The End is Near: a book review

revelationJohn of Patmos’s Revelation is esoteric and strange. It has inspired hope and dread, beautiful art and Christian kitsch, good poetry and bad fiction. Michael Straus, a retired lawyer with a graduate degree from Cambridge in Ancient Greek, has produced a new ‘literary’ translation of Revelation. Beyond the woodenly literal translations of  most New Testament translation (e.g. NRSV, ESV, NASB), Straus weaves together Handel’s Messiah, with English, Spanish (Spanglish?), French, Italian and Greek words and phrases. The effect is that certain words and phrases catch readers familiar with Revelation off guard and allow for a fresh hearing. Also, the global intercultural aspect of revelation is emphasized. For the most part, however, Straus follows closely the Greek text in his translation with some added whimsical flourishes. Headings, chapters and versification has been removed, so that readers can read the text in a less atomized way. 

Pairing Straus’s translation, are illustrations from Jennifer May Reiland, a New York City based artist who has been awarded residencies at the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, the Foundation des Etats-Unis as a Hale Woolley Scholar and the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions program. Her artwork adds another interpretative lens to Revelation. Her illustrations combine the apocalyptic debauchery of Hieronymus Bosch with the cartoonish busyness of a Where’s Waldo (if Waldo worked in the porn industry). She combines the grotesque and strange imagery of beasts, dragons and horsemen with explicit images of sex, violence and sexual violence. The result is a dramatic depiction of the war between evil and good. 

Reiland’s illustrations are not appropriate for a children’s Bible and I didn’t let my own kids (4-11) read this take of John’s revelation, but I didn’t think the imagery was gratuitous either. The words and images depict a world in chaos awaiting it’s renewal and coming judgment

However, the closing chapters of Revelation also image a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem come down and a new state of affairs where there is no more crying or pain or suffering. There are no images that depict this (only judgment). I wish that Reiland applied her skill to imaging this aspect of the eschaton (Straus, of course translated it). 

On the whole, I found this a pretty interesting take (not kid friendly, but then neither is a lot of Revelation anyway). I give this four stars. 

Note: I got a copy of this book via SpeakEasy and have provided
my honest review.

Revelation: a book review

Peggy Payne‘s imaginative first novel  Revelation (first published in 1988) tells the story of Swain Hammond, a mainline Presbyterian pastor of a respectable, educated congregation. His life is turned upside down the day he hears God speak to him. What is the essence of this Divine communication? Nothing spectacular, at first. Swain hears God call him “son.” Later he hears other words he can’t quite make sense of, or explain to anyone else. Then he receives his ‘call to ministry’,’ fifteen years into his pastorate.

The words from God have a profound effect on Swain. At the start of the novel, Swain is a reasoned and rational minister of a late 80’s liberal congregation–traditional in its worship style, de-mythologized in its exegesis and not open to charismatic expression. When the respectable Reverend Hammond begins talking about hearing God in his yard, the church elders think he’s come unhinged. And he has. The supernatural breaks through his carefully constructed rationalism and he finds himself wrestling with emotions and feelings of abandonment rooted in childhood. He punches a parishioner after an accident which blinds a little boy. While visiting the boy in hospital, Swain tries his hand at faith healing (responding to a power he senses in the room) and tells the boy to remove his bandages and be healed.  As these deeds come to light, it brings Swain into conflict at his church.

Swain Hammond is a man of contradictions. He is a vocational minister and preacher who has committed his life to helping others. But he harbors vitriol for those he serves. He hates kids and feels superior to just about everyone. When he hears God, his feeling of superiority grows. He also fantasizes about an affair with a congregant (the blind boy’s mother). He continues to serve his congregation and do good, but he is a difficult protagonist to actually like.

I enjoyed Revelation. Payne spins a compelling tale of a conflicted man coming to terms with God. But he does change in the end, and experiences healing from his difficult past. This is not a ‘Christian novel’ as such, but a spiritual novel and accessible to anyone who has longed for a richer experience of the divine. Swain’s eventual transformation comes after a vocational crisis.  In the end Swain is less isolated and more gracious with those around me.

I give it three-and-a-half stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from SpeakEasy and the author in exchange for an honest review.

Payne’s novel is available as a Kindle E-book for $2.99 US from Amazon.