The 3,000 Milestone is the most recent essay on the war by Stan Goff. It is written as US troop fatalities in Iraq have passed 2,950, and 3,000 will likely be reached by New Year’s Day or shortly after… before the Democrat-majority Congress is seated on January 20th. We want people to use it as they see fit throughout the alternative media to support and bolster the case for immediate and unilateral withdrawl of all US military forces from Iraq.

The 3,000 Milestone

by Stan Goff

As the grim milestone of the 3,000th American troop death approaches in Iraq, what can we say about the war that hasn’t been said before?

On September 7, 2005, I wrote a lengthy analysis-from-afar on political and military developments in Iraq, called The Danger of Iraqi Partition. On that same day, we were approaching the 2,000 US-dead-in-Iraq milestone, 1,892 to be exact. Just as today, in the United States these figures of US troop deaths garner the attention of the media, that still pretends the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, wounded, and displaced are a mere footnote.

It reminds one of the old Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, where the entire world exists as a background within which a white European male protagonist can have an adventure about which white males can fantasize. The media in the US is still completely the captive of the White Man’s Burden narrative, even though the term, “White Man,” has now been supplanted by “American.” This is evident in the reflexive valorization of American life over the lives of dark foreigners — which, admittedly, is necessary to sustain circulation and political clout in a culture of national chauvinism. It is also evident in the seeming inability to visualize any “solution” to the whirlwind reaped by US policy in Iraq that does not require the continued employment of US troops to occupy Iraq.

While this milestone will be used — as it should be in my opinion — to mobilize emotional support for the redeployment of US troops back to the United States and the end of the US military occupation of Iraq, I am going to take this opportunity — which it is — to introduce a more clinical account of what is happening with this war. It is fairly obvious now that most Americans want to be rid of this war. In a sense, then, the campaign to build opposition has achieved momentum in a direction that seems unlikely to be reversed. The question that arises now, and the one for which there is little satisfaction in mainstream commercialized or Democratic Party discourse, is what do “we” do? How do “we” get out?

The principal reason there have been no satisfactory answers to that question is that the majority of people rely on professional pundits and news models to acquire the baseline impressions of what is actually happening in Iraq. The account that is being propagated is one that is shallow, simplistic, largely inaccurate, and widely believed by the pundits themselves. They themselves are the captives of their own chauvinist assumptions and of the cosmic vacuums in their heads where the politics of war should be.

In the article cited from September 2005, I wrote:

I, and others, have said for some time now that Muqtada al Sadr is not merely a complicating peculiarity in Iraq, but that he may end up being the canniest of all the current well-known Iraqi leaders – politically and militarily.

Furthermore, I said:

The Bush administration’s principal preoccupation ever since April 2004 has been the question of Iran. If Iraq breaks up, the US will be faced with Southern Iraq – including a huge fraction of its oil – becoming a protectorate of Iran. Meanwhile, the US has attempted to build its bases – which were always the primary goal of the invasion – in Ba’athist strongholds. This was partly the result of tactical necessity as the Anbar, Nineva, and Saladin provinces were consolidated as centers of nationalist resistance to the occupation. The US base at Mosul, along the Tigris River, has become almost a city unto itself with a 65-kilometer security perimeter and a giant airfield.

This base exists in a sea of hostility, surrounded by an increasingly sophisticated guerrilla resistance, adjacent to Kirkuk where the Kurds are attempting to establish their future national capital through a de-Arabization campaign. The headquarters for this base, however, is located in the Green Zone – Baghdad, and the only seaport to the entire country is in Basra Province, which would become part of a post-breakup Iranian protectorate…

I went on to describe the physical infrastructure of the only hope for any group in Iraq for the development capital required to conduct future reconstruction — and satisfy the restive popular bases of the many ethno-geographic divisions: oil.

…The primary forces remaining in the Iraqi “government” are semi-puppets. On the one hand, they are dependent on American military power for the time being to maintain the current balance of forces in their favor. On the other hand, they clearly have an agenda that is designed to consolidate that long-term power through a pact of some sort with Iran.

This has created a polarization between current direct participants in the Iraqi government and the minority – strategically located and well-armed – Sunnis/nationalists in the north. That is not a cultural polarization but a political one that further entrenches the Faustian alliance between the government and the US occupiers each day, though there is no inhering reason among the general populations – who have for years seen inter-ethnic and inter-denominational marriage, etc. – for any pressure to partition the country.

The so-called Iraqi government does not in fact exercise real governance over any but a fraction of Iraq, and the “city-state” phenomenon throughout the country is setting the stage for a universally unacceptableBalkanization of Iraq, at the same time that it is developing the probable (and yet largely unknown) future local leadership of Iraq.

At some point in the future, most of these actors will have to deal with one another politically.

The Shia interim government and the US have maneuvered themselves into the same corner with antagonistic goals if and when they ever find their way out. The Sunnis and nationalists of the north have no stake in partition, and with the withdrawal of occupying forces would be freer to negotiate a political settlement with the south. This leaves one hugely influential local leader in the most flexible position in Iraq right now – Muqtada al Sadr.

He is the man to watch in Iraq for now.

Since this article was written we have seen the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton, two of the bigger macho assholes of this administration (which is a tough distinction). The Republicans were swept out of the Congress on the issue of the war. And the putative Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, was just forced by Muqtada al Sadr to embarrass his patron Occupier-in-Chief, George W. Bush, by standing him up for a meeting for one day.

The point of reposting so much of this past article is not to exercise bragging rights about some mysterious prescience. It is to point out that this “prescience” is based on the rejection of those aforementioned mainstream assumptions that Iraq consists of three tidily demarcated ethnic groups who hate each other and need to be controlled by a poorly managed, but basically benevolent US occupation.

The reason it seems important now to take this clinical approach to a very sanguinary war is that the failure of the general US public to grasp the significance of what is unspoken in commercial and ruling class discourse is precisely what prevents that public from recognizing the perfidious current position of Democrats, their vulnerability between now and 2008, and the decisions that we have to extract from them, by force if necessary.

The establishment narrative is that Sadr is a pro-Iranian; he is not. The fact is his base is more like Hezbollah. Sadr has always endorsed Iraqi unification. Bush’s engagement beginning early December 2006 with Abdul Aziz al Hakim — practically an Iranian expatriate — who is the political commander of the former Badr Brigades, a 4-10,000 strong militia whose officers were trained in Iran, is an indication of how little the US understands about the real divisions inside Iraq. It is also an indication of the sense of desperation pervading the White House… and the US foreign policy establishment as a whole.

