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Publisher's Summary

What are we to make of the book of Revelation, with all its dramatic events and rich symbolism? Get an authoritative guide to this extraordinary work in 24 thought-provoking and enlightening lectures, divided into three parts: the historical and intellectual background of the Apocalypse; a close reading of John's text, focusing on the meaning of its images; and the wide-ranging impact of the book on Christian and Western history.

Throughout these lectures, Professor Koester focuses on what John actually wrote in the Apocalypse, what his situation tells us about his meaning, how that meaning can be applied to our own lives, and how contemporary biblical scholars relate Revelation to the modern world. He also introduces major figures in history who have been powerfully drawn to the Apocalypse, among them St. Augustine (who saw it as timeless and symbolic rather than literal), Martin Luther (who decoded it to reach a remarkable theological insight), and Sojourner Truth (who was inspired by the book to work tirelessly for women's rights and the abolition of slavery).

Describing the Apocalypse as a roller coaster that hurtles you down into the abyss amid scenes of monsters and plagues, only to send you flying upward toward views of pure light, Professor Koester stresses that if you are reading Revelation and want to despair, then you've stopped reading too soon. You need to turn the page and look to the next chapter, because there will be a wonderful message of hope waiting for you. And as you learn with this lecture series, you'll find that the Apocalypse you've heard about pales beside the real one.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2011 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2011 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History

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Narrow Focus

I guess it's my fault for not reading the summary, but i expected this would be a much broader analysis of the end of the world in various different cultures. It seems to be over twelve hours of lectures on a single book of the standard Christian bible. It doesn't even do much interesting analysis of cultural context. I'll try another lecture or two to see if it goes anywhere, but i expect i'll end up returning this one without finishing it.

1 person found this helpful

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Profile Image for Ed Jansen
  • Ed Jansen
  • 16-06-2015

Outstanding Scholarship

What did you love best about The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History?

Looking at Revelation from a literary perspective brought new understanding for me.

Have you listened to any of Professor Craig R. Koester’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I wish the professor had more teachings available. I thoroughly appreciated his academic approach, presenting his understanding as well as other perspectives.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The book of Revelation is not about the future, rather a classic writing that speaks to people of any time and culture.

Any additional comments?

I couldn't help thinking that the U.S. today is very much like the imperialistic Roman Empire at the time Revelation was written. We are also a culture that embraces power and violence; which caused me to wonder if my country, the United States of America, isn't the "Whore of Babylon."

6 people found this helpful

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 27-06-2016

Expected More

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Started out slow and though it picked up a little bit when the professor began discussing the impact of the book on western civilization (and the various Antichrist predictions) I was never able to fully get into the professor’s style and the course just didn’t engage me.

I was hoping the professor would've spent more time discussing the narrative of the book in some type of chronological order. Instead, in each lecture he would seem to pick one event from one of the chapters and spend substantial time analyzing how it may be relevant to today and how there is hope behind even the worse sounding things instead of how it fit in with the other events in the chapter or the overall book.

On the surface that doesn't necessarily mean his approach was bad. What was off putting was how he would take that one event and find a way to tie it to a core Christian theological doctrine to the point where most lectures ended with it feeling like he had wrapped the entire conversation into a sermon and I was left wondering: was this just really about the book of Revelation? For example in the lecture in which he was discussing the woman in the wilderness and the dragon he took one line about how Satan was kicked out of heaven and used it to preach how God is always in control and evil's power is limited. It is a good point to make but he spent so much time on it that by the time the lecture was done I had forgotten about the story of the woman in the wilderness, what it really meant, and how that event fit in with the book of Revelation (what preceded it and what came after it?). The sermon feeling did recede when the course entered its third section: the book’s impact on western civilization.

There was no sense of how all of these singular events fit in if you are looking to study the book as a full story. In fact he doesn’t even cover the events of some chapters at all.

The professor also had a strange style I could only describe as passive-aggressive. He came off as very pleasant and like one who was a bedrock of solid old-school values. Yet there was a condescending tone in his analysis of some peoples’ interpretation of components of the book. I actually agreed with him on his assessments but the way he stated his disagreement was bizarre. Why not just come out and state it plainly rather than try to soften your statement? The tone of his voice betrayed him.
If you are a believer and are interested in how the book of Revelation is actually more about hope than an apocalyptic end of the world and want to know how it relates to today (or even what the author was trying to convey to readers of his time) then you could very well love this course. Especially if you're interested in how to pull Christian doctrine and theology from cryptic events in the book. However if, like me, you purchased this course expecting a review of the events in each chapter and how they all fit together (treatment of the book of Revelation as a literary work) I don't think you'll come away satisfied. Since I know a lot about Christian theology already, I was more interested in discussion about the contents of the book itself and the story they tell than sidebars and sermons.

