The Lamb in the Rhetorical Program of the Apocalypse of John
The Apocalypse of John is rich in its potential for being studied via rhetorical criticism. The author is eager to “persuade”<<1>> his audience and he uses a sophisticated rhetorical style to do so. The goal of his persuasion cannot be defined in narrow, deliberative terms, such as might be used in identifying a clear set of desired actions. The goal of his persuasion is nothing less than a realignment of allegiances and a radical revolution in his audience’s world view. The apocalyptic vision in this book represents an imaginative relocation of the community’s self-understanding that will have significant social consequences. That is why definition, redefinition, and parody are central to his rhetoric.<<2>>
In her essay, “A Rhetorical Analysis of Revelation,”<<3>> Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has called for a paradigm shift in the interpretation of Revelation: a shift “from an allegorical-spiritual, predictive-literalist, or historical-factual paradigm to a rhetorical-evocative paradigm that can do justice to the sociohistorical matrix as well as to the literary-dramatic character of the book.” Fiorenza has helpfully emphasized the ethical and political potential of a hermeneutic that privileges a rhetorical approach to this book.
This paper confirms the
identification of the Apocalypse as an example primarily of epideictic rhetoric
emphasizing pathos, and then shows how the lamb Christology works
rhetorically to inform and sustain a stance of nonviolent resistance over
against the forces of compromise in first-century
The Rhetoric of the Apocalypse
It is not necessary to suppose that either the author or his audience were highly familiar with the study of rhetoric. This essay does not suggest that the author self-consciously used Greek rhetorical conventions or that his audience identified the conventions he used—at least on the conscious level.<<4>> Rather, this essay suggests that rhetorical criticism is a tool that can help the reader, whether ancient or modern, to apprehend how this book communicates and to appreciate what it “does” to the reader and why.
Although Robert Royalty has emphasized
the epideictic nature of the book’s rhetoric, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza warns against identifying
any one of the three modes of rhetoric—epideictic, deliberative, and judicial—as
central at the expense of the rest.<<5>> She maintains that all three have shaped parts of the
Apocalypse. The oracles of
Royalty nevertheless claims that, for several reasons, epideictic rhetoric predominates:
First, epideictic tries to affect an audience’s view, opinions, or values. Second, epideictic rhetoric includes speeches of praise (encomium, panegyric, laudatio) and blame (psogos, vituperatio) of persons and cities. Third, epideictic rhetoric is distinguished by its amplification (ergasia, amplificatio) of topics and imagery; vivid description (ekphrasis); and compassion (synkrisis). All three of these characteristics are prominent features in Revelation.<<8>>
The phenomenon of naming in the Apocalypse supports the identification of this book’s rhetoric as epideictic.<<9>> The author uses names, epithets, and sobriquets to reshape the perceptions and world view of his audience and to make subtle normative claims on reality. Epideictic rhetoric is the rhetorical mode that privileges blame and praise. “Naming” in the Apocalypse is one of the more effective ways in which the author blames and praises. This naming evokes stories and images, and places value—both positive and negative—on the individuals, groups, or deities thus named. The author employs all three of the traditional modes of proof in the Apocalypse—ethos, pathos, and logos—but not in equal proportion: pathetical proofs (pathos) pervade this book.
Despite Royalty’s correction of Fiorenza, we should be cautious about under-appreciating the deliberative edge to the epideictic rhetoric of the Apocalypse. Epideictic is “the most difficult to define”<<10>> of the three universal species of rhetoric. Nevertheless, epideictic and deliberative rhetoric clearly overlap.<<11>> George Kennedy warns that “a great deal of what is commonly called epideictic is deliberative, written in an epideictic style.”<<12>>
A good example of the overlap in these categories can be found in the “macarisms” of Revelation. The author pronounces macarisms, or blessings, in the first and last chapters of the Apocalypse book on those who respond to or “keep” what John writes. Although macarisms are a medium of praise that formally fit well with epideictic rhetoric, the macarisms of the Apocalypse highlight and evoke the readers’ praxis, their response to the words of this book:
1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud and those who hear the words of the prophecy and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
14:13 Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.<<13>>
16:15 Blessed is the one who stays awake and who keeps his or her clothes on.<<14>>
19:9 Blessed are those who have been invited to the lamb’s wedding reception.
20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection.
22:7 Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.
22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes.<<15>>
All of the “blessings” in the book relate in some way to the resistance ethic of the book. The occasional editorial address to the implied reader underscores this deliberative agenda: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus” (14:12). Thus, whatever else we conclude about the purpose of this book, a central part of its purpose was to effect a faithful response on the part of its hearers/readers—a rhetorical function normally associated with the deliberative.