The balance of forces has changed dramatically in Iraq in favor of Sadr, whose popular base is approximately 3 million working class Iraqis living in a massive slum approximately three kilometers from the Green Zone, Iraq’s main US military installation, and the only safe haven for the so-called Iraq government of Maliki, the inheritor of the Prime Minster’s portfolio from fellow Da’waist Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Maliki serves at the pleasure of Sadr, because without Sadr’s support to make a thin parliamentary majority (Maliki is part of the Nasiriya-based Da’wa Party), Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) would control parliament as its largest faction. The Da’wa militia’s exact size is less than 2,000, and it is restricted to Nasiriya and is not populated or equipped to challenge either the SCIRI or Sadr’s Mehdi militia. Numbering 10-15,000 when its field leadership was bloodied in the fighting with the US in 2004, Sadr’s immense popularity since then is believed to have swelled the ranks of the Mehdi Army, though the various estimations are too broad to have any meaning. No one except the Mehdi commanders themselves knows.

While the pundits continually refer to Iraq’s “sectarian conflict” as a Sunni-Shia division, the most important divisions from the point of view of the US occupation forces and the US foreign policy establishment are inter-Shia. In November 2006, the decision was made to withdraw Marines from the highly nationalist and Sunni-majority Al Anbar Province, to reinforce Baghdad. What is seldom mentioned is what precisely they were reinforcing, and how.

Once we understand that one faction, led by one leader, who has consistently called for Iraqi national unity and the expulsion of the US military and US control over the development of Iraq’s post-occupation foreign affairs orientation… and that this same leader is harboring a militia that exceeds the size of the American occupation itself within the radius of Baghdad and environs… within a stone’s throw of the Green Zone… the answer to the question becomes blazingly clear.

Neither Hakim nor Maliki can afford to appear too cozy with the American occupation or the Bush regime, without risking wide scale abandonment by their respective popular bases. Stating that the American occupation is “unpopular” might be the understatement of the year. At the same time, neither Hakim nor Maliki has the power to control Baghdad, the symbolism and practical political value of which is inestimable, without the American occupation (They are, in fact, unable to do it with the occupation’s assistance.). SCIRI has its main offices located in Iraqi Kurdistan (in the north), with its popular base in the south along the Iranian border. Ayatollah al Hakim, then, does not even have a safe haven for his militias co-located with his zone of greatest geographic influence. The only thing they are co-located with are the American armed forces.

It is not surprising that the Badr Army (Hakim’s SCIRI militia), then, has largely operated jointly with Americans outside Shia areas (against Sunnis) often using the same modus operandias the former death squads of US proxies in Latin America. The facts on the ground, then, include that Muqtada al-Sadr now controls the only viably independent Iraqi armed force in Baghdad; and that force has popular support as well as massive home court advantages. It is, in a word, embedded.

What all Iraqi armed actors have in common is the relative inability to project their force far afield of their respective geographic bases. Sadr has no capacity to attack anyone in Samarra or Ramadi (though the Mehdi have ventured some distance from home in the south). The Da’wa has no capacity to leave the city limits of Nasiriya. SCIRI cannot move its troops without US escorts. The Sunni factions are limited to their areas of operations (and there are numerous reports that Sunni nationalists are engaged in occasional heavy fighting against a small but stubborn number of foreign Wahabbists). The only force in Iraq that has the mobility required to do more than defend ones own zones of influence and project very limited offensive operations beyond that… are the Anglo-American occupiers. The only way to move long distances across the country as an armed unit passing through multiple militia “jurisdictions,” is with helicopters, or heavily armed and armored convoys.

The current civil war is taking place not for Iraq, but for Baghdad, and the catalyst remains the US occupation.

Poor Maliki, called to an audience with his King George in Amman, is faced with Sadr’s threat to withdraw from the Parliamentary majority coalition with Da’wa if the meeting with the Occupier-in-Chief happens. The resistance is targeting Iraqi troops for collaboration, the Badr Army is fomenting a civil war with straightforward attacks on Sunnis and false flag operations against fellow Shias, and the US is demanding Iraqi troops assist them in attacking Sadr City.

One day, Maliki stands George Bush up to show his own people that he is not a puppet; the next, he has to go crawling back to Dubya, even as the infamous Hadley memo calling Maliki a dolt is released and replayed in the media again, and again, and again.

Seeing this as purely power politics, the mistake that got the administration to where they are now — disregarding the roles of the Iraqi masses themselves — Bush then turns to Hakim, thinking he has now split Sadr off from Maliki. Hakim himself is now trapped, faced with the same specter that haunts the Green Zone, possibly tens of thousands of combatants, embedded deeply in their own community near the heart of the second largest city in Southwest Asia, and the capital of Iraq… led by a leader whose popularity is increasing with the “Iraqi street” with each passing day.

That Bush would find himself turning to Iran’s strongest ally in Iraq in his hour of need, an ally who seeks the partition of Iraq against the wishes of the US, to subvert the growing power of the most powerful voice of Iraqi unification and independence outside of Anbar, alas, is a world class irony. Sadr has consistently held out one nationalist hand to the Sunni regions, be the resistance fighters secular or political-Islamists. A condominium between Sadr and the Sunni resistance — which has already tactically defeated the US occupation — would spell the end of Hakim’s power unless he joined the SCIRI with a generalized armed struggle to expel the Americans.

Those who posit conspiracy theories, by the way, about a US desire for civil war and partition, are the victims of their own compartmentalized thinking. Te very first thing that happens with partition is open war between Turkey and Kurdistan… an utter political disaster for the US. We hear little of this in the news or in official communiqués, but Turkey is already turning into the newest regional tinderbox of anti-Americanism, at a time when everything that could go wrong, as the irascible Murphy noted, has gone wrong… most significantly, the ascendancy of Iran.

None of the war’s planners, nor even those who sat nervously on the sidelines while the Feiths and Wolfowitzes fantasized, ever anticipated that they might transform Iran into the regional power.

US forces have already begun drawing down into Baghdad for their struggle with Sadr. As Baghdad becomes the Americans’ new Kabul — a one-city occupation in a vast country — Afghanistan promises to grow into a deadlier quagmire. This is the stillborn dream of George Bush’s mad mentors; and this is the power of Muqtada al Sadr.

