Revelation mailing list: Dissertation Abstracts 2.002: Carey: Attention-Seeking Behavior

Attention-Seeking Behavior: Rhetoric, Resistance, and Authority in the Book of Revelation

William Gregory Carey (
Winthrop University

Dissertation under the direction of
Professor Fernando F. Segovia
Vanderbilt University, 1996

Authority represents a fundamental dimension of the Book of Revelation, which resists the Roman Empire of the late first century and those Jews, Christians, and other persons who accommodate themselves to the Empire. Contemporary readers--critical, liberationist, and millenarian--wrestle over who has the authority to interpret Revelation while their readings of the Apocalypse themselves imply conflicting modes of authority. These ancient and modern struggles may be traced to tensions within the Apocalypse itself and demonstrate the need for a rhetorical investigation of how Revelation constructs authority.

John, Revelation's ever-present narrator, provides the point of entry for such a study. The classical concept of ethos, how speakers constructed their personal credibility, offers one perspective for understanding John. Contemporary categories of the narrator and point of view fill out John's ethos, while postcolonial and resistance criticisms emphasize the mutual reinforcement of representation and power. Further insights come from early Jewish apocalyptic literature, which has its own strategies for building authority. In building his ethos John faces two related tasks. He must establish his own credibility while deprecating his opponents. Careful investigation of Revelation's complex ethical-rhetorical strategies reveals that John's ethos suffers internal conflict. When turned against his opponents, Revelation can abide neither difference nor dialogue. More essentially, John's ethos is itself unstable. At once he is his audience's partner and superior, a fellow participant who turns heavenly voices to his own purposes and claims the authority to bless and to curse. Contemporary interpreters may learn from John's ethical bind. To escape it, we must find a way to submit our visions to public dialogue.

A (probably revised) edition is published as Elusive Apocalypse: Reading authority in the Revelation to John. Mercer, 1999. Pp. xiv + 209. Paper.

Date of original posting on Revelation mailing list: 13 Jan 1998. Last paragraph added July 29th, 2000.
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