Why is John’s Apocalypse so Bloody?: John’s Use and Subversion of Combat Myths

The question of violence in John’s Apocalypse is a perennial issue producing numerous treatments with a variety of solutions. Nevertheless, virtually none of the many treatments seriously engage the combat myths of the ANE and how they may relate to the issue of violence in the Apocalypse. This lack of engagement is surprising given that the Apocalypse seems to draw from the plot elements, characters, and overarching concerns common to combat myths, as Adella Yarborough Collins argued in The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation. This essay aims to rectify this by situating the Apocalypse within the combat myth tradition. When one does this, I argue that John’s use of the mythic pattern furnished by combat myths makes the violence of the Apocalypse more intelligible while at the same time undermining the violent imagery with strategic departures and alterations.

In this essay, I review the basic plot elements and overarching concerns of combat myths, drawing primarily upon the work of ancient near eastern and Indo-European scholars, demonstrating its prominence in the milieu of the ancient world. John’s Apocalypse is then situated in the context of ancient myths, demonstrating that the violence contained therein is a necessary feature of the story that John is trying to tell, a feature that he utilizes and undermines. To demonstrate this, I subject Revelation 19:11-20:10, one of the most violent texts in the apocalypse, to an exegetical analysis in light of the combat myth. By doing so, I will demonstrate how an awareness of the combat myth and its function in Rev. 19:11-20:10 renders the violence of this passage intelligible. If I can show that this is so, it would suggest the utility of the combat myth for understanding the violence in Revelation more broadly.

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