In order to understand why Sadr is so dangerous to the US, and why there is consensus on this issue from Republican, Democrat, conservative, and liberal alike, as well as the capitalist media, cannot be understood properly without deconstructing two other tropes that define public discourse about the war: The Global War on Terror, and the protean “mission” of the invasion and occupation.

The Global War on Terror (GWOT) is a quantum juridical leap on the international scene; and whether or not it will put down any roots remains to be seen. Its basis is a radical departure from the foundations of Post WWII international and national jurisprudence and the corresponding norms of diplomacy. It is not merely an open-ended war against an ill-formed taxonomy, like the War on Drugs. That “war” was still constrained by geography and manipulation of existing legal norms. The GWOT, which it must be said is a term accepted by both Republicans and Democrats, is based on a unilateral declaration by the United States that the entire planet has now become an indefinite battlefield. This creates the basis for over-riding civil standards of law and international treaties with the tempo-task loosening of norms that, in the past, has exclusively applied to antagonists engaged presently and directly in combat.

The putative existence of such a “war”– which is under vigorous legal challenge — has formed the juridical predicate of the invasion of Iraq against the UN Charter. The fact that the GWOT has been widely adopted and accepted, as both a “fact” and a universalized rhetorical premise, is going to make backing away from this abyss incredibly difficult, even for Democrats. They have participated into conjuring this notion into the public perception. What they had not anticipated, given the limited attention spans of elected officials, is how this prevarication has created a kind of one-way ideational valve that, having passed through it, one cannot go back. Once you acknowledge a Global War of any kind, accompanied by enemies that have been revalidated again and again in the public imagination, then there is the expectation that someone will fight it.

The problem for even those who oppose this transformation of legal norms is that the taxonomies of power applied to the military prior to 9-11were already obsolete. There may not be a way to return to the good old days of technocratic administration for international relations.

The neocons mounted challenges to the past order that were a profound escalation of conflict and American unilateralism, but the uncomfortable fact is that they did so based on very real changes in international reality. That their prescription has failed does not make some of their points — admittedly contained inside the logic of empire — less valid.

Mohammed Atta, they point out, engaged in a military attack against the United States. Until boarding the plane, however, he did not meet any of the criteria we normally apply to the definition of “enemy combatant.” Aside from a box cutter, he was unarmed, dressed like a businessman, and traveling legally inside the United States. Regardless of the provocative etiology of such attacks (US support for Israel and the House of Saud, for example), the isolated fact is that there are people who are organized in ways that transcend international boundaries, and who cannot be directly associated with an existing state, who have the will and capacity to mount military attacks against the US and its military-diplomatic allies. It is true that existing criminal statutes, national and international, are probably adequate to address this issue after the fact. Like any criminal conspiracy, the perpetrators can be sought out, captured, and put on trial. Atta was already in violation of a host of laws before he boarded. We cannot escape the fact, however, that military operations (which 9-11 clearly and unequivocally was) can and will be mounted against states and societies, and the scale of the consequences can only be equated to “criminal” through the exercise of shocking disingenuousness. Bank robbers do not kill nearly three thousand people, and they have no political motive.

The only way forward in mounting a critique of the neocons’ logic on this count is to go outside the boundaries of general acceptability, and become a partisan of curtailing US global power. This is, in my view, a completely correct approach. From a pragmatic standpoint, however, which is the standpoint that electoral politics invariably takes, this is a conundrum. Liberals find themselves forced to argue for conclusions that differ from their opposition, but refuse to depart from the opposition’s premises. It is not the neocons who have bankrupted liberalism — and it is bankrupt — but the bankruptcy of unacknowledged imperial power itself. The conservatives have come to embrace that power openly, and left the liberals in a position to deny the obvious and confirm their essential nature as world-class equivocators.

There is a logic to this equivocation that everyday folks may not be able to unravel intellectually yet, but it also has a smell. They may not be able to deconstruct it, but by 2008 they are likely to vote with their noses.

The only way past this for the people, unfortunately, is the long hard slog of public persuasion; and for all the reasons just stated, we have to make the difficult case that US power is instrumental and not moral, and that this power is malignant.

This slog begins by unmasking the mission of the invasion and occupation.

The mission of the occupation — even as its public face has changed to mask serial setbacks — has never deviated. There may not be any such thing as predestination, but in global politics, the US attempt to implant a permanent military presence in this region as part of its post-Cold War reshuffle is about as close as we’ll get.

The mission is to accomplish the post-Cold War re-disposition of US imperial forces. Given that the chief competition is likely to be for strategic resources (nothing new there), and given that US power now flows out of its debtor and not creditor status, the shift to a more military emphasis within US foreign policy is the only alternative to accepting a long, slow decline in US global power, similar to what the United Kingdom experienced. The prior disposition of US imperial forces was designed primarily to contain the Soviet Union, which abruptly vanished. The irony that the re-disposition has generated a fresh US-Russia conflict was among the unintended consequences. Oil is not only a key resource, the fact that the swing fraction is located in one geographic region makes it theoretically susceptible to military control, especially by sea. (That is the reason overland pipelines — about which we hear next to nothing in the media — are the basis of numerous backroom diplomatic wars right now.) Iraq was seen as the place where the US could build its new bases; and the purpose of the invasion was just that: bases. Big, permanent ones.

When the Bush administration threw the dice, the Democrats happily went along with the program. All of them recognize the necessity — from the imperial standpoint — to re-situate the pieces on the grand chessboard after the last checkmate. This looked as good as anything. So they hooked up with some “advisors,” the Rendon Group and their Iraq Liberation Salesman, Ahmad Chalabi, and started the engines of war.

Rumsfeld, whose resignation recently rocked the Department of Defense, fully expected to draw down to 35,000 troops by August 2003, a permanent and bucolic garrison residing in a peaceful kingdom of grateful Iraqis, presided over by Chalabi. This would be accomplished by a swift and overwhelming victory — shock and awe — that would serve the dual purpose of installing an acquiescent Iraqi government and demonstrating the futility of fighting Americans. The neocon advisors had predicted what they called a “democratic domino theory,” wherein the establishment of toy democracies within the Washington Consensus would begin in Iraq and then sweep through adjacent countries — where the grateful brown children would embrace their new rulers along with McDonald’s and The Gap. The target of their bizarre theory was none other than Saudi Arabia, though reality has driven the US again back into the arms of the despotic Royal Family.

