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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

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.

Review by
Dr. Mary Coloe PBVM
Australian Catholic University