Book of Revelation 2020 Programme

Chairs: Meredith Warren and Garrick Allen

Session One

Wilson Bento, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, ‘To Whom It May Concern: Considerations on the Functionality of Narratee(s) in the Book of Revelation’

Stories may be described as containing three levels of communication: (1) between Author and Reader, (2) between Narrator and Narratee, and (3) between characters in the story-world. This is also applicable to the book of Revelation ever since the publication of Semeia 14, where it has been defined by scholars as consisting of a “narrative framework”. While several scholars have taken the task of analyzing the book of Revelation as a story by using the tools of Literary Criticism, the role of the Narratee(s), i.e. the seven churches, has been largely unexplored or defined merely as a receiver of the story. This paper challenges this assumption by addressing the following question: “What is the functionality of the narratee(s) in the book of Revelation?” In order to address this question, the paper will consist of five parts: (1) How the churches have been viewed as audience in literary analysis on the Book of Revelation, (2) a methodological definition of narratee and its function in a story, (3) General considerations on the churches as functional narratees in the story, (4) an experimental case study with the church of Ephesus, and (5) results and further research on the topic. This paper will demonstrate that instead of regarding the churches merely as receivers of a story, it is appropriate to view them as functional narratees through which one may understand how the book of Revelation organizes itself in telling its message. 

Ian Paul, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, USA, ‘Elijah and the Elijah narrative in the Book of Revelation’

Elijah is not mentioned by name in the Book of Revelation, but both the figure and another character from the Elijah narrative feature at important moments, and are the subject of much debate. In chapter 11 an angel commands John to measure the temple, which most commentators take to be a metaphor for the followers of Jesus as the spiritual temple of God on earth. The image is quickly translated into the story (told in the angel’s words) of ‘my two witnesses’ who perform signs, testify, are killed, and are then raised to life. At first they look like the two olive trees of Zechariah’s writing, but quickly are described in terms alluding to Elijah (calling down fire, and shutting up the sky so there is no rain) and Moses (turning waters to blood, and calling down plagues). Earlier, in the messages to the assemblies in the seven cities, those in Thyatira are criticised for ‘tolerating that woman Jezebel’, the only mention of her name in the New Testament. Given the connections between the messages and the ‘apocalyptic’ body of the book, this raises the question of the connections between this use of the Elijah narrative and the allusion to Elijah in chapter 11. These two allusions to the Elijah narrative also raise questions about Revelation’s characterisation compared with the source narratives, and how this relates to mention of Moses and Elijah elsewhere in the NT.

Nicholas Moore, Cranmer Hall, Durham, ‘“God’s Temple in Heaven Was Opened”: Judgment, Salvation, and Cosmic Cultus in Revelation’

Both Revelation’s apocalyptic opening of heaven, and its portrayal of heavenly space in cultic terms, have received attention in scholarship. The intersection of these two features, however, has been somewhat overlooked. This paper examines references to the opening of the heavenly temple in Revelation, arguing that they relate primarily – though not only – to judgment. I then briefly compare them to other New Testament representations of an open heavenly temple, before returning to Rev 21. Here we note a ‘startling transformation’ in temple language (Gregory Stevenson), in particular the statement of the temple’s absence (Rev 21.22). I argue that this shift is a coherent development from what we observe earlier in Revelation. Amidst its distinctive emphasis on the eschaton, chapter 21 nevertheless draws Revelation’s climax closer to the conceptualities found in other NT texts: Christ’s opening of heaven effecting or enabling salvation.

Martina Vercesi, University of St AndrewsCircumstantes Candidati Milia Multa (Pass. Perp. 3,8): The role of Revelation in Martyrdom Accounts Between the II and III Century’

As Paul Middleton has emphasized in his study, “martyrdom is a major theme in the Apocalypse” (2018). However, the role of the martyrs and the significance of the language used to refer to them in the Book of Revelation are still debated among scholars. Moreover, regarding the relationship between the Apocalypse and martyrdom in early Christianity, in his article ‘The Concept of Martyrdom in Revelation’ (2012), Jan W. van Henten has tried to examine whether the book of Revelation accorded martyrdom the same importance and shared a concept of martyrdom with other early Christian communities. Nevertheless, in this paper, I attempt to answer to the opposite question, that is: how is the interpretation of Revelation used in martyrdom literature? And in what forms do we find it?

