Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part V)

Part II: A Polemic against Hybridity (continued)

The economic critique of Babylon begins not with Revelation 17, but with the critiques found in the letters to the seven ekklēsiai in Revelation 2 and 3. Here we see the wealth of Laodicea being labeled “poverty” (Rev. 3:14-22), while the lack of wealth at Smyrna is regarded as true wealth (Rev. 2:8-11). Why does John mock wealth here and reverse the status of the wealthy and the poor? The answer lies in how the economic, political, and religious systems in Roman times were inextricably tied up with one another.[1] While in modern Western culture religion operates separately from economics and politics, in the Roman Empire these concepts were tied together. In order to preserve the pax Romana, the pax deum had to be assured through the carrying out of religious rituals; economic strength depended upon adherence to religious observances. Additionally, religious piety directed towards the Roman imperial cult was how Roman cities supported the Empire and gained imperial favor for themselves. Throughout the Roman provinces, minus the notable exception of the province of Judaea, there was strong competition for imperial favor by competing for coveted titles of neokoros. Cities won these titles by showing their loyalty to the Emperor, demonstrated through the displays of loyalty and divine honor to Roman emperors known as the imperial cult.

John objects to the fact that some of his readers are eating food offered to idols (Rev. 2:14-15, 20) because, in doing so, they are effectively propping up the religious and economic orders of the imperial culture.[2] In Asia Minor, the church at Pergamum is criticized for the teachings of “Balaam” and “the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15; cf. Num. 22-24), while the church at Thyatira “tolerate[s] that woman Jezebel” (Rev. 2:20; cf. 1 Kgs 18:1-19). The context suggests that the teaching of Balaam is the same as the teachings of the Nicolaitans, and that Jezebel is a name specific to an individual at Thyatira, with the teachings of this individual being described in identical terms to that of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14-15).[3] The Nicolaitans are those who chose to assimilate themselves to the norms of polis, including consuming meat in socio-religious situations. In Revelation, the Nicolatians are the epitome of hybridity and John desires to excise them from the ekklēsiai, for it not only supports the corrupt economic system of Rome but it is also a symbol of integration and interdependence with Rome; it is this hybridity that John so loathes.

Yet, in calling on the members of the ekklēsiai to have no part with these expressions of Roman power and patronage, John is placing them in a precarious situation where they are living on the margins of standard Asian culture, thus they may very well face social and economic maltreatment, and in certain instances, even death. To endure the burden that this would create, John knows that the members of the ekklēsiai would require a solid bond with one another, and that despite the blemishes in the various ekklēsiai, they were the proper communal context that contained the opportunity for the alternative reality to the Roman order. Rather than relying on the economic system of Rome, which was entirely corrupt, the ekklēsiai were to think of themselves as a faithful alternative.

Summary

Though I did not go into it in as much detailed as I originally intended, hopefully this has shown how the postcolonial concepts of mimicry and hybridity allow us to scrutinize the rhetorical dualism in Revelation. The resolve of John in regards to the purity of the ekklēsiai of Asia Minor and his determined efforts to dissociate himself from his proximate others–the Nicolaitans, Jezebel, Rome–are a reaction to the peril of hybridity that was confronting his subaltern. By participating in the cultic meals, the members of the ekklēsiai are symbolically endorsing the Roman imperial order. Therefore, John relates the visions of Babylon and New Jerusalem to show the stark contrast between the Roman order and that of faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Those inside New Jerusalem are overcoming empire; those outside the walls are colluding with and profiting from the imperial order, and also likely engaging in imperial vices (Rev. 22:14-15). Yet there is a porous boundary between the two cities in that the walls have large perpetually-open gates (Rev. 21:25), allowing “those who wash their robes” (Rev. 22:14) to enter the city through metanoia (Rev. 2:5, 16, 21; 3:3, 19). In a nutshell, the attitude of John in regards to participation in the standard civic life of a Roman polis is one of separatism and resolute rejection, going to great lengths to reveal how the Roman Empire is the utter antithesis of “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:5). In contrast to the death-dealing economic exploitation of Babylon, John presents the reader with New Jerusalem, a life-giving economy.

 

Footnotes

[1] A well-known example of the intermingling of the religious, economic, and political spheres is to be found in the “mark of the beast” pericope, where we are told that “no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark [of the beast]” (Rev. 13:16-17).