Since deliberative rhetoric emerges
more clearly in the prophetic oracles of
The rhetoric of the Apocalypse is more negative than positive in its expression. It is primarily dissuasive, rather than hortatory,<<18>> insofar as its burden is that of resistance—resistance to moral compromise, to false allegiances, and to false world views. The Apocalypse has much more to say about what generally is wrong in the readers’ world than what generally is right—about what not to do, than what to do positively.
Nevertheless, the actions encouraged by the author are vague or immaterial to the central rhetorical force of the book, suggesting that epideictic rhetoric is central to the book after all. Kennedy notes that even “funeral orations and panegyrics [as prime examples of epideictic rhetoric] were intended to be persuasive and often imply some need for actions, though in a more general way than does deliberative oratory.”<<19>> If he is right, then the category of rhetoric that best fits the Apocalypse is epideictic. At the heart of the Apocalypse is a concern to reform, even revolutionize, the values and world view of the readers.
Thus, while epideictic rhetoric predominates in the book, deliberative concerns are not far behind. The sort of proper world view and values envisioned by the author are those that will lead to proper action, which necessarily entails a concern for how the community of the faithful should therefore live. In Kennedy’s words, even epideictic rhetoric can “take on a more or less subtle deliberative purpose,”<<20>> and we see this happening in the Apocalypse. It is not just vision or imagination with which the Apocalypse is concerned, but with will and intentionality.<<21>>
Furthermore, recent students of rhetoric have affirmed the power of epideictic rhetoric to shape the social sphere. Depending on the view of the author, epideictic rhetoric can shore up the status quo, reaffirming traditional values in a nonthreatening way, or it can have sweeping social implications. In either case, the inculcation of values is not politically neutral or inherently conservative; rather, by focusing on values, epideictic rhetoric not only “messes with the mind” of the readers, both individually and collectively; it also represents a socially significant act.<<22>> John used the tools this sort of rhetoric provided not only to criticize the prevailing values of the seven churches, but also to suggest the sorts of values that were in keeping with the new order being revealed by God. With this in mind, we are now prepared to examine more directly the role of the lamb in the rhetorical program of the Apocalypse.
The Lamb in the Apocalypse
Some commentators have made the mistake of analyzing the image of the lamb through a narrowly conceived symbol analysis, without adequate attention to how the book’s lamb Christology fits with other key elements in the rhetoric of the Apocalypse. These key elements include, among other things, its understanding of “conquering” (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7), its emphasis on being a faithful witness (1:2, 5, 9; 2:13; 3:14; 6:9; 11:3, 7; 12:11, 17; 15:5; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4; 22:16, 18, 20), and the power of the Apocalypse to shape one’s world view through naming (in both praise and blame). One of the key studies of the Apocalypse is that of the “naming” of Christ in this book.
The Christology of the Apocalypse is dynamic rather than static. While there is an obvious interest in names and titles, there is little interest in arguing for one title as over against another or for establishing the implications of any particular title. Titular approaches to the study of the Christologies of the New Testament tend to be reductionistic in assuming that the weight of an author’s Christology can be and is carried in the titles used by that author. If we understand title in its narrower sense, then most of the “titles” that appear in the book are not really titles at all, and none is the key to the Christology of the Apocalypse.
The author applies many images to Christ in the Apocalypse as part of his strategy of naming. While names for God and for Christ abound, so do names for Satan, for the beast—indeed for anyone, mythological or historical, who opposes the will of God. The preponderance of participial constructions indicates that the author has a dynamic understanding of Christ and of his work. Even traditionally weighty “titles,” such as “Son of God” and “son of man,” are used so infrequently and inconsequentially as to suggest their relative unimportance.<<23>> The key to appropriating the author’s Christology lies in responding to the prophetic word, in recognizing the power of Christ’s presence in the worshiping community, and in understanding both the power and the ethical relevance of his death and resurrection for lives of faith in the first century C.E.