As this is written, December 2006, there are at least 25,000 mercenaries — almost Rumsfeld’s original prediction of troop levels for August 2003 — augmenting a US force exceeding 140,000.

Rumsfeld’s recently “leaked” memo attempts to salvage his reputation as a fighter and shift the blame for the defeat in Iraq to politicos.

Not only did the whole US political establishment purchase this snake oil, they all made the same error. They made grotesquely ill-informed assumptions about the people of Iraq. The fact that they have replaced former misapprehensions with new ones does not auger well for them. This is the basis of their underestimation of Muqtada al-Sadr. It is the basis of their failure to see the emerging world historic defeat of US military power, and the approaching obsolescence of conventional military power. And it is the basis of the inability of the US military or diplomatic establishment to keep pace with the shape-shifting battlefield they themselves had a big hand in creating.

One place the battlefield has shifted is to Beirut.

Hassan Nasrallah and Muqtada al Sadr have two things in common: (1) They are both genuine grassroots leaders, and (2) they are both capable of playing weak hands into strength. Lending credibility to this thesis, there are numerous reports that Sadrist militiamen have visited Lebanon where they have received training from Hezbollah fighters who recently delivered Israel a stunning tactical defeat.

As this is written, Hezbollah has achieved popularity across Lebanon, well beyond its southern Lebanese Shia base, and has spearheaded a campaign to topple the US-puppet government of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora. The actions of the Israelis — arguably the only country that has a stake in seeing a protracted Iraqi civil war — in destroying Lebanon during the conduct of their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, has unified Lebanon beyond the dreams of any faction in the past. The gratuitous brutality of the Israelis valorizes anyone who successfully confronts them.

As always, the two-dimensional Bush administration analysis of everything led them to believe that anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon is as powerful as anti-Israeli sentiment — a wild miscalculation that has led to the definition of pro-American in Lebanon being “anti-Syrian.” Siniora followed his masters’ directives, appointing the majority of his cabinet based on enmity toward Syria, and summarily lost the support of a huge fraction of Lebanese Sunnis. He also sidelined Christians who seek continued ties with Damascus. (Oddly enough, Siniora served as Minister of Finance during the Syrian occupation.)

Siniora had shepherded through the resolutions to end the Syrian military presence in Beirut in 2005, in accordance with US desires, and had given assurances that this would increase Lebanon’s security. His American patrons, however, gladly supplied Israel with war materiel to shatter Lebanon in this summer’s horrific attacks across the whole country. Now it is the former anti-Hezbollah General Michel Aoun (a Christian) who is challenging Siniora for power, and he has clearly recognized Hezbollah’s clout, and welcomed cooperation with them in this task.

In early December’s anti-Siniora demonstrations in Beirut, numbering at times close to a million, it was not uncommon for women in Western garb with fully exposed hair to gleefully wave posters of political Islamist Hassan Nasrallah.

The only oil in great supply in Lebanon comes from olives. Yet it is now a crucial front in the Energy War of the United States, that same war to implant bases in Iraq as the key element in a post-Cold War imperial military re-disposition.

The country most nervously eyeing the ascendancy of Iran, via the Iraq occupation, and the increasing influence of Iranian ally Hezbollah on Israel’s doorstep, is Saudi Arabia, which as good reason to see these developments not only in geo-strategic terms, but in the simplified terms of Shia versus Sunni. Regionally, Saudi Arabia has always been the US Arab proxy, giving it tremendous leverage through the oil patch.

Internally, Saudi Arabia lives in perpetual fear of its own substantial and restive Shia population. They are only 5 percent of the overall population, but they are almost half a million strong, and concentrated in the oil-bloated Eastern Province.

The strengthened position of Iran and now Syria will force a more contrite American foreign policy establishment — after an appropriate period of macho bluster — to seek engagement with Tehran and Damascus. This will diminish Saudi influence, at a time when the Saudis’ domestic situation is growing daily more tense and their need of American favor has never been so great. For now, at least, the greatest overlap of Saudi-US interest is in Lebanon.

The expression of that linkage was the US-Saudi initiative to establish a tribunal to try the assassins of the anti-Syrian, former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. It was this tribunal, designed to go after Syria, which pushed Syria more decisively toward Iran, and mitigated toward Sunni-Shia alliance in the anti-Siniora campaign. Hezbollah, by the way, had also warned Siniora not to support the tribunal — which they see as an American political stunt (a fairly accurate account).

It is within this great-power struggle involving Washington, Tehran, and Riyahd that socially-embedded non-state actors like Nasrallah and Sadr — with their greater native agility, unencumbered by states of their own — are now positioning themselves to lead movements of their respective nations to chart a course independent of Washington in the future.

There is no sin, <>a href=””>in the eyes of Washington, more mortal than independence.

That is the reason that US forces are now being concentrated to go after Sadr — who they accuse of being pro-Iranian — a preposterous bit of disinformation, which nonetheless is swallowed easily by a gullible US public unschooled in complexity. With the SCIRI (the genuinely Iranian-based movement) still dependent on the US occupation forces, and the Sunni provinces now being abandoned in a broad tactical retrenchment, the conquest of Sadr City, a slum with the population of Chicago, has become the latest strategic priority.

Sadr’s Mehdi militia was as bloodily ruthless as any actors in Iraq when they were attacked during the latest round of provocations, even occasionally fighting the SCIRI between bloodletting with the Sunnis. They have staked out their territory, and their defense of it will be furious and terrible. But Sadr is the lone voice among the Shia, and still the voice with the most popular appeal, calling between battles for a rapprochement… and for Iraqi unification against the occupation.

There is no single force among the Iraqis capable of conquering territory much beyond the city limits. Yet the infrastructure for the oil (and not just the wells) runs across the whole country. The Kurds and Shia sit atop the lakes of black gold, but the easements for the pipelines run across the borders between Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

The popular clamor once the occupation is ended, to all the leaders in all the city-states now emerging across Iraq, will be for reconstruction, and the oil is where the capital will come from. The Sunni will require a compact with a Shia unification advocate; and it seems likely that the Kurds will continue their cautious march to independence, yet remain dependent on southbound pipelines to get their product to market. Turkey is unlikely to assist the overland transport of independent Kurdish oil to the Istanbul Strait.

This resolution cannot begin, no matter how painful it may inevitably be for a period of time, until the US occupation ends. As long as the occupation force remains, some faction will be joined at the hip to it, and with them a popular base that will themselves become targets. We hear much about sectarian violence, but very little about collaboration violence. Yet collaboration with the occupation continues to exert a hugely distorting gravitational field in Iraqi politics, and is the ultimate source of inter-Iraqi violence.

