Book Review: David Burr, The Book of Revelation (The Bible in Medieval Tradition)

Burr, David D. The Book of Revelation. The Bible in Medieval Tradition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 424 pp. Pb; $65.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

This fifth volume of The Bible in Medieval Tradition series, following volumes on Genesis, Jeremiah, Romans and Galatians. The intent of the series is to “reacquaint the Church with its rich history of biblical interpretation and with the contemporary applicability of this history, especially for academic study, spiritual formation, preaching, discussion groups, and individual reflection.”  Since much of medieval exegesis has yet to be translated these volumes provide a wealth of primary sources previously unavailable to most English readers. David Burr published a monograph on Olivi’s Peaceable Kingdom: A Reading of the Apocalypse Commentary (Penn Press, 1993) and The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis (Penn State University Press, 2003) as well as a number of articles on Peter Olivi.

Burr, Revelation medieval commenatryIn the introduction to the book, Burr observes that Petrus Iohannis Olivi wrote his commentary on Revelation with three books open on his desk: the Bible and the commentaries by Richard of Saint Victor and Joachim of Fiore. In fact, this book is a tribute to the long shadow cast by Joachim of Fiore. As Burr states in his Prolegomenon, his self-assigned task was to describe what happened from Richard and Joachim (twelfth century) to Nicholas of Lyra (fourteenth century). Because of an interest in the early church and the Reformation, the medieval period is usually ignored, perhaps considered less interesting than the other periods.

In order to set the stage for his survey of medieval commentaries on Revelation, his Prolegomenon offers a twenty-six-page overview of the contents and theology of Revelation itself followed by a rapid survey of the discussion of the book from the first to the twelfth centuries (following a 1976 article by Robert Lerner). A final section of the Prolegomenon is a short account of the development of the “legend of the antichrist” from 1 John 2:17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10.

Unlike other ancient commentary series, this book is not a running commentary on Revelation from various sources. Instead, Burr offers ten examples of medieval commentators, offering some background for each and an introduction to their thought. Each chapter begins with a brief biographical sketch and introduction to their contribution to biblical studies. Burr then provides lengthy extracts from the author’s major works on Revelation with some comment. Most chapters include a final section of “Readings,” uninterrupted extracts from the subject of the chapter.

The first chapter discusses Richard of Saint Victor. Burr describes Richard as a new era of biblical scholarship an attempt at an alliance between biblical scholarship and mystical theology.  Three chapters are dedicated to Joachim of Fiore (ch. 2) and his influence on what Burr calls the pseudo-Joachim writers (ch. 3) and Alexander Minorita (ch. 4). Joachim blends Daniel and Revelation into a complex tapestry of historical allusions. Joachim’s God “presides over the vast panorama of historical development, shaping it to his favored ends” (89). Like Joachim, Alexander Minorita “poured into his commentary all the historical the sources at his disposal” (180) and he is often aware of imperial current imperial history (159). For example, he starts his prophetic clock with Pope Sylvester (d. 335) and the opening of the seventh seal is the death of Constantine. Various angels are identified as historical figures leading up to the divine wrath in Revelation 16 (which was still ongoing when Alexander wrote). Like Joachim, he labels Saladin as a beast (159). But this historical reading is often with “Franciscan self-advertisement” (168). The olive tree and lampstand in Revelation 11:4 are “Dominic with innocence and Francis with conversion” (159). His comments on Revelation 22:11 “begins what might just leave be described as a stunning example of smug mendicant self-importance” (163).

The fifth chapter treats the Paris Mendicant Model. Two things are important here. First, the book of Revelation presented seven visions, and second, it portrayed a seven-fold Christian history. This tradition dates as far back as Augustine and Jerome, is a main feature of Joachim ‘s commentary on the Apocalypse and reappears in a group of five Dominican and Franciscan commentaries treated in this chapter. 

