AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 50, 2002
B. J. Malina, The New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John: The
City as Symbol of Life with God (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000).
Pp. X + 100. $US 11.95.
Malina’s short book offers a new insight from a social-scientific perspective
into the two major images that close the Book of Revelation, namely, the
City of Jerusalem coming down from heaven and the cosmic Lamb as the bridegroom
of this celestial city. Before addressing the text of Revelation Malina
examines the particular genre of this book insisting that “What we find
in this book depends entirely on the kind of writing we think it is” (p.3).
According to Malina, the ‘type of writing’ we find in the book of Revelation
is ancient astronomy/astrology (the two terms being synonymous in the ancient
world). The author he describes as an astral prophet who, in an altered
state of consciousness, perceives a number of celestial beings (angels,
holy ones, comets, stars and God) which he interprets in the light of Israel’s
great astral prophets (e.g. Ezekiel, Daniel) and his faith in Jesus as
God's exalted one.
Having established the genre Malina then presents an analysis of first
century Mediterranean cities. Here, Malina’s social-scientific background
is particularly insightful, for a modern reader needs to understand what
an ancient city would mean to the first century readers/hearers of this
text. In the light of this background he interprets the rich symbology
associated with the celestial Jerusalem dressed as a bride for her forthcoming
marriage. The final chapter in particular is dependent on accepting Malina’s
interpretation of Revelation in astrological terms. The Cosmic Lamb is
aligned with the constellation Aries and ancient astrological beliefs that
Aries is the first constellation signifying the origin of the cosmos. The
end of the cosmos will come when Aries arrives at its original position
in the Zenith. In the marriage (conjunction) of the Lamb and the City a
new cosmic order will begin, a new heaven and a new earth. It is John’s
astral vision that this conjunction will happen soon thus offering a word
of hope and encouragement to his audience.
Malina’s interpretation depends on his initial premise that this work
is astrological in its genre and would be understood and interpreted as
such by his first audience. Although not entirely convinced that this initial
premise is correct, I do agree with Malina in his insistence that a text
must be approached from within it's own social context and not have later
concerns imposed upon it. I would certainly recommend this book for it
offers such a social context, albeit quite a radical one, in which to interpret
the Book of Revelation.
Dr. Mary Coloe PBVM
Australian Catholic University