At the end of the article cited (at the beginning of this one), I concluded that “the greatest impediment to a political solution to post-invasion Iraq is not some cauldron of inter-ethnic rivalry. It is the politico-military distortion produced by the American occupation.” I have no reason, more than a year later, to recant that conclusion.

I have good reason, unfortunately, to expect as much dissembling as possible by politicians of every hue, as well as the imperial US press, to cast about indefinitely for ever more elliptical reasons not to leave. The plain fact is, the stars of empire are inexorably aligning against the US; and there is no place left to go outside Southwest Asia to gain the leverage required to simultaneously employ the US military to geo-strategic advantage and support the US military-industrial-service contract economy that papers over the deep economic malaise that is settling in on the United States.

The other plain fact is that until 2009, there is no President who will stop the war, so the only established body that can stop it is Congress. That is the task before us, then, no matter how difficult it may seem. We have to begin now, at the milestone of 3,000 to see our mission as one of saving what lives we can, as quickly as we can, American and Iraqi, and doing so in the most instrumental terms. Denunciation and lamentation will get us nothing, and we don’t need more trips to the Washington DC mall for mass demonstrations. Every member of Congress has to be targeted, locally, in her or his own district; and the process is educate, recruit, and target that member of Congress for unrelenting and increasing pressure. How much? As much as we can.

The senseless report from the Iraq Study Group, that had the press and Congress (especially Democrats!) palpitating for the wisdom of bipartisan imperial saviors, did not even consider an immediate, unilateral withdrawal. That is why it was welcomed in such a bipartisan way. The ruling class in this country knows how serious the challenge presented by Iraqi resistance to American global power is.

Our job is to tell first our neighbors, then Congress, that we want to divest ourselves of that power, and reclaim our place in the whole human family.

Apocalypse Now small group – Section 5 – Revelation

Apocalypse Now Small Group
For Lent — from February 25 (Ash Wednesday) to April 11 (Easter is the 12th)
All Saints United Methodist Church


Apocalypse Now Links:
Part One – Volcano
Part Two – 28 Days Later
Part Three – Children of Men
Part Four – The War of the Lamb
Part Five – Revelation

Part Four The Book of Revelation

Notes on Revelation

Note (1)

There is only one way to read Johns Apocalypse. Aloud, will full dramatic inflection, preferably with a good view of the sky. Minimum, aloud with that inflection. If you have to be alone to do this without being self-conscious, then do it. When you do it, remember that this is how it was written to be read, to committed groups of early Christians who were in a condition of extremity systematic persecution.

As you read, note the repetitious use of words and phrases for emphasis, as well as correlative words and phrases (looked, heard senses). That is an emphasis that must be said aloud with stress on its repetition for the emotional intelligence of Revelation to come through.

(Revelation 14) Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Fathers name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless. 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earthto every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. 8 Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. 9 Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10 they will also drink the wine of Gods wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name. 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord. Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them. 14 Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15 Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe. 16 So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe. 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horses bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

Note how the key images concentrate to form the meaning toward the end. This is how stories are read to listening audiences. Think of how a good storyteller reads to kids.

Note (2)

Ivan Illich, in teaching the 12th Century to students tried to show that

contemporary ideas of conscience, citizenship, technology, text, individuality, and marriage all began to emerge in that era at the same time, the twelfth-century world remained utterly foreign to a modern sensibility


How does the past bear on the present, and at the same time stand strangely off from it?

The Apocalypse of John for us, at least is a very strange document.

And what are some of the ways in which we can distort and misinterpret the past, including past literature?

One example might be Scripture that refers to Jesus healing. For us, healing has to do with disease, an idea that is associated with things like pathogens and immune systems. It is a medical idea. And it didnt exist in the mind of anyone until after Pasteur. So it is very easy for us to do something called retrojection, that is, to inject our current epistemology into the past an error. Jesus touching the sick was, above all else, violating the Purity Code disease was considered a spiritual condition that put a person outside her or his community a terrible and painful condition for people who lived before the elevation of the individual above community. This healing was a ritual cleansing that was only authorized for priests to conduct so Jesus was, in fact, provoking the authorities by practicing without a license. Thats far different from our miracle-notion of these healings and exorcisms. But our retrojections, and the retrojections of some theologians, have created a very fundamental distortion.

The Apocalypse of John, while strange to us, was very accessible to his contemporaries as accessible as the plot conventions of LA film noir is to us (think Chinatown or Devil With a Blue Dress). But, for us to get it, we have to take two steps instead of one. We have to study and grasp the epistemology of the day, and only after grasping that way of knowing and being in the world, we can really read the primary material.


Note (3)

Historical setting for 1st Century Palestine though John of Patmos was in 2nd Century Asia Minor (Turkey), so circumstances were constantly evolving even then, albeit at a slower pace and smaller scale than now. We need some idea of the strangeness, to us, of what human life was then.

These figures were cribbed heavily from The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion, by Philip Harland:

* 90% of Palestines largely Hebrew population lived as peasants. That term needs fleshing out to make it real. A peasant is someone who lives directly off the land. The peasant practices subsistence agriculture. In addition to subsistence agriculture, many peasants have historically served large landholders (so the peasant is a tenant, not an owner. Large landholders have typically protected their collective interests through direct of proxy state power through government of some kind. Peasants who own their own land paid no taxes except to the state mostly in tribute, not money. A portion of the crops, that is. Tenant farmers pay taxes to the state and to the large landholder. In 1st Century Palestine, these peasants also paid the priestly class through revenues collected via the Temple. In Haiti today, 70% of the population lives as peasants. In many respects then, Haiti is far closer to the reality of 1st Century Palestine than the places with which most of us are familiar like Raleigh or Durham. Similarly, the Palestine of Jesus was one where the peasant was overtaxed, overworked, and kept on the margin of survival by the rich, the priestly class, and the state three parasitic social formations whose livelihoods were completely based on the subjugation and exploitation of the peasant. This parasitic strata lived in the city, which itself vacuums up the resources of the countryside.

* In addition to peasant production, urban Palestine practiced a good deal of trade including imports and exports.

