I’ve a confession to make. Revelation was a book I disliked immensely before tackling this topic.
Orality studies reminds me that even if we tried to trace to the original context, what’s a thing to think about is how the experience could move and shift — hence one of performance criticism’s contributions to biblical studies.
Something similar could be like The Ramayana (a work in Hinduism). There’s two major versions of the (hi)story: One by Valmiki and the other by Tulsidas. Minor versions are countless other iterations as the core of it moved with people and time. Valmiki’s would be more authentic since he’s said to have lived with Sita and the oldest complete work, and yet many prefer Tulsidas’ version. Events are different and things definitely shift and change (e.g., Sita’s ending).
How does that anecdote relate? The ones who read, hear, and pass on stories in both New Testament and Ramayana focus on certain things in their retellings and performances, even writings, giving the oldest story a rejuvenation and renewal with each time it’s encountered. I think it’s wonderful to be excited to explore, despite our inability to completely recapture the past.
Who is speaking? Πνεῦμα (Pneuma) as “the Spirit” — wind, breath.
v. 7: Cousin’s suicide. This cousin chose suicide to escape trafficking. She would tell me that God was her one safe space, the one person she could always go to and seek refuge. For her, God is her refuge, her safety, her guardian. The only one who would never turn her out and away.
v. 8: Bubble blower. I ran into a man twice who blowed bubbles, huge ones. He wanted to give that gift of joy for students and passerby on campus and Charles Terminal. Bubbles seem such a small thing, but it’s the little power he had that he offered as a gift.
v. 9: Boy who comforts angels. A little boy in a Canadian Tire parking lot told me that angels shouldn’t cry because they’re loved — angels love and are loved, they’re messengers and are themselves the message too. Integrity.
v. 10: Hugs are blessings. Two older men in a park talked with me and at the end, asked for hugs, then gave their blessings. Giving and receiving comfort is also trust and vulnerability, which can move towards receiving love offers protec!on. Aegis has an “offering” aspect that’s different than “giving.”
v. 11: Rainbow photograph. Related to the bubble blower, a destitute person was excited about a rainbow that appeared after a particularly hard Kitchener thunderstorm. He made sure I took a photograph of that rainbow and promised to show someone else. It’s that “little power” idea again. A rainbow in the sky, as a photograph, reveals the crown for that man.
v. 12: John on the bench. While preparing for Inshallah’s gathering with MennoHomes, this man identifying himself as “John” wanted to listen about me and school things before revealing his situation. Asked me to pray for him so that he could know what God wanted him to do, something he was to become into. That’s it. I ran back to him as I was about to board a night bus to hand him a card of my patron saint, and that smile was dazzling in its beauty. That was empowerment for him.
v. 13: Breath. Kari Jobe’s song and my reflecting on all those verses prompted me to think of the Pneuma. What would the Pneuma want, and after singing the song several times, I decided remembrance was my way.
Thinking of what I could say with the Pneuma for the individuals which inspired each verse was key for me. I could be grounded in myself as a human being while retelling John’s experience with the Pneuma. For me, that’s a joy. I chose not to portray myself as the Pneuma out of reverence and respect; not fear, nor lack in skills.
Three major ways to view Revelation
Futurist/Prophetic-predictive: Popular Christianity & mass mainstream. Revelation peers into the future.
Idealist/Symbolic: Across borders. Revelation illuminates universal messages.
An idea in psycholinguistics: Language can be construed as a symbolic representation for describing and/or interpreting our world. So speaking a word, in this sense, is longer what is being spoken about. The subject is reduced to a symbol for communicative expression, and the spoken or written word cannot possibly contain nor constrain the entirety of what one is speaking about.
John’s imagery, yes, couldn’t be transcribed exactly into words. It’s similar to some mystics employing erotic imagery to describe relationship between God and human, but not always literally a sexual relationship (again, depends on to whom you are speaking/reading).
Another example: The hieros gamos has several interpretations, from ritual re-enactment to a Jungian animus-anima dynamic for one’s psyche to (re)integrate. Revelation has many opportunities for interpretation because of its similarities to the ancient apocalyptic genre and its striking mystical/visionary qualities.
This is why all three approaches, as Powell very generally touched upon, are important and recognizable. But, they have limitations and preferences because they are lenses. John wrote Revelation for others beyond himself, as the historical lens could propose for the letters to seven churches’ angels. But it can be dangerous to assume that the message one of us gleans is applicable for everyone. More so because of the strange work in the New Testament that is Revelation.
The three views, questioning
Mystical writings transcribable to physicality. Revelation is apocalyptic, mystical, and visionary.