Names and epithets used of Christ include Jesus Christ (1:1, 2, 5); the faithful witness (1:5; cf. 3:14); the firstborn from the dead (1:5); the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5; cf. 17:18); the one who continually loves us (1:5; cf. 3:9); the one who has freed us from our sins with his blood (1:5); Jesus (1:9 [bis]; 12:17; 14:12; 17:6; 19:10 [bis]; 20:4; 22:16); the voice (1:12); one like a son of man (1:13; 14:14), the first and the last (1:17; 2:8; 22:13); the living one (1:18); the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand (2:1; cf. 3:1); the one who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (2:1); the one who has the sharp, two-edged sword (2:12); the Son of God (2:18); the one who has eyes like a flame of fire (2:18); the one whose feet are like burnished bronze (2:18); the one who searches mind and heart (2:23); the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars (3:1; cf. 2:1); the holy one (3:7); the true one (3:7); the one who has the key of David (3:7); the one who opens and no one will shut (3:7); the one who shuts and no one opens (3:7); the Amen (3:14); the faithful and true witness (3:14; cf. 1:5; 19:11); the beginning of God’s creation (3:14); the lion from the tribe of Judah (5:5); the root of David (5:5; cf. 22:16); the lamb (5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4 [bis], 10; 15:3; 17:14 [bis]; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3; cf. 13:11; lamb is modified by esphagmenon [slaughtered] in 5:12 and 13:8); messiah (11:15; 12:10; 20:4, 6; cf. 1:1, 2, 5); child (12:5); male son (12:5); the one who is about to rule all the nations (12:5; cf. 7:17); lord of lords (17:14; 19:16); king of kings (17:14; 19:16); lord (11:8; 14:13; 22:20); the one who sits on the cloud (14:15, 16; cf. 14:14); the word of God (19:13); the one who sits on the horse (19:19, 21); the alpha and the omega (22:13; cf. 1:8 and 21:6, where this phrase refers to God); the beginning and the end (22:13; cf. 1:8mar and 21:6, where this phrase refers to God); the bright morning star (22:16; cf. 2:28); and Lord Jesus (22:20, 21).<<24>>
The one name that is used more than
any other is lamb. The Greek word here is arnion, one of eight
words used for lamb in the Septuagint. This particular word appears in
The variety of Hebrew words behind the term suggests that there is more than mere translation going on here. In each of these contexts, the lamb in question is not a literal, flesh-and-blood lamb, but rather a symbol for something. Furthermore, in each case, arnion is used symbolically to signify vulnerability.
Arnion is never used in the Septuagint with reference to the Passover victim, the sacrificial lamb, or the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. The word is not used of rams in the extant Greek literature. This observation suggests that the theme of vulnerability be investigated in the Apocalypse to determine the appropriateness of this symbolic association.
From a rhetorical-critical perspective, it is not enough simply to identify a symbol’s linguistic background or its tradition history, nor to define its role within literature by reducing it to an “essence,” nor simply to identify its referent. The exegete of the Apocalypse is not one who strives to crack a code. Rather, one must, in Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s words,
trace [a symbol’s] position within the overall form-content configuration (Gestalt) of Rev. and see its relationships to other images and within the ‘strategic’ positions of the composition. Only a ‘proportional’ analysis of its images can determine what they are about within the structure of the work determining the phase of action in which they are invoked.<<25>>
Thus, even if the seven lampstands “are” the seven churches (1:20), simply identifying them as such reveals only a part of the image’s capacity to communicate. And to say that the lamb in Revelation “is” Jesus does little justice to its capacity to communicate, as it is with identifying the logos of the prologue of the Fourth Gospel as Jesus. These identifications may be accurate, but they do not fully mine the meaning capacity of the symbols. Rhetorical criticism moves beyond mere “identification” and/or source criticism to ask about the nature, function, power, imaginative force, and effect of the symbolic system being constructed in the text.
The semantic value or overall
cultural Gestalt attributed to animals in the Graeco-Roman world was
significant. Although the “meaning” of the ram varied from region
to region and from one era to the next in the Graeco-Roman world, there was at
least a more significant and well-formed cultural Gestalt for the ram than
there was for the lamb. Rams were generally considered more valuable than lambs
in sacrifice. With few exceptions, lambs were not considered particularly
valuable or desirable as sacrificial victims, comparatively speaking. In
Symbolic values reflected in the Aesopic traditions clearly attribute to sheep—and especially to lambs—the value of vulnerability.<<27>> They were not necessarily victims, but they were vulnerable. In the Aesopic traditions, lambs often appear in relation to wolves, their mortal enemy. The vulnerability of the lamb is also central to the animal’s semantic value in Homer, though its archetypal enemy there seems to be the lion. What emerges most significantly in relation to the Apocalypse is the fact that lambs in the Graeco-Roman world were most often and most directly associated with divination, with the consulting and interpretation of oracles, and with vulnerability.