In particular, starting with the Martyrdom of Polycarp – the most ancient document at our disposal – I intend to examine the reception of both the quotations and imagery of the Apocalypse of John in martyrdom documents between the II and the III century in order to offer some reflections on whether and how the exegesis of Revelation shaped the theology of martyrdom in the early communities. 

Further, this paper can also give us the chance to discuss some questions which could arise from this analysis: is there a correlation between the role of ‘martyrs’ pictured in Revelation and the role of the martyrs depicted in early Christian literature? The Book of Revelation was condemned in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, while it had a good acceptance in the West: does the question of how and to what degree martyrdom stories from these different regions correspond to Revelation relate to this phenomenon? 

Session Two

Book Review: Michelle Fletcher, Reading Revelation as Pastiche: Imitating the Past (London: T&T Clark, 2017).

Panel: Zanne Domoney-Lyttle (University of Glasgow) and Sean Ryan (University of Roehampton)

Session Three

Tim Tse, University of St. Andrews, ‘God does not sit in chairs: Solving the Paradox of Revelation 5:6-7’

Modern scholarship on the book of Revelation has often been confused by John’s vision, and the strange grammar through which he presents it. One question that has not satisfactorily resolved is Rev. 5:6-7, which suggests both that Jesus is on Yahweh’s throne (ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου) in heaven, and yet also that he is must approach the throne in order to take the scroll from the one seated upon the throne. Consequently, Beale even suggests that “John may not have intended that his syntax be analysed to determine the precise positions of the heavenly beings here [5:6-7] and in 4:6” (Beale, Revelation, 350). However, throughout Revelation John seems to use ἐν μέσῳ in quite a normal manner, which would suggest that his use in Rev 5:6-7 should follow convention. Apart from this paradox, there is nothing to suggest that John does not see the Lamb on the throne. This paper will argue that the locative paradox of the lamb both on the throne and approaching the throne can be better resolved by de-anthropomorphizing God, as described in John’s vision. John describes God as light, which being non-corporeal does not sit. More importantly, John’s transformation of ἀνὰ μέσον, used to describe God’s position above the ark in the LXX to ἐν μέσῳ is significant. If the ark is in the temple, God’s logical position is ἐν μέσῳ of the four cherubim, not merely above them. If God and the Lamb occupy the space defined by the cherubim, it is possible for God (depicted as light) and the Lamb to be simultaneously on the throne, and also for the Lamb to move to take the scroll from the right hand of the enthroned one. In short, God does not sit in chairs.

Jamie Davies, Trinity College, Bristol, ‘Reading the Apocalypse with Christopher Nolan’

It is often observed that the cinema of Christopher Nolan is characterised by an exploration of nonlinear or disrupted narrative, and explorations of time, space, and memory. These interests have shaped his contribution to a range of film genres, such as the disruption of cause-and-effect and memory in thrillers Memento (2000) and Inception (2010), the more explicit exploration of general relativity in sci-fi epic Interstellar (2014), and the overlapping and disjointed narrative timeline(s) of his war film Dunkirk (2017). Little is known about his forthcoming espionage thriller Tenet (July 2020) but indications are that this, too, will exploit temporal nonlinearity. Nolan’s manipulation of time and space reflects his interest in a post-Newtonian understanding of the cosmos, but they are not without their ancient counterparts. 

Second temple Jewish cosmology is sometimes oversimplified as a three-tiered system, the uppermost being heaven which, though exalted, essentially belongs to the same space-time continuum. However, it has been suggested that a more sophisticated framework operates in at least some texts, notably the heavenly ascent visions of 1 Enoch and the Hekhalot literature. There, heaven is described as something like a ‘parallel universe’ in which earthly laws of time, space, and thermodynamics are disrupted in the seer’s narrated experience. The book of Revelation, I suggest, belongs in this category.