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  • SAMA
  • 19-12-2013

Educational

I now know the evolution of Christianity's view of the way the world ends (or, according to the book, changes.) While I don't believe it, I appreciate it as a story that many believe.

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  • Jeff
  • 16-12-2013

Good material, not enough of it

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

This lecture series takes on an important set of topics and handles them well. Professor Koester clearly knows his stuff, and his insights into the Book of Revelation and it's history of interpretation are a helpful corrective to the reigning popular approaches to this important biblical book. That said, Koester's lectures rarely fail to disappoint with the threadbare amount of material that is covered in each. There are several reasons for this. First, Koester's style of speaking is slow, and he pauses often. Second, his presentation of the material wastes a lot of time in belabored explanation of the obvious. He often fails to get to the meat of a particular subject because he has made a point of giving a well defended argument about everyday experience. For instance, he will spend five minutes trying to convince his listeners that troubled political times cause people to be afraid and need to hear a message of hope. Who would doubt that? Finally, he repeats himself a great deal. This pattern becomes the most frustrating in the two lectures that discuss musical interpretations of Revelation through the ages. In all, these two lectures contain about 5 minutes worth of actual material; and the listener is forced to wait through 60 minutes meandering narratives for a point that never comes. In short, this lecture series is not at a collegiate level. I imagine that Dr. Koester is more accustomed to teaching at a masters or doctoral level and has attempted to adjust his style to the college level and undershot the mark. Or perhaps the college level is not what I remember.If you're looking for a lecture series with a lot of meat, I would suggest that you buy a different lecture series from The Great Courses (they really are great) and just go read one of Koester's books on Revelation.

Would you ever listen to anything by The Great Courses again?

Absolutely. I am currently listening to The Great Courses' lecture series, "The Other Side of History," and it is fantastic.

How could the performance have been better?

He could have prepared the series for a more advanced audience.

What character would you cut from The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History?

N.A.

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  • Turner
  • 26-08-2013

Loved it!

I have listened to over twenty courses from, "The Great Courses." This has to be one of my favorites. I finally have a grasp of the book of Revelation, and found the professor's view of the book both interesting and enlightening.

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  • Jim
  • 11-11-2014

Great Overview of a Controversial Biblical Book

The Book of Revelation is perhaps the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and (by some) disregarded book of the Bible.
Dr. Koester takes you through a great review of the book, the history of its interpretation, and the impact it has had on our society and culture. Because it has been at the center of so much controversy and has driven so many people to think the end is near, it is important to look at the history of its interpretation. That's why Dr. Koester spends so much time talking about how it has been interpreted.
He does give a very good outline of the book and the events of the visions that are reported in the book, certainly enough to guide someone who is reading through Revelation itself.
His approach in the interpretation of the book is closest to what has been called the Idealist position. He sees the visions as reflections of the challenges and hopes of living in this world as a Christian. The visions were meant for both the people who were the first hearers of them and for Christians of all time. They do not tell, in some kind of code, of specific events that will happen some time in the future. Dr. Koester gives a great summary of all of the times people have attempted to do this in the past and how they have been wrong every time.
He does spend more time than necessary talking about the presence of Revelation in the songs of different musical genres, but overall I found his lectures very engaging.

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  • Jeffrey D
  • 20-04-2021

Less a course than a sermon, and a dangerous one

The course description is not forthright; it should alert readers that this is not a course in the usual sense of the word. It is a sermon. But this is not all bad. For those, like me, who have not really heard any sermons since childhood, it is a revelation (as it were), to hear one in this audiobook, decades later, after a secular education. It is a rather shocking revelation. I have to admit I have listened to many of the books and courses of Bart Ehrman, readily available on Audible, and which I highly recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in Christianity. Those books and courses thoroughly dispose of the ideas of Dr. Craig Koester.

Koester's is an entirely different course from Ehrman's courses and books. Koester's is largely theological (the teacher tends to refer to his interpretations as "literary;" they are that, but they are mostly theological). What they are not, except in parts, is historical and empirical, as are Ehrman's. Clearly the teacher, Craig Koester, knows the results of historical and empirical investigation of early Christianity and the New Testament. He shows that knowledge in the course, and no one can go to graduate theological schools and read books in the last few decades without seeing the results of historical and empirical research, often called 'critical,' to differentiate it from the sermons and other theological works passed down through the centuries without the benefit of much historical and empirical knowledge.

