Now here’s how a book review is supposd to be written! Kudos to that reviewer!
Daily Archives: 4 Jun 2018
διὸ εὐδοκῶ ἐν ἀσθενείαις, ἐν ὕβρεσιν, ἐν ἀνάγκαις, ἐν διωγμοῖς καὶ στενοχωρίαις, ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ· ὅταν γὰρ ἀσθενῶ, τότε δυνατός εἰμι. — 2 Co 12:10
The act of martyrdom in the worldview of the Apocalypse has been considered to be an exemplification of non-violent resistance. Paul Middleton argues here, however, that it is in fact a representation of direct participation by Christians, through their martyrdom, in divine violence against those the author of Revelation portrays as God’s enemies. Middleton shows that acceptance of martyrdom is to grasp the invitation to participate in the Revelation’s divine violence. Martyrs follow the model laid down by the Lamb, who was not only slain, but resurrected, glorified, and who executes judgement.
The world created by the Apocalypse encourages readers to conquer the Beast through martyrdom, but also through the experience of resurrection and being appointed judges. In this role, martyrs participate in the judgement of the wicked by sharing the Lamb’s power to judge. Different from eschewing violence, the conceptual world of the Apocalypse portrays God, the Lamb, and the martyrs as possessing more power, might, and violent potential than the Emperor and his armies. Middleton believes that martyrdom and violence are necessary components of the worldview of Revelation.
Bloomsbury sent a review copy. Following are my thoughts on the work.
In his introduction, Middleton discusses the notion of violence and martyrdom in the book of Revelation in terms of the way he reads ‘violence’ in the Apocalypse and in terms of how he reads ‘martyrdom’ in the book. He then outlines for readers the road ahead (presumably so that readers can decide right off if that path is one they wish to travel).
Following on that is the first chapter wherein our guide to things apocalyptic describes the notion of Christian ‘persecution’ (his scare quotes) and the dating of the Apocalypse. Chapter two is a discussion of the Christology of the Apocalypse. Then, naturally, chapter three, which seems to me to be the heart of the matter, is a thorough discussion of the Lamb of the Apocalypse and his role as proto-martyr. Here Middleton puts on the hat of the exegete and he wears it well. It fits, it’s fair to say, and he doesn’t do a terrible job of it. And that, it must be said, is something that cannot be said of so much of the work which passes as exegesis of Revelation.
Chapter four continues the exegetical task and this time the focus is on the Lamb as the divine judge. Chapter five is titled ‘A Theology of Martyrdom in the Book of Revelation’ and serves as a theological exposition on the basis of the exegetical work performed in the previous two chapters. Here, in this reviewers estimation, Prof. Middleton is at his best. He’s a good historian, a better exegete, and a really very fine systematician (though for some reason I think he would see things in exactly the opposite way). Yet I must suggest that Middleton has truly shown a gift for theological exposition in this final chapter: a gift that very few New Testament scholars in our time possess (with the very notable exception of Peter Stuhlmacher, who is the finest New Testament theologian presently working).
Read the conclusion first, though, because it summarizes the work so helpfully that reading it first will help readers immensely. Middleton (or his editorial team) then provide a bibliography which is quite up to date and indices of references and authors.
This, to be sure, is not a commentary on the Book of Revelation. It is a classic monograph. It looks at one aspect of the text and then musters all the evidence necessary in order to show modern readers what the ancient text is attempting. Yet unlike many (too many) academic monographs, Middleton does it in an interesting and at times entertaining way. So, for instance, a sample can be seen in his discussion of the four horsemen:
This is a wonderfully enjoyable book. It is the ideal supplemental text for a course on Revelation (along with a couple of good commentaries as the primary text of course). And it is the ideal book for anyone interested in violence in the Bible and / or martyrdom in the early Church.
I cannot resist recommending it.
‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there used to lie a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table. Even dogs came and licked his sores.
Now it happened that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace. The rich man also died and was buried. ‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his embrace. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”
Abraham said, “My son, remember that during your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to prevent those who want to cross from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”
‘So he said, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them.” The rich man replied, “Ah no, father Abraham, but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.” (Lk. 16:19-31)
The death of my most dear friend Philip Davies on Thursday, May 31, by cancer is a great loss to our entire field. He was not only a scholar of great talent and integrity, who interested himself in all that touched biblical studies. He was also ever a scholar of astonishing originality and discipline, whose impact on the field was immeasurable, not least because of the clarity of his arguments and his ability to focus on the rhetorical center of an issue. Who would have dreamt that such a simple distinction as that between the “biblical Israel”, the “ancient Israel” constructed by historians and the “Israel of the past”, which no longer exists, could have provoked a decade-long debate among biblical scholars, archaeologists, historians and theologians as Philip did in his 1992 essay, In Search of Ancient Israel?