"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Patmos and the Apocalypse

Though the Book of Revelation features seldom in Byzantine liturgics, the other Johannine texts are read regularly. A new book fills a lacuna in the study of John and the geographical context which shaped his most controversial book: Ian Boxall, Patmos in the Reception History of the Apocalypse (Oxford, 2013), 272pp + 8 colour plates.

About this book we are told:
  • First systematic study of Patmos in the reception history of the Apocalypse
  • Wide-ranging approach to reception history, embracing sermons, hymns, liturgical texts, poetry, and travel books as well as commentaries
  • Includes popular and marginal as well as mainstream and magisterial interpreters
  • Contains a chapter on the interpretation of Patmos in visual art accompanied by colour illustrations
  • Explores the wider implications of reception history for critical biblical scholarship
This monograph explores the significance accorded to John's island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9) within the wider reception history of the Apocalypse. In contrast to the relatively scant attention paid to John's island in modern commentaries, this reception-historical survey reveals both the greater prominence accorded to Patmos by earlier interpreters, and the richer diversity of readings the text has provoked. These include interest in the physical character of Patmos and its significance as an island; the date and reason for John's sojourn there; attempts to locate Patmos in a geography which is sometimes more mythical than literal; the meaning of the name 'Patmos' in the context of a biblical book which treats other place-names symbolically. This diversity is supported by a close reading of Rev. 1:9, which highlights the extent to which even its literal sense is highly ambiguous.

Ian Boxall brings together for the first time in a coherent narrative a wide range of interpretations of Patmos, reflecting different chronological periods, cultural contexts, and Christian traditions. Boxall understands biblical interpretation broadly, to include interpretations in biographical traditions about John, sermons, liturgy, and visual art as well as biblical commentaries.He also considers popular and marginal readings alongside magisterial and centrist ones, and draws analogies between similar hermeneutical strategies across the centuries. In the final chapter Boxall explores the wider implications of his study for biblical scholarship, advocating an approach which encourages use of the imagination and reader participation, and which works with a broader concept of 'meaning' than traditional historical criticism.

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