[2] Steven J. Friesen, “Satan’s Throne, Imperial Cults and the Social Settings of Revelation”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.3 (2005), pp. 351-73 contends that John’s usage of imperial cult imagery is not due to persecution under the Emperor Domitian, but is instead utilized to make his audience consider the connections between religion, economy, and imperialism.

[3] G.B. Caird, The Revelation of St John (orig. pub. 1966; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), pp. 38-40; David Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary, 52A; Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997), p. 188. For an argument that Balaam and the Nicolaitans are different, see Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 192-93.

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part IV)

Part II: A Polemic against Hybridity

Introduction

Using the Babylon and New Jerusalem symbolism, John has presented the reader with a black-and-white critique of the Roman Empire, a key function of which is to describe the exploitative economics of the Roman Empire. This dualism reaches its pinnacle in the appearance of New Jerusalem. Outside of the walls of New Jerusalem is everything associated with imperialism and empire, but within the walls there is none of this (Rev. 21:27). There is no spectrum; immediately outside the walls of New Jerusalem, complete alterity commences.

In John’s perspective, the Roman culture of imperialism and the Christian culture must be kept absolutely separate. In order to maintain the rhetorical vigor of this picture that he paints, the distinction between the Roman Empire and the ekklēsiai must be stressed to the absolute. Thus, any appearance of assimilation to Rome needs to be decisively countered. Evidently the imperial system of Rome had made inroads in some of the ekklēsiai of Asia Minor and so John constructs a thorough condemnation aimed at the Rome through the cities of Babylon and New Jerusalem, showing that by associating with the Roman imperial system, one is unavoidably mired in the imperial endeavors of the empire: its violence, opulence, idolatry, and economy. So while Revelation is appropriately viewed as resistance literature, it is also offensive literature aimed at excising any hybridity.

Hybridity in the Ekklēsiai

Postcolonial theory provides several concepts that described how in a colonized society there is a contentious integration of cultures that the colonized must navigate. Homi Bhabha, one of the pioneering figures of postcolonial thought, says that the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is best understood as one of mimicry, a concept closely connected with hybridity.[1] This idea behind mimicry is that when the colonizer’s culture is imposed upon the colonized, the latter will internalize and replicate it. Yet this replication is not a perfect carbon copy, but rather results in a hybrid mixture that, as Bhabha puts it, is “almost the same but not quite.”[2] This is known as hybridity. Essentially, Bhabha’s postcolonial theory cuts against the notion of a complete dichotomization between the colonizer and colonized. He contends that the attitude of the colonized vis-à-vis the colonizer is not one of unequivocal hostility, but one of ambivalence where resistance and collusion are both simultaneously apparent in the colonized subjects.

Mimicry is prevalent in Revelation.[3] In many ways, the Roman imperial order is parodied by John and parody is essentially mimicry with the intent of mockery. Robert Royalty has argued that John, by utilizing wealth imagery in his description of New Jerusalem, is simply reinscribing Rome’s ideology of wealth rather than being critical of it.[4] However, applying Bhabha’s insights on mimicry would suggest that Royalty misconstrues how John has altered the wealth imagery through his use of mockery and irony. Reading John’s narrative of Babylon and New Jerusalem with Bhabha’s concepts of mimicry and hybridity in mind shows that John indirectly represents the economic situation of his day, while mocking the entrenched assumptions about wealth, money, and power that underlie imperial economics.

 

Footnotes

[1] For Bhabha’s thoughts on mimicry and hybridity, see, e.g., Homi K. Bhabha, “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817”, in Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (2nd edn; London: Routledge 1994), pp. 102-22.

[2] Homi K. Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse”, in Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (2nd edn; London: Routledge 1994), pp. 85-92 (p. 86).

[3] The fact that Revelation co-opts Roman ideology and language is nothing new. For a thorough examination of the status quaestionis of the Roman imperial cult in Revelation, see Michael Naylor, “The Roman Imperial Cult and Revelation”, Currents in Biblical Research 8 (2010), pp. 207-39. See also Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[4] Robert Royalty, The Streets of Heaven: The Ideology of Wealth in the Apocalypse of John (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998).

