Olav Hovdelien, Martyrenes belønning

Hovdelien, Olav. Martyrenes belønning: Åp 20:4-6 fortolket [The Reward of the Martyrs. Rev 20:4-6 Interpreted]. Rapport – Høgskolen i Hedmark, No. 8, 2001. Elverum: Høgskolen i Hedmark, 2001. 133 pp (with a lot of blank space and pages, however).

This report (available on-line in pdf-format via this page) is a revised and enlarged edition of the author’s Master of Theology-thesis “Tusenårsriket: En tolkningshistorisk tilnærming til Johannes’ Åpenbaring 20:4-6, med vekt på det siste århundrets eksegese” [The Thousand Year Reign: Towards an interpretation of Revelation 20:4-6, taking into account the history of interpretation, with the emphasis on the exegesis of the last century]. The Theological Faculty, University of Oslo: 1998. The advisor was professor David Hellholm.

The back matter includes a useful index of persons (pp. 131-133) and a 12 page bibliography (pp. 119-130). The front matter includes an English and a Norwegian abstract as well as a preface.

Part I is a survey of the history of interpretation with a special emphasis on the context of political power (pp. 13-62, with a summary pp. 62f). Throughout the Constantine Era, the interpreters have had difficulty handling the “literal interpretation;” futuristic interpretations have been marginal phenomena in times of crisis. So Hovdelien.

Part II dicussses the reason for this claim. In the first chapter of this part (ch. 8), the author examines seven commentaries on a verse-by-verse basis: Bousset, Charles, Lohmeyer, Hadorn, Lohse, Kraft and Roloff, the majority being German protestants. In ch. 9, the author interprets Revelation 20:4-6, after a discussion of text-critical problems (p. 101f) and the structure of the text (pp. 102f). Apart from the material gathered in ch. 8, the author primarily uses the background in Daniel 7.

The author concludes that the history of interpretation may be interpreted (“read,” as he says) as a discussion, as to what is the various interpreters’ attitude to the Jewish background of the text (p. 115). Hovdelien opts for a modified millennarianism as in Irenaeus (p. 118).

What is most surprising is that Hovdelien does not use the major monographs by Bietenhard and Mealy. He also makes little use of the rest of Revelation. He had no chance to familiarise himself with Martin Synnes’ 2002 article on the interpretation of Rev 20:6 (see here). Neither does he refer to my article on the same text.

In my opinion, it may very well be that the millennarian interpretation is a marginal phenomenon, typical for times of crisis. But is this an argument for or against the millennarian interpretation?

I do not agree, moreover, that the millennarian interpretation is “literal.” I do think that Hovdelien pays insufficient attention to the interpretive problems in general, e.g., how to interpret the figurative or metaphorical language. If the wedding feast in Rev 19:6f is not a literal wedding, then why should we interpret Rev 20:1-10 in a so-called “literal” way?

Hovdelien’s survey of the history of interpretation and research is, however, a helpful achievement that is useful for those who need a brief overview (and is able to read Norwegian).

  • See also Hovdelien, Olav. “Tusenårsriket: Et grunnriss av tolkningshistorien” [The Thousand Year Reign: An Outline of the History of Interpretation]. Ung Teologi 33, no. 1 (2000): 45-54. [Young Theology is a journal of theology published by the students of the Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology in Oslo]

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