up three times. In 2:27, it’s promised to “the one who overcomes.” In 12:5, the woman gives birth to the manchild who will “shephard all the nations with a rod of iron.” In 19:15, the white rider now has the rod of iron.

      This probably has to do with the extension of God’s dominion over the earth and with the associated idea of the reversal of roles when the Saints, currently on the bottom rung of the world’s totem pole, will find themselves in far better circumstances.

      So JS’s idea of a political kingdom is plausible from that standpoint.

      My point in bringing it up was that Aune is too fixed on the lack of continuity among characters to the deteriment of his appreciation for the way theological themes are carried by motifs.


      Recapitulation comes orginally, I think, from music. One melody is repeated with variations. The result is a pleasing composition.

      In narrative theory, recapitulation implies multiple narrations of the same event. With clever variations such as a narration from different characters, or from the same character but at different points in his/her life, it’s also pleasing.

      With respect to Revelation, Victorinus of Pettau, who lived before decent last names were invented, was the first to suggest that the trumpets and bowls were multiple narrations of the same series of messianic woes.

      Since then authors such as Bornkamm, Yarbro Collins, and Beale have picked it and suggested variations such as:

      *all three plague septets narrate the same events.

      *the visionary sequences that feature 3 1/2 in some form (42 months, 1,260 days, etc.,) are all narrations of the same events.

      *the two occurrences of the perfect of ginomai are recapitulative.

      *the interior chapters of Revelation (4:1-21:8) should be broken down into five distinct visionary sequences that recapitulate the same time period.

      I think that JS read Revelation more like R.H. Charles, who found it linear and chronological except at places like Rev 12…which he thought was a flashback.

      I shall only consider the Lord’s university if they relax their stance on Mountain Dew.


    16. But Mountain Dew is of the Devil!

      Actually, I agree with you about the weirdness of the Church bringing forth the Messiah. Um, didn’t the Messiah bring forth the Christian Church? So in that way I think Joseph had the best explanation of it so far.

      Interesting iron rod stuff there, hard not to connect them when Revelation is as consistent as it is (which is to say not entirely, but enough). Interesting thought about Aune too. It’s pretty easy to be overwhelmed by his detail in historical parallels.

      As to recapitulation, I’ve actually seen some commentators write about it in Revelation now that you’ve described it for me (not that I remember any of them actually using the term) and I’d have to say that I like Draper’s thoughts on at least part of this. (yeah, I’m biased, so sue me, I’m an undergrad still) He follows JS and Charles (as I do) in thinking that the text is linear (excepting 12) but thinks that the elevation of destruction as the visions progress is intentional. More explicitly, the destruction of 1/3 of the seas, waters, trees, grass, etc act as a final warning to the wicked to repent. Then the complete destructions represent the punishment of the wicked for not repenting.

      This can be seen in ch.7 where the wicked are sealed, in ch.8 where the trumpets sound and 1/3 of nature gets whacked, ch.9 where armies come and do increasing amounts of damage to peoples, up to 1/3 in vs. 18, and then the statement that none of the wicked repent in vs. 21. By the time you get vials in ch.15-16 everything is getting mowed down and we’ve entered into Second Coming/destruction of the wicked time.

      As for repetition of 3 1/3 I wouldn’t be surprised to find out some of them referred to the same thing but not all of them. (I say that without researching it in depth of course, just going from memory of my past studies) and with the repetition of ginomai, I think they definitely signify a flashback but I don’t know that they look like recapitulation to me. I think that some people have way overused the idea of recapitulation in Revelation, probably just so they could have a topic for a disertation somewhere. 🙂

      Oh, and thanks for the crash course in html.

    17. But Mountain Dew is of the Devil!

      That and eating fruit out of season are the only two things between me and translation.

      Can’t find a thing to disagree with. We are so going to have fun when you get to grad school and get about a year under your belt…

    18. Well, well. Guess what came in the email this AM? An ad for a translation of Hermann Gunkel’s Chaos and Creation in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton: Religio-historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12.

      Not due out until August, though, so you’ll just have to wait on pins and needles until then.

    19. Who’s Hermann Gunkel?

      anyway, I was reading in the OT and found this verse that seems to me to be talking about a righteous 1/3:

      Zech 13:9
      9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.

    20. I will bring the third part through the fire,

      Sorry I forgot to do this last night. These OT expressions used to be called “remnant theology.” There’s a rather [in]famous one in Is 6:13:

      “But yet in it shall be a tenth and it shall return…”

      The idea was that when Israel was naughty, God would hammer it, leaving only a righteous remnant, inevitably less than one-half, to inherit the promises.

      John may have subverted this image in Rev 11:13 by having one-tenth be killed in the earthquake while the remaining nine-tenths “were affrighted and gave God glory.”

      Gunkel is a famous German dude. I really have no idea what’s in his work, but it amused me to get an announcement of the translation while this topic was fresh on my mind. I also ran into a rather recent dissy on the topic of Micheal / Messiah confusion in REv 12 yesterday. Usually I never think about these things. At the moment, it seems unlikely to go away.

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