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part III)

Part I: A Tale of Two Cities (continued)

New Jerusalem 21:9-22:9

Just as the vision of Babylon is anchored in the critiques of cities found in the Hebrew Bible, so too the vision of New Jerusalem is drawn from Jewish scripture, primarily Trito-Isaiah. John uses various literary motifs to construct his New Jerusalem narrative, including those of a new creation, paradise, pilgrimage of the nations, and a restitution of Jerusalem and covenant (see e.g. Ezekiel 37; 47; Zechariah 8; Psalm 46; Sirach 15; and Tob. 13:16), weaving them all together to create a unifying literary unit and endowing it with a novel meaning: this New Jerusalem signifies the faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, not a physical city like the historical Jerusalem.[1]

Not everyone, however, agrees with this interpretation of New Jerusalem, instead seeing it as an actual physical city.[2] Barbara Rossing has put forth a detailed study on the two cities, reading Revelation as an example of deliberative rhetoric that employs the two-women topos to present New Jerusalem as an alternative to Babylon, tracing the literary imagery of Revelation to the Hebrew Bible and Greco-Roman wisdom traditions. She views New Jerusalem as a physical city rather and that it is not restricted solely to the faithful witnesses of Christ.[3] This interpretation, however, would seem to go against the description of the nations bringing their glory into the city only after they have obtained their clean robes—which according to Rev. 19:8 represent “the righteous deeds of the saints”—and are from there on out separated from the unclean (Rev. 21:24-27; 22:14-15).

Contra to Rossing and others, New Jerusalem is symbolic of God’s people, not an actual residence for them, and the identification of New Jerusalem as the Christian community is made clear in how the promises to the ekklēsiai in Revelation 2-3 are realized in the literary unit on New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22.[4]

 

Revelation 2-3

Revelation 21-22

“tree of life” (2:7) “tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit” (22:2,14)
“will not be harmed by the second death” (2:11) “[for those who do not conquer receive] the second death” (21:8)
“a new name” (2:17) “[God’s] name will be on their foreheads” (22:4)
“authority over the nations” (2:26) “they will reign forever and ever” (22:5)
“clothed … in white robes … will not blot your name out of the book of life” (3:5) “nothing unclean will enter [New Jerusalem] … but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27)
“a pillar in the temple of my God … and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem” (3:12) “the holy city, the New Jerusalem … the foundations of the wall of the city” (21:2, 19)
“give a place with me on my throne” (3:21) “they will reign forever and ever” (22:5)

 

What this means is that Christ connects New Jerusalem to whoever overcomes (Rev. 3:12), meaning that the readers should identify New Jerusalem as being “personal rather than topographical.”[5] This identification is made more unambiguous later when John sees “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2), followed soon thereafter with the angelus interpretus telling John, “I will show you the bride, the wide of the lamb” (Rev. 21:9), yet what John sees is a city, New Jerusalem, descending out of the heavens (Rev. 21:10).

Similar to Babylon, New Jerusalem is a city containing magnificent wealth. Yet the wealth of this city is not of the same nature as that of Babylon. Instead of the economic exploitation of Babylon, New Jerusalem is a place of economic justice, where the wealth is contained in the elements of city that are shared by all its citizens: the gates of pearl, the streets of gold, and the pillars and walls comprised of precious gems. New Jerusalem contains springs of living water flowing freely from the throne of God and has open inviting gates. One could perhaps go so far as to say that New Jerusalem is a free economy of grace, where wealth is freely obtained and voluntary given; it is a “gift economy” where “water, fruit, and medicine . . . are offered to everyone in New Jerusalem, even to those with no money.”[6]

A particularly conspicuous economic contrast between Babylon and New Jerusalem is the disappearance of the sea (Rev. 13:1; 21:1). There are several interpretations as to the significance of this detail, most of which refer back to another instance in which the “sea” is mentioned in Revelation. A common interpretation of the sea is in terms of mythological chaos traditions,[7] where the Hebrew creation myth has the ordering of chaos (represented by the sea), though this is not the sole or even necessarily the primary thought underlying John’s perception of the sea. A key function of the sea in Revelation is that it facilitates Babylon’s commerce,[8] a function that is specifically selected for destruction in Rev. 8:9 and 18:11-17, with Babylon’s destruction depicted in terms of a “great millstone” being thrown into the sea (Rev. 18:21). No more sea, no more maritime trade.

