Friday, January 8, 2021

Apocalyptic? #16: Are the 2 Good Churches Anti-Semitic? (Rev. 2:8-11 and 3:7-13)


“To the angel of the church in Ephesus . . . Smyrna . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . Laodicea write . . .” 

(The full text of the Letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia is printed in the RSV at the conclusion of this blogpost.)


Layer #2 of the Apathy Sandwich:  The GOOD Churches   

Jesus lists no problems with Smyrna and Philadelphia. 
Jesus acknowledges Smyrna’s “poverty,” but, using the trope of irony, he reverses the meaning of the term, claiming that they are actually “rich.”  The trope of irony is also active, referring to certain individuals who “slander” the Christians claiming that they (the slanderers) are “Jews.”  Jesus reverses the meaning of the term “Jews,” claiming that they are actually “a Synagogue of Satan.”  In the ONLY other use of the term “Synagogue of Satan” in the Bible, Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia, “I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you.”  Some have claimed that Revelation is anti-Semitic because of such language, but they fail to realize that John is (as is Jesus) a Jew, himself. 

He is not slandering Jews, per se, because that would be self-slander.  I write in my book Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 131-132):

     What is the sociopolitical problem which the Apocalypse of John addresses?  Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza claims:  "New Testament scholars generally agree that . . . Rev[elation] . . . depict[s] the . . . political struggles of the churches in Asia Minor at the end of the first century." According to this context, the sociopolitical struggle would be between Christianity and the Roman Empire.  Revelation's negative reference to Jews would open John to a charge of Anti-Semitism.  While Fiorenza's claim that "New Testament scholars generally agree" concerning this is true, the general agreement is not necessarily correct.  Fiorenza notes:  "After reviewing scholarly efforts to arrive at a definite interpretation of Rev[elation], [E. Lohmeyer] concludes that the proposed interpretations are so diverse that the true meaning of Rev[elation] still remains hidden."  . . .

     As was Luke T. Johnson, I personally am indebted to [my Jewish major professor at Indiana University] Henry Fischel, who, as he did for Johnson, "introduced me to the Talmud and whose pioneering work on Judaism as part of the Hellenistic world is a model." Hence, I have a sensitivity to the anti-Semitism that has unfortunately been at least a part of the history of Christianity throughout the past two millennia.  Like Johnson, I have no desire to support anti-Semitism in any form.  Johnson's explanation of what has been called "anti-Jewish slander" in the New Testament refers to the rhetorical climate which was a part of the Greco-Roman milieu, in line with the basic methodological tenets which Fischel taught.  Johnson suggests "that the slander of the N[ew] T[estament] is typical of that found among Jews as among other Hellenists." According to Johnson, the problem with many approaches to the "anti-Jewish" issue is that "they isolate 'Christianity' over against 'Judaism' as though each was [sic] a well-defined entity when the polemic was written." Johnson argues that Christianity was merely one of a number of rival Jewish groups:  "So-called normative Judaism was not normative in the period of the N[ew] T[estament].  The question Who is a real Jew? was then an open question, debated fiercely and even violently by rival claimants."

     Apparently, this intra-Jewish rivalry is operative in Revelation, as well.  R. H. Charles argues and most subsequent scholars agree that the author of Revelation is Jewish.  The author holds great respect for the twelve tribes of Israel.  He applies the terms Mt. Zion and Jerusalem to his heroes with a healthy respect for such terms.  His 144,000 are identified not as gentiles, but as being from the twelve tribes of Israel (minus Dan).  If anything, he is jealous of the Jewish terminology, and unwilling to apply what he considers to be prestigious nomenclature to those whom he considers unworthy to be called "Jews."  Yet, it seems clear that at least some of John's villains are Jews. 