But vulnerability hardly seems to
fit the rhetoric of the Apocalypse! The lamb of the Apocalypse is a strong and
victorious character. In
It was apparently the inappropriateness of this conception of the lamb as a cute, dear lambkin that propelled Friedrich Spitta to translate arnion as “ram” and to look for a militant conquering ram tradition in Early Judaism.<<28>> If vulnerability is in view in the Apocalypse, it can only be a gutsy, costly, and effective kind of vulnerability and an apocalyptic challenge to the usual meaning and value of vulnerability.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that many Bible dictionaries and commentaries on the Apocalypse appeal to a supposed militaristic lamb-redeemer figure in Early Judaism, there is little evidence to support such a tradition. Joachim Jeremias,<<29>> Traugott Holtz,<<30>> and Sophie Laws<<31>> have denied that such a tradition existed. At the same time, other commentators have spoken confidently about the warrior lamb figure in Early Judaism and have appealed to traditions about that figure in explaining the origins and function of John’s lamb Christology. Scholars who appeal to some version of the lamb-redeemer figure in Early Judaism as a key to understanding the symbolism of the lamb in the Apocalypse include such scholars as Raymond Brown,<<32>> George Wesley Buchanan,<<33>> R. H. Charles,<<34>> Jacques M. Chevalier,<<35>> C. H. Dodd,<<36>> Ernst Lohmeyer,<<37>> Josephine Massyngberde-Ford,<<38>> Leon Morris,<<39>> Robert H. Mounce,<<40>> Charles H. Talbert,<<41>> and Etienne Trocmé.<<42>>
From a rhetorical-critical point of
view, the stakes in this debate are high. If these scholars are right in
positing a traditional militaristic lamb-redeemer figure in Early Judaism, then
this could easily clarify how and why John chose to portray Christ as a lamb,
and what force it carries in the book. The image of Christ as arnion
would then be a continuation or extension of military might suggested in the
titles ho leon ho ek tes phyles Iouda (the lion from the tribe of
Judah), and he rhiza Dauid (the root [or shoot] of David) from
So is the lamb a symbol of vulnerability or of force? If Bruce Malina is right, it is the latter. According to Malina, the purpose of portraying Christ as a cosmic lamb becomes apparent when one realizes that the cosmic lamb is really the powerful and violent ram of Aries. “All the imagery associated with the lamb is that of power, force, control, and conquest.”<<43>> It was his power that was significant to John, and “power means the ability to control others based on an implied sanction of force.”<<44>> Although the readers of the Apocalypse were suffering no persecution, according to Malina,<<45>> such a message would have been welcome “in a culture that submitted to nature and its forces” and would have provided a “renewed zest for living.”<<46>>
Although it is the use of the lamb Christology within the Apocalypse that is ultimately crucial for determining the rhetorical force of that Christology, a brief review of the supposed evidence for a militaristic lamb-redeemer figure in the traditions of Early Judaism may be helpful here.<<47>> There are primarily three texts that have been used to posit such a symbolic-theological tradition: Testament of Joseph 19:8, Testament of Benjamin 3:8, and the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch (1 Enoch 89-90).<<48>> The first two of these are either Christian compositions indebted to the Apocalypse of John or have Christian interpolations that are so indebted.<<49>>
In the Animal Apocalypse, David and others, such as those who suffered persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, are portrayed as defenseless lambs, which then become rams and enter into conflict with the ravens (i.e., the Seleucids). Numerous commentators on the Apocalypse have attempted to explain its lamb Christology by pointing out that the Maccabeans are represented as horned lambs in this passage.<<50>> This statement, however, is misleading at best, since the lambs must become something else, like rams, in order to function as leaders and rulers. The bleating lambs whose cries are not heard (1 Enoch 90:6-12) probably refer to the Maccabeans (and other faithful Jews) who experienced the violent persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes before the one lamb grew a great horn and became a ram (i.e., before Judas Maccabeus began to exercise his leadership).<<51>>
The image of one animal “becoming” another animal is not just a passing observation or minor point here. The Animal Apocalypse reflects a keen interest in a strict hierarchy of beings, with each metamorphosis significant.<<52>> The lamb who grew “one great horn” (90:9; Judas Maccabeus) is, from 90:13 on, called a “ram” (krios in the Greek). Thus, the text itself implies that “lamb” is not an appropriate symbol for a leader or a ruler, unless it be for a ruler who is temporarily suffering persecution. The lamb in the Apocalypse never “becomes” any other animal—not a ram, a lion, or any other creature. It remains a lamb from beginning to end.
But the method by which the lamb is
introduced is significant. As a narrative, the Apocalypse of John has both
characterization and plot.<<53>>
The rhetorical fulcrum of the Apocalypse is the scene
in heaven in chapters 4 and
While the throne vision of chapter 4 is the necessary context, the climax of this scene comes in the fifth chapter. The scene revolves around the question, “Who is worthy to take the scroll?” It is announced that the lion conqueror is worthy. But what does the seer see? “A lamb standing as slaughtered” (5:6). This scene, with its shocking switch<<56>> of images, lies at the theological heart of the Apocalypse. From here on, the image of Christ as lamb serves as the dominant image for Christ.<<57>>
Eugene Boring rightly calls this “one
of the most mind-wrenching and theologically pregnant transformations of
imagery in literature.”<<58>>
David Barr says, “A more complete reversal of value would be hard to
Donald Guthrie’s words, “there could hardly be a more striking or unexpected contrast.”<<60>> By
the time we finally catch sight of the lamb for the first time in chapter 5, we
have already seen most of the titles or names used for Christ. This mid-stream
switch of images seems designed specifically to communicate the shock and irony
of the author’s message—that God’s messiah conquers by being a slain lamb, not a devouring
lion. The Seer introduces the lamb in
Of course, this interpretation holds only if the lamb turns out really to be a symbol of vulnerability rather than a symbol of the power of violence. Is there corroborating evidence of some kind to enable one to confirm the integrity of such a reading?
