Jaochim and the Dragon

This was an essay I wrote in college about Christian Apocalypticism and the abbot Jaochim of Fiore.

The Seven Headed Dragon

 

 

Apocalyptic religious thought has been around for millennia. Many religious traditions have a belief in a final confrontation between good and evil, and this belief is especially common to the three great monotheistic religions of the Middle East. Christian apocalypticism holds that in the end times the forces of evil will become stronger and spill out onto the world for a period of pillaging and death. They will be led by a powerful Antichrist who will win over people’s souls even as he wins great military victories. However, in the end Jesus Christ will return to defeat the Antichrist and to judge all of the living and the dead.  In the Christian tradition this story is primarily told in the Book of Revelation, which relates visions given to John on Patmos. Many others modified this basic vision over the years. One of these was Joachim of Fiore, a 12th century abbot who drew many images that have to do with the coming tribulations. The figure of the Seven Headed Dragon by Joachim of Fiore can be viewed as an attempt to understand the history of persecutions of the Church in light of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation.

Born in 1135, Joachim dedicated his life to the pursuit of God after a trip to the Holy Land.  After a brief period as a wandering preacher, Joachim entered the Benedictine monastery at Corazzo. However, he soon left and founded his own house at San Giovanni da Fiore in the Sila plateau; it was there that he carried out most of his work.1 Joachim never claimed to have any prophetic powers- rather, he believed that he had the gift of understanding what was already written. One of his major works is a collection of sixteen basic images called the Book of Figures and one of the major illustrations was that of the Seven Headed Dragon.    Figure 1. The Seven Headed Dragon

The captions of the figure have survived and explain the image in detail. The ‘vast red dragon having seven heads and ten horns” comes from Revelation 12:3.2 Joachim gives each head the name of one of the kings who have persecuted Christians throughout history, one of the persecutions, and designates it as a certain time. He identifies the seven kings as Herod, Nero, Constantius II, Mohammed, Mesemoth, Saladin, and the Antichrist.3 Joachim quotes Revelation 17:9-10 when he notes that “there are seven kings. Five have fallen, one is present, and the other has not yet come.”4 Most people would take that to mean that at the time of the writing of Revelation five of the kings had already fallen. However, of the kings Joachim selects, only Herod and Nero would have already fallen at that time (1st-2nd century). He is taking the words in Revelation to refer to the present time (12th century), which is strange because in that case the prophecy would have been incorrect in the time that it was written.

The names of the seven kings also show strong bias for the age in which Joachim was writing. Most Christians would cite Herod and Nero as great persecutors of Christians. However, the other four kings that Joachim names are a bit doubtful. Constantius II was a forth century Arian emperor who persecuted non-Arians. However, he was a Christian and his persecution is not notable in Church history. Although he wielded large amounts of temporal power, Mohammed was not really a king in the way that the others were. His movement did lead to many battles between Muslims and Christians, but his religion shared much with Christianity and he taught that Jesus was a messenger from God.5 Mesemoth appears to be some North African ruler, but the particular one has not been identified.6 From a modern perspective, one would certainly not see him as one of the seven greatest persecutors of Christians. Saladin was the Islamic leader who finally pushed the Christians out of Jerusalem in 1195. One could easily make the case that he was just defending his home. One of Saladin’s lieutenants, Nasser Al-Aedin wrote in his journal that Saladin “thinks that the Christians are not really our enemy and we should give them respect,” and also that he “was kind to them when they arrogantly walk into our city and refused to negotiate.”7 He was only responding to Christian forces attacking his homeland, not attacking the Christians in theirs. Certainly, many other leaders have done much more to persecute Christians.

The tail of the dragon bears the inscription “Gog. He is the final Antichrist.”8 The term antichrist has been applied liberally throughout history to various figures. However, none has stood out and explicitly fulfilled all of the prophecies set forth in the Book of Revelation.   This led Joachim and many others to regard the lesser figures as antichrists, but not the Antichrist. Joachim states that “just as many holy kings, priests, and prophets went before the one Christ who was king, priest and prophet, so likewise many unholy kings, false prophets and antichrists will come before the one Antichrist who will pretend that he is a king, a priest, and a prophet.”9 The seventh king and the Final Antichrist will be similar in power. The seventh king will wage war on earth but be defeated. The space between the lowest dragon head and the tail represents the last thousand years of peace and prosperity on earth. Then, Gog will command his army to come against the elect one last time. Joachim sets this Final Antichrist in the tail because “the heads will already have been crushed.”10  In the end, God will be victorious and Gog will be cast with the devil into the lake of fire where the Beast and False Prophet already reside.

Joachim’s work is a good representation of Christian Apocalypticism. He believed that the world was in the final age, and this influenced his writing and interpretation of the scriptures very much. The figures that he draws help make sense of his conception of the history of time and the place of the current age within that framework. The figure of the Seven Headed Dragon that is a chilling image of the dragon from the Book of Revelation can be viewed as Joachim’s attempt to understand the persecutions of the Church based on the historical and political conditions of his world.

 

References

  1. Apocalyptic Spirituality Paulist Press 1979 p 98
  2. Book of Revelation, New American Bible 1981
  3. Book of Figures from Apocalyptic Spirituality Paulist Press 1979 p 136
  4. Book of Revelation, New American Bible 1981
  5. Koran Surah 4. 171. from http://kathrynkuhlman.com/awakevis/koran.htm
  6. Apocalyptic Spirituality Paulist Press 1979 p 294
  7. Journal of  Nasser Al-Aedin May 9th, 1189 from http://www.acsamman.edu.jo/~ms/crusades/saladin/saljl.html
  8. Apocalyptic Spirituality Paulist Press 1979 p 294
  9. Apocalyptic Spirituality Paulist Press 1979 p 139
  10. Apocalyptic Spirituality Paulist Press 1979 p 139