Deep, weighty and a tiny bit too dark to be a good summer read

If you want to know the meaning of the strange imagery and predictions in the book of Revelation, do not look for it in Jonathan Kirsch’s A History of the End of the World.

kirschHowever, if you’re interested the meaning one man applies to the last book in the New Testament, this is for you. Kirsch tells you want he thinks it all means, and then you get to decide if you’re buying what he’s selling.

A History of the End of the World came out in 2006, and I finally picked it up and read it because I’ve liked other works by Kirsch, namely King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel and The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible. I intend to read his biography of Moses at some point, too.

This book is a summary of the book of Revelation’s impact on history from the time it was written in the first century until now, and how all the crazies in every age have interpreted and reinterpreted the weird visions chronicled in it. Kirsch knows his Bible history and is keen to describe meanings and alternative meanings of the original language of the various books of the Bible. But his analysis of the book of Revelation is controversial. If you’re a literalist and you believe Jesus will actually come down from the clouds on a chariot, you’re not going to like A History of the End of the World.

Kirsch argues (quite convincingly) the book was written by a man named John who was not the well-known Son of Zebedee and disciple of Jesus. Instead, the author the book of Revelation was a bit of an outlier who was predicting God’s revenge on the Roman Empire, of which the John of Revelation fame was not a fan (to put it mildly). Kirsch also states very directly, and I quote, “Neither the word nor the concept of the Rapture is mentioned anywhere in Revelation.” So if you’re a believer of everything the Left Behind series espouses, you wouldn’t like Kirsch’s book either (although, after Kirsch rips apart the concept of the Rapture, I’m tempted to pick up a Left Behind book just to see what all the hubbub is about).

I’m a questioner, and I appreciate reading Kirsch’s perspective, especially on the Devil described as über evil only, according to Kirsch, in the book of Revelation. I’ll also be even more suspect of the nut cases who insist the end is coming (because, as Kirsch points out, very adamant soothsayers have been predicting that for 2,000 years and they’ve all been wrong).

In retrospect, A History of the End of the World probably wasn’t a good choice as a summer read. It was very heavy, very deep and a little bit depressing. But I’d recommend it to fellow questioners who can take a little bit of foundation rattling.

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