Holger Mosbech, Johannes’ Aabenbaring

Mosbech, Holger. Johannes’ Aabenbaring: Indledet og forklaret [The Book of Revelation: Introduction and Commentary]. København: Gyldendalske Boghandel Nordisk Forlag, 1943. xl + 408 pp.

Holger Mosbech (1886-1953) was reader/associate professor (1916-36) and professor of New Testament (1936-1953) at the University of Copenhagen. Mosbech was awarded the doctorate for a thesis on the Essenes.

In general, Mosbech was influenced by the history of religion school and liberal theology (so the Danish National Encyclopedia). He was a student of professor Wilhelm Bousset in Göttingen.

Apart from the works on Revelation, Mosbech also wrote an introduction to the NT in about 850 pages: New Testament Isagogics (1946-1949) and several commentaries. He was one of the leading men in the translation of the authorised translation of the NT (1948).

Holger Mosbech wrote three volumes on the Book of Revelation. In 1934 he published his 106 page survey of the history of interpretation of Revelation (Mosbech, Fortolkningen). 9 years later he had finished his 450 page commentary (1943). Linguistic comments on the Greek were published separately in a 216 pp volume the year after (Sproglig Fortolkning, 1944). Not only were the type-setting costs reduced. In Mosbech’s judgement, most students of theology would benefit from being familiar with the non-linguistic material of the commentary before studying the Greek text. It also made the commentary more accessible to the people with no acquaintance of Greek.

Mosbech does not cite a great number of commentaries that agree with the interpretations that Mosbech mentions, but he does cite the OT and the OT Apocrypha as an essential help.

Although Mosbech hoped to publish his view on the message of Revelation for his own time – a time of war – he did not do so.

Mosbech’s introduction to Revelation

Mosbech introduces the ancient apocalyptic literature, both Jewish and early Christian (pp. vii-xiv), and compares Revelation to this literature (pp. xv-xviii). John did experience a few visions, but most of Revelation is the result of John’s writing at his desk, although it is impossible to distinguish the real visionary material from John’s later elaborations (pp. xviii-xxi). Mosbech argues for the Domitianic date, but also for the use of older material (pp. xxi-xxv). The author is Jewish-Christian, perhaps a Palestinian, but he has also lived in Asia Minor for a rather long time. In spite of the earliest evidence that he reviews, Mosbech concludes that the author is not the author of the other Johannine writings. There are similarities, but Mosbech doubts that there is sufficient evidence for a Johannine school (pp. xxv-xxxii).

More important than the identification of the author is the interpretive approach. Mosbech goes over the main approaches: the church-historical, which he sees as obviously erroneous; the eschatological, which he rejects because it is inconsistent with passages like Rev 1:1; 22:10 and 22:20 with the expectation of an imminent coming of Christ and because it presupposes the later notion that the second advent of Christ might be postponed; the contemporary-historical (German: “zeitgeschichtliche”; Danish: “tidshistoriske”), which Mosbech prefers, in spite of obscure details and the lack of precise, historical information; the traditio-historical (German: traditionsgeschichtliche; Danish: “traditionshistoriske”), which complements the contemporary-historical (pp. xxxvii-xl). Mosbech appends some bibliographical notes to each section of his introduction

Finally, Mosbech lists the most important commentaries and a few other useful works. At that time, the most recent scholarly commentary in Danish was written almost sixty years before (P. Madsen, Johannes’ Aabenbaring).

Notes on the commentary proper

Mosbech concentrates on providing the necessary background information and explaining the text as a theological document.

He makes judicious use of both the OT and the NT. Or rather: Mosbech makes use of the OT, as it was used by Jesus and the NT, as he does not always himself understand the OT in the same way. E.g., Mosbech thinks that Dan 7:13 did not originally describe the Messiah.

The religio-historical material that Mosbech introduces is sometimes illuminating; sometimes it seems less relevant to me.

Apparently, Mosbech interprets the OT and Revelation in a millennarian way, as did the ancient church in the first few centuries (so Mosbech). Mosbech adds that the majority of the scholarly interpreters have rejected the millenarian interpretation, but most conservative interpreters favour it. The former attribute no particular Christian significance to the millennarian view (p. 362).

In spite of his critique of the eschatological approach mentioned above, Mosbech interprets Rev 19:11ff as the parousia, the Second Advent of Christ.

Mosbech’s commentary is still useful in many ways. Here and there it seems as though it is not completely consistent, e.g., as to whether the eschatological parousia is a possible idea at the time John wrote Revelation.

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