Summary

In this portrayal of the new heavens and earth without any seas—with the only water being the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1) in New Jerusalem—John envisions an alternative economy to that of Babylon, one where exploitative trade in commodities is supplanted by one in which the water of life is given “as a gift” (Rev. 22:17). Thus, John issues an imperative to the reader to “come out” of Babylon and to “come” into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 18:4; 22:17). This is the “rhetorical key” to the vision of Babylon.[9] This exhortation to “come out” is not intended geographically as if the faithful should pack up and leave Rome, Ephesus, or one of the other cities in Asian Minor. Instead, the imperative concerns the discerning of the nature of one’s environment and to divorce oneself from any imperialistic spirit of that environment to be found in the economic, political, and religious spheres.[10] The reader is issued a command to enter through the open gates into the alternative city of New Jerusalem which provides an alternative social reality to that of Babylon.

 

Footnotes

[1] For a seminal article arguing this point, see Robert H. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People”, Novum Testamentum, 29 (1987), pp. 254-64.

[2] For a survey of views on New Jerusalem, see Barbara R. Rossing, The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride, and Empire in the Apocalypse (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), pp. 1-16.

[3] Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 12 opts not to see the bride of Christ as the saints, and it is this breaking of the saints/bride link that leads to a physical interpretation of the New Jerusalem.

[4] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “The Eschatology and Composition of the Apocalypse”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968), pp. 537-69 has posited a chiastic structure to Revelation with the New Jerusalem being the corresponding item to the letters to the seven churches.

[5] Gundry, “The New Jerusalem”, p. 256.

[6] Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 152.

[7] David Aune, Revelation 17-22 (Word Biblical Commentary, 52C; Dallas, TX: Word Books, 2002), p. 1119.

[8] Jonathan Moo, “The Sea that is No More: Rev. 21:1 and the Function of Sea Imagery in the Apocalypse of John”, Novum Testamentum 51 (2009), pp. 148-67 (esp. pp. 159-60).

[9] Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 12.

[10] Cf. Aune, Revelation 17-22, p. 991.

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part II)

Part I: A Tale of Two Cities (continued)

The City of Babylon in Revelation 17:1-19:10

There are several interpretations of who Babylon represents in the reception history of Revelation. The interpretation of Babylon as Rome has been a popular one throughout the centuries, with the Reformation era adding the twist that Babylon also represents the Papacy located in Rome.[1] A popular understanding nowadays, this one in evangelical Christianity, is that Babylon represents the actual city of the future eschatological Antichrist, with some even positing that it will be a rebuilt city of Babylon in Mesopotamia by the river Euphrates (in modern day Iraq).[2] A more recent reading contends that Babylon is in fact the first-century city of Jerusalem.[3] It is generally agreed upon, however, by most commentators, exegetes, and theologians–and it is the position taken by myself–that Babylon does indeed represent the city of Rome and the Roman Empire.[4]

Before John depicts Babylon as a city, he portrays her as a female prostitute in Revelation 17. The metaphor of prostitution is drawn from the Hebrew Bible where it signifies deviation from faithfulness to Yahweh by adapting to the powers that surrounded them in various ways, such as idolatrous practices, exploitative economics, and making treaties with other nations rather than relying upon Yahweh. This depiction of Babylon as a prostitute “clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (Rev. 17:4) is connected to the cargo list in Rev. 18:12-13, 16, indicating that John’s critique of Babylon is intended not as physical prostitution but as a metaphor critical of Babylon’s trade and economy. This is further supported by the connection of several passages in the Hebrew Bible where Jerusalem and other cities are likened to prostitutes (e.g. Jer. 2:20-3:20; 51; Ezekiel 16; 23; Hosea 2; and Nah. 3:1-7). These allusions show that while John’s usage of the prostitution metaphor certainly does not preclude an association between Babylon and the idolatrous practices of Rome (such as the imperial cult), it is also underlining Babylon’s economic transgressions.[5]

Further support for the highlighting of the economic system of Babylon is in the description of her destruction: Babylon will be destroyed due to her prostitution with the nations, prostitution with the kings, and the seduction of the merchants with wealth. Each of these reflects the social, political, and economic power of Babylon respectively. Additionally, note the dirge that the kings, merchants, and sailors pronounce due to the loss of Babylon’s trade in cargo: the Greek text (NA28) spends 51 words on the “kings” (Rev. 18:9-10), 161 words for the “merchants” (vv. 11-17a), and 72 words on “all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea” (vv. 18:17b-19).[6] To situate the mercantile class in the middle and allot to them the majority of the lament conveys that commerce is a key issue in John’s depiction of Babylon.