There is, though space considerations preclude anything more than an outline of such corroborating evidence. First, as we have already seen, the linguistic evidence supports the connection with vulnerability. If John had intended to communicate Jesus’ power and unmitigated force, he could not have chosen a more inappropriate animal with which to symbolize him. And within the semantic domain, he could not have chosen a more inappropriate word for lamb than arnion.
Second, ancillary details in the presentation of the lamb make it clear that vulnerability, not militaristic force is in view. This lamb has been “slaughtered.” The first time John sees this lamb, it is standing, even though it bears the marks of its slaughter (5:6). The lamb is declared worthy precisely because it was slaughtered (5:9), and its having been slaughtered is an essential part of its identity (5:12; 13:8). The reference cannot be to the lamb as a sacrifice for sin in the sacrificial cult, for the language used is that of butchery and murder, not ritual sacrifice.<<61>> And there is no interest in the act of sacrifice itself in the Apocalypse. Whatever else was a concern of this author, expiation for sin was not central to it.<<62>>
Third, many of the other “names”
for Christ fall into two interrelated categories: terms that emphasize the
overcoming of death<<63>> and
terms that have strong political overtones.<<64>>
The political critique of kingship and the relativizing of royal authority
inherent in these titles draw on well-established Jewish traditions, such as
the critique of kingship preserved by the Deuteronomist in
The implication for the Apocalypse
is that the lordship of Christ proclaimed in this book represented a challenge to
the contemporary political powers—a challenge that the author
maintains cannot be met through
the threat of the death penalty, since Christ has overcome death. Despite the
success Constantinian Christianity has enjoyed in schooling Christian readers
to see this language as “spiritual” rather than “political,”
the political critique could hardly have been missed by first-century readers.
The challenge to the Roman emperor and to the emperor cult in
Fourth, the author makes a clear
connection between the character, work, and fate of the lamb and the character,
work, and fate of the believers to whom he is writing. We see this, for
instance, in the insistence that the holy warriors<<67>> in 14:4 “follow the lamb wherever he
goes.” The repeated promise of reward to the one who conquers in
Fifth, the lamb does not do battle
in any conventional way. There is war in the Apocalypse, but it is strangely
unconventional. Just when one appears to be on the verge of seeing a real
battle, it turns out that it is already over. In the “holy war” of
The closest we get to a battle
scene in the Apocalypse is in chapter 19. There we read that John saw heaven
opened and, behold, a white horse, and the one seated on it was faithful,
called, and true (cf. 1:5; 3:14), and he judges and “makes war” (polemei)
in righteousness. The rider approaches the battle dressed in a robe dipped in
blood (19:13)—his own blood of
witness/martyrdom. In keeping with the pivotal scene in
Thus, even here, no real battle scene is narrated. No story is possible, since the decisive battle is long over.<<69>> That is also why he can already ride the white horse. His victory is consistently portrayed in terms of his death and resurrection. The ones with him are not human warriors eager to take vengeance on the nations, but “armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure” (19:14). And we have just been informed that the wearing of fine linen is granted by God and that it refers to ta dikaiomata ton hagion (the righteous deeds of the saints; 19:8).
Paradoxically, the lamb conquers not by victory through the strength of force or domination, but by victory through faithful witness—a faithful witness the author is convinced will lead to both persecution and martyrdom. This is why the battle scenes in the book are never narrated satisfactorily: the key battle has already been won on the cross despite the ongoing nature of the conflict and the ever-present need for consistent resistance.<<70>>
The most significant battle in the
Apocalypse is thus a battle for perception fought on the rhetorical
battlefield. At stake were the hearts, minds, perceptions, and allegiances of
the Asian believers. Were they to define their reality and values in terms that
were readily available to them as residents of the province of
The message of the Apocalypse was that whether or not they recognized it,<<71>> the Asian believers were facing a life-and-death struggle—a struggle they were being invited to embrace and join. This struggle would necessarily be characterized by real conflict. But the primary weapon by which this conflict would be engaged was the weapon of faithful witness—a witness that the author fully expected would lead to their martyrdom. But instead of arguing logocentrically by means of a judicial rhetoric why such an embrace of the struggle was the only faithful response, or exhorting them directly by means of a deliberative rhetoric to engage in the struggle, he uses an epideictic rhetoric of praise to the lamb and invective against the beasts and the whore of Rome to move his readers to embrace his values.
