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The 9th Archetype of the Accused
The Roman historian Eusebius tells the astonishing tale of John, last of the twelve apostles. It is said that he was thrown to the beasts of the colosseum for his Christian faith. But the beasts wouldn't touch John, and so they decided to boil him to death in a vat of oil. To the amazement of all, John looked as serene and well as ever, even up to his neck in hot tar. The old apostle would not die. And so, in the end, they gave up and sent him into exile on the Greek island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation.
Alas, the scholars have ruined another good story. There is a rough consensus that the John who wrote Revelation was probably not John the apostle, but another one. Not much can be said about the scene of his trial, except that it was because he was involved that messianic sect, which was generally accused of anti-Roman leanings and Jewish superstitions. He was sentenced to exile on that remote Greek island. Such was the punishment often handed to more privileged deviants.
And what shall John do with himself, there exiled as an anti-imperialist conspirator? How shall he ponder his wrongs? He will go into prayers and into trances, and will scrawl down his visions. He will write one of the most violently damning anti-imperial texts ever written. Rome is not a civilisation in need of reform. Rome is a beast; a grotesque monster, destroying the earth with poverty and war and pestilence. Caesar is no son of god, but a servant of the hellish abyss, a doomed tyrant and a monster that resurrects in one grotesque form after another.
"The time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth!" He says. "If you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed," he says. "In you was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slaughtered on earth." These are not, by the way, a call to violence, but a call to refuse and resist the cup of violence, which destroys whoever drinks from it.
There is something in this story about distance. The accused is cast so far out. He is so completely removed from the economy of power and life, that there is no point mincing words. He has no connection left to harm and nothing to lose, so he holds nothing back. From his yonder island he takes the whole thing apart with words, and sends the scrawling of his raging pen to his network on the mainland, calling them all to bitter resistance, to the very end. This raw and uncompromising clarity jars somewhat with the complexity of things, as navigated by those who live in the broken middle. That is its hazard and that is its gift.
Here is the archetype of the accused who find themselves so totally rejected that they never have any need to filter or dilute their critique again. Here are the fierce ones in exile.
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