The domineering economic prowess of Babylon is a key feature of her portrayal in Revelation, both in the illustrations of Babylon as woman and Babylon as city. Babylon is the place where the wealth accrues to the wealthy elite and the merchants facilitate this transfer of wealth. The economic system of Rome favors indulgence for the wealthy, rather than basic sustenance for the poor masses (Rev. 6:6). The wealth of Babylon is inextricably tied up with exploitation which enriches those at the top and those who provide the means of trade (Rev. 18:3), leading to the commodification of everything, from luxurious items down to the very basics of life, even human beings (Rev. 18:13). While much of the cargo list in Rev. 18:12-13 can rightly be labeled as representative of Rome’s more luxurious imports, some of the commodities are everyday commonplace items (e.g. flour, wheat). What this indicates is that Babylon imports not just lavish goods, but everything; and this is the quintessence of an imperial economy.

 

Footnotes

[1] For a survey of the patristic literature, see G. Biguzzi, “Is the Babylon of Revelation Rome or Jerusalem”, Biblica 87 (2006), pp. 371-86 (pp. 373-74).

[2] See C.H. Dyer, “The Identity of Babylon in Revelation 17–18, Part 2”, Bibliotheca Sacra 144 (1987), pp. 433-49.

[3] See J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (orig. pub. 1887; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), pp. 482-504, 563-69; Kenneth L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Bethesda, MD: International Scholars Publishers: 1989), pp. 94-95, 240-41; and J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation (Anchor Bible, 38; Garden City, MI: Doubleday & Company, 1975), pp. 286-89. For a recent examination of whether Babylon represents Rome or Jerusalem, see Biguzzi, “Rome or Jerusalem”, pp. 371-86.

[4] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (Interpretation; Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989), p. 179; G.B. Caird, The Revelation of St John (orig. pub. 1966; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 214. Barbara R. Rossing, The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride, and Empire in the Apocalypse (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), p. 6 and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), p. 89 both observe that the majority of scholars read Babylon as a critique of Rome and its imperial oppression, with the latter also noting that this position is congruent with the branding of Rome as Babylon in other Jewish and Christian literature, providing these examples: 4 Ez. 3:1-2, 28-31; 2 Bar. 10:1-3; 11:1; 67:7; Sib. Or. 5:143, 159. And, of course, 1 Pet. 5:13.

[5] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (The New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 86 says that “‘Babylon the Great’ is the entire corrupt economic-religious system.” Furthermore, Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 83 has gone so far to say that “the primary topic” of Revelation is the “contrasting political economies represented by Babylon and New Jerusalem.”

[6] For thorough analyses on the dirge of Revelation 18, see Richard Bauckham, “The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation 18”, in L. Alexander (ed), Images of Empire (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), pp. 47-90; Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993), pp. 338-83; and J. Nelson Kraybill, Imperial Cult and Commerce in John’s Apocalypse (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplements, 132; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996).

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part I)

Long before the Christian movement became the religio licita of the Roman Empire, the book of Revelation confronted the violent pax Romana, the idolatrous imperial cult, and the exploitative economic system of Rome. Today, however, Revelation is used by many readers to construct eschatological timetables of nuclear war and to sell books about the coming divine destruction of the Earth, yet what Revelation really unveils are the systems of domination that exist in our world, the freedom to be found in Christ, and the realization of the love of God in humility and nonpower. Revelation also provides us with a prophetic critique of empire and economic imperialism, calling us to choose between the ways of Babylon and New Jerusalem, not in an eschatological future, but in the historical present.