1. I am using persuade here in the broader, more encompassing sense characteristic of rhetorical criticism generally, not in the narrower, logocentric sense. The persuasion of the Apocalypse is primarily a persuasion to see the universe through different lenses, to effect a world view that fits with the understanding of Jesus’ slaughter as the key to victory over evil. <Back>
2. On redefinition and parody as central characteristics in the rhetoric of the Apocalypse, see esp. James H. Charlesworth, “The Apocalypse of John: Its Theology and Impact on Subsequent Apocalypses,” pt. 2 in The New Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha: A Guide to Publications, with Excursuses on Apocalypses, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Metuchen and London: The American Theological Library Association and Scarecrow Press, 1987), pp. 19-51; and Sophie Laws, In the Light of the Lamb: Imagery, Parody, and Theology in the Apocalypse of John (Wilmington, Del.: M. Glazier, 1988). <Back>
3. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “A Rhetorical Analysis of Revelation,” in the Introduction to Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Proclamation Commentaries; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), pp. 20-37. <Back>
4. Cf. Robert M. Royalty, Jr., “The Rhetoric of Revelation,” Society of Biblical Literature 1997 Seminar Papers (No. 36; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), pp. 596-617; esp. 600-602. Adding “at least on the conscious level” recognizes the fact that all communication depends upon conventions learned at the subconscious level. <Back>
5. Fiorenza, “Rhetorical Analysis,” p. 26. <Back>
6. The examples of self-naming are all positive claims to authority or privilege that are challenged by the author: those who call themselves apostles and are not (2:2); those who call themselves Jews and are not (2:9; 3:9); and the woman Jezebel, who [falsely?] calls herself a prophet (2:20). The examples of judicial rhetoric could be multiplied if one expands the definition of judicial rhetoric to include in it forms of argumentation that were developed by apocalypticists and other ancient Jewish and Christian writers, as Robert G. Hall argues we should. See Robert G. Hall, “Arguing Like an Apocalypse: Galatians and an Ancient Topos Outside the Greco-Roman Rhetorical Tradition,” NTS 42 (1996), pp. 434-53. <Back>
7. Fiorenza, “Rhetorical Analysis,” p. 26. <Back>
8. Royalty, “The Rhetoric of Revelation,” pp. 601-2. <Back>
9. On naming,
see the excellent paper by Edith M. Humphrey, “On
and Naming: The Rhetoric of Specificity and Mystery in the Apocalypse,” a presentation at the
annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature,
10. George A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism (Studies in Religion; Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), p. 73. <Back>
11. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.9.35-37; cf. also George A. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient Times to Modern Times (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), pp. 73-75; and Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, pp. 73-74. <Back>
12. Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric, p. 74. <Back>
13. Those who die in the Apocalypse are those who maintain “faithful witness.” <Back>
14. Clothing in the Apocalypse represents the righteous deeds of the saints; cf. 19:8. <Back>
15. Despite Stephen
Goranson’s efforts to argue to the contrary
16. John T.
Kirby, “The Rhetorical Situations of
17. Royalty, “The Rhetoric of Revelation,” p. 602, note 22. <Back>
18. On the categorization of deliberative rhetoric as hortatory and dissuasive, see Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.3.3; and Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 20. <Back>
19. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 73. <Back>
20. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, p. 74. <Back>
21. Cf. Amos N. Wilder, “The Rhetoric of Ancient and Modern Apocalyptic,” Interpretation 25 (1971), pp. 436-53, esp. p. 453. <Back>
22. For a helpful and insightful analysis of epideictic rhetoric’s propensity to shape the social sphere, see Takis Poulakos, “Towards a Cultural Understanding of Classical Epideictic Oratory,” in Pre/Text 9 (1988), pp. 147-166. <Back>
23. For a careful investigation of the “Son of Man” “title” in the Apocalypse, see A[dela] Yarbro Collins, “The ‘Son of Man’ Tradition and the Book of Revelation,” in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity, edited by James H. Charlesworth, in collaboration with J. Brownson, M. T. Davis, S. J. Kraftchick, and A. F. Segal (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 536-68. See esp. p. 568: “The use of the quasi-titular definite form of the phrase is apparently unknown to the author of Revelation.” <Back>
