Spotlighting Student Work #13: Followers of the Apocalypse

Tonight we have a essay from local Jamie Lee–here’s a bit about Jamie and their essay.

I am from Auckland, I am studying a Bachelor of Arts double majoring in Film, Television and Media Studies and English. I am about to head on exchange to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and intend on becoming an English teacher overseas once I complete my degree. I have thoroughly enjoyed this class, as while I am not the most devout Catholic in the world, I have an interest in the way religion and popular culture interact with each other especially through film, music and video games. I am also very interested in the way the Bible has affected modern literature and storytelling as a whole. The main reason I chose to do an essay on Apocalyptic literature was in order to understand both its function and how it was written, as I intend on exploring creative writing alongside my current career plans, and felt like this knowledge might help inspire me creatively in the future.

Enjoy the read and have a good weekend!

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Bombs, Blizzards and Blight: Apocalypse in Popular Culture

Jamie Lee

Popular culture literature, for example films, gaming and music, have manipulated the Bible’s apocalyptic literary genre in order to convey modern audiences social anxieties about the future. Inspired by the Book of Revelation’s symbolism of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and fantastical imagery of the ‘end of the world’, modern apocalyptic literature has been used to convey fears of absolute nuclear annihilation and fears of a global environmental catastrophe leading to humanity’s demise.

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The Book of Revelation’s best boys

The Book of Revelation’s original function was as a symbolic depiction of current events, using fantastical imagery to both depict contemporary anxieties and to spread hope to a Christian audience who were facing persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. This is particularly obvious in the symbolic image of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, each of which is reflective of one of these contemporary anxieties. The first horse, ‘Conquest’, is described as “a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2). Similarly, the remaining horses of ‘War’ (red), ‘Famine’ (black) and ‘Death’ (pale) all reflect the anxieties of early Christians in the times of persecution they lived in.

Coded language was also used in apocalyptic literature to depict contemporary anxieties, particularly the image of the “mark of the beast”. The “mark of the beast” can be decoded in Revelation 13:18, which reads, “the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. It’s number is six hundred sixty-six”. Through the technique of “gematria”, the number 666 can be decoded into the words “Caesar Nero”, who is both the first Roman emperor and one of the most brutal emperors to persecute Christians following the “Great Fire of Rome”, which Christians were scapegoated as causing in 64AD (Marcus Borg, p.277).

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The apocalyptic fire of Rome

The other function of biblical apocalyptic literature was to provide an ‘end goal’ or resolution to this persecution, which in the case of the Book of Revelation appears through the use of destructive eschatological imagery. This particularly visible in Revelation 16:18, which reads “there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a violent earthquake.” The use of fantastical imagery is what inspired modern writers of apocalyptic literature to use similar imagery in their own works. However, there have been many shifts in the way apocalyptic literature functions in the modern era, particularly in the way in which it is read. As Bart D. Ehrman states in an interview, the Bible’s apocalyptic literature is often misread by the modern audience “as if these apocalypses are predicting things in our own future”, simply because these fantastical events imagined in the Bible never occurred in history. For contemporary readers of apocalyptic literature in the Bible, it was used directly to create hope for them in the face of ongoing Christian persecution, whereas the apocalyptic literature seen in popular culture is far more concerned about the future of society.

Fear of the outbreak of a full scale nuclear war and ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) has been a very real concern of society since World War II when the first atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. The first use of the atom bomb in Hiroshima led to the instant obliteration of 60,000 buildings within a three mile radius, and between 64,000 to 240,000 people died from mechanical, thermal or radiation injuries (Phillip M. Boffey, p.679). The sheer capabilities of nuclear weapons as shown by these two bombings led to ‘nuclear warfare’ becoming a very real fear of society, and this fear translated into popular culture in the form of modern apocalyptic literature.

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Those 2008 graphics really make you feel the desolation

The video game, Fallout 3 explores a post-apocalyptic civilization following the outbreak of full scale nuclear warfare in the year 2077. One of the most striking things about Fallout 3 is how lifeless the open-world of the “Capital Wasteland” is. Set in the ruins of Washington, D.C. almost no vegetation grows, the colour saturation is extremely pale and the Wasteland itself is filled with derelict, abandoned buildings and constant fighting between the survivors of the war, who without laws or government now do as they wish, with no consequences. This imagery of a desolate and lawless wasteland shares many similarities with apocalyptic literature in the Bible, for example Isaiah 24:1 reads, “Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate.” Additionally, Fallout 3’s main quest itself is inspired by the “spring of the water of life” seen in Revelation 21:6, by forcing the “Lone Wanderer” (the player) to decide whether or not they provide clean water for the people of the “Capital Wasteland”, or to unleash a devastating virus in it to purify the “Wasteland” of its violence and corruption.

