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Parables of War

Reading John’s Jewish Apocalypse

John W. Marshall

Publication Year: 2001

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 Fran‡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.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Studies in Christianity and Judaism


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pp. v

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pp. vii

I have many debts to acknowledge. John Gager, Martha Hirnmelfarb, and Elaine Pagels shepherded this project in its first incarnation as a dissertation at Princeton University. Through the substantial work of transforming it into a book I came to realise more and more the influence they have had on me and my work as friends, teachers...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-9

The "long year" looked like the last year, the last of all years, even to the Roman historian Tacitus.1 Consider the way the world looked then to a Jew in the Diaspora. From the island of Patmos in 69 CE, a Jew named John looked to the east and saw the holy city of Jerusalem besieged by the armies of Rome but standing valiantly, awaiting...

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2. Aporias: Passages Without Passage

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pp. 10-24

Justin Martyr's famous assertion that Socrates was a Christian illuminates the problem of calling the community of the Apocalypse "Christian." Justin writes: "Those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and men like them" (First Apology 46).1 The problem...

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3. Meanings: Names and Paths

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pp. 25-36

In a certain way, the observations of the previous chapter should be sufficient to call for a re-examination of the four text complexes that I highlighted. Historical-critical re-evaluation of individual texts is, however, only half of my call. Any attempt to comprehensively address the aporias illustrated here should attend to the enterprise...

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4. Terms: The Supplement and/or the Complement

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pp. 37-44

For the historical situation of the Apocalypse, is Christianity on the same taxic level as Judaism—a complement to Judaism—or is it subordinate to the taxon Judaism—a supplement?1 It is a basic question in any taxonomic system: What constitutes a taxon, and what operations are properly undertaken within a taxon in distinction to those operations...

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5. Taxonomy: The Sine Qua Non of Christianity?

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pp. 45-54

What makes the divided concept of Christianity possible—that is, what facilitates the creation of a singular taxic entity out of the materials in, for example, the New Testament—is an understanding of religion that privileges a single differentiating characteristic (usually belief) as a key to religious taxonomy: in the words of...

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6. Narratives: John('s) Becomes a Christian (Document)

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pp. 55-67

Previously, I have considered the term "Christian" in interpretations of the Apocalypse in its roles as a semantic element and as a taxonomic differentia; this chapter focuses on the narrative function of the term. The very use of the term "Christian" inscribes the Apocalypse in the canonical narrative of a world religion spanning continents...

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7. Names: Choosing Categories

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pp. 68-87

Every interpretation of the Apocalypse is conditioned by the terms and categories available to and employed by the interpreter. From this there is no escape. The terms and categories employed in a particular reading never proceed strictly and simply from the text, but always form a circle of which the text may be a member. Nor is there...

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8. Date: That Long Year

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pp. 88-97

It is difficult to date the Apocalypse of John. Arguments in favour of a date during the last part of the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE) are common. Gregory Kraeling Beale (1999), Frederick J. Murphy (1998), and others have presented such arguments recently, but the contours of the current case were basically set ii> the cogent presentation...

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9. Location: Diaspora in War

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pp. 98-121

Turning to the still thornier matter of the social and cultural milieu of the Apocalypse of John, a question moves this chapter forward just as surely as the conditions of evidence threaten to halt it: What was the social and cultural predicament of Jews in the province of Asia during the Judean War of 66 to 74 CE? The conditions...

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10. Parables I: Standing Fast Among the Nations

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pp. 122-148

"What a difference a difference makes." This aphorism, serving as the title of Jonathan Z. Smith's provocative 1985 essay on taxonomy and alterity, articulates the promise of this chapter and also the problem it faces. The promise is that the preceding reflections on the framework within which scholars interpret the Apocalypse of John...

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11. Parables II: Defending the Holy City

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pp. 149-173

In the previous chapter, I developed the notion of parables of the Judean War and focused on two text groups that emphasize proper conduct in the context of the Diaspora, particularly the Diaspora during the Judean War. The two text complexes under examination in this chapter are specifically concerned with the role and...

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12. Results: Judaism in Asia and Devotion to Jesus

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pp. 174-206

Considered squarely within the framework of Second Temple Judaism, the Apocalypse of John presents with greater clarity its overall message and function, illuminates a poorly known stage in the prehistory of Christianity, and illustrates an important movement in Second Temple Judaism. In chapters 2 through 7, I strove to...

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pp. 207

"Let us figuratively call Marrano anyone who remains faithful to a secret he has not chosen, in the very place where he lives, in the home of the inhabitant or the occupant, in the home of the first or of the second arrivant, in the very place where he stays without saying no but without identifying himself as belonging...


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pp. 208-239

Subject Index

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pp. 240-244

Ancient Sources Index

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pp. 245-254

Modern Authors Index

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pp. 255-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780889207134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889203747
Print-ISBN-10: 0889203741

Page Count: 265
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Studies in Christianity and Judaism