Gacria Treto Review of Gonzalez For the Healing of the Nations The Book of Revelation in an Age of Cultural Conflict

González, Justo L. For the Healing of the Nations: The Book of Revelation in an Age of Cultural Conflict. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1999. Pages, ix + 117. Paper, $15. ISBN: 1570752737 Reviewed by: Francisco García-Treto This brief but important book is not a commentary on the Book of Revelation. Together with his spouse, the author has already produced such a commentary: Catherine Gunsalus González and Justo L. González, Revelation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997). Rather, in this work González provides an enlightening example of the way in which a new look at the historical context of the production of this ancient book, carried out from the mestizo/multicultural perspective that González brings to his expertise in historical and biblical scholarship, can open for the contemporary church new and valuable vistas on the message of Revelation. The book’s six chapters fall into two symmetrical parts, the first ([1] “Garlic Wars? Culture and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century;” [2] “Culture and Conflict in the First Century;” and [3]: “Culture and Conflict in the Early Church") provides a framework for the specific look at Revelation that the second presents. The three chapters of the second part ([4] “John of Patmos in His Cultural Setting;” [5] “Out of Every Tribe and Nation;” and [6] “Our Eyes Have Seen the Glory”) address the Book of Revelation directly. In the first chapter, González highlights “the subject of the importance of cultures, and of the conflict among cultures” for the current century in society and church. González begins from a homely anecdote in which different culturally-conditioned reactions to garlic, or to the smell of it, symbolize the uneasy circumstance of intercultural encounter with its potential both for mutual enrichment and for mutual rejection. Then he provides a useful mini-primer of cultural and post-colonial studies that should prove useful to many study groups. While as brief a book as this cannot avoid the dangers of oversimplification in comparing the Roman Empire to the postmodern and postcolonial world, it nevertheless manages to draw convincing and useful insights from that comparison. Faced with the crucial challenge which multiculturalism presents in society and church, González urges on the one hand a definition of culture that takes into account the permeability and interpenetration of cultures as ever-evolving entities, and on the other clearly prefers an inclusive, “according to all” catholicity over the rigid and centrally-imposed universality with which it has often been confused as the standard for the church's belief and practice. “True catholicity,” he says, “implies that, as new perspectives are brought into conversation on the Christian faith, new insights into that faith are discovered.” Indeed, “out of our constant struggle with issues of culture and ethnicity we may be able to discern meanings in the New Testament that we would otherwise miss - more specifically, that by looking at the cultural issues underlying the book of Revelation, we may come to see its deep significance for our age” (21). Chapter two provides a very useful overview of the conflict of cultures which took place within the shell of the pax Romana, helping to place the Book of Revelation as part of the extensive literature of resistance which resulted from that conflict. This reviewer would have preferred a better-nuanced characterization of both Christianity and Judaism than the one on page 33, where reference is made to “the resurgence of Jewish culture under the new guise of Christianity, which soon moved beyond the confines of people of Jewish descent.” González is most helpful in pointing out that, in Egypt and in Asia Minor, opposition to Hellenization first and then to Romanization was grounded in large part on economic issues that pitted the overtaxed margins against the exploiting center, and the provincial urban elites who profited from their relations with the hegemonic central power against the rural peasantry whose lot was made worse by that development. Chapter three turns to a presentation of “Culture and Conflict in the Early Church,” primarily to show that church as a community that “appealed mostly to Hellenistic Jews, marginalized both by the more traditional Jews and by the more sophisticated elements within Hellenism” (p. 53) and that from the very beginning harbored intercultural conflict within itself. For González, this circumstance became in fact distinguishing mark of a Christianity that “thrived precisely at those edges where conflict was inevitable” (53). John of Patmos, the otherwise unknown author of the Book of Revelation, was “a Palestinian Jew. . . living in Asia Minor,” (60) someone whose Greek betrays Aramaic bilingualism and who quotes the scriptures from memory of the Hebrew text rather than from acquaintance with the Septuagint. González uses him as an example of mestizaje, placing him in a broad class in which he has also previously put Simon/Cephas/Peter and Saul/Paul. In an insightful comparison, however, González points out differences between Paul, the mestizo who is at home in Greek culture and language and who has acquired Roman citizenship, and John, the first-generation immigrant, for whom the Roman-dominated culture of Asia Minor represented much more of an alien threat to the church than for Paul, who after all was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia. More than an apocalypticist, John is a Christian prophet, using his considerable poetic gifts and his deep acquaintance with liturgy and scripture to exhort the churches to resistance against “the encroachments of the surrounding society and values,” (64) that is, against the seductive powers that seek to oppose the reign of the Lamb. In Chapter five, González derives from the Book of Revelation three important corrections to the current discussion of multiculturalism in the Church. First, a warning against a romanticized view of cultures, which ignores the fact that while “many tribes, nations, peoples and languages” will indeed worship the Lamb, so will many worship the beast. Cultures and ethnicities, in other words, can easily become idols and instruments of evil. This can take place when they become “romanticized” by claiming for them “a purity that cultures by nature do not have” and “a stability which they do not have,” and “by forgetting that culture always exists in a political and economic context” (78-79). This leads to the second correction. In his exposition of the vision of the great harlot in Revelation 17, González shows that John of Patmos refers directly to the economic underpinnings of Roman oppression, and his treatment readily translates into a resource for our understanding of somewhat analogous circumstances in our time. “A multiethnic society is a microcosm, not only of ethnic diversity throughout the world, but also of the strife, injustice, and oppression that rule the world—or as John of Patmos would say, of the power of the beast” (84-85). The third correction is that, like the scroll first in the mouth and then in the stomach of the prophet, the multiethnic vision is both sweet and bitter to the church. It is not enough to celebrate a superficial “bringing a bit of color and folklore into our traditional worship services.” It is also necessary to swallow the bitter pill of relinquishing the claim to exclusive authority in the church, to accept “radical changes in the way we understand ourselves, and in the way we run our business” (92). Revelation, as González tells us in the final chapter, sets before the church a vision of a multicultural reign of the One who sits upon the throne and of the Lamb that was slain. That future vision must pattern the praxis and the worship of the church in the here-and-now, both as affirmation of the church's conviction and as rehearsal of the realities of the kingdom. We can be grateful to Justo González for this book, a useful tool for us in shaping that pattern.