Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Conquest, War, Famine & Death, an 1887 painting by Victor Vasnetsov.

The story so far:
1. The Epic of Gilgamesh
2. Indian Epic Poetry
3. Aristophanes

We continue our journey into the origins of Science Fiction, with the Book of Revelation.

Revelation is to be found in the Christian sacred book of the Bible, and was written by a Jewish Christian prophet, around CE 69-79. The traditional view that the text had been written as consolation for persecuted early Christians in the Roman Empire, has been recently abandoned: we have no proof of mass persecutions (although it wasn’t an easy life) during the reign of Domitian, the ruling emperor at the time Revelation was written. Instead, it is argued that the text was aimed at early Christian communities, seemingly in conflict with each other on how to deal with non-Christian society.

At this point is worth remembering that when it comes to sacred texts, people will view them in different ways: there is a literal understanding, whereby all words are taken as truth, there is a liberal one, where the book is placed and understood in its historical context, and there is a mixture of both. The book of Revelation has also been the subject of different interpretations – especially futuristic ones, which see the events described in it as images of things which have not yet come to pass (as Galadriel would say).

There are fantastic creatures to be found in Revelation, such as the four living creatures described in chapter 4:8 “Each one of the four living creatures had six wings, and they were covered with eyes, inside and out.”

The text presents imagery and language which is often associated with both Fantasy and Science fiction.


The Apocalypse, is another name for the book of Revelation, and believe me, it is a blowout of nastiness at that. The Greek meaning of this word is “disclosure of knowledge” and within a religious context that would be the “revealing of divine mysteries”. Today, we are very familiar with the adjective apocalyptic, as we often use it to describe end-of-days scenarios and entire film/literary genres dealing with the end of the world. These, are generally classed as science fiction. (SF)


This is the name of the site of the gathering armies for the end of day battle. The point is not for the battle itself, but for making it into common language and into SF. (SF)

The 7 Seals and the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Conquest, War, Famine & Death, an 1887 painting by Victor Vasnetsov.

This is probably the chapter with the most well-known content. Statistically, the 4 Horsemen are proper jetsetters, making all sorts of appearances in movies, books, comics etc. Let’s see what happens in this section, as the seven seals are broken.

FIRST SEAL: A white horse appears. His riders has a bow and a crown and he is told to ride out as a conqueror, to conquer.

SECOND SEAL: A red horse appears. He is given a sword and the power to bring war on earth, so that people can kill each other (yep, you heard the man).

THIRD SEAL: A black horse appears. His rider is given a set of scales and he represents famine. Once the men are gone to war, no one will be left to tend the crops and people will be lucky to have any food at all.

FOURTH SEAL: A pale horse appears, carrying the evil twin of Terry Pratchett’s Death. Revelation’s Death is mean and is given the authority “…over a quarter of the earth, to kill by means of war, famine, disease, and wild animals.” (6:8).

FIFTH SEAL: The souls of the martyrs are told their murderers will get their comeuppance eventually…

SIXTH SEAL: This one needs some space and gets a point for the cause (SF). Deep breath now:

“There was a violent earthquake,

and the sun became black like coarse black cloth,

and the moon turned completely red like blood.

The stars fell down to the earth…

The sky disappeared like a scroll being rolled up,

and every mountain and island was moved from its place.”

The Seventh Seal

SEVENTH SEAL: Here is where Ingmar Bergman directs a movie about a man seeking answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague. No, wait.

It starts with 30 minutes of total silence, followed by the arrival of a lovely wee angel, who fills a gold incense burner with fire, before throwing it down on earth provoking rumblings, thunder, lightning and an earthquake. How’s that for an intro.

If one temperamental angel isn’t enough, a 7-angel jazz band arrives, with each angel playing a trumpet of doom.

The 7 Trumpets

FIRST TRUMPET: It brings hail and fire mixed with blood, pour over the earth, a third of which is completely burned. (SF)

SECOND TRUMPET: A huge mountain of fire is thrown into the sea, a third of which is turned into blood, killing all life forms in it. (SF)

THIRD TRUMPET: A burning star falls from the sky, falling over rivers and springs of water. A third of them become poisoned and kill all those who drink from it. (SF)

The Fourth Angel sounds his trumpet, Apocalypse 8. Beatus Escorial, circa 950.

FOURTH TRUMPET: A third of the celestial bodies is darkened, so the light is lost for a third of the day and of the night. (SF)

FIFTH TRUMPET: The abyss opens – this is the dwelling of imprisoned demons by the way – smoke pours out, darkening everything. Then locusts attack those not chosen by God, but not to kill… just to torture… for five months…scorpion’s sting pain… Now, locusts are nasty any day of the week, but this lot looked very Lovecraftish: human faces; women’s hair; lions’ teeth; iron breastplates; tails with stings and wings. Not your garden variety.

SIXTH TRUMPET: Two-hundred million horsemen are released, killing a third of mankind by plagues of fire, smoke, and brimstone. (SF)

SEVENTH TRUMPET: Back to lightning, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail. (SF)

The 7 Bowls 

Skimming over a few chapters of baby-eating dragons and similar impressive beasts, we reach another crucial point in God’s anger. Angels are ordered to pour bowls of goodness all over the joint.

FIRST BOWL: Painful sores appear on the evil people. (SF)

SECOND BOWL: The water becomes like blood of a dead person, in case regular blood wasn’t bad enough, killing every living creature in the sea. (SF)

THIRD BOWL: Rivers are turned into blood too, least they feel left out. (SF)

FOURTH BOWL: It’s poured over the sun, who can now burn to a crisp all the people. (SF)

FIFTH BOWL: Darkness on the animal kingdom. (SF)

SIXTH BOWL: Prep are made for the final battle at Armageddon

SEVENTH BOWL: The daddy of all earthquakes, so far, which makes islands and mountains disappear from the face of the earth. (SF)

After this Babylon is destroyed and the New Jerusalem arrives, bringing reassurance in Christ’s second coming.

Conclusion: 15 SF points – a serious score for such an ancient text. Do we have scientific technology in it? Not really, but the variety of cataclysms is staggering and it has inspired SF movies and stories aplenty. Armageddon, Apocalypse… SF inspired language that is still with us today.