24. For a fuller description of these titles, see Appendix II of my dissertation: Loren L. Johns, The Origins and Rhetorical Force of the Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John, Ph.D. dissertation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1998). <Back>
25. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), p. 188. <Back>
26. Philo, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, translated by C. D. Yonge, with an introduction by David M. Scholer (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), pp. 842-43. This particular work, “Questions and Answers on Genesis,” is not extant in Greek and does not appear in the Loeb editions. <Back>
27. The symbolism most consistently associated with lambs in these fables revolves around the vulnerability of the lambs (cf. Babrius 51; 89; 93; 113; 128; 132; Phaedrus 1.1; 1.17; Perotti’s Appendix, Fable 26; Other Aesopic Fables, nos. 160, 209, 234, 342, 366, 451, 595, 596, 636, 655, and 705). In some of these cases the vulnerability of the sheep is not the fable’s main concern, but is part of the fable’s set-up for another point, revealing that the vulnerability of the sheep or lamb is part of the deep structure of the symbolic language in the Aesopic tradition. <Back>
28. Friedrich Spitta, “Christus das Lamm,” in Streitfragen der Geschichte Jesu (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1907), pp. 172-223. <Back>
29. Joachim Jeremias, “amnos, aren, arnion,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel, translated and edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 1.338-41. <Back>
30. Traugott Holtz, Die Christologie der Apokalypse des Johannes, 2nd ed. (Texte und Untersuchungen, vol. 85; Berlin: Akademie, 1971), pp. 48-50. <Back>
31. Sophie Laws, In the Light of the Lamb: Imagery, Parody, and Theology in the Apocalypse of John (Wilmington, Del.: M. Glazier, 1988), pp. 27-28. <Back>
32. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, I-XII: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 2d ed. (The Anchor Bible, vol. 29; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1981), pp. 58-60. <Back>
33. George Wesley Buchanan, The Book of Revelation: Its Introduction and Prophecy (New Testament Series, vol. 22; Lewston/Queenston/Lampeter: Mellen Biblical Press, 1993), pp. 149-50. <Back>
34. R. H.
Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of
35. Jacques M. Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1997), p. 250. <Back>
36. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1953), p. 236. <Back>
37. Ernst Lohmeyer, Die Offenbarung des Johannes, 6th ed. (Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, no. 16; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1953), pp. 51-55. <Back>
38. J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation (The Anchor Bible, vol. 38; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1975), pp. 88-89. <Back>
39. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 129. <Back>
H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (New International Commentary on the
New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977), p.
145; cf. also Robert H. Mounce, “Christology
of the Apocalypse,”
Foundations 11 (January-Mar
H. Talbert, The Apocalypse: A
42. Etienne Trocmé, “Lamb of God,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 418-19. <Back>
43. Bruce J. Malina, On the Genre and Message of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), p. 101. <Back>
44. Malina, Genre and Message, p. 263. <Back>
45. On the
issue of the social situation of the seven churches—especially
with regard to
persecution as a central factor in the occasion of the writing—I agree with Bruce Malina,
Robert Royalty (cf. Royalty, “Rhetoric of
p. 599-600), Leonard Thompson (Leonard Thompson, The Book of Revelation:
Apocalypse and Empire (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 175 et
passim), and others that there was no systematic, full-scale persecution of
the church under Domitian. I do take
46. Malina, Genre
and Message, p. 263. A variation on this misinterpretation is that of the
dispensationalists, who, despite the lack of any support in the book of
Revelation, treat Jesus’ first coming as one characterized by the lamb, and his
second coming as one characterized by the lion. This interpretation is typical
among Fundamentalist Evangelicals in
47. For more
on the history of this discussion, see
addition to these, some have appealed to the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on
49. The attempts
by B. Murmelstein (“Das Lamm in Test.
