SATANISTS READ THE BIBLE: ‘REVELATION’ IS STOLEN, AND THAT’S OKAY
On the latest episode of Black Mass Appeal we finished our Satanists Read the Bible series with Revelation, and with care and time my cognitive processes may yet recover.
Actually this was a fun episode, even if Revelation is an inhuman fucktangle of problems that neither have nor really need solutions.
St. John of Patmos–that’s Mr. Of Patmos to you–probably wrote this seething fever text around 90-100 CE. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops calls it “one of the most difficult books of the Bible to understand,” and that’s not just for people who don’t understand basic statutory law about sexual assault.
As it turns out, the key to this freaky 1,900 year old Jesus fanfic that (for better or worse) profoundly fertilizes our cultural ideas about Satan lies in knowing where John of Patmos got his inspiration.
He claims it was all a vision from god, but the truth is John just got his plot where most writers do: He stole it.
Bible scholars and connoisseurs of the films of Brett Ratner alike will recognize this bit from Revelation 12:
“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And behold a great red dragon, and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto god, and the woman fled into the wilderness,”
Cool story, one follow-up question, what in the aerobic fuck is going on?
The New American Bible–note that “new” and “American” are two of the adjectives least appropriate for the Bible–furnishes one attempt at an explanation:
“The woman symbolizes god’s people. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon.”
Well thanks John, you couldn’t possibly have communicated that with less clarity. This is the Mulholland Drive of apocalypses.
Joy Schroeder’s paper “Revelation 12: Female Figures & Figures of Evil” notes that this story sounds suspiciously familiar for the small number of people who did the reading assignment beforehand:
“The plot is similar to pagan myths that would have circulated in the Roman empire at the time. In Greek myth, the dragon Python tries to kill the infant sun-god Apollo. But Apollo’s mother Leto es- capes to the island of Delos and gives birth there. Apollo later returns to kill the dragon. A similar Egyptian myth describes Set as the dragon who pursues Isis and who is eventually killed by Isis’s son Horus.”
In Revelation the dragon is Satan, of course. Revelation 12 also calls him “that old serpent which deceiveth the whole world,” which is rude.
Biblical retcons tie this reference waaaay back to the serpent in Genesis 3. But writing for the Biblical Archaeology Society, Carleton University adjunct Shawna Dolansky says that this language “probably reflects mythical monsters like Leviathan.”
Dolansky also points out several more suspiciously similarly hero myths about gods and demigods slaying great sea dragons, referred to as “the ancient Near Eastern combat myth motif, exemplified in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat in Enuma Elish and Baal and Yam/Mot in ancient Canaan.”
If you’re not up on your Enuma Elish don’t sweat it too much, the point is just a lot of myths about slaying evil sea serpents knocked around that part of the world in those days. It was their equivalent of the four pop song chords, just fucking everywhere.
Earlier Jewish writers had riffed on this same theme in Isaiah 27: “In that day the lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan, the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
The lord is a dick to endangered species. That was our ONLY Leviathan, dude.
In her 1970 book The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation, Yale Professor Adela Yarbro Collins notes that Revelation combines “Jewish literature, Mesopotmain, Ugaritic, and Syro-Phoenician Mythology” in the dragon story, “incorporating and fusing traditional elements from a variety of cultures,” much like that pretentious fusion restaurant down the block that makes the really good scallop ravioli.
So it’s not hard to see what probably happened here: Saint John, in the midst of religious frenzy and, per Good Omens, possibly some funny mushrooms, did what writers since time immemorial have done and borrowed the story of a proven hit for his new work.
This was a transcendentally normal thing to do. In fact if his writing is any indicator, this might be the only normal thing John did that year, possibly ever.
The fact that the story is a religious myth doesn’t have much bearing here. Like all creative endeavors, the major source material for new religions is always old religions.
Why do I bring all of this up? For one thing, we want you to be really fucking killer at that Bible-related Trivial Pursuit knockoff, take no prisoners and salt the earth when the time comes.
More to the point, one of the ways fundies, assholes, and Anti-Satanists try to attack your religious practice as a Satanist is by accusing Satanism of being derivative. Satan, supposedly, is something we “stole” from Christianity.
Of course, Satan is not original to Christian myth either. Hence why he’s got a Jewish name. In fact so does almost everyone in the Bible, because of course most of the Bible is not the Bible, it’s the Tanakh.
And we see in this Revelation myth that the Christian fellows didn’t stop their pilfering at Moses and Daniel, they did the whole fucking village.
And, that’s mostly okay. Which is to say, it’s normal, inevitable, and expected.
Mainstream religions enjoy such a degree of privilege that they’re presumed to be authentic in some undefined way that our religions are not. But scratch the surface and almost immediately you’ve uncovered the real foundations.