Applebaums survey of archeological and literary evidence for imports and exports, for foreign or international trade, is illustrative of the situation, though his conclusion that [e]conomic activity was predominantly internal is debatable (1976:669-680, largely followed here). Regarding imports, Egyptian grain was, from time to time, imported in times of shortage or famine (e.g. Josephus, Ant.15.299-316 [25 BCE], 20.51-52 [46-47 CE]), but Palestine was largely self-sufficient for such food staples. The Temple cult required considerable imports, as I discuss below. With respect to clothing, later references in rabbinic literature to sandals from Tyre and Laodicea, goat-hair from Cilicia, and fine linens from Pelusium and India are suggestive of possibilities in the 1st century. Among the most common items in daily use in antiquity was pottery, so it is significant that archaeological excavations at Samaria, Schechem, Ptolemais and Ashdod uncovered red glaze both from the east (in the Hellenistic and Roman eras) and from Italy and Gaul (in the Roman era); a stamped jar from Colonia Hadrumetum in North Africa found at Joppa (2nd century or earlier) is also suggestive of such imports. As Applebaum notes, Palestine was lacking in metals (except copper) and we can assume the import of all necessary metals. The principal exports from Palestine were olive oil (cf. Josephus, B.J. 2.591; Vita 74-76), dates, opobalsam and spices. The [519] Jericho region was renowned for its dates and date-wines, which were in high demand in Rome (cf. Strabo, Geogr. 16.763.41; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 13.44-49). Products from the opobalsam bush, grown in the Dead Sea area, were exported, including the sap, twigs and bark, which were used as medical remedies for headaches and problems with eye-sight. By the 4th century, Gaza and Ascalon became well-known for their wines. Long-distance luxury items from East Africa, Arabia, India and the Far East would also pass through Palestine following the usual trade routes. (Harland)

* When urban centers form, they generate economic satellite activity in smaller communities, neither elite nor peasant. The retainer class for the elite (like Matthew, a tax collector before his discipleship) lived in smaller communities sometimes, as did artisans skilled labor like Jesus and Joseph, who were carpenters in the town of Nazareth, or like small commercial fishermen Simon, for example. So while they are privileged in comparison to the peasants, they are by no means admitted among the elite. This middle strata in 1st Century Palestine was not like our middle class which is substantial and politically powerful; it was very small. Remember, 9 out of ten people were peasants illiterate and destitute. Slavery itself was a contractual institution, most commonly befalling its victims when they fell deeply into debt. The retainer class and the artisans were a small sliver between the small elite and the ocean of the peasantry. The retainer class works directly for the elite; and so it is privileged but totally dependent on the elite. The artisans, on the other hand, while still dependent on the overall system ruled by elites, had more autonomy in their lives than any other non-elite group. Historically, during times of great social agitation, these in-between classes are the ones who have the autonomy from power and the autonomy from paralytic poverty; so it is from these in-between classes that movement leaders emerge.

Jesus was a tekton, sometimes interpreted as carpenter, though divisions of labor werent as specialized then. The closest meaning would be construction worker, which was skilled labor an artisan, possibly employed in the massive construction of Sepphoris, a spectacular Herodian project only four miles from Nazareth.

* In a peasant economy that is also under imperial control as Palestine was under the Romans there is always a group among the elite who act as the colonial servants and liaisons for the imperial elite. Herod was such a figure ruling his population with an iron hand on behalf of the Romans in exchange for the ability to himself exploit his own people.

* Zealotry was more and more common a term referring to guerrilla-like resistance of the occupied Palestinian Jews against the Roman occupiers. Officialdom referred to these people as bandits and thieves. This kind of state agitprop is still used by repressive regimes to describe any opposition. In fact, they were not bandits, but political activists who had given up on peaceful resistance. Many speculate that the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus were, in fact, Zealots. Crucifixion, after all, was a sentence set aside for political crimes. There is good evidence that several of the disciples were former Zealots.

* There was no concept of disease. Afflictions, like leprosy (though this term appears to have covered a lot of skin disorders), were not understood as we think of them as physical pathologies, but as a state of spiritual disrepair. Ritual purity, not health in the way we have only understood for the last 150 years, was the desired state. There were no germs, no contagion, no insanity. I, for one, think that demonic possession is at least as accurate a diagnosis as most of the stuff in the DSM-IV. Id wager that anyone reading this probably has at least two demons themselves I certainly do.


Note (4)

John of Patmos was writing around 90 AD, as best we know from exile. The literary form, apocalyptic, was handed down from Jewish writers who began the genre during the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BC). The exilic period ended when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Hebrews to return to Judea (where the Temple that the Babylonians had destroyed was rebuilt by 515 BC). Because of close contact with the Persians being now under Persian rule Persian ideas penetrated and combined with Hebrew ideas, one of them being the dramatic convention of a cosmic struggle between good and evil.

Hebrews were so poor that it took 100 years to rebuild Jerusalem.

In 331 BC, Alexander defeated Persia and took control of Palestine for the Greeks.

Hebrew theology at the time included the Deuteronomic idea that God rewarded good collective behavior and punished bad collective behavior. Hebrews believed that their infidelity to God had led to the Babylonian exile. As time went on, and this tit-for-tat relation became less credible, a rethinking began of the relationship between the Hebrews and God. This rethinking, which was more nuanced and subtle, was eventually named the Wisdom Movement. The Books of Job and Ecclesiastes were both Wisdom Movement literature.

After many years of continued general misery, the Wisdom Movement influenced by the Persian convention of a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, in which Good would finally triumph gave rise to the apocalyptic mindset, in which the good suffered during periods of Evils advantage in this cosmic battle.

Apocalyptic literature has two important components: (1) the use of comparative opposites, growing out of this idea of a cosmic battle between Good and Evil, and (2) the idea of two ages (the present and the age to come). In troubled times, the present age was one in which Evil had the apparent upper hand in battle. The age to come would reverse this.

Though this Persian convention influenced Johns Apocalypse, the basic content of the visions is decidedly Christian. The battle has been won, once and once only and absolutely, in cross and resurrection. Evil is simply thrashing in a death throe. It is conquered and that conquest is manifest as we live into it by Christs example. This is the core proclamation of Johns Apocalypse.


Note (5)

Apocalyptic literature is not literal. It uses symbols that while strange to us now (because our language and epistemology has changed so dramatically) were widely and readily recognizable to Johns contemporaries. Images, numbers, and colors had specific meanings. Here are some of them that are important in readingRevelation:

White – victory or victor (morally neutral could be good victor or bad victor)

Black – lack or loss (famine, pestilence, bad health, etc)

Red – bloodshed, especially war

Gray-Green (pale) – death (color of a corpse)

3 – spirit world

3 1/2 – the amount of time (not everyday time) God allowed Evil to advance before He said, enough is enough

4 – created order a taxonomy of sensible life included (1) humans, (2) wild beasts, (3) birds of the air, and (4) domestic animals.

