What does Harry Potter have to do with Revelation 12? It's simple; let me explain. In the Harry Potter saga we read a prophecy that changes the wizarding world forever. A child will be born as the seventh month dies who will have the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. At this point the evil sorcerer whose demise is hinted at feels a little threatened. He believes the prophecy and thinks that this child needs to be taken out of the equation for his own protection. So, he sets out for Harry's home when Harry is only a little older than a year. In this particular scene we see our three main images from Revelation 12: the woman (Harry's mother), the child (Harry), and the evil monster (Voldemort). We also see that as powerful as the monster is, he is not quite powerful enough to destroy a tiny baby. In fact, in sweeping irony, it is the child who demolishes the monster.
These three images, the mother, the child, and the monster, appear quite frequently in the literary world. We find similar plots in both pagan mythology and in the Old Testament. There was a popular Greek myth during the time of Jesus about the pregnant goddess Let (Lucan, Bell. 5.79-81). When she reached her time to deliver her child, she was pursued by a dragon named Python who wanted to kill her and her coming child. It was generally agreed that this yet to be born baby would bring about Python's destruction. Python thought that if he could just kill him as a helpless child, then he could protect himself. Unfortunately for Python, Leto happened upon a tiny little island called Delos, and Poseidon buried the island under the sea to hide her. It was on this island that she was protected while she gave birth to the god, Apollo. When Apollo reached the ripe old age of four days, he set out on a quest to kill Python and succeeded. The monster thwarted by the child.
In Egyptian myth we meet our three images in the story of Set the red dragon (Plutarch, De Iside 355D-358F). This monster pursues the pregnant goddess (the mother) Isis. Set cannot get to her and she gives birth to Horus (the child). When Horus reaches maturity, he sets out and kills the red dragon.
This story line even made itself into the political world of John's day. In AD 83 the Roman Emperor's son died tragically. Upon his death, Domitian named his son a god and the child's mother, the mother of god. Coins of this period show Domitia as the mother of gods enthroned with a scepter and a crown. Others show the dead child sitting on the globe of heaven playing with the seven starts which represented the seven known planets at the time.
Some have proposed that these three characters in Revelation 12 were intended as a political and religious statement against these coins. In other words, these coins proclaim that Domitian's wife and child are lord and savior, but John is telling us that the real Lord and Savior is Jesus, the Lord of heaven, who will rule with a rod of iron. While tempting to see chapter 12 as a polemic against Domitian, I personally don't think that is the correct background.
I believe the background comes from our own Genesis 3. In this passage of Scripture we again meet our three images, the mother, the child, and the monster. After Adam and Eve's (the mother) fall from grace, they are cursed by God. Part of that curse is again to the serpent (the monster). God foretold in that curse that there would always be animosity between the seed of the woman (the child) and the seed of the snake. The offspring of the snake will nip at the heel of man, but man will crush his head. In the original context, I think this refers mainly to the animosity that humans still have with snakes. Later tradition, however, including biblical tradition picks up on this curse as applying to the struggle between Messiah and Satan. Satan wages war with the Christ, trying to destroy him, but does nothing more than nip at his heel. But . . . because of what Christ did on the cross, he has finally and completely crushed Satan's head. The real meaning of Christmas.
These are the three images we are going to talk about the rest of this week. Hopefully, nailing down the background as an interpretation and explication of Genesis 3 will help us on the road toward clarifying the referents of these three symbols.
Hermeneutical Point of Interest:
The book of Revelation is filled with rich images, but these images are not normally of John's own making. He draws heavily on images from the Old Testament in virtually every verse of his Apocalypse. This is called intertextuality. Often, these background passages provide us with the necessary tools to help us interpret John's intention more precisely.