Book Reviews


The Way It Happened

Lee Harmon Minneapolis 2010-12-13

In light of the popularity of generally conservative (usually dispensational) dramatic stories based on the book of Revelation, it is not surprising that a similar volume has been produced in this genre from another theological perspective. Harmon’s volume is from a somewhat modified preterist position. Harmon’s book is both a story and an attempt to explain the book of Revelation. Generally, preterist approaches view the book as being written just before AD 70 with much fulfillment occurring in the first century, especially during the Jewish war and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. However, Harmon views the book as written after the Jewish war between AD 78 and the mid 80s (pp. 321–24), most likely AD 79 (p. 69) or 79–80 (p. 204). Thus any potential prophetic elements reflecting the Jewish war are all written after the fact.

The book attempts to interpret Revelation in its first-century context. Harmon does this primarily through a conversation in Ephesus between a Jewish father and his son. Harmon draws no conclusion on authorship (p. 326; definitely not the author of the Gospel or the epistles of John, p. 325), but he suggests that Revelation may have been written by the apostle John (p. 71); however, Harmon says, this John can also be identified as John of Gishchala, a Jewish leader during the Jewish war (p. 312).

Harmon says the author of Revelation witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which accounts for much of the imagery in Revelation 8 (pp. 78–86); the rider on the white horse in 6:2 is the emperor Vespasian (pp. 26–28); the first beast is Nero (p. 150); the mark of the beast is related to Roman coinage (p. 181); Babylon is Jerusalem (pp. 197–98); and the one thousand years refer to a future rule of Christ with believers (pp. 22, 264); the bride of Christ is the new Jerusalem (pp. 252–53), and the new Jerusalem comes to earth before the millennium (p. 267).

The book concludes with a number of small personal reflective sections. First is an epilogue in which Harmon acknowledges that he feels the book’s prophecies (of the return of the Messiah, etc.) were not fulfilled (pp. 307–13), or as he states later, “John guessed wrong about what lay ahead” (p. 316). Second is a “Final Words” section in which the author acknowledges and expresses appreciation for his Christian upbringing, but he notes that he has left his conservative heritage and explains why (pp. 315–17). Third are three appendixes: John’s sequence of events (pp. 319–20), a discussion of date and authorship (pp. 321–26), and suggestions for further reading (pp. 327–28).

In many ways this interesting book provides helpful information on the first-century context of the New Testament. However, a number of issues contribute to its being less than successful. First, the organization of the book makes it difficult to follow. It includes much of the biblical text in shaded boxes, and in italics are interpretive comments about Revelation, dialogue between a father and his son, other interpretive comments, various interpretive interludes, and some flashbacks on other past events in italics. These sections make the book difficult to follow. Also at times the narrative itself is difficult to follow. If Harmon wished to include comments of interpretation, this could have been done in footnotes.

Second, the main text is the narrative of the father teaching his son about the various aspects of history and the book of Revelation and the son’s responses. Although this format can work, it could have been improved if these discussions were more developed and looked less like a one-way conversation (the son’s replies do not usually advance the story).

Third, in many cases Harmon uses his ancient sources with little critical interaction. At times he has some discussion (e.g., on Josephus, pp. 53–54), but this is often superficial. This is fine for a pure narrative because gossip and false statements are certainly part of any real situation. However, since this book also attempts to interpret the book of Revelation, acceptance of many sources uncritically weakens this aspect of the book.

Fourth, some of Harmon’s interpretations are purely speculative (e.g., as mentioned above, the eruption of Vesuvius as influencing Rev. 8). Points three and four are important because of the purpose of this work. This book is an attempt to interpret Revelation; therefore it needs to be held to a higher critical and historical standard than some of the recent stories that essentially take a current interpretation and write a narrative based on the context. In such works no claim is made that the story is reflecting future historical events. They believe in a future theological construct, but the narrative itself is a fictional story. There is no attempt to prove their theology. Harmon acknowledges that his work is fiction (see e.g., p. 86), but he says he is doing more than telling a story. His work is an attempt to understand Revelation in its first-century context. However, Harmon’s conclusions and his reconstructed context do not necessarily reflect the manner in which a first-century reader would have understood the book of Revelation.

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Joseph D. Fantin
Dr. Fantin believes an accurate understanding of God's Word will enable the believer to grow in his or her relationship with Christ, to love God and others, to bring Christ's love to a lost world, to build up the church, and most importantly, to glorify God. He is committed to teaching exegetical method in order to help students understand, apply, and teach the Bible in order to achieve these goals. His research interests include the prison epistles, the first-century world, Greek, linguistics, and relevance theory. He and his wife, Robin, have two children: Jillian and David.
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