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The colour palette may be similar, but the player characters are more attractive

Similarly, the film Mad Max: Fury Road uses much of the same imagery that is seen in the “Capital Wasteland”. Set in its own post-apocalyptic wasteland after an energy crisis led to the end of civilization, this wasteland is particularly distinct, as the entire movie is filled with imagery of sand and rusty machinery saturated in the colours of “ochre by day, cobalt by night” (Nick Pinkerton, p.82). The plot of the film revolves around the escape of the five wives of the tyrant, “Immortan Joe”, through the help of one of Joe’s lieutenants “Imperator Furiosa”, who intends on taking them to the “Green Place”, an idyllic land from Furiosa’s childhood. The discovery that the “Green Place” no longer exists — now a swampland — is extremely similar to the biblical verse of Revelation 8:7, which reads “there came hail and fire… they were hurled into the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” One crucial similarity between all of the aforementioned apocalyptic texts (Revelation, Fallout 3, Mad Max: Fury Road) is that they are rife with nostalgia, and all of them long for a return to a golden age.

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Furiosa in Fury Road’s wasteland

As Borg’s reading suggests, Jesus is considered the bringer of a “true golden age of peace on earth”, which is exactly what Revelation calls on its contemporary readers to wait for (p. 284). In the same way, the use of ironic 1940’s rhythm and blues such as “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” by the Ink Spots in Fallout 3 and Furiosa’s idyllic memory of the “Green Place” in Mad Max: Fury Road conveys a longing for a return to a simpler past which in reality can never be recovered.

Another fear in modern society which has been translated into popular culture is the increasing concern about climate change leading to a cataclysmic environmental apocalypse. Revelation’s imagery of cataclysmic events in particular have been the inspiration for popular culture interpretations of an environmental apocalypse. The film Soylent Green, based off the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison is set in a dystopian New York in the year 2022, where large-scale industrialization has led to overpopulation, resource shortages, pollution and global warming due to the greenhouse effect.

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The plot of the story revolves around the discovery of the horrible secret behind the new food source — “Soylent Green” — and what it is made from, after Sol Roth, Detective Thorn’s personal librarian discovers that the oceans are dying. This imagery of dying oceans is matched by Revelation 16:3, which reads “every living thing in the sea died.” The secret of what Soylent Green is actually made of is then discovered by Detective Thorn, as he finds that it is not made from animal products, but instead that Soylent Green is made out of people! Similarly, films such as 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow take the theme of climate change and use identical imagery to what is seen in Revelation to depict what an environmental apocalypse could look like. Catastrophic weather events seen in these films range from “floods” (Revelation 12:15), “earthquakes” (Revelation 8:5), “huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven on people” (Revelation 16:21) and “a third of humankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur” (Revelation 9:18). However, the key difference between Revelation and modern apocalyptic literature is that modern apocalyptic literature (especially films) typically dissociate themselves from the spiritual themes and messages of Revelation, instead preferring to focus on the resilience of humanity as a race.

One of the rare cases in which an environmental apocalypse is depicted on the big screen with an anxiety of contemporary Bible readers is in the science-fiction film Interstellar. The main cause of Interstellar’s environmental apocalypse is through the form of “Blight” which has wiped out almost every crop on the planet, and threatens to wipe out the last viable crop humanity has, corn. The manner in which “Blight” is personified in Interstellar is identical to the way “Pestilence” is personified as the horseman of the black horse from the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Revelation 6:5-6). “Blight” is also extremely similar to the famine in Revelation 18:8 which reads “plagues will come in a single day — pestilence and mourning and famine.” However, the solution to this plight faced in Interstellar is not spiritual, instead it is extraterrestrial.

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Look at all that extraterritory

Modern apocalyptic literature and the anxieties they reflect, such as nuclear warfare and climate change, are modern interpretations of society’s new “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. While the imagery of the apocalypse has remained remarkably similar over the course of two-thousand years, the function of apocalyptic literature has drastically shifted from providing hope for its readers by promising a return to a golden age to casting doubts and projecting fear about the future.

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Bibliography

All references to the Biblical text are from the NRSV

Boffey, Philip M. “HIROSHIMA/NAGASAKI: Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission Perseveres in Sensitive Studies.” Science, vol. 168, no. 3932, 1970, pp. 679–683. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1729022.

Ehrman, Bart D. “Apocalyptic Literature.” Bible Odyssey, National Endowment For The Humanities, 2013, http://www.bibleodyssey.org/tools/video-gallery/a/apocalyptic-literature.aspx.

Pinkerton, Nick. “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Sight & Sound, vol. 25, no. 7, July 2015, pp. 81–82.

“Reading Revelation Again.” Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally, by Marcus J. Borg, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, pp. 265–292.

Reagan, David R. “Nuclear Weapons in the End Times.” Lamb and Lion Ministries, christinprophecy.org/articles/nuclear-weapons-in-the-end-times/.

