Reconstructing Melito of Sardis’s Interpretation of Revelation’s New Jerusalem

In: Vigiliae Christianae
Nathan Betz Beyond Canon Centre, University of Regensburg Regensburg Germany

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Of the earliest Christian authors whose interpretation of the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21–22 has gone missing, the case of Melito of Sardis is perhaps the most regrettable. Heir to early Asian Johannine tradition and author of a lost treatise on Revelation, Melito had a high regard for the text. However, his view on the text’s much-contested New Jerusalem – whether it is literal, this-worldly, and millennial or allegorical, spiritual, and perhaps immanent – has never been studied. Building on and adding to an emerging consensus that Melito was not a millennialist, I attempt to reconstruct Melito’s understanding of the New Jerusalem by drawing on his Peri Pascha and surviving fragments from elsewhere in his corpus. In the end, I discover him to have a firmly ecclesiological and mystical understanding of the city. That he advanced this understanding, which he presents without qualification or apology, indicates further that Melito likely bears witness to a yet earlier spiritual and allegorical reading of Revelation’s Heavenly Jerusalem.

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