What you may or may not know about The Book of Revelation is that it’s all a big allegory. John of Patmos wasn’t talking about things in some long and distant future, but things that were happening right there and then, in his own time. Since freedom of speech was a concept that wouldn’t be invented for more than 1,500 years, he had to speak in coded terms: will talking about Rome get you crucified? Then talk about Babylon. Talk about a seven-headed Beast, and give that Beast a number that gematrically translates to the name of a particularly brutal emperor who is oppressing your people. It’s essentially a big political cartoon, and the people of his time and audience knew what he was talking about.
That isn’t to say that John of Patmos wasn’t predicting the future. He was. John was a true believer. It just wasn’t as specific and literal as his spiritual descendants have treated it:
“There are tyrants, imperialists and cruel men,” he said. “And right now, you’re groaning under their heel. There have always been tyrants, imperialists and cruel men – one falls, and another takes their place. But it won’t last forever. Some day, all the tyrants will be cast down, your suffering will be redeemed, and there will be justice and peace.”
It’s a hopeful vision, but the conditions he was denouncing have persisted far into the future from his time.
The reason I bring this up is because the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the part of the Book of Revelation that everyone has heard of (even if they don’t know where the Horsemen are actually from…) are allegorical, too.
The First Horseman, who is usually identified as Pestilence (or Pollution, if you’re a Pratchett/Gaiman fan), is only described in the text as a rider on a white horse with a crown and a bow, who rides out “as a conqueror bent on conquest”. I’m sure that John was more than familiar with those, and the world has seen plenty since his time.
The Second Horseman is War. Again, plenty then and now.
The Fourth Horseman is Death. Nuff said.
It’s the Third Horseman I find interesting. The Third Horseman is Famine, never been any shortage of that, but he’s a very specific kind of Famine. When he’s unleashed, there’s an announcement:
“A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
Doesn’t make a lot of sense? Very simple, really: the Romans were in the habit of forcing subject peoples to raise olives for oil and wine grapes instead of food crops, so food for a family (the quart of wheat for bread) or for a livestock animal (the barley) could cost a working man his whole day’s wages (the denarius). In other words, Famine represents poverty caused by the greedy exploitation of an occupying, imperialistic force, rather than that caused by some natural disaster.
Why do I bring all this up?
When I found out about this, I was pleased. And why not? In and of itself, it’s good news. How can more water for the thirsty be anything but?
Well, a lot of the nice, but very cynical, people on that thread explained how. That aquifer is going to be transformative for that region, right enough, and it’s going to bring great prosperity to someone, but the chances of it doing any good for the people who live there now is quite slim. They explained all the different ways that tyrants, imperialists, and cruel men are exploiting similar situations even now, while the poor people spend their daily wages for their daily bread.
Two thousand years later, and Famine is still riding. Sometimes it’s depressing how many of the same problems are still with us from Biblical times.
What’s equally troubling, in its own way, is that my country is the updated version of Rome.