cover image Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End

Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End

Bart D. Ehrman. Simon & Schuster, $27.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-982-14799-0

Ehrman (Heaven and Hell), a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina, tackles the Book of Revelation in this ambitious but uneven outing. Written by the apostle John in exile, the “bizarre and unapproachable” text details God’s final judgments, which makes it especially relevant to consider in today’s “apocalyptic times,” Ehrman writes. Setting out a history of eschatological predictions, the author surveys dispensational premillenialism, a 19th-century school of thought that holds that Christ will return twice, and Christian Zionism, which calls for the mass return of Jews to Israel to “set the stage” for Jesus’s return. Examining passages about the apocalypse in Daniel and Ezekiel, the author concludes that literalist interpretations have gotten it wrong: Revelation was written for John’s era, and its “exaggerated claims” offered possible salvation to the day’s Christians and punishment for their Roman oppressors. Gentler interpretations, meanwhile, are wishful thinking. Instead, he argues, the book isn’t reflective of God’s true nature at all. Despite the rigor Ehrman brings to the table, there is surprisingly little discussion about first-century apocalyptic literature (including the writing of the Essenes), and Ehrman spends a lot of time debunking others’ views rather than making a case for his own. There are some bright moments, but this entry falls short of its lofty aims. (Mar.)