This series of blog posts will proceed on the following two fronts: (i) the spotlight will be placed on Revelation’s two conflicting illustrations of polis—Babylon and New Jerusalem—in order to show how Revelation unveils the economic injustice of Babylon, calling the recipients of the letter out of this illusory system and into the alternative of New Jerusalem; and (ii) in order to draw out what John is attempting to convey with these visions of polis, postcolonial theory will be employed to show that John uses the Babylon-New Jerusalem symbolism to reinforce his polemic against the apparent hybridity that has occurred in the ekklēsiai of Asia Minor. Revelation provides us with a prophetic critique of empire and economic imperialism, calling us to choose between the ways of Babylon and New Jerusalem, not in an eschatological future, but in the historical present.

Part I: A Tale of Two Cities

A key truth that John aims to impart to his audience is that there are two rival realities: Babylon and New Jerusalem. While these two cities are presented in a temporal sequence with New Jerusalem succeeding Babylon, this is not to indicate an actual chronological sequence in time, but is rather to assign a decisive prominence to New Jerusalem and a renunciation of Babylon. Literary features of the two visions set the cities in contrast. First, both cities are personified as feminine figures–a “prostitute” and a “bride”–in the standard depiction of city personifications in Jewish, Hellenistic, and Roman literature.[1] Second, both visions are introduced by an angel of the seven bowls, the angelus interpretus, who takes John “in the spirit” to a location where the city can be seen (Rev. 17:3; 21:10). And third, both cities are introduced by the same construction found nowhere else in Revelation (with the addition of one phrase in the introduction to New Jerusalem that is shown below in square parentheses):

Καὶ ἦλθεν εἷς ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλων τῶν ἐχόντων τὰς ἑπτὰ φιάλας [τῶν γεμόντων τῶν πληγῶν τῶν ἐσχάτων] καὶ ἐλάλησεν μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ λέγων· δεῦρο, δείζω σοι

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you…” (Rev. 17:1)

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls [full of the seven last plagues] came and said to me, “Come, I will show you…” (Rev. 21:9)

Additionally, both literary units finish with three similar features: First is the declaration of the vision’s veracity (“these are the true words of God”, Rev. 19:9; “these words are faithful and true”, Rev. 22:6); second is the pronouncement of a blessing (“blessed are the ones called to the wedding feast of the lamb”, Rev. 19:9; “blessed is the one keeping the words of prophecy of this scroll”, Rev. 22:7); and third, each unit concludes with a very similar account of John trying to worship the angel, with John falling at the angel’s feet and the angel decrying such behavior telling him to “worship God” (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). It is clear that the two literary units were composed in such a way in order to promote a clear contrast between the two cities.

Footnotes

[1] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), says that “whoring and fornication” function “as metaphors for idolatry”, with the use of feminine figures being “part and parcel of the prophetic apocalyptic tradition” (p. 14), and that the feminine imagery is “conventional language” used to describe cities because “then, as today, cities and countries were grammatically construed as feminine” (p. 95). Barbara Rossing, “River of Life in God’s New Jerusalem: An Eschatological Vision for Earth’s Future”, in Rosemary Ruether and Dieter Hessel (eds), Christianity and Ecology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 205-24 (p. 209) says that the language of the woman being “desolate” and “naked” are descriptors of an urban landscape, not a female body, and that “its primary polemic is political and economic, not gendered.” Other interesting studies that examine the prostitution imagery of Babylon from a feminist postcolonial perspective include Jean K. Kim, “‘Uncovering Her Wickedness’: An Inter(Con) Textual Reading of Revelation 17 From a Postcolonial Feminist Perspective”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 21 (1999): 61-81; and Shanell T. Smith, The Woman Babylon and the Marks of Empire: Reading Revelation with a Postcolonial Womanist Hermeneutics of Ambiveilence (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014).

Quick Book Review: 1-2 Thessalonians (BECNT)

weimathessaloniansTitle: 1–2 Thessalonians

Author: John Byron

Bibliographic info: 736 pp.

Publisher: Baker Academic, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy.

The author, Jeffrey A. D. Weima, is professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he has taught for over twenty years. He has also published An Annotated Bibliography of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (co-authored with Stanley Porter; Brill, 1997), and contributed the section on 1 and 2 Thessalonians in Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary series (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus; Zondervan, 2011).