 

Spotlighting Student Work #9: The Song that Plays at the End of the World

Tonight we have a highly interesting essay relating the apocalyptic and revelatory themes in the bible to the message of hope expressed through metal music. Our author is Varun Modi, here’s a bit about him.

With my family originally coming from India, then moving to the United Kingdom and then New Zealand – one could say I’ve been around a fair bit. Having settled in Rotorua and completed high school, I decided to come to Auckland University to study 1st year Biomedical sciences with the aim of getting into Medical School. As per the requirement of the course I was to pick up a General Education paper, and ended up choosing TheoRel 101G. Having come from Anglican schools I was fairly familiar with the Bible, but less so with Popular Culture – and I thought that learning the interlinking of these two would aid me in becoming more street smart, whilst being a nice break from all the science. The reviews online were fabulous for the course, and as it fit into my timetable – why not? Having particularly enjoyed the apocalypse week, I decided to base my essay around this topic – linking one of my guilty pleasures of metal music to this was a ‘Revelation’ (Pun intended :P)

Enjoy the read, and have a good night.

The Revelation of Metal Music

Varun Modi

One can argue that metal music isn’t included in popular culture, yet one could also argue that it allows one to express one’s feelings and thoughts in a form that can often be deemed as angrier. Therefore, metal music has its own niche in popular culture, acting as a medium for emotions and thoughts to be expressed. One theme prevalent in metal music is that of hope, utilised by bands such as Avenged Sevenfold. This mimics the theme of hope in the book of Revelation, and as such, metal bands use explicit and implicit allusions to Revelation to aid the deliverance of their underlying message. Yet, different interpretations of this book have led to unique perspectives on Revelation, thus allowing for varying portrayals of hope, anxiety and fantastical descriptions of oppression.

‘The Beast and the Harlot’ is a song by Avenged Sevenfold that portrays a theme of hope for those who have sinned. This contradicts what is stated in the book of Revelation, yet the song still utilises explicit allisions to it. Therefore, the apocalyptic theme of hope is used to similar effect, but the text is used in a different application. This may reflect a modern interpretation of the text. The song describes the ‘symbolic woman’ that sits on a ‘seven-headed beast’ with ‘ten horns raised from his head’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). This is an explicit allusion to the description in Revelation 17:3,15; thereby creating a similar setting to the story in Revelation. The woman’s actions of ‘fornicating with our kinds’ directly relates to Revelation 18:3, she is ‘a dwelling place for demons’ and is referred to as ‘Babylon’ who is fallen; these descriptions cement the song’s allusions and background (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). The destruction ‘in an hour’ marks God’s judgement day (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006) – it is here where the storyline deviates. In Revelation hope was for the servants who stayed loyal, whereas in the song hope is portrayed for ‘all us sinners’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). The song states that ‘you’ve made the wrong decision and it’s easy to see’, referring to a sin, and also that ‘you’re welcome to the city where your future is set forever’ to ‘serve above’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). In contrast, Revelation states in 21:8 that sinners are place in ‘the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is second death’.

One can argue this change is due to taking the original text in context with other biblical texts and modern Christian tradition, thereby sinners would be allowed into the new city. Revelation 21:27 states that ‘only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ ‘will enter it’. In Anglican tradition, it can be thought that if one repents one’s sins and is forgiven then one can be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lamb is often used as a synonym for Jesus, and therefore if one who has sinned repents, they may be allowed into the new kingdom where ‘nothing accursed will be found there’ (Revelation 22:3). Therefore, the more modern context creates a similar theme of hope like Revelation, yet does so for a different group of people than the original text.

‘The Wicked End’ by Avenged Sevenfold shows Revelation from a radical perspective, offering a different modern interpretation that uses implicit allusion whilst providing a theme of people being in a position of oppression yearning for hope – similar to this theme in Revelation. One can argue that the song’s perspective is of a person with the mark of the beast, who has been bullied into wearing this mark yet is still to have judgement day ruled upon him. This person has accepted that they ‘won’t be here tomorrow’, whilst still asking the prophet to ‘feel sorrow for mankind’s chance to survive’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005) – which has somewhat of a resemblance to a plea. The only direct allusion to Revelation is of 13:18, where the person states, ‘we have grown into the numbers six hundred sixty six’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005) – this signifies that they are one with the mark of the beast. The reason as to why the person appears to be oppressed, in a time where it would be liberating to be sided with the beast, is that they suggest they have lived a ‘life of misery’. The person seems aware of ‘man becoming more corrupt now, godless, wicked and cruel’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005) – suggesting they don’t agree with these actions of mankind. This allusion aids in cementing the context relative to Revelation and the position of the person in the song, who is in an oppressed state – oppression being like the faithful people in Revelation but unlike them in the sense of who is being oppressed.

