Picturing the Apocalypse by Natasha and Anthony O’Hear – Review

picturing the apocalypse book review

By Joe Forshaw

Picturing the Apocalypse is, as should be hoped for from such an august publisher as Oxford University Press, a work of immense erudition, of consummate research and a demonstration of sublime analytical skills. This is only to be expected from the co-authors, an Honorary Lecturer in Theology and a Professor of Philosophy. So, that being the case, what can mere mortals with our everyday IQs hope to gain from such a publication.

The answer is plenty.

The book is a study of the reactions through the centuries to the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. It begins around 500 CE with St John’s conversations with God and the instructions to go forth and preach. The journey takes the reader through the centuries up to publication in 2015.

“Strong opinions”

picturing the apocalypse book review coverIt is astonishing just how much ‘Revelation’ influenced luminaries of the past and, indeed, celebrities of the present, from William Blake to DH Lawrence of Arabia, from JMW Turner to Madonna and Johnny Cash. It is a fearsome journey, not to be undertaken by those of a weak disposition.

William Blake devoted a large part of his life painting what can only be described as horrific scenes from Revelation, inclusive of Death on a Pale Horse, The Four and Twenty Elders and The Whore of Babylon. His musical composition, ‘Jerusalem’ borrows extracts from Revelation such as ‘The Holy Lamb of God’ and ’till we have built Jerusalem on these green and pleasant lands’.

DH Lawrence’s contribution to the discussions: ”Revelation’ is a book that elicits strong opinions, driving its devotees to insanity and its critics to despair… and has inspired violent even crazy political fantasies’ is a masterclass in understatement.

“Dense subject”

Moving into more contemporary times JMW Turner’s painting The Angel Standing in the Sun, is a mixture of the sublime and the sadistic. The Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal is derived from ‘Revelation’, the Johnny Cash song ‘When the Man Comes Along’ is from, guess where? Even Madonna titled one of her world tours ‘The Whore of Babylon’.

The book is a heavy but worthwhile read, even if your interest in this dense subject is slight – although progress is made much easier if you have that all-important copy of the New Testament by your side.

‘Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia’ by Natasha and Anthony O’Hear is published by Oxford University Press, , £12.99 paperback


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