One of the main problems biblical scholars face with Revelation is deciding exactly what sort of interpretative theories should be used to understand the text.
Many interpretative theories classify Revelation as a historical apocalypse.
This means that certain biblical scholars maintain that Revelation is primarily a representation of an elite, or at least well-educated, male’s attempt to document historical atrocities and inspire contemporary persecuted populations to believe in a future time when those who are oppressed would experience freedom from their cultural bonds.
Other scholars analyze the book through apocalyptic lenses and attempt to approach the text from various angles, or even as a dreamscape.
When dealing with an ancient text like Revelation, we should not assign one fixed meaning to any symbol; when we do, the symbol stops being symbolic.
It is counter-productive to presume that an ancient apocalypse, specifically Revelation, has only one way that it should be interpreted.
Interpretation suggestions in this blog are made with a multifaceted awareness that several classifications of apocalypses quite possibly apply to Revelation.
In other words, the book may be simultaneously interpreted as historical and as one that is inclined to mysticism and cosmic speculation.
The historical interpretation of Revelation has been well-addressed. The following commentary is based on an exploration of the mysticism and cosmic speculation classifications.
David Barr identifies five female figures in Revelation: the Queen Consort, the Queen Ruler, the Queen of Heaven, Queen Jezebel, and Gaia, or Earth.
Queen Jezebel in Rev 2:20-6 most likely represents a socio-historical individual, as opposed to a mystical or cosmic entity.
Gaia is a unique entity who will be fully addressed in another post. The Queen of Heaven found in Rev. 12 is certainly an important figure – who may or may not be the same entity as the Queen Consort in Rev. 21-22:5.
But, for now, let’s really focus on the Queen Ruler in Rev. 17-18, or “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.”
How, exactly, should we form an interpretative theory to addresses the elements of mysticism and cosmic speculation found within this well-known figure?
It seems helpful to review other examples of mystical and prophetic writings found within the Hebrew Bible that use females as symbolic representations for collective groups of people.
Within prophetic and mystical writings of the Hebrew Bible, a definite pattern emerges in passages where the author/editor used feminine entities to symbolize a certain population.
Some scholars rightly argue that the habit of using imagery of a faithful or unfaithful woman to portray a collective group is misogynistic and reflective of male efforts to retain dominance in gender.
Although these advocates for gender equality appear to be correct in their condemnation of the various authors who wrote these ancient texts, it is not possible to travel back through time and erase the symbolism choices the authors made.
Instead, let us momentarily look past the misogynistic language and observe the pattern within prophetic passages which employs a specific type of feminine imagery.
The table below helps evidence the pattern of using depictions of fictitious feminine figures (faithful/unfaithful) to condemn the behavior of various groups of people – males and females alike – who have committed spiritual and ethical “adultery.”
Does the Queen Ruler of Rev. 17-18 adhere to this same pattern? There is a fictitious female figure present who is identified as the “mother of whores” in Rev 17:5.
Not only is this female defined as the ultimate unfaithful female of all time, her behavior results in the long-awaited eschatological destruction of injustices.
What behaviors are synonymous with the Queen Ruler figure?
Revelation 18 says that this entity has “become a dwelling place of demons,” inspires “all the nations…and kings of the earth” to commit idolatry, exhibits great pride – haughtiness, lives in excessive luxury, enslaves the weak, deceives the nations, and murders the “prophets…saints…and all who have been slaughtered on earth.”
The figure is described as the personification of behaviors aligned with the unfaithful female character in the above table. So far, the Queen Ruler of Revelation follows the exact pattern found in examples from the Hebrew Bible.
The most significant question, in terms of the Queen Ruler, is whether or not this female represents a population that has made a covenant with God.
Regardless of how diligently some inquiries engage the theological beast of patriarchy lurking within the mythos of Revelation, conclusions are often drawn about the female figure in Rev. 17-18 that reflect patriarchal characterizations of a human female prostitute.
However, the above chart indicates that there was a pattern of using the unfaithful woman imagery for a group of people who claimed to be “God’s people,” or have a covenant with God, and were not holding up their end of the agreement.
Most people believe that the Queen Ruler’s polar opposite, the virginal Bride of the Lamb in Rev. 21:9-22:7, is a symbolic figure for the “New Jerusalem.” Within discussions of these two Queens, there are conflicting theories of interpretation.
Granted, historical readings of Revelation recognize that both figures are representations of social constructs and human females; but, this work is about the mystical interpretation of the Queen Ruler.