7 – maturity or completeness all of something (NOT literal)

10 (and multiples of ten) inclusiveness

12 – the people of God

Beast – a nation

Horn or head – a head of state, ruler

Another symbolic practice then was called gematria. This is the use of a number obtained by adding alphabetic-numerical values to represent a word. If and this is not a literal example S = 19, t – 20, a = 1, and n = 14, then my first name could be represented as 54. This is particularly important in unraveling the meaning of 666 (or variously 616) as the number of the beast. In fact, these sums represented two spellings of the same name: Nero Caesar, or Neron Caesar Nero, the first Roman persecutor of the Christians. The beast (a nation) is Rome, and the head of the beast is numbered 666.

It is not the sign of some anti-Christ in the future.


Note (6)

Christianity was not yet a separate faith, but a sect of Judaism. There were no churches as we know them; the churches were gatherings that met in peoples houses. There was a sharing of blood, body, and spirit which meant wine, bread, and a greeting kiss (that exchanged breath, then synonymous with spirit). The latter was scandalous to many, because the meetings breached class, ethnic, and gender boundaries. Scriptures were meant to be read aloud, and originated in oral traditions (that were maintained by women, as a rule). The Apocalypse of John is doxological. That is, praise-giving a form of proclamation.

It is not a prediction.


Note (7)

Apocalypse 5:7-10

[5] Then one of the elders said to me, Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.

[6] And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth;

[7] and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

[8] And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

[9] and they sang a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

[10] and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on earth.

From John Howard Yoders The Royal Priesthood:

To see history doxologically meant for Johns addresses that their primordial role within the geopolitics of the Pax Romana was neither to usurp the throne of Nero or Vespasian, Domitian or Trajan, nor to pastor Caesar prophetically, but to persevere in celebrating the Lambs lordship and in building the community shaped by that celebration. They were participating in Gods rule over the cosmos, whatever else they were or were not allowed by the civil powers to do. That is was not given them to exercise those other more blatantly powerful roles whether assassinating Trajan or becoming his chaplain was not for them either a renunciation or a deprivation. They considered themselves to be participating in ruling the world primordially in the human practices of doxological celebration perhaps in Ephesus? of which Johns vision of the Heavenly Throne Hall is the projection. Some would take Johns vision to mean if we keep the faith through these tough times, in a century or two the tides will turn and we can dominate the Empire the way Domitian does today. Others would think it meant: if we keep the faith, the world as we know it will very soon be brought to a catastrophic end, and a new nonhistorical state of things will be set up, with us on top.

Yoder is paraphrasing other theologians notions about what the Apocalypse means to its storyteller and the original story-hearers. But pay attention.

Some would favor this latter interpretation because they are themselves enthusiasts, believing themselves to be on the brink of the final saving catastrophe, as its beneficiaries. Others would ascribe that meaning to Johns vision in order to discredit it, since, after all, that catastrophic victory did not happen.

What then did the vision mean? Neither of the above, we must respond. Each of these restatements is incompatible with the hymnic text. The line about serving God [the priestly role] and ruling the world [the royal one] is found in the second strophe sung in the Heavenly Hall, the one concerned with the present age. The hymn of verse 4:11 was about the past, the praise of creation. The strophe of 5:12ff. is about the future universal consummation, when all the creatures chime in. Our strophe, the new song elicited by the work of the Lamb, describes the seers present, the same age in which the people of every tribe and tongue are being called into a new community. It is not about a future, either organic and therefore distant, or immanent and therefore catastrophic. It has to be taken as a statement about what they were then involved in doing. What then could it mean? What could it mean then?

Strophe – a choral verse-construction code.

Strophe 4:11

Worthy art thou, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for thou didst create all things,
and by thy will they existed and were created.

Strophe 5:11-12

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,

saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

Now go back and read the 5:7-10 at the beginning of this note.

Once youve re-read it, lets continue with Yoders riff:

Some readers of the New Testament think that early Christians were all poor. Another set say that not all of them were. But no one thinks that taken all together they were socially significant. How then could they think even in ecstatic flights of worship that they were involved in governing the world? That seems odd to us because we forget that what we have taken metaphorically they took realistically, that is to say, doxologically [as praise-giving proclamation of a New Life in Christ -SG]. For them to say Jesus Christ is kyrios was a statement neither about their subjective psychic disposition (as pietism would say) nor about their sectarian belief system (as scholasticism would assume) but about the cosmos, the way the world really is. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, the eighth article of the Apostles Creed, designated a role of cosmic viceroy, invisibly in charge of history, sovereign over the principalities and powers. That royal rule of Jesus at the Right Hand is the service to God and rule over the world in which they confessed themselves to be participants.

A Note further along will explain dispensationalism, a 19th Century distortion of Johns Apocalypse that is widely subscribed to today by churches we tend to describe imprecisely as fundamentalist. (The only thing fundamental about their interpretation of Revelation is that it is fundamentally and demonstrably wrong.) The true fundamentalists were the early, pre-Constantinian Christian communities those kissing-communities that met in houses, and that heard this Apocalyptic read aloud. Here is an excerpt from a writing by philosopher Aristides (A.D. 125) who was a Christian convert, explaining why he admired this sect:

They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. Those that have distribute freely to those who have not. If they see a stranger, they bring that stranger under their own roof, and they rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves sisters and brothers, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God. When one of the poor passes away from the world, and any of them see it, then he who sees it provides for the burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for the prisoners needs, and if it is possible for the prisoners delivery. And if there is among them anyone who is poor and needy, and they have no abundance of their own, they will fast for two or three days to ensure that hungry one is fed.

These folks took the fundamentals of abiding in Christ very seriously.

At the time of Johns Apocalypse, they were under active persecution by Roman Emperor Domitian who objected in particular to the unnatural Christian doctrine of the spiritual equality of women with men. Neros persecution two administrations earlier had been political opportunism. He had burned down a section of Rome that supported a political rival, and when that gambit backfired on him, he blamed the Christians then a small sect, whose strangeness made them an easy target. John of Patmos was called that, because he was exiled to Patmos (now coastal Turkey) a political punishment. The reason Nero is invoked in Revelation is that the originator of persecutions often comes to personify similar acts in the future. We still invoke Hitler to describe campaigns of Genocide, for example, even when the circumstances are distant in time and space from post-Weimar Germany. Any time we dislike a leader who is cruel, we call him a Hitler. With them, it was Nero ergo, the mark of the Beast, Nero, or in gematria, 666 or 616.