This paper will bring these seemingly disparate discussions into dialogue, arguing that Nolan’s explorations of time, space, and nonlinear narrative (and the Einsteinian physics they reflect) offer a powerful lens with which to examine themes of time and space in apocalyptic literature, especially the book of Revelation. In particular, it will explore how Nolan’s storytelling might shed light on the vexing issue of the book’s structure, which (I argue) similarly deploys nonlinear storytelling, the disruption of cause and effect, and complex depictions of time and space.

Alexander N. Chantziantoniou, University of Cambridge, ‘The Faithfulness of Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Πίστις Language with Reference to Jesus in the Book of Revelation’

The debate over whether to take the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ as an objective genitive (‘faith in Christ’) or a subjective genitive (‘faith(fulness) of Christ’) has raged ever onwards over the course of the past two centuries, particularly among Pauline scholars. While the debate has ventured beyond the borders of Paul for brief excursions into the synoptics or the patristics, the book of Revelation has remained relatively unexplored. In his lonely essay on the topic, David deSilva has rightly observed that virtually any contribution to the question from Revelation must be inferred from glosses adopted in commentaries and the arguments occasionally rallied in their defence. For all the controversies swirling around the Apocalypse, the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate is not one of them. But perhaps not for long. Recent studies indicate a growing interest in πίστις language and its application to Jesus in the book of Revelation. In this paper, anticipating the inevitable, I will examine the use of πίστις in Revelation with particular reference to the genitive constructions in Rev 14:12 (τὴν πίστιν Ἰησοῦ) and 2:13 (τὴν πίστιν µου), where Jesus is brought into direct grammatical contact with ‘faith(fulness)’. I will argue in favour of a subjective genitive reading in both cases, and I will do so in two steps. First, I will draw from lexical semantics to disambiguate the πίστις lexicon in the Apocalypse, and offer syntactical observations about the grammatical constructions in which this language is used. Second, I will apply these insights to a close reading of Rev 14:12 and 2:13 within their immediate and wider contexts in the book of Revelation. I will conclude with a brief exploration of the symbolic world of the Apocalypse in an effort to test the theological plausibility of conclusions otherwise reached on lexical and textual grounds.

Nathan Betz, KU Leuven, Belgium, ‘City, Tower, Bride: Re-evaluating Hermas’s Use of Revelation 21–22’

The influence of John’s Revelation on the Shepherd of Hermas has been disputed, and more frequently than not, doubted. Despite widespread scepticism, a detailed study of his ‘tower’ figure would seem to demonstrate that the author had an intimate knowledge of Revelation in general and of the ‘New Jerusalem’ figure of Revelation 21-22 in particular. Indeed, Hermas seems to have drawn on this knowledge repeatedly and specifically as he developed his notion of the tower, which is one of the work’s central images. In this paper, I confirm and strengthen Massaux’s, Osiek’s, and Hill’s cautious affirmation that their may well be literary influence from Rev. 21. I do so by marshalling lexical, notional, and theological evidence to support my claim. I focus especially on a comparison and analysis of an improbably dense cluster of more than a dozen topoi shared between Rev 21–22 on the one hand and Shepherd Vis. 3–4 and Sim. 8–9 on the other. A list of these topoi includes, but is not limited to, city, church, bride, sea, wall, precious stones, gate(s), rectangularity, magnitude, mountain(s), angels, virtues, vices, rewards, and so forth. Hermas’s literary use, and more importantly, theological configuration, of these topoi suggests that Revelation should not be dismissed, as Gebhardt, Harnack, Spitta, and others have, as a literary source for The Shepherd. Instead, Revelation 21–22 should probably be looked at as a valuable quarry from which Hermas mined literary and theological material in order to construct one of his text’s most important figures.