Lessons from New Testament study: Importance of context. “The conviction that God’s word speaks directly to every age has not been accompanied by the appreciation that it does so as mediated through its initial historical expression.” (Johnson, p. 508).
Biblical performance criticism suggests this distinction. An orated work as “living” and written work as “lived” is a simplification. I think both are historical in similar and different ways. For example, the film by Eugene Botha states that written works (i.e., manuscripts) were alongside oral performance/storytelling. The manuscripts supported the oral culture — they’re suggested to not be in conflict. While it’s important, in my opinion, to not consider oral culture as primitive/behind (teleological route), it’s also important not to diminish writing and print.
Written didn’t necessarily come after hearing. Botha’s film touches into “manuscript” as different from “print” — manuscripts supported oral culture rather than transmute it. There’s something about stories that have lasting appeal and an urge to be retold and remembered. Joseph Campbell adapted Carl Jung’s psychological and psychiatric theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious into forms for literature analyses (by studying myths and mythology). So, one hypothesis of why stories survive and repeat is based in tying stories to ancestral knowledge by a reverse chronological tracing. I still hear of retelling fairytales from the Brothers Grimm collection and Andersen’s compositions, to draw an example closer to my time.
Empowerment breathes for recognition
What would I, a human being, say with the Pneuma?
v. 8: Empowerment says, “I see you.”
v. 9: Empowerment is integrity.
v. 10: Empowerment is offering aegis.
v. 11: Empowerment is affirming.
v. 12: Empowerment is the climax of recognition.
v. 13: Empowerment remembers.
To Philadelphia, the Wind
“Remember me,” is what I would say for the Pneuma. The Spirit empowers the people, and the people reveal the Spirit.
“Here” by Kari Jobe is a moving song. Different feelings, thoughts, etc., are evoked from me each time I listen to it. It’s a song that moves around with me, kind of like the wind. Oh, look. A pun. The wind = pneuma. 😉 On that note, an intangible “something” and personal connection + exchange can have words. John left words for his encounter with the Pneuma. Can words completely capture what this “something” is? Perhaps, perhaps not. But as an artistic rendition like a portrait can reveal both our and the artist’s conceptualization of a life likeness, so may words for humankind and the divine. I’d say that’s up to each of us. For me, it’s a mystery, and one I hope to never solve. What fun would there be in that?
Though there is order and stability and predictability that you may know, there’s always more to learn which can deepen or enhance what you knew. That’s my summative impression of what biblical performance criticism offered me, perhaps for you as well.
March 29, 2018.
AZLyrics. “Here.” Kari Jobe Lyrics. Accessed March 28, 2018. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/karijobe/here.html
BibleHub. “Revelation 3:13.” Lexicon. Accessed March 28, 2018. http://biblehub.com/lexicon/revelation/3-13.htm
Botha, Eugene. “Orality, Print Culture and Biblical Interpretation.” Biblical Performance Criticism. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.biblicalperformancecriticism.org/index.php/component/content/article/47-performance-video/236-orality-print-culture-and-biblical-interpretation-video
Collins, Adela Yarbro. Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse, 1st edition. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press, 1984.
Dewey, Dennis. “Biblical Storytelling as Spiritual Discipline Grounded in Scholarship.” The Network of Biblical Storytellers. 2011. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/1408/8-22-2011_biblicalstorytellingspiritualityscholarship.pdf
Hemer, C. J. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1986.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. 3rd edition. Canada: Fortress Press, 2010.
Powell, Mark Allan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey. Baker Publishing Group., 2009.
Rhoads, David. Scripture by Heart: A Course Description. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.biblicalperformancecriticism.org/index.php/2011-08-26-20-28-44/articles-mainmenu-37/pedagogy-curriculum-and-syllabi/14-scripture-by-heart-course/file
———. “Performance Criticism: An Emerging Methodology in Second Testament Studies—Part I.” Biblical Theology Bulletin (2008) 36: 118-133.
———. “Performance Criticism: An Emerging Methodology in Second Testament Studies—Part II.” Biblical Theology Bulletin (2008) 36: 164-184.
Ruiz, Jean-Pierre.“The Revelation to John.” In The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard Version, 4th edition, edited by Michael D. Coogan et al., 2153-2155, 2159-2160. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Ruge-Jones, Phil. “Preparing to Perform.” Biblical Performance Criticism. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.biblicalperformancecriticism.org/index.php/49-news/announcements/sbl-2012-chicago/77-preparing-to-perform
Wendland, Ernst. “Performance Criticism: Assumptions, Applications, and Assessment.” TIC Talk (2008) 65: 1-11. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.ubs-translations.org/tt/past_issues/tic_talk_65_2008/
Williamson, Peter S. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2015.