Chapter 6 is focused on Bonaventure’s Collationes in hexaemeron, hey speech delivered to the Franciscans at Paris in 1273. Although this is not a commentary on Revelation, it does reflect his reading of Revelation that is an “important contribution to thirteenth-century exegesis of the apocalypse” (231). In this work, Bonaventure pushes the exegesis of Revelation into a whole new phase, not refuting Joachim, but rather by providing a genuine appreciation of him (236). Burr interacts with Joseph Ratzinger’s The Theology of St. Bonaventure (Franciscan Herald Press, 1971). A major interest is whether Bonaventure actually identifies Saint Francis as the sixth angel in Revelation 3:7-13 and the Franciscans as the new contemplative order in the future seventh age. For Bonaventure, the sixth age began around the time of Charlemagne. The Franciscans were, in his day, “recipients of a great call but also notorious back sliders” (249). Following Ratzinger, Francis “anticipated the eschatological form of life which will be the general form of life in the future” (250). 

Seven Headed Dragon Joachim of Fiore

Seven Headed Dragon from Joachim of Fiore, Commentary on Revelation

Chapter 7 discuss the early writings of Petrus Iohannis Olivi and Chapter 8 focuses on his Commentary on Revelation. In the introduction to the book, Burr admits that two chapters on Olivi may be excessive, but he wants to show that Olivi drew on the Gospels for many of his views on the Apocalypse. For example, it his commentary on Matthew Olivi understands the “anti-Christ” in at least three senses: First, all those who impugn Christ, his person, his teaching, and the elect; second, the “mystical antichrist” who works within the faith to subvert Christ life in spirit; and third, the “great Antichrist” who works outside the faith to attack Christianity itself (273). These early commentaries demonstrate Olivi believes prophecy deals with Christ three advance, in the flesh, the spirit, and in judgment (285). Olivi believed he lived in the transition between the fifth and sixth ages. Joachim the sign of the new age and Francis was the key agent of its inception. I believe that the church was suffering through a period of blindness “which will carry it into the temptation of the antichrist in the coming sixth age” (315). He fears that the pope will turn against the Franciscans and will attack faithful observers of evangelical poverty. 

Both Petrus Aurioli (ch. 9) and Nicholas of Lyra (ch. 10) represent the Franciscan order moving away from Olivi’s Apocalypse. Like Alexander Minorita, Aurioli read Revelation as a narrative of Christian history (359). But his commentary is not an “ode to the Franciscans or even the mendicants as it is a triumphalist tribute to the institutional church” (361). Nicholas of Lyra is the first to read Revelation as a story of what will occur in the present and in the future (369). Nicolas used a “double literal sense” of prophecy allowing for one meaning in the prophet’s own time in another meaning for the future. Both can be considered literal.

Conclusion. Although there are few today who would advocate to a return to medieval exegesis of the Apocalypse, there is much in this volume of interest to contemporary readers of the book of Revelation. Each of the voices surveyed in this book read Revelation as applicable to their own day, even if that means interpreting the symbolism of the book as recent historical events and discovering hints of their own theological preferences. Many assumptions about Revelation in both scholarly and popular commentaries have roots in these medieval commentaries.

Although it would have added considerably to the cost of this book, the book needs a section of illustrations, especially for Joachim’s commentaries. Most of this is available online, it would benefit the reader to search for images associated with Joachim, Alexander Minorita, and Nicholas of Lyra.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The Rider on the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

The Return of the KingVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ. But as David Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The description of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of texts in the Old Testament and Second Temple literature. In fact, the rider on a white horse is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12). In the Greco-Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has many crowns, perhaps so many they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13). Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3.

A sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a). This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21), but the image appears elsewhere in Jewish apocalyptic.

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named Faithful and True. These titles are used for Jesus in Revelation 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b). Divine beings sometimes had a secret name or were unwilling to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked. Third, his name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word. Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: King of kings and Lord of lords (16).

