John the Revelator
DESCRIPTION: "My Lord called John while he was a-writing... Oh, John, John" "Who's that writing? John the Revelator." The song describes what and how John wrote: The book of "Revelations," "The book of Seven Seals," etc.
EARLIEST DATE: 1930 (recording, Blind Willie Johnson)
KEYWORDS: Bible religious nonballad
FOUND IN: US(So,SE)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Lomax-Singing, pp. 22-23, "John Was A-Writin'" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 252, "John the Revelator" (1 text, 1 tune)
Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 72, "John the Revelator" (1 text, 1 tune)
Courlander-NFM, p. 66, "(John the Revelator)" (partial text)
ADDITIONAL: Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, pp. 331-332, "(John the Revelator)" (1 text)
Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, "John, the Revelator" (Bluebird B-7631, 1938; Montgomery Ward M-7912, 1939; Victor 20-2073, 1946; rec. 1938)
Blind Willie Johnson, "John the Revelator" (Columbia 14530D, 1930; on AAFM2, BWJ03)
Spiritual Four Quartet, "John the Revelator" (AFS 5160 B1, 5163 A1, 1941; on in AMMEM/FortValley)
Trumpeteers, "John de Revelator" (Score 5012, n.d.)
cf. "Adam in the Garden Pinning Leaves" (theme)
cf. "It's Getting Late in the Evening" (theme)
NOTES: For the record, it is the "Book of Revelation," or properly the "Revelation to John" (Greek APOKALYPSIS IOANNOU), not the "Book of Revelations."
The book does not say which John wrote it. Tradition has it that John the Apostle wrote the Apocalypse. However, it is patently obvious that the same man cannot have written on the one hand the Gospel and Letters of John and on the other the Apocalypse. The Gospel is in simple but clear and even, in a way, highly stylized Greek, easy to translate. The Apocalypse is in poor Greek, by someone whose native language was pretty definitely Aramaic -- but it clearly uses all the big words it can muster.
Of course, there is no direct evidence that the Apostle John wrote either the Gospel or the Letters of John. So it's possible that he wrote the Apocalypse.
In recent decades, J. Massyngberde Ford, (Revelation, being volume 38 of the Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1975, pp. 26-33, 55, etc.) that the Apocalypse is in fact a Jewish production with a few Christian additions, consisting of the first three chapters, a few verses at the end, and one or two internal assertions. In this case, he suggests that the work was by, or from the school of, John the Baptist. His case that the Apocalypse is a non-Christian work, while not absolutely decisive, is very strong (there are very few explicitly Christian references in chapters 4-21 of the Apocalypse). I'm less convinced that we can really attribute it to John the Baptist.
Of course, that cannot have been known to the author of this song. On the evidence, he did not even know the widespread Christian tradition that John dictated the gospel to Prochorus (known in the Bible only from Acts 6:5, but there is a biography of John, written in the fifth century according to the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, which claims to be by Prochorus, and very many Byzantine copies of the Gospel contain illustrations showing John the Apostle dictating to Prochorus). - RBW
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