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Apocalypse Now

Why the Book of Revelations is Must Reading

by GARY LEUPP

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, and the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.

Revelation 21:1-2

A Godsend for the Warmongers

In my naively believing childhood, when I eagerly devoured the whole Bible, acquiring in the process a love of stories (if not of history), I read the Book of Revelation, fascinated by its awe-inspiring imagery and promise of glorious punishment and reward at the end of the human record. I later learned that Martin Luther, puzzled and troubled by the work, doubted whether it should ever have been included in the New Testament. (Some might conclude from this that one can be a Christian while not accepting this particular text.) He could "in no way detect that the Holy Spirit had produced it." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther He also doubted whether the Epistle of St. James should be considered canonical, since it appears to challenge the doctrine of salvation by faith so central to Pauline theology. In the end he included both books in his German translation of the Bible. Had he omitted James, there would have been little impact on the subsequent Protestant movement, but had he jettisoned Revelation, the world might be rather different now. The book is more central to the beliefs of some churches than to others, but it has greatly affected the way many view current events. Sixteenth century Protestant preachers were sure that the Pope was the Antichrist, and descriptions of the Wars of Religion draw upon its apocalyptic imagery. Even today people draw upon it, as the War on Terrorism threatens to become a War of Religion. Some think Revelation 18:8-10, in which Babylon is doomed "within a single hour" and "burnt right up" refers to the 9-11 attack on New York.

Revelation is must reading nowadays, especially for the nonbeliever. I have returned to it, many years after abandoning the above-mentioned childhood faith, not because I think it is inspired prophecy, there being in my opinion no such thing, but because many other people (including many I’d grant are "good" people) think that it is. And because some of them think this piece of Holy Scripture somehow justifies ongoing imperialist war, which they (with their commander-in-chief) conceptualize religiously as a war of Good versus Evil. And because that conviction causes believers to support, on faith, Bush’s efforts to remold the Middle East in the way the neocons (who are overwhelmingly not fundamentalist Christians, but who assiduously court them) want to do it. One should read Revelation to see how it can be used, and to see what sort of worldview the book encourages.

It is truly a godsend to those in the administration who want to transform the Muslim world, acquiring strategic control over Southwest Asia while enhancing Israel’s security situation, that a considerable portion of the U.S. population consists of persons who take the book seriously. The neocons and patrons manipulate the Christian devout who adulate Ariel Sharon like a rock star, believe Israel (miraculously reconstituted half a century ago, in fulfillment of Ezekiel 37:12-14) can do no wrong, have little concern about Arabs’ rights, and think Islam is a teaching of the Devil. Rev. Jerry Falwell calls the Prophet Muhammed a "terrorist." Rev. Franklin Graham calls Islam "a wicked, evil religion" and says its God is not the Christians’ God. These reverends’ followers are very useful supporters of the war on the human mind that is the "war on terrorism," the focus of which shifted so swiftly from al-Qaeda to Iraq (alike in little save their Muslimness), and could shift to Syria or Iran or Pakistan suddenly tomorrow. When you mix the anti-Islam pronouncements with Bush policy decisions and millenarian faith, you have an explosive combination.

 

Apocalypses

But fire will come down from heaven and consume them. Then the devil, who misled them, will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and false prophet are, and their torture will not stop, day or night, for ever and ever.

(20:10).

This ancient, mysterious Book of Revelation is itself incendiary. It’s one example of a popular type of literature (apocalypse in Greek) which, using richly symbolic language encouraging multiple interpretations, reveals that which is hidden, including events in the future. There are many other examples of such works written between 300 BCE and 200 CE; Jewish ones include the Book of Enoch and the Apocalypse of Ezra, Christian ones include the Apocalypse of Paul and the Apocalypse of Peter. (For translations, see Willis Barnstone, ed., The Other Bible.) The Apocalypse of Peter was very popular in Rome as of the third century, but didn’t make it into the Bible; at a synod at Rome in 382, the present canon of 27 New Testament books was fixed. The Apocalypse of Peter, and numerous gospels and letters, were denounced as "false" and often burned.

