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In my younger days I was convinced the story of Ragnarök was influenced by the New Testament's Armageddon. As I started to learn about the existence of pagan ideas in Christianity, I began to wonder if the direction of this influence may be reversed.

Obviously, the textual appearance of Ragnarök is some centuries later than the drafting of the Book of Revelation, but the idea of Ragnarök surely predates its recording in the Eddas, whereas such a concept is not found in the Old Testament and is not associated with Jewish mythology and thought.

However, as much as it was influenced by Old Testament ideas, Christianity can be said to have absorbed aspects of paganism. The obvious link is in the concept of god embodied, antithetical to Jewish ideas, and the introduction of a dying/resurrected god (most closely linked to Dionysus per the Eucharist, although the bread aspect is related in Greek mythology to Persephone, who also goes to the underworld and returns.) Christian holidays supplant the earlier, pagan celebrations, but may maintain some of their symbols. More recently, we see the absorption of pagan gods in the form of Saints, such as with the West African and Caribbean religions.

It's also important to note that the region where Christianity arose was Hellenized during that period, and exerted an influence on segments of Jewish culture. Greek was the lingua franca of those regions, and it is believed Ancient Greeks themselves had migrated to the region from parts north. The Roman Empire had been butting up against the Germanic tribes from at least the end of the 2nd Century BCE, and Tacitus' Germania, which dates to the end of the 1st Century CE, demonstrates that there was interest in the beliefs of these peoples. Paul travelled extensively in Greece to spread the gospel, notably before the Book of Revelations is believed to have been authored, and the identity of the author seems to be disputed, making the question of influences potentially open-ended.

Similarities with Revelations/Ragnarok may be said to include the Sun being swallowed up, a great serpent rising from the sea, the dead rising, fire raining down upon the world, and a horn sounding to signal the onset of the end.

So my question is, what do we know about Ragnarök prior to the Eddas, and how supportable is the idea that Ragnarök or something similar influenced ideas about the end of the world as expressed in the Book of Revelations?

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    When discussing syncretism between Norse and Christian mythology the movement of influence in my opinion is typically from Christian to Norse. Consider this question and answer: mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/918/… – fredsbend Jan 22 '17 at 20:25
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    @fresbend Absolutely, thus the impetus for this question. For instance, Tacitus writing about what we believe to be Odin. – DukeZhou Jan 22 '17 at 20:44
  • The word "Armageddon" appears but 1 time in the entire Bible, & in the reference in which it occurs it is explicitly defined as the name of a place, regarding which location nothing further is ever mentioned in the book in which it appears. The Ragnarök, on the other hand, is an elaborately described cataclysmic event in various written works from the so-called mediaeval period. – Adinkra Jan 23 '17 at 22:18
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    Presumably when you use the word "Armageddon" you're employing the more modern pop-culture definition which has come to embody the most dramatic of the disasters envisioned in the Book of the Apocalypse, whose descriptions seem to culminate in a universal destruction event, right? Because otherwise there really couldn't be much of anything to compare between the Biblical reference & the Norse expectation. I ask because I want to be sure I don't misunderstand your meaning & then launch from there into a detailed description of something you're not actually referring to in your Question. – Adinkra Jan 23 '17 at 22:21
  • @Adrinka What I was actually wondering about is the connection of Northern European mythology with the the Book of Revelation itself, per the connection of those cultures with the Roman Empire and earlier migrations into Greece. If we believe Odin myths to have existed at the time of Tacitus, they are presumably even older, and so may be the idea of Ragnarok. (It can be argued that Christianity is distinctly more European than Semitic.) – DukeZhou Jan 23 '17 at 23:18
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Did Ragnarök myths influence the Revelation?

Nearly all of the imagery in the Revelation (singular; not Revelations) is borrowed from the Hebrew bible (i.e. the Old Testament). Of the remainder, most of it can be found in other first century Jewish and Christian literature, or in first century Greco-Roman myths and politics.

To break down specific points raised in the original question:

a concept [of 'Ragnarok', i.e. an eschaton] is not found in the Old Testament and is not associated with Jewish mythology and thought

Eschatological expectations of an idealized future, often after a period of conflict, are found in some of the later prophets of the Hebrew bible (e.g. Trito-Isaiah, Trito-Zechariah, Joel).

John's Revelation is a textbook example of a Jewish apocalypse. Early elements of the genre can be found in pre-exilic and exilic Hebrew prophetic literature. The genre really took off in the late Persian or early Greek era. The defining purpose of the apocalyptic genre is to reveal something hidden about the world, especially as related to the unseen spiritual realm and the future ('apocalypse' means 'revelation' or 'a revealing'). Elaborate symbolism is a usual feature in these apocalypses, such as Daniel, Enoch's Book of Parables, or Fourth Ezra.

The same period when apocalypticism was growing within Judaism, factions emerged in Judean politics. By the first century AD, the three most well-known factions were the Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees. Even at the time (e.g. by Josephus) they were defined by their eschatological views, showing just how important 'the eschaton' was in Israelite society. Similarities are drawn between the early Christians and both the Pharisees and the Essenes. To put it simply, eschatological beliefs were a major part of 'Jewish mythology and thought', and have a complex history going back centuries prior to the Revelation.

