Thursday, February 5, 2009

Domesticating Apocalyptic Literature Continued

Domestication #2: Futuristic or Historicized Readings
This is the domain of fundamentalists and liberals, respectively, according to Cook. The basic issue is the idea that apocalyptic literature is coded and one must decipher the code for it to be valuable. This fails the futurist readings because the texts, to endure, had to say something for the people of their time. They aren’t a “message in a bottle” to be picked up in the 21st century. While this fundamentalist perspective is certainly my heritage, I’ve always been bothered by this concept and the way Daniel and Revelation are read. We seem to use them like a crossword puzzle – making everything fit “just so” to create our model for history. I don’t mean to be overly negative with that critique and I can’t offer a better hermeneutic. That’s just what bothers me about it.

On the other hand, the liberal error of making the text totally historical also fails. The writers weren’t simply describing their historical circumstances. They were anticipating the end of time. It obviously didn’t come when they hoped or anticipated, but the biblical texts make no promises of “this is the date.” In short, there’s more than history described in apocalyptic texts. They’re looking to the future, too.

Domestication #3: Overly Credulous or Overly Suspicious Readings
The overly credulous readers of apocalypse are eager to appropriate the text to their current situations, which can be particularly dangerous to cross-sections of people who may arouse their ire. Revelation 17 has been used as a rationale for burning witches and Malachi 4.1-3 was used for killing thousands of Native Americans in colonial times. Cook corrects the “overly credulous” saying,

“These images are transcendental realities of suprahuman proportion. As such, they are completely stereotyped and excessive by their very nature. They sum up and embody inclinations, qualities, and characteristics in a way that now historical person or group ever could. To reduce them to finite persons is pure domestication” (p. 54).

The related error is, again, the opposite extreme – being overly suspicious of the apocalyptic texts and not letting them say enough. Perhaps because parts of the text are offensive by current standards or used to abuse others throughout history (see witches, Native Americans above), some interpreters are dismissive of some challenging parts of a text, or try to re-construct the text altogether. They end up, often, being dismissive of a re-creation, seeing it as a bad thing rather than the renewal that the text (at least Revelation) intends to communicate.

I think I can tend to be overly “earthly minded” and not let the realities of God’s consummation of history grip my heart to the degree that it should. Do you lean one way or another any of these “domestication” dangers?

No comments: