Saturday, January 6, 2024

Seals One to Four (6.1–8)


And I saw when the lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four animals say like a boom of thunder, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and see, a white horse. And the one sitting on it had a bow, and a laurel was given to him, and he went conquering so he could conquer.

And when he opened the second seal I heard the second animal say, ‘Come!’ And another horse, fiery red, went out. And the one sitting on it was allowed to take peace from the earth, so that they will slaughter each other. And he was given a large sword.

And when he opened the third seal I heard the third animal say, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and see, a black horse. And the one sitting on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the middle of the four animals saying, ‘A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius, and do not injure the oil and wine.’

And when he opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth animal say, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and see, a green horse, and the name of the one sitting on it was Death, and Hades followed him. And authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and with famine and with plague and with the earth’s wild animals.


The contents of the first four seals are often read alongside the Olivet prophecy (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21), which is sometimes taken as evidence the author knew the synoptic gospels. However, these passages all share their contents with a variety of texts from the Hebrew Bible and neighboring cultures. They pull from a set of stock crises known throughout the ancient world: war, violence, economic instability, famine, disease, etc. These are hardly unique to the Olivet prophecy, so there is little reason to identify a direct connection between the two prophecies. The representation of these crises as horse-riders was taken from Zechariah, a book which anticipated the sort of symbolism which became common in the apocalyptic genre.

In place of the Hebrew name for the underworld, Sheol, the author uses the Greek equivalent, Hades.



18.5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of Death confronted me.

49.14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd

116.3 The snares of Death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me


7.6 for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household.


28.15, 18 Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with Death, and with Sheol we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us’ […] your covenant with Death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it.


11.22 thus says Yhwh of armies: I am going to punish them; the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and daughters shall die by famine.

14.12 Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt-offering and grain-offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.


2.5 They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough.

3.4–11 The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand. There was Hebyon, the strong one; before him went Deber, and Resheph followed close behind. […] Was your wrath against Nahar, O Yhwh? Or your anger against Nahar, or your rage against Yam, when you drove your horses, your chariots to victory? You brandished your naked bow, you poisoned your seven arrows. (Selah) You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you, and writhed; a torrent of water swept by; Tehom gave forth his voice. Shamash raised high his hands; Yarikh stood still in his exalted place, at the light of your arrows speeding by, at the gleam of your flashing spear.


7.15 The sword is outside, pestilence and famine are inside; those in the field die by the sword; those in the city—famine and pestilence devour them.


26.22, 25, 26, 33 I will let loose wild animals against you […] I will bring the sword against you […] I will send pestilence among you […] When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven, and they shall dole out your bread by weight; and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied. And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you; your land shall be a desolation, and your cities a waste.


1.8–11 In the night I saw a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘They are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’ Then they spoke to the angel of Yhwh who was standing among the myrtle trees, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and lo, the whole earth remains at peace.’

6.1–8 And again I looked up and saw four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red horses, the second chariot black horses, the third chariot white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled grey horses. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before Yhwh of all the earth. The chariot with the black horses goes towards the north country, the white ones go towards the west country, and the dappled ones go towards the south country.’ When the steeds came out, they were impatient to get off and patrol the earth. And he said, ‘Go, patrol the earth.’ So they patrolled the earth. Then he cried out to me, ‘Lo, those who go towards the north country have set my spirit at rest in the north country.’

Sibylline Oracles

2.154–161 But whenever this sign appears throughout the world, children born with gray temples from birth, afflictions of men, pestilence, and wars, change of times, lamentations, many tears; alas, how many people's children in the countries will feed on their parents, with piteous lamentations. They will place their flesh in cloaks and bury them in the ground, mother of peoples, defiled with blood and dust.

3.334–336 But in the west a star will shine which they call Cometes, a sign to mortals of sword, famine, and death, destruction of leaders and of great illustrious men.

3.655–646 Vultures and wild beasts of the earth will ravage the flesh of some. Indeed when this is completed the huge earth will consume the remains of the dead.

Oracle of the Potter

The sun will be darkened, not wishing to look upon the evil things in Egypt. The land will not welcome the sowing of the seed. These […] will be blasted by the wind. And the farmer did not sow on account of this, but tribute will be required of him. They are fighting in Egypt because of the lack of nourishment. What they till, another reaps and takes away. In this generation there will be war and murder which will destroy brothers, and husbands and wives.


13.7–8 ‘When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.’

4 Ezra

5.1–3, 6–10 Now concerning the signs: lo, the days are coming when those who inhabit the earth shall be seized with great terror, and the way of truth shall be hidden, and the land shall be barren of faith. Unrighteousness shall be increased beyond what you yourself see, and beyond what you heard of formerly. And the land that you now see ruling shall be a trackless waste, and people shall see it desolate. […] And one shall reign whom those who inhabit the earth do not expect, and the birds shall fly away together; and the Dead Sea shall cast up fish; and one whom the many do not know shall make his voice heard by night, and all shall hear his voice. There shall be chaos also in many places, fire shall often break out, the wild animals shall roam beyond their haunts, and menstruous women shall bring forth monsters. Salt waters shall be found in the sweet, and all friends shall conquer one another; then shall reason hide itself, and wisdom shall withdraw into its chamber, and it shall be sought by many but shall not be found, and unrighteousness and unrestraint shall increase on earth.

9.1–6 He answered me and said, ‘Measure carefully in your mind, and when you see that some of the predicted signs have occurred, then you will know that it is the very time when the Most High is about to visit the world that he has made. So when there shall appear in the world earthquakes, tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders, confusion of princes, then you will know that it was of these that the Most High spoke from the days that were of old, from the beginning. For just as with everything that has occurred in the world, the beginning is evident, and the end manifest; so also are the times of the Most High: the beginnings are manifest in wonders and mighty works, and the end in penalties and in signs.’

13.29–31 ‘The days are coming when the Most High will deliver those who are on the earth. And bewilderment of mind shall come over those who inhabit the earth. They shall plan to make war against one another, city against city, place against place, people against people, and kingdom against kingdom.’

6 Ezra

15.49 I will send evils upon you: widowhood, poverty, famine, sword, and pestilence, bringing ruin to your houses, bringing destruction and death.

Greek Revelation of Ezra

3.11–14 And God said, ‘First I shall cause by shaking the fall of four-footed beasts and men. And when you see that brother delivers brother over to death and children will rise up against parents and a wife abandons her own husband, and when nation will rise up against nation in war, then you shall know that the end is near. And then brother will not have mercy upon brother, nor man upon his wife, nor children upon parents, nor friends upon friends, nor slave upon master.’

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