Similarities with Revelations/Ragnarok may be said to include the Sun being swallowed up,

The failing of the sun, moon, and stars is a common picture in ancient Israelite and Judean prophetic texts (e.g. Amos 5.18-20; Isa 13.10,13; Ezek 32.7-8; Joel 2.10). In the older examples, it is plainly idiomatic, denoting social upheaval, i.e. the disruption or overthrow of a nation. Later examples employ it in a more traditionally climactic sense, i.e. history-ending.

a great serpent rising from the sea,

This seems to be combining two different images in the Revelation, first the dragon which is thrown out of heaven (Rev 12.3-9) and is imprisoned in the abyss (20.1-3), and second the crimson beast which emerges from the sea (13.1) or abyss (11.7; 17.8).

The Revelation's dragon or sea-monster comes from the Combat Myth, an archetypal myth seen in many Indo-European cultures. In the ancient Near East this myth predates the Revelation by centuries, and can be seen across the Hebrew bible (e.g. Isa 27.1; 51.9; Psa 74.12-14; Job 26.12-13).

The Revelation's beast is an amalgam of Daniel 7.1-14's four beasts, each of which emerges from the sea. The Daniel 7 passage is vaguely reminiscent of the Combat Myth, but its specific verbage — one riding on the clouds, receiving an eternal kingdom — draws attention to a particular Ugaritic form of the Combat Myth in which Baal conquers the sea god Yam and receives an eternal kingdom.

the dead rising,

The resurrection of the dead can be found in at least three texts of the Hebrew bible.

The latest is the Book of Daniel, published circa 167-165 BC. It is almost certainly the final of the canonical prophets, and envisions 'the time of the end' as a period of crisis (the Maccabean Revolt) followed by the downfall of Israel's oppressor (Antiochus Epiphanes). Daniel 12 relays that those who died in the crisis will be raised to life for either reward or punishment.

Prior to this, the image of the dead being restored to life is found in Ezek 37.1-14, written circa 585 BC. Here the scene is widely agreed to be a metaphor for the restoration of the Judean nation after the Babylonian exile.

The third text is Isaiah 24-27. Dating for this text is disputed, ranging from the eighth century BC to the fifth or fourth century BC. There is also debate whether the image of the dead rising is meant to be a metaphor, as in Ezekiel, or literal, as in Daniel. It has been suggested the dead rising in Isaiah 24-27 has parallels in Ugaritic mythology (cf. Cho, Fu, 'Death and Feasting in the Isaiah Apocalypse (Isaiah 25.6-8)', Formation and Intertextuality in Isaiah 24-27 (ed. Hibbard, Kim)).

The Revelation draws on all three examples. The Revelation's structure is designed to follow both Daniel and Ezekiel, so that the resurrection is seen near the end of the book. Rev 20.4 καὶ ἔζησαν (they lived) is identical to LXX Ezek 37.10. And Rev 7.17 and 21.4 each verbally echo Isa 25.8.

fire raining down upon the world,

Fire as a form of divine judgment is replete across the Hebrew bible, and features heavily in apocalyptic literature.

and a horn sounding to signal the onset of the end.

In the Hebrew bible, trumpets are used in Israelite religious festivals, worship practices, and war. Of special interest here, the sounding of a trumpet is associated with eschatological expectations in Zechariah 9.14 (written in the sixth century BC) and Joel 2.1 (date disputed; third century BC at the latest).


Conclusion

Did the Ragnarök mythos influence the Revelation?

Almost certainly not.

The earliest evidence of the Ragnarök mythos, such as Thorwald's Cross or the Gosforth Cross, seems to be found no earlier than the tenth century AD. As the name of these objects indicates, however, these come from an age long after Christianity had swept across Europe. So though the Ragnarök mythos probably goes a ways earlier than the tenth century AD, we can't say for certain when it originated.

In contrast, a substantial chunk of the Revelation's imagery predate the book by centuries. The Revelation was written circa AD 90-95, and comes from a long-standing tradition of apocalyptic expectations within Judaism. Other than the specific Christian ideas present in the text and allusions to contemporary Greco-Roman symbolism (e.g. 'Babylon the great city' sitting on 'seven hills' corresponding to Rome 'the city of the seven hills'), most of the Revelation's imagery comes from Hebrew scriptures that are centuries old, which themselves contain pictures and ideas centuries older than that.

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The Book of Revelations presents us with a linear cosmology, a straight road that inevitably leads to the Messianic Age. This pattern is shared by all Abrahamic tales of the end times.

Ragnarök, on the other hand, is one point of a circular cosmology, a never ending cycle of decay and rebirth. I believe this is a crucial theological difference, one that renders the two stories incompatible at their core, even if they do share a number of other similarities.

The Zoroastrian Frashokereti may be a much more likely candidate for an inspiration of the Apocalypse. It is similarly linear and the two stories are far closer in time and in space.