Authorities differ on the dating of Revelation, some favoring the late 60s (soon after Nero’s persecution of the Christians), more favoring ca. 95 (after the dispersion of the Jews from Roman Palestine). It is of unknown authorship; although traditionally attributed to Jesus’ disciple John, its language is so different from the Gospel of John and that of the three letters attributed to John in the New Testament, that most serious scholars doubt it was written by the apostle. Authored by a Jewish Christian who had spent time on Patmos (a tiny Aegean island used as a penal colony by the Romans), it expresses great rage at the Roman Empire, referred to here as "Babylon," the name of the empire that had conquered the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and dispersed their populations centuries earlier.

Biblical prophecy, a cousin of Zoroastrian and Buddhist and other prophecy, and harbinger of prophetic writing from Mani to Nostradamus to Jeanne Dixon, rests on the assumption that the future is pre-determined, as part of God’s plan, and can be foretold by those whom God decides shall do so. Some biblical prophecy was in fact composed after the events the prophet is purported to have predicted; the Old Testament Book of Daniel, which predicts the fall of Babylon to the Persians, and Persia’s fall to the Greeks, was written around 167 BCE after all these things had already happened. Unless it’s demystified, prophecy is one of the spookiest and most powerful elements in religion, and can be deftly deployed to play upon fears and earnest expectations alike. James Warren Jones, architect of the Jonestown Massacre, convinced his followers that he was the Second Coming of Christ. Aum Shinrikyo guru Asahara Shoko could persuade very sophisticated, intelligent Japanese people to randomly gas others in the Tokyo subway by manipulating bits and pieces of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu prophecy about the end of the world. Far more sophisticated and well-funded religious leaders can draw upon faith in a foregone future to get people to abet that future’s fulfillment—for example, by supporting administration actions in the Middle East believing they portend the Second Coming.

It’s easy to understand Luther’s doubts about the Book of Revelation. It is filled with kabbalism, symbolic use of numbers, such as the number seven (as in, the seven hills of Rome, the seven Roman emperors from Augustus, the seven churches of Asia to whom the work is addressed); and that number striking fear into some hearts: 666. Revelation makes no reference to the Trinity, but rather to "seven spirits of God" and to Jesus as an emanation of God, subordinate to him although present from the dawn of time. The book’s theology is hard to reconcile with the rest of the New Testament, which was still taking shape; it stands apart. Jesus in Revelation is not meek and mild but brutally vengeful upon his return—the second earthly appearance predicted in Matthew 25, Luke 21, John 16 etc.

 

Summary of John’s Visions

Revelation is a long, confusing sequence of visions, but can be summarized as follows. John of Patmos first transmits divine wisdom to seven churches in Asia Minor. These were not necessarily the most important Christian communities of the time, just ones whose problems he was apparently familiar with; and again, the number seven is special. Then John conveys the content of a vision in which the door of Heaven opens and he sees God (who "looked like a diamond and a ruby") surrounded by twenty-four elders in white robes and four fantastic animals giving praise. In the right hand of God is a scroll "sealed with seven seals." A Lamb (that is, Jesus Christ) who appears to have been sacrificed, with seven horns and seven eyes "which are the seven Spirits God has sent out all over the world" steps forward to accept the scroll while the twenty-four sing a hymn. The Lamb breaks the seals, and as he does so, a rider on a white horse appears to accept a victor’s crown; another rider, on a red horse, comes to receive a huge sword and "set people killing one another;" another, on a black horse, arrives with scales while the four animals shout about daily wages, barley, oil and wine; another, on a deathly pale horse, arrives representing Plague. These Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are given authority over a quarter of the earth, "to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague and wild beasts."

When the fifth seal is broken, John sees underneath the heavenly altar the souls of all those killed for witnessing to the word of God. They ask why God does not immediately pass sentence and take vengeance on the inhabitants of the earth for their deaths (6:10-11). They are given white robes and told to wait a bit longer until the prophesized number of Christians are killed. Then the sixth seal is broken, and the sky disappears, and the people of the world flee to mountains and caves, begging the rocks to fall on them to protect them from the wrath of God. Four avenging angels appear to destroy humankind, but are restrained by another who asks them to wait until seals have been placed on the heads of 144,000 persons "out of all the tribes of Israel" who are servants of God. (The Jehovah’s Witnesses especially emphasize this passage, Revelation 7:4.) That’s the twelve tribes of Israel times 12,000; there’s no mention here of the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.