Nevertheless, using the trope of irony, those who say that they are Jews are recast as non-Jews (i.e., the synagogue of Satan).  This was an intra-Jewish rivalry move.  The non-Christian Jews were actually slandering the Christian Jews.  Often, as will be explained in the next post, this slander resulted in the Christian Jews being “black-balled” from the economic system of Asia Minor.  Hence, Jesus can say to the Christian Jews:
“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” To get an idea how this anti-Christian economic pressure might work, consider this scenario:  How many Christians in America, in 2021, fear that they would suffer financially were they to make certain “Christian” comments regarding issues of killing innocents or the elderly or certain forms of sexual immorality?  The suggestion, in Revelation, that those who claim to be Jews are not Jews is fairly similar, rhetorically, to presidential candidate Joe Biden, in 2020, saying to blacks in America: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain’t black!”  I write further in Revelation:  The Human Drama (pp. 164-165):

     What is strange in Revelation is that John is not willing to call ANYONE a Jew.  The fact that the word Jew is in his vocabulary is evident by two citations (2:9 & 3:9), but it occurs nowhere else in Revelation.  The word Israel occurs in three locations.  In 2:14, Balaam caused the Israelites to sin, but these Israelites were from past ages.  In 7:4, the 144,000 saved from the earth are clearly Christians, but are identified as the tribes of Israel.  In 21:12, the gates of the city (New) Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  John uses the term "Jerusalem" three times (3:12, 21:2,10), but all three instances refer to the "New Jerusalem," not the old Jerusalem.  "Mount Zion" occurs once (14:1), but it refers once again to the 144,000.  If, as Ford [also] understands, the harlot Babylon is faithless Jerusalem, John is continuing his rejection of the villains' nomenclature.  Thus, he renames "the holy city" (11:2) in which the "Lord was crucified" (11:8), "Sodom and Egypt."  If he refers to Jews who dwell in Judea, he calls them the "inhabitants of the land" and leaves off the words "of Israel."

     At least some of John's villains are Jews by the weight of the language used in 2:9 and 3:9. In terms of scholarly support for this conclusion, Fiorenza . . . concludes:  "Therefore, the so-called Jews . . . do not seem to represent a Christian group, but the Jewish citizenship of these cities."  Kiddle also understands the villains in Smyrna and Philadelphia to be literal Jews.  Caird concurs, as does Charles. (164-165)

In his message to the church in Philadelphia, “the hour of trial” that is coming upon “the inhabitants of the earth/land” (actually, meaning Judea, throughout the seven-year war between the Jews and the Romans from 66-73 A.D.), the NIV translation incorrectly translates what should be translated as “the inhabitants of the land” as “those who dwell upon the earth.”  “The inhabitants of the land/earth” is the exact terminology used to refer to the (non-Jewish) inhabitants of the (Promised) Land (before Israel dominated it) throughout the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Chronicles, and even later.  Genesis 34:30, 50:11, Exodus 23:31, 34:12 & 15, Leviticus 18:25, 25:10, Numbers 13:32, 14:14, 32:17, 33:52 & 55, Joshua 2:9, 7:9: 9:24, Judges 1:32 & 33, 2:2, I Samuel 27:8, II Samuel 5:6, I Chronicles 11:4, 22:18, and II Chronicles 20:7 all use the expression “the inhabitants of the land” when referring to the non-Jewish population of the (Promised) Land.  The word translated “land” in every one of these instances is the word ארץ/ARETZ, in the Hebrew, the equivalent of γῆ/GE in the Greek, which virtually all Bible versions incorrectly translate as “Earth,” in Revelation.  A tremendous amount of confusion regarding what Revelation is predicting is removed once one realizes that the prophecies directed against the so-called “earth” (and the “inhabitants of the earth” and the “kings of the earth”) in Revelation are actually only directed against the “land” (of Israel).

I surmise that one of the principal errors of those in Smyrna and Philadelphia who say that they are Jews but are actually a synagogue of Satan is that they were guilty of the same PORNEIA that the three churches in the middle of the Apathy-Porneia sandwich were guilty of.  That subject will be discussed in the next post.

The Message to Smyrna

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.’

The Message to Philadelphia

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

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