Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review of Resseguie's Revelation

Resseguie, James L.

The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary.

Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2009. Pp. 288.

Paperback. $24.99.

ISBN: 978-0-8010-3213-4

James L. Resseguie, distinguished professor of New Testament at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, brings his expertise on narrative criticism to bear on perhaps the most difficult of all New Testament documents, Revelation. This is not Resseguie's first attempt to wrestle with the Apocalypse as he wrote a previous volume Revelation Unsealed: A Narrative Critical Approach to John’s Apocalypse (Brill, 1998).

Resseguie stresses two aspects of narrative criticism in this volume. First, he focuses "on the organic unity of John's story" (17). This approach of course, relates the parts to the whole, as the former should not be viewed in isolation from the latter. Secondly, in order to perform a close literary and theological reading, one must beware "of the complexities and nuances of the text, taking note of the structure, rhetoric, setting, characters, point of view, plot, and the narrator's style and his repertoire" (18).

One of the more impressive features of this volume is Resseguie's ability to introduce readers to rhetorical, literary, and narratival conventions utilized throughout the Apocalypse (18-59). From this helpful introduction, the author has prepared the reader well for what follows- the commentary proper (61-259). For example, within Resseguie's section on numerology (28-32), the author makes the astute point that the number six is penultimate and therefore can "represent incompleteness or imperfection." Further, "the heaping up of sixes, as in 666, may represent the penultimate striving to be the ultimate, humanity (the beast) in the quest to be like God" (31). Structurally, Resseguie favors what he terms "literary progression" rather than the normal recapitulation theories (54-59). This literary progression is linear, though not chronological "with one event folding into another until the end is reached and everyone is in there proper place and the messianic repairs of the cosmos are complete" (59).

 Resseguie outlines Revelation in a chapter by chapter sequence mainly, allowing the reader to view the forest for the trees. If readers desire text-critical, dating, social setting, or authorship issues, they should refer to the more technical commentaries such as Aune or Beale. This does not however imply that Resseguie ignores these matters altogether as the author cites more than 180 works in his bibliography, many of them commentaries that address such issues. Instead Resseguie's focus on the narrative of Revelation serves to highlight the impact of John's visions.

How does Resseguie accomplish this?  He stresses point of view, "the way the story gets told" (42-44). Space, time, words and phrases, inside views (characters' thoughts, motivations, emotions, and finally and most importantly, ideology (norms, values, beliefs that the narrator wants the reader to adopt) make up the components in the way Revelation is written. A great example of  the ideological perspective is Resseguie's discussion of the role of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 (163-165). Resseguie remarks:

Two points of view are crystallized in this story. From a below perspective, it appears that the beast and its followers triumph, but from an above perspective the testimony and death of the witnesses represents the counterintuitive way God triumphs in this world (163).

Resseguie's discussion of the "masterplot of Revelation" provides a fascinating discussion of the Apocalypses' use of exodus and exile imagery. Resseguie states that this "masterplot" is "a quest of the people of God to find their way home, to the new promised land" (46). John's vision of a mighty angel in Revelation 10 corresponds to Exod 13.21-22 and Revelation 15.2-4 reenacts the Israelites deliverance from Pharoah at the Red Sea (Exod 14-15) are just two of the examples that the author cites (47). One further area of interest to this reviewer is to see where Resseguie comes out on the millenium (20.4-6; 245-246). Here the author follows Bauckham in his masterful little book Theology of the Book of Revelation, stating that John is simply not interested in these details and further, the millenium's meaning is more important than the manner in which the saints are vindicated (245). This meaning is “from an above point of view God’s ways are vindicated and the martyrs are victorious” (pp. 245–46).

Resseguie is to be commended in writing an exciting exploration of this enigmatic book. I would recommend this volume to pastors, students, as well as educated lay members of the church in trying to plow through this strange and yet wonderful letter.

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