The opening of the seventh seal produces silence in heaven for half an hour. Thereupon seven trumpets are given seven angels standing before God. One angel throws fire from a golden censer to earth, and the earth shakes. One by one the angels blow their trumpets, bringing punitive devastation to the earth. These events do not seem to represent happenings that chronologically succeed one another (and the whole narrative is filled with logical puzzles); rather, the trumpet events expand upon those events associated with the opening of the seals. Between the sixth and seventh trumpet blasts, John is told to go to the Temple in Jerusalem with a measuring rod, and to measure the sanctuary and altar and people worshipping there—but not the outer court, which has been given over to pagans for forty-two months. God sends two sackcloth-clad witnesses with special powers, such as the ability to turn water into blood, to prophesy in Jerusalem. But the serpent, after those forty-two months, makes war on them and kills them. Their corpses lie in the Great City (not Jerusalem but evil Rome), as people rejoice at the troublemakers’ deaths. But they are revived after three and a half days, while a great earthquake occurs, killing 7000.

John meanwhile sees a vision of a pregnant woman, "adorned with the sun, standing on the moon" who as she gives birth is confronted by a huge red dragon (Satan) who tries to eat the child as it is born. (Commentators differ on whether this woman is Israel giving birth to the messiah, or the Virgin Mary doing so. Catholic commentary favors the first interpretation.) But God takes the baby (destined "to rule all the nations with an iron scepter") up into heaven while the woman escapes to the desert for 1260 days. War breaks out in Heaven between the dragon and the archangel Michael and other angels; the dragon, defeated, is thrown down to earth, where he unsuccessfully attacks the woman and "the rest of her children, that is, all who obey God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus."

The dragon delegates his power to a seven-headed beast emerging from the sea (who appears to be a political ruler, and is often associated with the Antichrist, although that term does not occur in this text but only in 1 John 2:18, 4:2-3 and 2 John 1:7). Then another beast (a religious ruler, a false prophet) emerges as slave to this beast from the sea. He makes the world worship the first beast, and makes everyone worship his statue. The number of the second beast is 666. (The kabbalist association of numbers with the Roman letters "Nero Caesar" produces this figure.)

Next John in his vision sees the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion with the 144,000, all with the Father’s name on their foreheads. These are the ones who have kept their virginity (sexual abstinence being a requisite for membership in some Christian Gnostic sects before the emergence of an orthodox form of Christianity) and have never lied. No fault can be found with them. (Notice how there is no hint of St. Paul’s notion of "justification by faith" here.) Flying overhead, angels call upon all to worship God, and announce "Babylon has fallen!" They declare that they will torture all who worship the statue of the beast. One of the four animals gives the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with God’s wrath; these are emptied over the world, producing disease and turning rivers and oceans to blood. Again, the disasters described overlap and amplify the first two sequences of seven.

Now here is where it starts to get especially "relevant." The sixth angel empties his bowl over the Euphrates River (that is to say, in present day Iraq), drying up the water so that the "kings of the East" are able to come in. From the jaws of the dragon and two aforementioned beasts appear three "foul spirits" looking like frogs; they are in fact demon spirits able to work miracles. Their job is to organize the kings of the world to war against the Almighty. They call the kings together at Armageddon. (This refers to the Megiddo mountains, near the modern Israeli town of Megiddo, about 15 miles from the Palestinian town of Jenin. In the seventh century BCE King Josiah was defeated here by the Egyptian pharaoh. The name became synonymous with military disaster.)

The seventh angel empties his bowl into the air, producing the greatest earthquake the world has ever known and destroying the Great City, all islands, and all mountains. But this isn’t yet the end, and the vision is not over. One of the seven angels with a bowl shows John a "famous prostitute," a woman riding a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns (that is, the beast from the sea, the political ruler); on her forehead is written "Babylon the Great, the mother of all prostitutes and all the filthy practices of the earth." (Most commentators think this means Rome.) She is drunk with the blood of the Christian martyrs. The heads of the beasts she rides, John learns, are "seven emperors," five of who have gone (the Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero?), while one lives now (Galba?) and one is yet to come. This last will rule for only a short time; the beast and him will go to their destruction. (Obviously the writer thought the end of the world was very near.)