Furthermore, there are other Biblical references alluded to in this song, such as in the second chorus where the person says to ‘dust the apple off, savour each bite and deep inside you know Adam was right’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005). This explicit allusion is to Genesis 3, referencing what can be viewed as the first sin of humankind. The suggestion to savour each bite emulates a relishing of sin, whilst also appreciating that one cannot freely sin – replicating the theme of how the beasts reign was only for 42 months (Revelation 11:2), a limited period of time. The notion of Adam being in the right can be interpreted in many ways. It could be viewed as stated in Genesis 3:6 where Eve ‘gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate’ – showing someone following in the footsteps of the first person to have sinned, such as the person may have done in this situation – perhaps against their will. Furthermore, it could be said that it is a necessity for Adam and Eve to eat the apple to allow humankind to flourish to their true nature and not always be protected by God (Frank, 1995; see also the Book of Job). The point of this allusion is to signify the persona as a sinner whilst trying to convince us as a judge that the sin is justified due to potential oppression. The other Biblical allusion is to that of ‘Mary’s words rang so true’, which can be interpreted as a reference to Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-55. The allusion to Luke 1:46-55 shows that God is a powerful saviour, exemplifying his strength over the beast and everything else through creating ‘chastisement worse than the flood’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005).

The presence of implicit allusions to Revelation in the song are of ‘heaven’ falling, ‘his sins’ and the ‘churches burning, women ravaged, children crying’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005). These refer to the formation of the New City, the sins of the Beast whom the people with the mark of the beast are now ‘left with’ and the fall of Babylon respectively (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005). The use of these implicit allusions here helps portray the desired perspective of the judgement the person is to face whilst keeping the original context of Revelation. This modern interpretation taken by Avenged Sevenfold emphasises this theme of oppression and hope, and serves as a plea for help from those who have been wrongfully forced into sinful situation – this can be a common occurrence in modern society, for example, people in situations of religious oppression, and those who do things they don’t believe in only to save their own lives.

Implicit and explicit allusions can be used to varying effects to portray a theme of hope, yet these are not separate and can exist on a spectrum to access the advantages of both to portray a theme. A theme portrayed in Revelation is anxiety of the people at the time this book was written, represented by the four horsemen – Conquest, War, Famine and Death (Revelation 6:1-8). In Metallica’s ‘The Four Horsemen’, the titles of the horsemen are Time, Famine, Pestilence and Death (Metallica, 1983). The explicit allusion of using the same idea of the Four Horsemen and keeping Famine and Death, whilst also the implicit allusion by changing Conquest and War to Time and Pestilence shows the transition in the anxieties of the times. Some anxieties seem to be set in time whereas others fluctuate, and the fact that Metallica deviates from the original text shows modern acclimatization of these apocalyptic themes in metal music. The similar effect of portraying anxieties of the time in Revelation is copied here. On the other hand, themes from Revelation copied in metal music are not always used to similar effect. The use of fantastical imagery is ever prevalent in metal music, as it is in Revelation, especially in a genre known as power metal. Bands such as Dragonforce and Sonata Arctica emphasise  this imagery by their high anthemic and choral vocals. Yet nowadays, in comparison to Revelation where fantastic imagery was used to describe oppression discreetly and to hide critique from a political power,  this imagery is more often used to express individual feelings and thoughts rather than to critique a particular political agenda.

The use of themes of anxiety, hope and oppression in metal music expresses the bands’ own frustrations and thoughts, sometimes hidden behind vivid imagery. Therefore, there will be an overlap with apocalyptic themes in this context – yet not many songs create allusions to the book of Revelation. These allusions allow for these themes to be expressed in a different light from the original context, using implicit or explicit allusions. One could argue the place of apocalyptic themes in the metal fan base is necessary to resonate with a fan base during tough times – as the musicality can often help vent frustrations or calm oneself. The expression of these themes utilising metal as a genre creates a medium that can lend itself to more fantastical imagery, destruction and freer expression as opposed to other genres of music, which may conform to certain boundaries imposed by the music industry powers-that-be.

Bibliography

Frank, S. (1995). Eve Was Right to Eat the ‘Apple’: The Importance of Narrative in the Art of Lawyering. Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, 8(1), 79-118.

Metallica, P. C. (1983). The Four Horsemen [Recorded by Metallica]. Rochester, New York, United States of America. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Metallica-the-four-horsemen-lyrics

Sevenfold, A., & Murdock, A. (2005). The Wicked End [Recorded by A. Sevenfold]. Los Angeles, California, United States of America. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Avenged-sevenfold-the-wicked-end-lyrics

Sevenfold, A., & Murdock, A. (2006). The Beast and the Harlot [Recorded by A. Sevenfold]. Los Angeles, California, United States of America. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Avenged-sevenfold-beast-and-the-harlot-lyrics

The Bible, using verses from Book of Revelation, Luke, Genesis and notion to the Book of Job