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859RE: [revelation-list] Rev 2:9; 3:9

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  • David L Barr
    Oct 13, 2006

      I would like to recommend two articles that I think complicate this
      discussion; they both appear in *The Reality of Apocalypse: Rhetoric and
      Politics in the Book of Revelation* (David L. Barr, ed.; Society of Biblical
      Literature, 2006). In the first Steve Friesen ("Sarcasm in Revelation 2-3:
      Churches, Christians, True Jews, and Satanic Synagogues") explores how the
      rhetoric of slander functions to define the communities that John included
      and excluded. After reviewing scholarly appraisals of John's rhetoric as
      "vilification" or "polemic" and considering especially who and what John
      means by the expression "synagogue of Satan," he suggests ways to cast the
      discussion in new terms. First, we need to recognize the ironic strategies
      employed by the author of Revelation. The sarcasm directed against
      opponents must be read as sarcasm; it is not a claim to be the true Israel.
      Second, we need to reject the term "Christian" as an appropriate description
      of John, his text, or his congregations. The term is an anachronistic
      retrojection which diverts the discussion. John's imagery and language
      depict the churches as an eschatological movement that cannot be described
      with the terms "Jew," "Israel," or "Christian." John was guilty of
      sarcastic name-calling, but not of supercessionist ideology.

      In the second Paul Duff ("The 'Synagogue of Satan': Crisis Mongering and the
      Apocalypse of John") focuses particularly on the "synagogue of Satan"
      accusation that occurs in two of the so-called letters, those addressed to
      the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. Traditionally this accusation has
      been understood to refer to the Jewish communities in these cities and the
      hostility has been linked to the supposed cooperation of the Jews in the
      persecution of Christians. After reviewing recent studies that question
      this identification, Duff argues that the traditional view is (partly)
      right: John does intend the Jewish synagogue. He also argues that the
      Apocalypse itself contains little evidence (indeed, none outside what some
      infer from these expressions) of any Jewish hostility towards John's
      community. Based upon this and the fact that John's overall attitude toward
      Judaism is positive throughout the Apocalypse, he argues that John demonized
      the local Jewish communities in order to drive a wedge between his most
      conservative churches and the synagogues in their respective cities. Faced
      with the ascendancy of the liberal "Jezebel" faction in some of these
      churches, John was trying to discourage his most loyal (and most
      conservative) allies from deserting their churches for the synagogue, a
      place where it might be easier for his followers to maintain the high walls
      between themselves and the larger society.

      The biggest problem I have with Mayo's book is that he assumes what he must
      prove: Jewish hostility toward John's communities. A far more likely
      hypothesis, for my money, is that John demonizes these synagogues precisely
      because they accommodate to Greco-Roman culture. Such accommodation is the
      cardinal sin of John's opponents.

      David L. Barr
      Professor of Religion
      Wright State University
      Dayton Ohio, USA
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