The beast’s ten heads represent ten kings who will rule "for only an hour," going to war with the Lamb and meeting defeat at the hands of the faithful. Then the prostitute will be stripped naked, the faithful will eat her flesh and burn the remains in a fire (17:16). All the merchants, traders and sea captains who profited from trading with her will be punished, while victory songs resound in heaven. Another great battle begins, between the beast and the kings of the earth and a rider called the Word of God who rides on a white horse. The beast from the sea and the false prophet are thrown into a fiery lake of burning sulfur, while the dragon ("which is the devil and Satan") who had appeared at the outset of the narrative is chained up for 1000 years. Those Christians who died in persecutions are now resurrected, and reign with Christ for those 1000 years. (There are different opinions as to whether these Christians are limited to the aforementioned 144,000.)

One is tempted to stop the summary here, since, one might expect, those who accept this text as prophesy are just thinking about events up to this millennium moment. But some Christian thinkers (notably St. Augustine of Hippo, 354-430) came to interpret all the foregoing as pre-fourth century, past events, symbolically portrayed, preceding Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Toleration (313) and soon thereafter, the establishment of Christianity as the Empire’s official and only tolerated faith. Augustine thought he lived at the inception of the 1000 years mentioned above. There are logical problems here, since the "Great City" and "Babylon" are Rome, and Rome didn’t in fact meet with the predicted fire and brimstone but rather become thoroughly and aggressively Christianized. But if one says all the foregoing is a symbolic representation of the past, what comes next (20:7 through 22:25) is of key importance.

Satan is for some reason released from prison after 1000 years, and deceives the leaders of all the nations, led by Gog and Magog, to attack Jerusalem, "the camp of the saints." (Some conflate this with the Battle of Armageddon only hinted at in 16:16.) But fire comes down from heaven to consume them (20:9). God opens the book of life and judges all the dead; those already in Hades, and anyone not listed in the book, are thrown into a second death in a burning lake. A new heaven and new earth appear, their precedents having passed away; the new Jerusalem comes down from Heaven, and there is universal joy. Curiously, there are still pagan nations, but they "will live by the light" of the New Jerusalem (22:24).

 

Revelation and Bush’s War

This is the basic presentation in Revelation, presented, I hope, with fairness. (The true believer often resents dispassionate presentation of material he or she thinks obviously holy more than the mere contemptuous dismissal of the same.) Many supplement it with material from Old Testament prophesy (such as Ezekiel and Daniel) and other New Testament material, such as the Antichrist concept and the notion of the "Rapture" (based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Obviously in its vagueness, it can be applied to many times and places, rather like the dire predictions of the (Buddhist) Lotus Sutra have been employed to explain calamities in Asian societies over centuries. Eugene Gallagher, Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College, writes that "the lush imagery and the complicated imagery of Revelation, has been one of the things that has kept people reading it. Because it can always be renewed. It can always be applied to a new situation."

Indeed, surfing the web, you find the Pope, Russian President Putin, even President Bush, all identified as the beast/Antichrist, on sites creatively combining New Age trends, kabbalism, astrology, Nostradamus cultism and Biblical literalism. Don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but few religious texts inspire more babble.

So how can Revelation be politically applied today? Well, let’s say we forget the scholarly analysis that interprets the whole thing as a statement of Christian hatred for Rome, and of passionate belief in an imminent Second Coming that will bring ruin to the Roman Empire and glory to the Christian oppressed. Let us say it indeed refers to the future, while noting that there are some people out there very disappointed that the year 2000 went by with nary a trace of a Second Coming. They long for that Coming, understandably, as we all pine for utopia, and they want to apply Revelation to current events.

Let us say that Babylon really means Babylon, the city along the Euphrates, in modern-day Iraq, noting that it suffers terrible ruin at the hand of God. Let us note that the sixth angel allows the "kings of the East" to attack the dried-up Euphrates, and that thereafter apocalyptic battles take place in Armageddon and Jerusalem, resulting in Christ’s return and the establishment of a new Jerusalem on earth. Let’s note that earthly rulers mentioned in general fight against God and Jerusalem, including "ten kings" who some in the past have identified as the leaders of the European Union. (That’s gotten harder with the expansion of the EU.) Gog and Magog have been identified in the past with the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t work well nowadays. As for the beast (Antichrist), there have been and are many candidates, and something as random as a U.S. political scandal could throw up more..

