Parables of War: Reading John's Jewish Apocalypse (Studies in Christianity and Judaism Series, 10)
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What makes the Book of Revelation so hard to understand?
How does the Book of Revelation fit into Judaism and the beginning of
John W. Marshall proposes a radical reinterpretation of the Book of Revelation of John, viewing it as a document of the Jewish diaspora during the Judean War. He contends that categorizing the Book as "Christian" has been an impediment in interpreting the Apocalypse. By suspending that category, solutions to several persistent problems in contemporary exegesis of the Apocalypse are facilitated. The author thus undertakes a rereading of the Book of Revelation that does not merely enumerate elements of a Jewish "background" but understands the Book of Revelation as an integral whole and a thoroughly Jewish text.
Marshall carefully scrutinizes the problems that plague contemporary interpretations of the Book of Revelation, and how the category of "Christian" relates to such problems. He employs the works of Mieke Bal, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jean FranÂ‡ois Lyotard, and Jonathan Z. Smith as theoretical resources. In the second half of his study, he provides detailed descriptions of the social and cultural context of the diaspora during the Judean War, and constructive rereadings of four key text complexes.
The result is a portrait of the Apocalypse of John that envisions the document as deeply invested in the Judaism of its time, pursuing rhetorical objectives that are not defined by the issues that scholars use to differentiate Judaism from Christianity.
importantly, the unquestioned application of the term "Christianity," with all its unifying and synthesizing power. Four notions cast forth "Christianity" in particular as a problem.6 First, Jacques Derrida's concept of the undetachable (or even undistinguishable) signifier and signified makes terms themselves significant beyond any attempt to circumscribe them. Second, his critique of a topos noetos7 understanding of a signified can be applied specifically to elucidate the action of applying the
of the Apocalypse makes it possible to take responsibility for naming and classifying the document and to become conscious of the benefits and liabilities of particular approaches to the document. My contention, of course, is that an understanding of the Apocalypse as Christian poses nearly insurmountable 6 44 7 This phrase of Derrida's, meaning literally "cerebral place," is elaborated on page 30 below. An excuse, a screen, a cloak" LS] π ρ ό β λ η μ α III. PARABLES OF THE W A R 30
Apocalypse?) in which one might cite Thompson against Schüssler Fiorenza9 and a matter of method (how do these lines of difference—rich/poor, privileged/oppressed, conservative/ revolutionary—relate to a taxonomic distinction between Christianity and Judaism in the setting of the Apocalypse?). The matter of historical-critical dispute is treated in later chapters, but the matter of method is inevitably a circular question. I draw attention to Schüssler Fiorenza's formulations of belief as if it
suspicious of Philip (V) of Macedon and of the Carthaginians and that "they also suspected their other subjects, lest they too should rebel in consequence of the fame of Antiochus" (Roman History 11.15).37 More alarmingly, the Romans also feared rebellion even in Italy. As a result of their suspicions and fears, military and governing forces in the provinces and in Italy were strengthened to deal with threats within the possessions of the Republic as preparations continued for war on the borders
(Rev 12:9). Similarly, when the angel confines the dragon to the Abyss, John takes care to correlate the character from the vision, the dragon, with the Greek and Hebrew names of God's (and John's) evil opponent: the devil and satan (Rev 20:1-2). These two instances make clear how closely related the terms of "satan" and "devil" are in the Apocalypse of John. Even the other instances of the term "devil" (Rev 12:12 and 20:10) are situated so close to these equivalencies as to make it clear that