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A Review of The Revelation of Saint John

Aug 31, 2006 09:57 AM
by Zack Lansdowne

The following review appears in the current (Fall 2006) issue of The Esoteric Quarterly, which is an online journal published by the School for Esoteric Studies. Copies of this journal can be downloaded at:

The Revelation of Saint John: the Path to Soul Initiation, by Zachary F. Lansdowne. Weiser Books, 2006. Paperback, 236 pages. US$22.95.

The Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, was an enigma in its own time. The text has more in common with Jew­ish apocryphal and "wisdom" literature than with the gospels and epistles that precede it. Its inclusion in the New Testament was opposed in the third century by Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, but supported by church father Origen who was accused of Gnostic leanings. Selection was finally announced in 367 CE by Athanasius, the controversial patriarch of Al­exandria, and confirmed 15 years later by Pope Damasus I.

The Book of Revelation is traditionally attrib­uted to "Saint John," the fisherman brother of James. However, despite the opinions of early church apologists and some modern esoteric teachers-and despite its internal reference to "John"-most scholars today conclude that the author of Revelation is unknown. External and internal evidence suggests that it was written neither by John the Apostle nor by the author of the fourth gospel and the Johannine epistles. Revelation remains an enigma, quoted by commentators whose interpretations vary as widely as the religious agendas the text is forced to support.

Zachary Lansdowne's The Revelation of Saint John: the Path to Soul Initiation provides a new and refreshing interpretation based on esoteric psychology. With his extensive knowledge of esoteric teachings he helps us penetrate the biblical text's arcane symbolism. Publication of the book this summer is particu­larly timely since his article, "The Beasts of Revelation: Glamour and Maya," appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of the Esoteric Quar­terly. We can now put the article, which addressed just one of the book's topics, in the broader context of the author's research find­ings.

Like Revelation itself, the book is divided into 22 chapters, a number not without significance since it equals the number of letters in the He-brew alphabet and the number of Major Arcana in the Tarot. Dr. Lansdowne's main the­sis is that Revelation is a practical manual pro­viding the basic knowledge required by the disciple and leading him or her through the many challenges confronted on the journey to initiation and enlightenment. For example, Chapter 4 relates to the practice of meditation, while Chapter 16 discusses the seven trials through which the disciple attains purity of the lower self. Chapter 17 discusses the disciple's need to overcome ego.

Lansdowne provides a verse-by-verse interpre­tation for each verse in Revelation. For exam­ple, the first verse of Chapter 17, which the King James Bible renders:

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

is interpreted thus:

One of the seven chohans comes to the aspi­rant and says, "Raise your consciousness

and I will show you the truth about your ego, which is a controlling, corrupt, and de­luded sense of identity supported by your many emotional reactions. (Page 145)

Extensive footnotes are provided explaining particular interpretations and directing the reader to supporting references in the esoteric literature. With respect to the verse just quoted, we are told that the disciple has earned the assistance of the seven chohans, or angels, by having overcome the trials discussed in Chapter 16.

One of the most famous verses in the whole of Revelation (21:1), which the author notes is an echo of Isaiah 65:17:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

is interpreted as:

The aspirant realizes that the spiritual and physical worlds are united, for his earlier perceptions of separate worlds have passed away. He realizes that the emotional world does not exist. (Page 185)

We are reminded that, in esoteric teachings, the physical and emotional planes are not con­sidered "principles." At a sufficiently high level of consciousness they will be recognized as illusory.

The Revelation of Saint John: the Path to Soul Initiation is an attractive, carefully researched, and well-written book that will please all serious esoteric students. To those with a spe­cial interest in the esoteric philosophy and psy­chology of late Judaism, Neoplatonism, or early Christianity, it will have even greater appeal. However Zachary Lansdowne insists that, even though Revelation was included in the Christian New Testament, it speaks to peo­ple of all religious persuasions, in all periods of history. His careful analysis helps make the text accessible to this broader readership. We enthusiastically recommend the book.

Editorial Staff

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