Well, it doesn’t take too much a stretch of the fevered imagination to see in this narrative a divine plan for a righteous attack on Iraq, followed by continued disorder in Iraq involving kings from the east (east from Iraq you have Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan), triggering war in Israel, pitting the good souls of Jerusalem (aided for a time by two divinely-sent witnesses) against the whole world arrayed against them, including "pagans" (Palestinians?) who occupy the outer court of the Temple in Jerusalem for 42 months, but after fire comes down from heaven to consume armies whose soldiers are as numerous as grains of sand, the chosen will remain, to rule with Jesus forever, headquartered in Jerusalem. It’s an affecting, and at the end, even beautiful vision for some believing Christians, whose view of the contemporary Middle East might be deeply influenced by this text.

But there must be, according to the prophecy, a war of unprecedented horror in the Middle East before Jesus returns and renders judgment, and finally solves all the problems of the world.

So the current war, undertaken by godly men, might be GOOD. Forget the moral qualms of the bleeding heart nonbelievers. If righteous cruelty is prophesied, can we not condone it in the here and now? Have thousands of Afghans and Iraqis died? Well, divine fire rains from the sky in Revelation. God wills this. Torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere? Why, angels torture in Revelation 18:7. Why should this be a problem?

 

Securing the Realm

Let us say you embrace this general Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds scenario. Do Bush’s reasons for attacking Iraq make any difference? No. The nonexistent weapons of mass destruction aside, the unsubstantiated al-Qaeda links, all pale against the argument that God’s chosen president expressed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East." The problem of the credibly of his Iraq claims recedes in importance when you read, in Christianity Today, Bush’s heartfelt statement of political philosophy: "when you’re trying to lead the world in a war that I view as really between the forces of good and the forces of evil, you got [sic] to speak clearly. There can’t be any doubt." Bush is working God’s will, following his Plan, swaggering towards Armageddon. It’s undoubtedly as simple as Good and Evil.

One wants to think, of course, that logical analysis and methodical exposure of the accelerated moves towards unchallenged global control the Bush administration has undertaken since 9-11 might slowly but surely disabuse the most benighted of their support for continued U.S. military aggression. Skepticism increases in the wake of disasters in Iraq, journalistic exposés, and official investigations, but much of this flies over the heads of those most vulnerable to a kind of neo-fascist, deliberately non-rational appeal.

Revelation, like most scriptures, it is what Marx said of religion in general: an expression of, and protest against, suffering. As such it holds great appeal, and is of interest even to the non-believer. It contains powerful images; the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, for example, is an often-encountered literary trope. It has a beauty analogous to a Wagnerian opera, but just as (and I say this as a fan) such art held a particularly dangerous content in Germany in the 1930s, so at present this text’s message dovetails so smoothly with the war plans of this administration that it may be dangerous.

Of course Revelation is read differently by different people. The Rastafarians believe that the Second Coming it describes refers to Emperor Haile Selassie, and for them, "Babylon" means any oppressive society. Bob Marley could draw upon Revelation to write about liberation. Folksongs and Negro spirituals pining for a "New Jerusalem" don’t urge military aggression to create it. Like so much scripture, Revelation lends itself to interpretation. Hong Houxiu, head of the Taiping Rebellion in China in the mid-nineteenth century, believed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, sent to establish the Taiping or Kingdom of Heaven. His fanatic followers, ruling from 1853 in Nanjing until their defeat in 1860, drew upon the Book of Revelation. In the 1890s the Paiute Indian Wavoka, also influenced by the Book of Revelation and claiming to be Christ, taught the Ghost Dance to his followers so that they could dance up into the air while a new earth was being established. (Many of his dancers perished at Wounded Knee.)