For someone familiar with critical biblical results, this course is an eye-opener. It should be listened to, but with the listener's wits about her or him, alert to cases in which Koester's ideas have little or no support in what critical scholars now believe to be the facts about Jesus and the Bible. Koester seems to be aware of the holes in his argument. As he says in his lecture on early Christianity, "My real interest in this lecture, however, is not on trying to recover the earliest forms of Jesus’s teaching." That is true. To trace the real history of early Christianity would be to call into serious question almost everything Koester says in this course.

In particular, Koester tends to mash together the four gospels. He finds that Jesus taught a wide range of ideas. Certainly the gospels, written over the course of almost a hundred years, contain many ideas. The most important historical context, however, is lost in Koester's presentation. He is perfectly aware that early Christianity, as taught by the earliest exponents of what later became Christianity (John the Baptist, Jesus according to the earliest Gospels, Paul, the early Christians), was an apocalyptic Jewish philosophy that taught that the end was nigh. As we know now, the end was not nigh. This is known in Christianity as the "delay of the parousia," or more recently as the Great Disappointment. What does Koester make of this? He obfuscates. He mashes the Gospels together such that the historical evidence is obscured. He recognizes clearly that there is a great difference between the earliest gospels (Mark, for example) and the latest (John for example). What he cannot say, and must obfuscate, is that the gospel message had to adapt to the delay of the parousia, as the failure of apocalyptic prediction became more and more inescapable.

And yet the theology of Koester remains thoroughly apocalyptic, although the end times are put off into the far future and at the same time applied to the present on earth. This is not the apocalyptic of Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist. It is, however, the apocalyptic of Koester, and of one of his heroes, Ernst Kaesemann (a mid-20th-century German Lutheran theologian), and his martyred daughter Elisabeth. The story is as follows. Kaesemann realized that apocalyptic is at the heart of Christianity ("Apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology." He is right about this -- but the apocalypse was not an earthly one, contra Kaesemann, and its predictions were falsified). But apocalyptic ideology must be applied to each and every Christian, according to Kaesemann. That is, they must fight the fight of Good against Evil in the world, particularly in the political world, with whatever political culture Kaesemann was opposed to taking the place of the Roman Empire (which was Evil according to apocalyptic thinking; until, of course, Christianity took over the Empire). Kaesemann's zealotry apparently rubbed off on his daughter, Elisabeth, who went off to Argentina during the time of the military dictatorship, and joined the resistance to the military. The military was an apocalyptic Catholic group fighting the fight of Good against Evil -- in this case in favor of Western Christian Civilization against what they perceived as their apocalyptic Evil enemy, yet another apocalyptic group, the Marxists, inspired by the apocalyptic prophet Karl Marx. In the midst of these various apocalyptic groups, each fighting Evil, Elisabeth was disappeared, probably tortured and murdered. How did Ernst Kaesemann respond? He doubled down on his apocalyptic fervor.

This has to stop. Dear Reader, Listen to this course. But listen critically. And do not inspire your children to get into the apocalyptic game -- it can be deadly, and one apocalypticist's Good is another's Evil. Inspire your children instead to lead a full, productive, and fulfilling life. This apocalyptic fight is a fantasy created not by Jesus; rather, it was created out of the disappointment of an enthusiastic apocalyptic sect whose predictions of the coming Kingdom of God never happened. There is no reason why your children need to die for it, no matter what Dr. Craig Koester believes.

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  • E. M. Morgan
  • 29-06-2017

Super disappointing

This appeared to be a class about the apocalypse as an idea, both in religious terms as well as cultural interaction with the idea.

Well it's not. If I wanted a 12h sermon I'd still go to church. I recommend you pass.

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  • Dwaine S
  • 22-10-2020

Great lectures!

As a Lutheran Pastor, these lectures gave me language to speak into the book of Revelations. Fantastic!

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  • J. Michelle
  • 27-10-2017

Boring

I was surprised that such an interesting subject was told and delivered in such a boring way. Save your money or credit and pick something else.

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  • Paul Forrest
  • 23-09-2019

USEFUL BUT MISSES THE POINT OF REVELATION

There's plenty in here to contribute to a study of the book, but a true Christian will be frustrated by the incessant references to it being primarily about "hope", and the speaker thus speaks like a Roman Catholic. The book of Revelation does many things, but surely its most important message is about damnation as well as hope. People are meant to be lead to fear of God and submit themselves to Jeaus Christ. If the unbelieving man or woman listened to these lectures, they'd assume God gives them hope without any repentance and faith in Christ. These lectures should only be listened to by those who are already rooted in the faith.

2 people found this helpful

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