Sadomasochism and the Apocalypse of John: Exegesis, Sensemaking and Pain

In: Biblical Interpretation
Peter-Ben Smit Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands

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This essay proceeds from a modern sensitivity with regard to suffering and violence in canonical texts and draws on a modern phenomenon, sadomasochism (in particular masochism and appertaining theory, enhanced with theory concerning torture and pain), in order to understand the dynamics of suffering and its interpretation in the Apocalypse of John. The result of the paper is a contribution to the question what role pain and ­suffering play in the Apocalypse of John, as well as to the question to what extent comparing contemporary cultural phenomena and their analysis can contribute to the understanding of ancient texts. The paper also seeks to move beyond the rather pejorative and unnuanced use of the term ‘sadomasochistic’ in relation to the Apocalypse of John that has been used here and there in order to condemn the violence contained in the work (and, in the process, shedding rather shady light on BDSM practicioners).

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