Becoming a Reader

Sources: Karl Barth, "The Strange New World of the Bible," in The World of God and the Word of Man (Harper, 1957); Willis Barnstone, ed., The Other Bible: Ancient Alternative Scriptures (HarperCollins, 1984); Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3d ed. (Oxford, 2004); I. Howard Marshall et al., Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters and Revelation (IVP, 2002), chapter 21; John O'Keefe and R.R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Johns Hopkins, 2005).

Reading: Rev. 1:3.

The World of a Text
It is one thing to read, but another thing to be a reader.
An exercise in close reading of Rev 1.
Reading is not just a technique but a skill and ultimately a form of wisdom.
The frustration and exhilaration of reading owe to the demands it makes on us.
As in Karl Barth's "The Strange New World of the Bible," this course is not just a backgrounder on the New Testament or Christian thinking, but a pilgrimmage through the New Testament to the Kingdom of God.
The Family of a Text: Genre
Genre is the literary class of a text whose conventions structure it and guide its right interpretation.
Genre is like the (unwritten) legend of a map.
Family resemblances can be direct inheritance or indirect, shared heritage.
Writings are often intertextual. Revelation resembles a remix or "mashup" (e.g., The Beastles).
Revelation's ancestors:
Uncles and aunts: 1 Enoch (<175 BC), Sibylline Oracles (~150 BC).
Parents: Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7-9, and Rev's other echoes.
Revelation's kindred (siblings? cousins?):
Other apocalyptic texts of the New Testament (e.g., Mark 13), 4 Ezra (2 Esdras 3-14, see e.g. 11:1-12:39), Apocalypse of Peter (>100 AD), Shepherd of Hermas (e.g., Fourth Vision), Ascension of Isaiah.
Revelation's heirs:
Children (nieces and nephews?): Apocalypse of Paul, Apocalypse of Thomas.
Second cousins: (Gnostic?) Christian Sibyllines, (Gnostic) Book of Thomas the Contender.
Grandchildren: Divine Comedy, etc. (and us as well?).
The Goal of a Text: Occasion and Audience
People write for specific reasons and motivations.
Critics want to know or correctly infer the occasion of a writing.
Clues: Rev 1:3, 1:9a, 2:5-7+2:10-11+2:16-17+2:24-26+3:3:3-5+3:11-12+3:18-21, etc.
People write to specific or 'implied' audiences.
Rev is unusual for apocalyptic literature in being addressed to seven specific churches in Asia Minor (1:4, 1:11, 1:20, 2:1-3:22).
Example: Laodicia, in the Lycus Valley, with problematic water sources.
Like Deut 27-32, Rev 2-3 gives these audiences moral directions and warnings,
backing them with the depictions that follow (Johnson, 585).
(Is this distinct quality a function of Rev's Christian character and context?)
Yet texts exceed these occasions and audiences, sometimes intentionally.
The moral thrust of 2-3 is as universally applicable as the apocalyptic scenarios that follow.
So Rev focuses apocalyptic prophecy on specific circumstances of apostolic churches, yet with an expansive view beyond (7:9-17).
This overflow is fundamental to the character of Holy Scripture.
The Bible is the Bible of the one, whole, universal, original Church of Jesus Christ.
So Christians today read Rev as in some sense to and for us too (e.g., my "Laodicia, U.S.A." chapel talk).
Becoming a reader of the Bible thus demands and confers wisdom regarding the senses of Scripture.
Proper literal and figural readings depend on and strengthen that wisdom (see O'Keefe and Reno, Sanctified Vision).
(So: What constitutes moral failure for us, in light of what it means for original audiences?)