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"Who is like the Beast, and Who Can Fight Against It?" : Alternatives to the Empire in the Book of Revelation

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Title: "Who is like the Beast, and Who Can Fight Against It?" : Alternatives to the Empire in the Book of Revelation
Author(s): Hietanen, Heikki
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology
Discipline: The Religious Roots of Europe
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2016
Abstract:
This thesis is a reading of the Book of Revelation where the text’s relationship to both the Roman Empire and empires in general is evaluated. As it becomes clear that the author views the Roman Empire of his time in negative terms, two categories are used in evaluating the nature of his critique. When he opposes the Roman empire with patterns and rhetoric that are similar to the pattern of empires, his views are classified as alter-empire. When empire is resisted with something profoundly different, the term anti-empire is applied. In order to make such a categorization possible, this thesis begins by establishing central terminology and ultimately the definition of empire as a concept. Here, the guidelines are provided by the central postcolonial theorists and those biblical scholars who have applied postcolonial approaches in their works. Empire is not defined as a monolith that is but more in the terms of what it does. This concept is then used in evaluating the Roman imperial discourse, the “official” way of understanding the world and human agency in it in the time when the Book of Revelation was written. The comparison reveals how the Roman imperial discourse fits the pattern of empire and provides context for the discourse presented in Revelation. This discourse emphasizes the binary opposition of adherence to God and accommodation to the Roman discourse. What is happening on earth is a mirror image of the celestial battle between God and his adversaries. Thus all forms of compromise with the surrounding normalcy are branded as idolatrous and condemnable. His audience is encouraged to “patiently endure” and “not to be deceived” into participation in Rome’s discourse. The seemingly unlimited power of Rome will soon be revealed as pretention, when God decides to end the time he has “allowed” for Rome and his other enemies before everyone will be judged and a new order established. This judgment reveals the author’s disregard for titles, family connections and earthly might. All human beings are called to personal adherence to God, and this witness is the only condition on which an individual’s fate is decided. John is also adamant in denying violence as an acceptable agency for human beings, even if it has a major role as God’s tool in the establishment of his kingdom. These are the major anti-empire-aspects in the Book of Revelation. For the most part, the work aligns itself more along the pattern of alter-empire. Victory over enemies establishes God’s hegemony. God’s superior might and violence grants him the right to rule. The presently marginalized “saints” will share this rule, and their opponents will be destroyed. This seemingly clear-cut binarism is ultimately undermined by ambivalence, when even the final chapters seem to contain hints of blurred boundaries. Such a failure in dualistic discourses is also a typical feature of an empire.
Keyword(s): Book of Revelation apocalypse empire early Christianity Roman Empire postcolonial theory


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