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  • "And They Sang A New Song":Reading John's Revelation From The Position Of The Lamb
  • J.A. Jackson (bio) and Allen H. Redmon (bio)

Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and the seven seals." Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.

—Revelation 5:5–6

In an interview with Markus Müller, René Girard asserts the importance of taking into account the apocalypticism of Christianity. Apocalypse, Girard reminds us, "means revelation: apocalypto means to open up and to show the truth. But it also means absolute violence, so the apocalypse is a violent revelation and a revelation of violence" (Girard 1996). That the Revelation is a violent revelation has been well established. Despite textual evidence that would beg those who approach the text to do just the opposite, readers have fixated on the violence of the Revelation since its inception, finding in it God's final retribution against those who persecute the Church.1 Commentators such as Dennis E. Johnson, William Hendricksen, and George Elden Ladd have produced recent, full-length commentaries that champion the appearance of a Christ in Revelation ready to establish himself as a military champion and exact his revenge on those who persecute him (see, for example, Johnson 2001; Hendricksen 1998; and Ladd 1993). These accounts, and those that follow suit, are blinded by the violent revelation of John's apocalyptic narrative and fail to see the poem's revelation of violence—the other, prophetic half of what Girard rightly contends exists in Christian apocalypse.

This error is understandable to some extent. Read in its own light and apart from the Gospel revelation as understood by those familiar with mimetic [End Page 99] theory, one has no hermeneutical principle for recognizing the end to which John is writing. The victims of the text can be ignored in the precise way that all victims are disregarded when the scapegoat mechanism functions properly. Such should not be the case in the Revelation, though, a text in which the scapegoat mechanism is exposed and pushed to its logical conclusions. John offers his reader a glimpse into the way this mechanism will function when all that is left is wall-to-wall violence, when one is left with only two alternatives: succumb to the mechanism and reciprocate its violence, or extricate oneself through nonreciprocation (and potentially die).

In the margins of the violent revelation in John's apocalyptic vision, a revelation of violence emerges that can expose humankind's potential to annihilate itself and the mechanism with which it will do so. When read through the lens of mimetic theory, one discovers that John's narrative delivers a revelation of violence, an explicit naming and unmasking of the sacrificial mechanism that can capture for the reader not only the machinations of the sacrificial apparatus but one's own potential participation in it as well. As such, the poem can posit itself as a commandment (a Thou-shall-not-murder) that ultimately refuses the temptation to respond to violence in violence.

The fact that John uses the apocalyptic to present this directive should not be surprising. Girard writes: "Only through the mediation of the scapegoat mechanism can violence become its own remedy, and the victimage mechanism can only be triggered by the frenetic paroxysm of the 'crisis.' This means that the violence, having lost its vitality and bite, will paradoxically be more terrible than before its decline. As the whole of humanity makes the vain effort to reinstate its reconciliatory and sacrificial virtues, this violence will without doubt tend to multiply its victims, just as happened in the time of the prophets" (Girard 1978, 195–96). While Girard's commentary on biblical eschatology and apocalypse refers mainly to the scapegoat mechanism as it applies to and is revealed in the Gospel texts, we see the immediacy and the frenzy of the apocalyptic and the ubiquitous violent mimetic appropriations also performed in John's Revelation.2 John captures...


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pp. 99-114
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