Beyond the Book: Background information when reading John the Revelator

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John the Revelator

A Novel

by Peter Murphy

John the Revelator by Peter Murphy
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2009, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2010, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beyond the Book

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John The Revelator, The Person
The title of Peter Murphy's book is taken from a traditional song about John of Patmos, the name given to the author of the biblical Book of Revelation, who identifies himself as living on the Greek island of Patmos. Scholars date Revelation to between AD 54 and 96 with most believing it to have been written around AD 95.

In the 2nd century AD, the early Christian apologist Justin of Caesarea (later Saint Justin Martyr) suggested that the author of Revelation was the same person as both Jesus' apostle, "John the Beloved", and "John the Evangelist", author of The Gospel of John. But, around the 3rd century this was called into question by church historians who identified the author of Revelation as "John the Presbyter", whose name appears elsewhere in ancient writings. Today, opinion varies with some believing Revelation, The Gospel of John and the epistles of John are all written by Jesus' apostle, while others believe they are authored by three or more distinct people.

John The Revelator, The Song
Blind Willie Johnson John the Revelator is a traditional gospel/blues song in call and response format. Its chorus refers to John writing about witnessing the opening of the seven seals (which bring about global catastrophes and ultimately the apocalypse). The verses contain short biblical allusions and it's believed the song was used for preaching to and educating the congregation. The first written version appeared in 1880, although it's possible the song is considerably older. It was first recorded by "Blind" Willie Johnson in 1930, and his version appears in the Anthology of American Folk Music (to which Peter Murphy contributed - see About the Author). Eddie James "Son" House is also credited with early performances of the song. Dozens of others have covered it since, including R.E.M., John Mellencamp and The Blues Brothers (in the movie Blues Brothers 2000, a sequel to the original Blues Brothers).

Lyrics (Son House version):

Chorus
[call] Who's that writin'?
[response] John the Revelator
Tell me who's that writin'?
John the Revelator
Tell me who's that writin'?
John the Revelator
Wrote the book of the seven seals
Repeat

You know God walked down
in the cool of the day
Called Adam by his name
But he refused to answer
Because he's naked and ashamed

Chorus

You know Christ had twelve apostles
And three he led away
He said, "Watch with me one hour,
'till I go yonder and pray."

Chorus

Christ came on Easter morning
Mary and Martha went down to see
He said, "Go tell my disciples
To meet me in Galilee."

Chorus

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in September 2009, and has been updated for the April 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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