2008 Book of Revelation

Session 1

Can the book of Revelation be a gospel for the environment?

The 'good news' of the book of Revelation is often understood as 'bad news' for the environment. Its constant invocation by many as an eschatological justification for their disengagement from the physical world and its own horrific depictions of earthly destruction might indeed be held to substantiate that poor reputation. But recent explorations of the imperial context of the Apocalypse suggest that such a conclusion might be premature. In this paper, it is argued that Revelation's scenes of environmental destruction should be understood as 'images of warning', designed to provoke repentance on the part of the nations through representations of the inevitable impact of imperial violence on the earth. The judgments described are not individualised punishments aimed at those who deny the lordship of Christ, but rather as the environmental results of humanity's capacity for imperial exploitation.

Within the ideology of John's vision, however, the effects of empire on the created order are not irreversible. Hope for creation-under-empire lies in his claim that a satanically idolatrous Emperor has illegitimately occupied a throne that rightfully belongs to another. Though John's own antidote to imperial idolatry involves an acknowledgement of the lordship of the divine figure on the heavenly throne as a precursor to the redemption of creation, his work also makes a powerful environmental critique of Empire available to a wider humanity. His prophetic call to the church to enact a faithful witness to a non-exploitative view of humanity and the earth is clearly echoed in his ongoing challenge to alternative formulations of environmental ethics-if you do not serve the Emperor, just whom do you serve?

Session 2

Siang-Nuan Leong (University of Edinburgh)

Does Revelation Play Games as Context?

One finds subtle allusions to the Graeco-Roman festive games in the scenes of Revelation, albeit in a mixture of reality and creativity. During Domitian's time, about which Revelation was composed, the games were in vogue in Asia Minor. The fad was further encouraged by Ephesus' own Olympic Games held in connection with the inauguration of the Temple of the Sebastoi, an event widely attended by cities in Asia Minor.

Among interesting allusions to the games, I cite the setting of martyrdom of the two witnesses (11:7-10) as example. The context of a festival may be indicated by large throngs of people gathering from all over, their celebrative mood, the presence of a beast from the abyss (underground chamber) and the duration of a few days, as in the games. The spectators 'watching' the mutilation of the two witness would evoke the context of a martyrdom in an arena (already in Paul's time, 1 Cor 4:9). The majestic enthroned figure, like the Zeus in Olympia (ch 4), the victory and celebration with crowned wreaths, palm branches, victory songs and feasting (2:10; 3:11; 4: 4, 10; 7:9-12; 14:1-5; 15:2-4; 19:11-21), and the pervasive victory language all suggest the context of an agon.

Session 3

Ebbing and Flowing: Scholarly Developments in study of the Book of Revelation

Revelation has always presented significant challenges for study, interpretation and application. Over the last twenty years there have been some significant developments in a number of areas, including greater understanding of Revelation's first-century setting, some settling of debate about the nature of its language, engagement with questions of the complexity of its structure, and a growing awareness of the impact of its rhetoric, both in its original contexts and in the history of interpretation. Yet there still remains a substantial gap between much scholarly insight and its appropriation at a more popular level.