50. See, e.g.,
Robert Mounce: “In I Eno
51. For the identification of the “great horn” in 90:9 as Judas Maccabeus, see, inter alia, James C. VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition (The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series, no. 16; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1984), pp. 161-62; and Patrick A. Tiller, A Commentary on the Animal Apocalypse of I Enoch (Early Judaism and Its Literature, no. 4; Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1993), pp. 62-63. <Back>
52. For a discussion of the metamorphoses through the various levels in the Animal Apocalypse, see David Bryan, Cosmos, Chaos and Kosher Mentality (Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series, no. 12; England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), pp. 47-52. <Back>
53. Cf. Thomas Harding, “Take Back the Apocalypse,” Touchstone 3:1 (January 1985): 29-35; David E. Aune, “The Apocalypse of John and the Problem of Genre,” Semeia 36 (1986): 65-96; David L. Barr, “Using Plot to Discern Structure in John’s Apocalypse,” in Proceedings of the Eastern Great Lakes and Mid-West Biblical Societies (1995), pp. 23-33. <Back>
54. Fiorenza, Revelation, p. 58. <Back>
55. Cf. Nikola Hohnjec, “Das Lamm, to arnion” in der Offenbarung des Johannes: Eine Exegetisch-Theologische Untersuchung (Roma: Herder, 1980), p. 36. <Back>
56. I prefer to speak of the “switch” of images here, rather than the “juxtaposition” of images, since juxtaposition could imply a continuing relationship based on proximity. In this case, however, Jesus is never again referred to as a lion. Lamb takes over as the controlling metaphor. <Back>
57. Appearing 28 times with reference to Christ, arnion appears in fully half of the 22 chapters of the Apocalypse, and his presence is implied in others (e.g., 8:1). More importantly, the image of Christ as lamb serves to control and interpret other themes in the book. Cf. Laws, In the Light of the Lamb, pp. 24-31. <Back>
58. M. Eugene Boring, “Narrative Christology in the Apocalypse,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54 (1992): 708. <Back>
59. David L. Barr, “The Apocalypse as a Symbolic Transformation of the World: A Literary Analysis,” Interpretation 38 (January 1984): 41. <Back>
60. Donald Guthrie, “The Lamb in the Structure of the Book of Revelation,” Vox Evangelica 12 (1987): 64. <Back>
61. The New Revised Standard Version correctly translates esfagmenon as “slaughtered” rather than “sacrificed” or “slain.” “Murdered” would have been another acceptable choice here. Sphfazo is the language of the slaughterhouse, while thyo, which does not appear in the Apocalypse, is the language of sacrifice. Apart from 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8, sphazo refers to the murder of humans in 6:4, 9; 13:3; 18:24. For more on sphazo as slaughterhouse language, see Laws, In the Light of the Lamb, p. 30. <Back>
62. The only hymn in which expiation of sins is inferred is the one hymn the author did not compose himself, but which he drew from traditional material (1:5b-6). Cf. David R. Carnegie, “Worthy is the Lamb: The Hymns in Revelation,” in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie, edited by Harold H. Rowdon (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1982), pp. 246-47. <Back>
63. These include “the firstborn from the dead” (ho prototokos ton nekron; 1:5), “the one who has freed us from our sins with his blood” (to … lysanti hemas ek ton hamartion hemon en te haimati autou; 1:5), “the first and the last” (ho protos kai ho eschatos; 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), “the living one” (ho zon; 1:18; cf. 2:8); “the faithful and true witness” (ho martys ho pistos; 3:14; cf. 1:5; 19:11); “the alpha and the omega” (to alpha kai to o; 22:13); “the beginning and the end” (he arche kai to telos; 22:13). In context, these turn out to have strong political implications as well. <Back>
64. The latter include “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (ho archon ton basileon tes ges; 1:5), “messiah” (Christos; 11:15, 12:10, 20:4, 6), “the one who is about to rule all the nations” (hos mellei poimainein panta ta ethne; 12:5), “lord” (kyrios; 11:8; 14:13; 22:20), “lord of lords and king of kings” (kyrios kyrion … kai basileus basileon; 17:14; 19:16), “the lion from the tribe of Judah” (ho leon ho ek tes phyles Iouda; 5:5), the root of David (he rhiza Dauid; 5:5; 22:16), “the one who has the key of David” (ho echon ten klein Dauid; 3:7), “the one who sits on the horse” (ho kathemenos epi tou hippou; 19:19, 21); cf. also 6:2, 4, 5, 8; 9:17; 19:18 where we have other riders of other horses). <Back>
65. See 1
widely acknowledged critique of the emperor cult in
67. These followers
“have not defiled themselves with women” (14:4),
their “victory” is won
in a holy war. Refraint from sexual intercourse is a traditional element in the holy war
68. Cf. esp. M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, 196-97; and Wilfrid J. Harrington, Revelation (Sacra Pagina, vol. 16; Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1993), pp. 192-94; cf. also John Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990), pp. 282-83; Pablo Richard, Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation (The Bible & Liberation Series; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995), p. 147; Gerhard A. Krodel, Revelation (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament; Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1989), p. 323. G. B. Caird, however, argues that the blood on the rider’s garments is neither his own nor that of his enemies, but that of the martyr saints (George B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine; Black’s New Testament Commentaries; London: Adam & Charles Black, 1984), p. 243. <Back>
69. Cf. Ted Grimsrud, “Peace Theology and the Justice of God in the Book of Revelation,” in Essays on Peace Theology and Witness, edited by Willard M. Swartley (Occasional Papers, no. 12; Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1988), p. 145; Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible: Making Sense Out of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 176-79. <Back>
70. “Consistent resistance” is Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s apt translation of hypomone; Fiorenza, Book of Revelation, pp. 4, 182. <Back>
71. The implied
Copyright © 1998 by Loren L. Johns.