Sunday, 22 March 2015

David Reis: Mapping Exilic Imaginaries: Greco-Roman Discourses of Displacement and the Book of Revelation

The early Christian tradition identified John as an exile who received a series of revelations that challenged Roman imperial power structures. Yet contemporary scholars have not considered how ancient exilic literature might have resonated among Revelation’s early readers, those who expand upon John’s allusive self-description by expressly classifying him as an exile. This paper will address this question by analyzing how exilic discourses exploited the concept of the imaginary—the capacity for an author ‘to see [a thing] other than it is’—in order to create new social meaning. In the imperial age, Greco-Roman writers on exile were especially proficient in seeing ‘otherwise’: they utilized the exilic topos to reconfigure imperial constructions of identity, knowledge, power, and space. In a similar fashion, the formulation of counter-identities and counter-spaces are central features of the book of Revelation. In this text, John rejects the empire’s narrative of displacement and instead transforms himself into an authoritative visionary and his location into a place of revelatory triumph. From this position, the seer speaks in the register of the exultant exile, one who exposes the fragility of the imperial apparatus, envisions a more durable social order based upon the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, and invites his audience to join with him in celebrating the imminent appearance of the new heaven and earth.

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