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Harvard’s Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza on the Great Controversy


Sabbath School commentary for discussion on September 25, 2021.

With textual citations from Revelation 1 and 14, this week’s Adult Bible Study Guide touches on the cosmic dualism in the Seventh-day Adventist fundamental belief known as The Great Controversy. Not mentioned is how the early Christians heard and read Revelation. Understanding that helps Christians today avoid interpretative timetables and ripped from the headlines speculations. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, professor of apocalypse and feminist studies at Harvard Divinity School, offers a historically-grounded hermeneutic that combines the past and present, offering contemporary hope for the future.

In grad school I read her book Revelation: Vision of a Just World, published in 1991 as part of the Proclamation Commentaries series by Fortress Press. It helped me broaden my view of Revelation and deepen my appreciation for the spiritual and political guidance the text offers. The publisher writes: “Rather than finding an individual Christian vision of a fiery endtime, Schüssler Fiorenza writes of Christian communities living in the shadow of imperial power, fearing denunciation by their neighbors, yet envisioning the eventual effect of Jesus Christ's resurrection and enthronement on the whole social order. In Schüssler Fiorenza's theological-historical analyses, the Book of Revelation is a literary product of early Christian prophecy, and her interpretation leads to distinctive notions of the book's composition, social intent, relation to the Gospel of John, and visionary rhetoric of apocalypse and justice.”

In her 2014 talk shown below, "The Apocalypse of John: Its World of Vision and Our Own?" given at College of the Holy Cross, Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza states about the book of Revelation: "Read as resistance poetry, the apocalypse challenges the symbolic discourse of the hegemonic Roman colonial power by rhetorically establishing a symbolic counter discourse that seeks to reveal Rome's imperial power as devilish, thereby weakening for its readers and hearers the persuasive power of the imperial cult."


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor elect of Spectrum. 

Image: Augsburg Fortress Press. 


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