WORKING WITH MYTH
Myths are often treated as abstractions, as stories that can be detached from the cultural and political systems within which they develop. Although such an approach enables structural and narrative analyses, it can overlook the contexts in which mythologies are useful. This chapter examines the use and the usefulness of myth in imperial cult settings and in John's Revelation. My comparison does not presuppose that John ever saw sites such as the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias or other imperial cult artifacts. The slight possibility of direct contact is irrelevant to my argument. I conclude that the imperial cult evidence gives us access to various levels of the dominant discourse in Roman Asia. John's text provides an opposing mythic interpretation of Roman imperialism. The archaeological and literary texts can be compared at the discursive level in a contrapuntal interpretation.
This approach shows that John's use of mythic traditions gave his project some continuity with the world he devalued. John established an eastern Mediterranean ethos for his congregations and articulated an understanding of history informed by the traditions of Israel. This resulted in a particular kind of continuity that could challenge the reigning verities of his day.
Mythic traditions derive from someplace; they are not neutral. A community's important stories tell us about that community's identity. In the Sebasteion at