  • andejons' answer on my Why does the dragon emerge at the dawn of the new world? question provides further insight on the circular nature of Norse cosmology. – yannis Jan 19 '17 at 19:36
  • Do you have more details on the specific aspects of Frashokereti? Similarities with Revelations/Ragnarok may be said to include the Sun being swallowed up, a great serpent rising from the sea, the dead rising, fire raining down upon the world, and a horn sounding to signal the onset of the end... – DukeZhou Jan 19 '17 at 19:56
  • @DukeZhou There's a summary in the Eschatology section of the linked article. The story includes the resurrection of the dead, a battle between good and evil (spoiler: good wins ;), and a final judgment. More importantly, the story concludes with the world in unity with its creator, Ahura Mazda. There are several evil serpentine characters in the Avesta (e.g. Azi Dahag), but I'm not entirely sure if any of them features prominently in the end times story. – yannis Jan 19 '17 at 20:24
  • Excellent answer, btw. It seems unquestionable that Zoroastrian ideas were a factor in Armageddon, but that does not exclude the possibility of influence from European sources. (I'm adding some detail to my question regarding ancient migrations into Greece and the Hellenization of the Levant to further support this idea.) – DukeZhou Jan 20 '17 at 21:25
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    @DukeZhou Thank you. One more possibility worth exploring is whether some of the similarities could be attributed to a common ancestor. This is pure speculation, but one example could be the death of Laocoon and his sons serving as a template for the serpent rising from the sea motif. – yannis Jan 21 '17 at 9:49
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Might be considered a digression: If it will be considered as inappropriate, I will gladly remove it.

Regarding the Revelation of St. John, let me share fragments of Peter Grey's "The Red Goddess" (splendid read, btw.)

St John the "Divine" (...) His personal history is less than edifying with what sounds like an arson attack on a temple of Artemis, the drowning of a local magician and sunder other atrocities, but Revelations is the real poison chalice.

The story of Babalon and the Seven-Headed Beast comes from the legend of Artemis and the Dragon; We may find a elegant picture from the Schlangenbuch by Conradus Gesner:

A portrayal from Schlangenbuch. Das ist ein grundtliche vnd vollkom[m]ne Beschreybung aller Schlangen, so im Meer, süssen Wassern vnd auff Erdenjr wohnung haben, Sampt der selbigen conterfaitung: Erstlich durch den Hochgelehrten weytberümpten Herrn D. Conrat Geßnern zusamen getragen vnnd beschriben, vnnd hernaher durch den Wolgelehrten Herrn Jacobum Carronum gemehrt vnd in dise ordnung gebracht: An yetzo aber mit sondrem fleyß verteütscht ([4] Bl., LXXII Bl.) Gesner, Conradus Getruckt zu Zürych: in der Froschow; 1589

http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ185662203

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St. John's "Revelations"

At times it is a polemic against the pagan gods of the day, already well on the way to being cast as demons in the new Christian history. At others it is a prophecy about the fate of the world. This is also a book that has divided Christians. In the fourth century, John of Christ argued that it should not be included in the cannon of the New Testament. It was too dangerous, too open to abuse and misinterpretation. It is the only book that the Eastern Orthodox Church do not read in the Divine Liturgy. Revelation continues to perplex and seized upon by evangelicals eagerly hungering for the end of times the rapture, and the whiff of brimstone to enflame their congregations. It is shunned by the moderates building inter-faith bridges with their liberal lamb Jesus. Revelations insists you take sides in the coming war.

  • The Red Goddess, Peter Grey

    There is just one small problem. Revelations explicitly state that the end times were happening right then in the ancient Roman Empire. On the very first page, in the third paragraph John writes that 'the time is at hand. This is not a document about barcodes, the United Nations, or credit cards. It comes out of a very real sense that the end is, or rather was, nigh in the first century. Jesus was meant to be pitching up any minute. That did not happen. Unfortunately for us this little detail has been rather overlooked by Christianity, which was not prepared to fold its fanchise when the Messiah missed his cue. Soon he will be two thousand years too late. You can tap dance around the facts all you like, but this is the bottom line: Revelations was a damp squib, it fizzled out in ancient Rome. Meanwhile, mankind still hungers after spiritual renaissance with the compliment of angels and pits of eteral hellfire.

  • The Red Goddess, Peter Grey

St John's Revelations is more like a script for a common self-destruct agenda: Apocalypsis meant personal unveiling in the Greek Eleusinian mysteries, alike to Epiphany - another word from Eleusis. It had more to do with opening the eyes, and destroying the oblivion of ignorance, rather than a hatred for the world and a death wish that propagated throughout it.

  • Thanks for posting! I have no doubt that Christianity is a product of the Hellenized Levant, and Jewish thought at the time surrounding the changing of the eras would have been influenced by Greek philosophy. In the same way, its pretty the new religion was influence by Greek religion. But it was a stretch for me to try to find Norse origin in that we don't really have documentation of that mythology until about 1000 years later. – DukeZhou Aug 8 '17 at 18:23

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