Mythological Imagery and Symbolism in Revelation 12:1-9

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Mythological Imagery and symbolism in Revelation 12:1-9
Tom Sellick
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA with honours in Biblical Studies and Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. I certify that this dissertation is based on my own original research and contains no material from any other source which is not referenced.

1. Introduction – p.2
2. Evidence of two myths in Rev. 12:1-9 - p.3
3. The Combat Myth – p.4
3.1 The Combat myth in Revelation 12:1-6 – p.4
3.2 The combat myth in the Old Testament – p.5
3.3 The Appearance of the Dragon – p.6
4. The Fallen Angel: Isaiah and Helel ben Shahar – p.7
5. Reading the Symbolism of the Dragon – p.8
5.1 The Dragon as a symbol of Chaos – p.8
5.2 Pompey the Dragon. Psalms of Solomon 2:25-29 – p.9 5.3 Rome and the Apollo Combat Myth – p.10
6. Reading the symbolism of the Serpent – p.12
6.1 The Protoevangelium – p.12
6.2 The Snake as a Pagan Symbol - p.13
7. Conclusion – p.14
8. Bibliography – p.16

1. Introduction

This dissertation will discuss the mythological sources of Revelation 12:1-9, and attempt to provide an exegetical commentary on the symbolism of the Dragon and the Serpent. I shall argue that the mythological symbolism was incorporated into Rev. 12:1-9 following conventions found throughout the Old Testament and extra-biblical Hebrew texts, which allowed the author to develop his conception of ultimate evil and its eventual eschatological defeat by God. The Dragon appears as the prime antagonist of the forces of Christianity, a representation of the grand evil that must be overcome for the victory of God. In Rev. 12:9 the Dragon is given three other names, the Serpent, the Devil and Satan, which were intended to associate four conceptions of evil within Hebrew theology. As an entity in the book, the Dragon must be understood in terms of symbolism to the author and his original audience, for it is this creature’s presence that lies behind the conflict of Rv. Ch.12-20. In academic studies of the provenance of the narrative and imagery of Revelation 12:1-9, two prevailing schools of thought can be observed. The first views the text as an ancient pagan myth about a cosmic struggle between a woman, her child and a chaotic adversary, which has been later redacted and embellished with symbolism from the burgeoning Christ cult by the author of Revelation. The second regards the texts as drawing its narrative and imagery predominantly from OT, extra-biblical Hebrew sources and Christian tradition, while conceding the presence of the mythological elements, which are used to develop theological and political arguments. This dissertation seeks to argue from a third position, suggesting that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and discusses two ancient myths amalgamated to form John’s Christian eschatological theology in Revelation 12:1-9, place them in the context of biblical literature and attempt to provide a reading of the symbols of the Dragon and Serpent. Chapter two will show that it is extremely unlikely, if not impossible for a Christian author to have independently have written Rev. 12:1-9, as the imagery contained is completely at odds with the beliefs and tenants of faith of the Christian community at the time. It will demonstrate that the mythological imagery must have come from other sources that were available to John, and that there appears to be two myths that John has built into his narrative: the combat myth and the rebel myth. Chapter three will identify the combat myth in Rev. 12:1-6 and locate the myth’s international origins. This will show how the myth was incorporated into the mythologies that informed the OT writers, and will demonstrate that an extra-biblical myth was still present throughout the time of the OT’s writing. The myth will be shown to have remained active at least until the era...
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