The book of Revelation was written during the last half of the 1st Century CE after the Roman Empire destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.
Many studies claim that Rev. 17:9, where the Queen Ruler is depicted as an entity seated on seven mountains, indicates the geographic location of Rome.
Nevertheless, when one approaches the identity of the Queen Ruler through a mystical lens, significant problems with a strictly historical interpretation of the figure arise.
If we follow the pattern of symbolism present in the Hebrew Bible, it seems questionable to identify the Roman Empire as the Queen Ruler in Rev. 17-18 because the 1st Century Roman Empire was not a population of people who had made a covenant with God.
Defeated cities were often described as subjugated captive females in antiquity; but, if there is no covenant, or contract, between God and a population, does it make sense to conclude that this group would be capable of committing the ultimate form of spiritual fornication?
Technically speaking, the Roman Empire never fell. Instead, the population adapted when Roman Civil Law became Canon, or Church, Law.
This happened when Orthodox Christianity became the only legal religion to practice within the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th Century CE.
The first time the Roman Empire, as a population, made a covenant with the Judeo-Christian God would have been when Orthodox Christianity became the only religion legal to practice in the Roman Empire.
This fact seems irrelevant from a strictly historical view; yet, from a mystical standpoint we can speculate that Revelation may have contained genuinely prophetic information.
Catherine Keller suggests that:
“the Latin Beast or Whore of Empire – has become the primary symbol of the cultural Christianity that has surrounded the globe with its slick aura of sex, stuff, and violence.”
Traditionally speaking, the Queen Consort of Rev. 21-22 is viewed as the genuine Christian population who upheld their contract with God, while the Queen Ruler of Rev 17-18 is identified as a political entity, the Roman Empire.
If the author intended for the Queen Consort to be a direct polar opposite of the Queen Ruler, then it seems natural that the Queen Ruler was meant to symbolize a false Christian population who displays imperialistic behavior.
Keller’s research supports this type of reading by pointing out that “the apocalypse and its Messiah are inherently anti-imperialist.”
During the Hellenistic Period, when the apocalypse as a genre first emerged, it was generally accepted that human history could be divided into specific Ages – i.e. gold, silver, bronze/steel, and iron.
Between the 2nd Century BCE and the 4th Century CE, many groups believed that the present Age had either just begun or would soon end.
For example, Augustine of Hippo taught that a new Age had recently begun in the 4th Century CE. According to these traditions, the shifting of Ages would, at some point, result in an event where the righteous, or members within the group, would be rewarded and the unrighteous, or individuals outside the group, would be punished or destroyed.
Something fascinating is revealed when we consider Sir Isaac Newton’s calculations concerning the procession of earth’s equinox through the twelve zodiac signs.
This means that we can now mathematically show that sometime during the 2nd Century BCE and the 4th Century CE, the earth and its populations did experience an Age shift (from the Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces); and, when we fast forward 2,160 years, we see that the planet is preparing to experience another Age shift (from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius).
How would the above suggestions impact the identification of the Queen Ruler in Rev. 17-18?
First, the majority of the Westernized Christian population would experience a close encounter with C.G. Jung’s concept of the shadow-self, or repressed parts of ourselves.
In fact, the Queen Ruler may even represent the shadow-self of the collective Christian unconscious. This Westernized Christian apocalyptic unconscious would include manifestations of race, sexuality, greed, power, perhaps even religion and symbolize Western Christianity’s tendencies towards extreme violence, cruelty, and inventions of justification for xenophobic beliefs and destructive tendencies.
What would happen if those who are advocates for gender justice, class equality, and liberation of subordinated populations understood the Queen Ruler as the representation of the powerful imperialistic version of Christianity which has, for over 1,600 years, used Christianity to justify murder, enslavement of peoples, avarice, deceit, and the devastation of earth?
Would we also begin to question if the efforts of various movements and advocates for feminist readings of texts, gender justice, and environmental reform could easily symbolize the Queen Consort described in Rev. 21-22?
Perhaps with additional research and further exploration of this topic, we may one day fully understand why individuals like Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza have argued that Revelation is, indeed, a text that is wholly devoted to justice.
- Alice Ogden Bellis, Helpmates, Harlots and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible
- David L. Barr, The Apocalypse as a Symbolic Transformation of the World: A Literary Analysis
*This article was originally published at www.onesmallstone.org.