Note (8)

It is easy given our modern empirical habits of mind to dismiss this proclamation of victory as pure mysticism, or as just sour grapes. But Johns Apocalypse does not predict the future. It proclaims the past the victory announced by resurrection.


Note (9)

We lack patience. This is not a result of industrial capitalism, like our acquisitive individualism is. It is a refinement of that individualism that has grown since World War II in core nations, especially the United States: convenience consumerism.

As the tempo of our lives has been ramped up, the giant hawkers of convenience goods have created greater and greater demand for time-saving goods and services. The term time-saving is very sly, since we know that time proceeds steadily and inexorably in one direction. We dont save time, we appropriate more material and space in order to do more things in the same periods of time. This has dramatically shortened our attention spans, increased the need for more direct sensual feedback, abbreviated our reflection, and placed us under the command of clocks and pocket organizers.

Consequently, we have also been weakened in the face of setbacks. We are easily demoralized, disoriented, and overwhelmed. We have forgotten how to wait. That is the epistemological reality corresponding to our highly abstracted economic reality that has placed us in front of the runaway train of household debt, among other things, even as we face the specter of a long and arduous deflationary epoch. Lack of patience has real consequences.

So when we read about the victory already having been achieved, of the power of meekness, we need an example that can help us to face up to this tendency to become demoralized in the face of setbacks.

I want to use Martin Luther Kings discipleship as that example. John Howard Yoder wrote (in 1988) again on the subject of the process of history:

To see history doxologically is to own the Lambs victory in ones own time Martin Luther King, Jr., [was] one of the victims who in our century have enabled us to keep talking about the power of meekness. The power of his vulnerability taught us again something about about the weakness of Caesar. The provisions of the United States Constitution and its amendments and the solemn oaths of office of generations of White officeholders had been powerless, for ninety years after emancipation, to keep the promise of letting Blacks into the civil community. It took the principled non-cooperation of Americas Black minority to enable elite powerbearers, whether the shrewd pragmatist Johnson or the more programmatic Kennedys before him, to make small steps toward being honest with the American dream. It took the churches of the underdogs to move the churches and the synagogues of the comfortable and then only some of them to support the most modest steps toward the most elementary public morality in matters of race.

[P]rogress in history is borne by the underdogs.

This is a strange message indeed contemporary as it is when we are inundated with cultural productions that glorify violence, domination, acquisition, egoism, and power. The strangeness of Johns Apocalypse aside from its language and symbolisms is that its readers and hearers actually believed in the power of meekness in the victory of the slain Lamb and that this was an embodied practice, this belief, here on earth; not something in a cosmically separated realm of pure spirit.

Note (10)

Notes from James Efirds Revelation Bible Study guide:

Written as a series of self-contained visionary units. Each describes something going on at that time and place with descriptions of the events given in symbolic (but not secret) terms [some listed above]

Essential to read apocalyptic text with understanding of these symbols and images to discern the message.

As Jews left Palestine and Christian movement became basically a Gentile group, apocalyptic style of writing fell away and early Church lost understanding of apocalyptic symbolism.

By end of 2nd Century AD, the church fathers already were puzzled by symbols of apocalyptic literature.


Note (11)

Efirds Notes (paraphrased)

Rev. 1-3

7 churches, stars (angels), lampstands, etc. Jewish menorah is a seven-branch candelabra. Seven indicates completeness. There were more than seven churches in Asia Minor; but John lists 7, in order along a well-known postal route, just as the New Testament lists 12 disciples, though there are far more because 7 means complete or total, and 12 means the people of God (12 tribes of Israel).

Seven churches, each with its own angel (also a popular convention then).

Letters to the seven churches, each contains praise and censure, and each is encouraged to keep the faith. Ephesus (2:1) is told that it is in danger of allowing sanctimony to cast a shadow on love. Nicolaitans (2:6) is warned that it is slipping toward a Gnostic heresy (an elaborate cosmology of intermediate beings between humans and God, with ascetic and libertine sects. Pergamum (2:12) is cited for its steadfastness even as it is co-located with Satan (Roman worship temples). Sardis (3:1) is moribund and in danger. Laodicea (3:14) is called lukewarm, an accusation of cheap grace, smugness, an excess of comfort and a word play since a warm stream from an upstream hot spring was famous in Laodicea.

Rev. 4-5

Rainbow is an Old Testament reference, when God promised Noah that God would not destroy humanity again. This was a necessary reminder under the stern circumstances of Domitians persecution.

24 is multiple of 12 (4:4), people of God, and two 12s is two groups, one the old community and one the new community.

Four: an apocalyptic number representing created order (wild beasts, domestic animals, birds, humans). These visions are to be attended by all created order. (Interpretations that the four refers to the gospels were the result of the loss of ability to decode apocalyptic numerical references.)

The scroll (Rev. 5) is written on both sides (normal scrolls had a smooth and rough side recto and verso), usually only written on the recto side. Writing on both sides means that the document is extremely important.

Opened by the slaughtered lamb a paradoxical figure of Jesus the Christ, since this whole set of visionary units proclaims a great victory. Thousands (multiples of ten inclusion) praise the lamb. (5:11)

Rev. 6

Seven cycles recapitulate the lambs triumph, each ending very badly for the enemies of Gods people.

Et cetera.

This is how one can go through Revelation reading aloud getting the sense of how dangerous this literature was for its author, and how defiant. Imprison us, torture us, kill us but out proclamation stands. Christ is sovereign, no other, not even Caesar.


Note (12)

Now that we know what Revelation is about the proclamation to a community suffering persecution and what it is not a prediction of the future, and now that we have some basic examples, as well as Mickey Efirds scholarship, to help us make the jump back into 90-95 AD, we can re-claim Revelation from the Darbyist (dispensationalist) accounts and proudly acknowledge that this Book is part of our canon.


Note (13)

I strongly urge readers to at least read the Preface of Harry Maiers Apocalypse Recalled,


Note (14)

Read all of Ted Grimsruds Revealing a New World: Power According to Biblical Apocalyptic,


Closing Quote

One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.