Revelation does not instruct its believing reader to favor this or that policy option. I assume there are believers who are thoroughly against the war on Iraq. But believers energized by anticipation of a glorious new world on the horizon, and by the belief that they are participating in prophesized events, may become particularly apt to place blind faith in an aggressive Good vs. Evil foreign policy. They should be informed that beneath the simplistic religious justification for the "war on terrorism" (including the war in Iraq, which the Bush administration sees as the central battlefield of the "war on terrorism," but which many scholars and officials regard as an entirely separate phenomenon) there is a layer of carefully researched and presented strategy papers authored by the prophetic neocons. These neoconservatives have led the administration in producing regime change in Afghanistan, invading and occupying Iraq, deferring in unprecedented fashion to Israeli policy while demanding changes in the Palestinian Authority and severing ties with Yassir Arafat.

They have imposed sanctions on Syria, indicated approval of an Israeli air strike on Syria, and have been preparing a case to justify military action against Damascus. They have stepped-up efforts to influence the unstable political situation in Iran, with Radio Farda, and have depicted the Iranian nuclear program currently under UN inspection as a serious threat, hinting that they would support an Israeli strike à la Osiraq 1981. They’ve put the onus for Arab backwardness on Arab culture, pronouncing the democratization of the Middle East a U.S. policy priority. Meanwhile they’ve established U.S. military bases throughout Muslim Central Asia and set up new ones throughout the Persian Gulf region to compensate for the withdrawal of forces from Saudi Arabia. Plainly they have big plans for the region. You get some inkling of those plans are in the 1996 strategy paper "A Clean Break: A New Project for Securing the Realm" , authored by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and other neocons that have shaped and articulated current U.S. Middle East policy. It was written for the Israeli government, but the authors see the interests of Israel and the U.S. as nearly identical and have in their capacity as American officials pursued the goals indicated in this document. The authors of the position papers of the unabashedly imperialist Project for a New American Century also indicate neocon goals for the region. These gentlemen and women by and large do not believe in the Book of Revelation, but I’ll bet they believe in its utility.

This is the problem. Leo Strauss’s thought divides humanity into three types: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise use deception (noble lies) to attain their ends, using gentlemen (who are not wise but who are powerful) to control the masses. Religion is a vital tool in controlling the masses ("as lambs to the slaughter"), and the non-believing wise can also use it to manipulate "gentlemen." Revelation, at the hands of the wise, gentle or vulgar, is among the world’s most easily manipulated of books; the wise can do it best.

Hal Lindsey, best-selling author of The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) identified the beast of Revelation (the Antichrist) with the Soviet Union. But later, with the European Union. Now, perhaps, global Islam. His most recent book, The Everlasting Hatred: The Roots of Jihad, traces Arab-Israeli enmity back to the days of Abraham, depicts Islam itself as the problem, and concludes with a chapter on "Armageddon: The Climax of Hate." Many are being influenced by this book, and its association of the Muslim fighter with the Serpent, the Beast, the False Prophet, etc. Those persuaded by its message might be more inclined to support more troops in Iraq, or the expansion of the war into Syria, or restoration of a draft, because prophesy supports it. Very dangerous indeed.

* * *

Friedrich Engels (one of the most rational and encyclopedic minds of the nineteenth century, who had a keen interest in the history of religion) wrote in one of his last substantial works that the Book of Revelation was both the "most obscure book in the Bible" and "the most comprehensible and the clearest." Drawing upon recent German scholarship, he emphasized that the work should be clearly comprehended as an expression of rage against Rome (that republic led by a senate that had morphed over time into an empire oppressing people from Britain to Mesopotamia, meeting with particularly fierce resistance in the lands of the Middle East) and its persecution of Christians, who were overwhelmingly drawn from the humblest classes throughout the empire. As such, it commands respect as an expression of resistance to oppression. But in the hands of evangelical commentators, who (thoroughly at peace with contemporary imperialism) line up chronological charts about the near-term future, with authoritative pomposity linking prophecy with current Middle Eastern events (much as the astrologer casts horoscopes with pseudoscientific precision, using snake-oil salesmanship to seduce the gullible), it becomes something quite different: a validation for ongoing war.

Luther in no way detected the Holy Spirit in it. But Bush, committed to an Armageddon-like war between the forces of good and those of evil, no doubt sees forces of good throughout this scripture, which may speak to him directly. We should all study this particular weapon, if only to better understand the minds of the president and his dead-ender followers.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu