The Ophite Diagrams

Ripple Lately I have been exploring connections between the Ophite diagrams and Revelation 4. There seems to be a way in which the vision of Revelation 4 could be interpreted in a mandala-like fashion, of concentric circles radiating out from the throne of God, with revelations within revelations flowing from the initial revelation of the scroll, holding the whole text together. Have any of you ever explored this?

10 thoughts on “The Ophite Diagrams

  1. Not heard of it before, but it would be plausible; there is a structural pattern to many books of the bible. What your talking about is essentially chiastic, and little chiasms are found all over the place in the NT- they’re just not as noticeable in English as in Greek.
    Dana

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  2. Hi, Interesting article. There are many links to such things in the Bible. The ideas of Emanations flowing from the Divine God can be found through earlier Christian Theology also. The Greeks (which hugely influenced our Western Christian worldview) were well versed in these concepts. I have also seen one theory that links the layers of the Heavenly city to the 12 stones on the High Priest’s breastplate. This is a fascinating subject. Would love to hear your conclusions. Jen

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  3. I have belatedly realised that in relying on memory I spelt things wrong. It’s ophite diagrams not orphic diagrams. You will find some discriptions and attempted reconstructions here.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophite_Diagrams
    http://www.gnosis.org/library/ophite.htm
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ophite.html
    Having viewed the reconstructions (previously I was going on the text alone) it would appear the Ophite vision is considerably more complex and convoluted than the Revelation vision. Hints of later development perhaps?
    Dana, I am not so sure what I am talking about is chiastic, at least not in the way I normally understand chiasm, but I’ll take that on board for further consideration.
    Jen, I am more wary of emanationist theology as it is difficult to reconcile with Hebraic monotheism. I understand that the Greeks have influenced Christian thought, sometimes excessively so, but I don’t think that can be so easily said of Revelation. I suspect more Hebraic roots. If anything I think Merkabah mysticism and Heikhalot literature could be more important here.
    I would agree however that there are suggestive links between the 12 stones on the High Priest’s breastplate and the 12 foundation stones of the New Jerusalem in Revalation.

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  4. After reading the Wikipedia link, I take back the chiasm suggestion…
    Some scholars are positing a pre AD 70 date for Revelation, which would tighten the Hebraic link.
    This article is very interesting:
    http://jnt.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/30/2/205
    Above link is to an abstract; you’d have to subscribe to get the whole thing, but it might be worth it to you. I had access to it as part of a “free trial period”. There’s probably free content out there if you Google.
    Dana

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  5. Ahhh, yes Orphite; that would explain things. I was thinking this was heading towards a Dante’s “Divine Comedy” model, (the Mother of all emanation theories), and I did not believe that was what you were recommending. The Hebraic context would be most plausible, I agree. These are interesting ideas you raise. Be good to see any further insights! Jen.

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  6. Ah, Dante, he’s got a lot to answer for hasn’t he! What I’m actually looking for is not emanations but parallelism. Let me explain, this all has to do with millenialism. Premillenialists in general, and Dispensationalist in particular, typically insist that the revelations of John should be interpreted as a sequence of future events. This fosters a kind of fatalism towards issues like war in Israel which I find most problematic.
    By way of contrast, Amillenialists have suggested that the revelations of John may be interpreted as multiple takes on the same historical processes and events, that there is no linear sequence as such. This leaves them less fatalistic and more open to God surprising us in the Middle East. To put it bluntly, unlike Dispensationalists they’re not going to suffer cognative dissonance if Zion fails to be the flashpoint of a nuclear war within the next generation.
    So, is there evidence that the revelations of John are not linear but a series of deeper and deeper visions? This is where Revelation 4 becomes interesting. As best as I can work out so far, the vision seems to describe the throne of God, encirled by a rainbow, which is in turn encirled by the four living creatures, which is in turn encirled by the seven lamps / spirits / angels, which is in turn encirled by the twenty four elders, which is in turn encirled by the multitude of angels, which is in turn encirled by the sea of glass.
    The lamb comes, then we have more revelations. First the seven seals. The lamb reveals, then the four living creatures, then elders and angels, then there is silence in heaven (Revelation 8:1). It seems almost as if revelation is rippling out through the concentric circles of Revelation 4. Next the seven trumpets. Now we’re moved on from the lamb and the four living creatures and focus on the seven angels. Then we hear God’s temple in heaven opened (Revelation 11:19). This opening promises more revelation. Next the seven bowls, which the four living creatures give to the seven angels. Again, it strikes me as if revelation is rippling out, revealing more and more, going deeper and deeper, energized now by the lamb.
    If true, if the revelations of John are not flat and linear as Dispensationalists suppose but more like waves rippling out, with each revelation triggering deeper revelation, well, where would that leave some interpretations?

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  7. It’s been well over a decade (possibly close to two) since I’ve read Revelation. Your suggestion sounds interesting, Matt. So if we assumed this interpretation is accurate, what would be the purpose of studying Revelation? To delve further into those rippling revelations? What might that look like?
    As someone who grew up in a church strongly entrenched in premillenial dispensationalism, I find the idea fascinating. My pastor spent at least two months out of every year going over Revelation during Sunday night services. After about the second or third repetition of this process, I got completely bored with it. I just never saw the point of spending so much time reading a book and trying to figure out what was going to happen if there was nothing I could do to change it anyway. I’d rather spend my time figuring what I could (and should) be doing instead.
    So the idea of actually seeing an interpretation of Revelation that might actually make it a more…useful book fascinates me.

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  8. Jared
    I find Revelation to be one of the most fascinating and dangerous books of the Bible. Facinating, because it is so symbolically rich and interpretationally challenging. Dangerous, because its misinterpretation has been the bread and butter for all manner of cults.
    So, why study the book of Revelation? It is my understanding that Christianity (as a tradition) and the resurrection (as the event that launched the tradition) are both deeply eschatological. That is, unlike Paganism, Christianity is very future (eschaton) focussed. And all this Kingdom of God talk that Christ went on about, it was essentially a reflection on the question of, “What would the world look like if God sat on the throne, not Caesar?” When Martin Luther King gave his “I have dream” speech, he was deeply drawing on his Christian eschatological heritage. He was speaking of his hopes for a better world. That our world is different today shows us that dreams and hopes have consequences.
    This brings us back to Revelation. Ultimately it is a vision of hope. Hope for the end of evil and injustice. Hope for life restoration and world renewal. Though its style is unique to the Bible, its core theme – hope – is not. What is the purpose of studying it? To better understand the hopes and dreams that dwell at the foundation of our pathway.
    How we interpret these hopes and dreams then, they can have huge ramifications. If the hope is interpreted in an otherworldly sense, it will tend to leave Christians indifferent to this world, which we are now realising is so fragile. If the hope is interpreted in an othertimely sense, it will tend to lead Christians aapathetic about doing anything to fix it in the now. If however we see this hope more in terms of the future breaking into the present, more in terms of the extraordinary breaking into the ordinary, that will leave us in a very different place. How we interpret Revelation then can have ramifications for how we interpret Christianity as a whole.
    You will note for instance that I have sometimes spoken of the resurrection as a political act, as an event which has implications for how we act politically now, in this world? I am only able to hold the New Testaments and Old Testaments together and still affirm pacifism because I understand pacifism as an eschatological commitment that has ethical implications for the now. So, in deeper ways than you realise, my ability to reject persecution of Pagans as a means to an end, and still maintain Christian orthodoxy, is dependant on alternate (and I would say more accurate) readings of Revelation than what Dispensationalists offer.

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