There are at least a dozen good English commentaries one can find on 1–2 Thessalonians, including Gene Green’s PNTC volume, Charles Wanamaker’s rhetorical study in the NIGTC series, F.F. Bruce’s WBC volume, Leon Morris’ NICNT volume, and Ben Witherington’s socio-rhetorical volume. While it is common now for epistles to be looked at by rhetorical analysis, a distinctive feature of Weima’s commentary is how he opts to examine the epistles in light of ancient epistolary structure. I haven’t read the entire volume yet, but what I have read so far is a fine commentary in the BECNT tradition.

Weima begins with the obligatory introductory section in which he discusses the historical, social, and cultural contexts of the epistles. Like all BECNT volumes, this commentary provides the Greek text (with transliterations), in a verse-by-verse exegetical approach. As he makes his way through the text of the Thessalonian correspondence, Weima first discusses the literary features of the text, followed by the exegesis proper. There are three excurses scattered throughout the volume: the first is on whether 1 Thess. 1:9b-10 is pre-Pauline, the second is on the textual reading of 1 Thess. 2:7, and the third is on the restrainer of 2 Thess. 2:1-17.

Weima’s contribution to the body of scholarship on Paul’s Thessalonian correspondence seems very up-to-date and explores the sociological and historical features of the epistles. It also discusses the theology of the epistles, thus making this volume useful for those reading it from a more pastoral perspective. Overall, Weima follows traditional positions regarding various issues of interpretation and authorship (it is common to deny Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians nowadays). Yet he is thoroughly aware of the debate surrounding these issues and ably weaves his way through it.

One final note: I have the Kindle version of this book and, thankfully, it was properly formatted and the Greek letters came through without errors. That was a welcome relief considering the egregious formatting of some Kindle books I have read lately.

Postcolonial Biblical Criticism (Part IV)

Since the Bible was written in various imperialist contexts and interpreted by those living in the current Western system, the mission of postcolonial biblical criticism is to decolonize the biblical text and how it is read. Postcolonial biblical criticism addresses the limitations of other universalizing approaches and provides the means for wholly fresh perspectives on the biblical text, including ways of analyzing privilege, power, domination, exploitation, and identity in diverse contexts, including the whole interlocking system of gender, patriarchy, race, and so forth.

The only shortcoming of postcolonial biblical criticism that I have encountered in my readings is that it is not an entirely intuitive method to employ. This is due not only to how its interdisciplinary nature merges various subjects together, but also due to the fact that it simply does not provide a singular methodology of application to the biblical text; in fact, postcolonial criticism has been described as “a mental attitude rather than a method.”[1] Nevertheless, despite this abstruse nature of postcolonial criticism, it can undoubtedly be an illuminating approach to the biblical text.

Despite its benefits, however, I doubt that postcolonial criticism will turn out to be a dominant approach taken by those involved in biblical studies, especially in a non-Western setting. For while it does provide a convincing analysis of unexamined attitudes existing in the Western intellectual world that can all too easily go unchecked, I suspect that the majority of scholars in non-Western settings who are examining the biblical text will be doing so from more of a theological perspective where they are attempting to derive Christian doctrine and praxis from the biblical text, not from the more privileged Western academia setting where biblical studies and theological studies are separate disciplines and it is common to study the text without such an end in sight.

On the other hand, perhaps postcolonial perspectives will gain momentum in the Two-Thirds World, for it could mean a virtual resurrection of formerly colonized peoples who are emerging from the margins, by allowing them to inquire into the way Western interpretations of biblical texts contribute to an imperialistic view of other peoples, cultures and religions, and to instead seek out alternative readings of these texts.

Postcolonial readers of the Bible have shown me that a postcolonial hermeneutic contributes to a growing awareness of how the biblical text has been used in various ways to sustain and justify various imperialist and colonialist agendas, whether it be the imperialism of an ancient empire or the patriarchy of the institutional church. It is critical to examine colonial power dynamics of the text, for the Bible was written under the aegis of empire, and without being mindful of this implicit imperialism underlying the biblical text, as well as that of our own socio-cultural contexts, a genuinely liberative theology and interpretation of the Bible is impossible.

Footnotes

[1] R.S. Sugirtharajah, “A Postcolonial Exploration of Collusion and Construction in Biblical Interpretation,” in R. S. Sugirtharajah (ed), The Postcolonial Bible (The Bible and Postcolonialism, 1; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), pp. 91-116 (p. 93).

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