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

James Edwards has recently published several examples of writing on the thigh of statues. The article includes photographs of statues of Apollo found in Miletus (fifth century BCE) and Claros (sixth century BCE) with writing on Apollo’s thigh indicating who offered a sacrifice to Apollo. These two statues date centuries before Revelation was written, but there are literary references to inscribed statues in Cicero and Pausanias indicate the practice of inscribing a name to honor the donor was well-known. Since all but one of his examples are dedicated to Apollo, Edwards argues this is an allusion to the Apollo cult, something he argues appears in Revelation 12 (Edwards, 529-535). For Edwards, the name on the thigh is therefore a “divine rejoinder to the inscription on the forehead of the great harlot” (535).

In Jesus the Bridegroom, I suggested Isaiah 49:14-26 adapted elements of Lamentations and Jeremiah 2 into a complaint song. In Isa 49:14 Lady Zion complains that her husband has forsaken her. The Lord protests, however, stating that he has in no way forgotten his bride. The Lord cannot forget his bride Zion because her name is “inscribed on his palms.”

While the vocabulary is different, “inscribing on the arm” is an indication of love in Song 8:6. Fox sees a parallel between Song 8:6 and the Cairo Love Songs (COS 1.150) in which a young man expresses his desire to always be near his beloved: “If only I were her little seal–ring, the keeper of her finger! I would see her love each and every day.”  As Marvin Pope suggests, anatomical descriptions in poetry are quite flexible. An “arm wearing a ring” in Song 8:6 should likely be understood as a hand.

But there is considerable difference between a mark or symbol on one’s hand and a name inscribed on one’s thigh. However, in the context of the final chapters of Revelation, the rider on the white horse is coming to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-8). In Isaiah 49:18, the Lord swears an oath that Zion will adorn herself as a bride once again as her children return to Jerusalem. These verses are likely an allusion to Jeremiah 2:32, “can a girl forget her ornaments?”

I suggest, therefore, that the name on the thigh is part of the marriage imagery present in Revelation 19-22 and draws on the rich imagery of Israel’s marriage relationship with God in the Hebrew Bible. As in Isaiah 49, God has not forsaken his bride Israel and is now returning to rescue her from her oppressors.

The rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b). That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.

 

Bibliography: James R. Edwards, “The Rider on the White Horse, the Thigh Inscription, and Apollo: Revelation 19:16,” JBL 137.2 (2018): 519-536.Long, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels (Pickwick, 2013).

 

 

 

 

Come Out of Babylon! Revelation 18:4-8

Yet another voice from heaven calls God’s people out of Babylon. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah called on Israel to flee Babylon; John is using language from both prophets to call for another exodus out of Babylon.

In a clear allusion to the original Exodus, Isaiah 52:11 tells the people to depart from Babylon. They are not to go out in haste because God himself will lead them and also be their “rear guard.” Since Revelation has frequently alluded to the ten plagues to describe the ongoing judgment of the kingdom of the beast, it should be no surprise John picks up on the language of the Exodus to call his people to flee Babylon. Revelation 18:4 and Isaiah 52:12 both use the aorist imperative ἐξέλθατε, “come out.”

Bob Marley ExodusJeremiah 50:8-10 calls on Israel to flee Babylon because God is stirring up the nations to plunder her. Rather than the Exodus, Jeremiah is looking forward to the fall of Babylon when nations from the north (Persia and the Medes) plunder the Babylonian empire. Jeremiah 51:6-10 is clearly in the background of Revelation 18:4-8. Jeremiah describes Babylon as a fallen and broken woman. Like Revelation 18:5, her judgment has “reached up to heaven” (51:9).

If Babylon refers to Rome in Revelation 17-18, some scholars suggest Revelation 18 is a call for Christians to leave the literal city of Rome (perhaps in anticipation of persecution). However, just as the call to “come out of Babylon” in Isaiah and Jeremiah referred to leaving the Babylonian empire in general, John’s intention is for God’s people to leave the Roman Empire. This cannot mean leave Rome and go to another place, since there is no other place to go! As David Aune says, this is a “the summons to flee from the city is used symbolically, with the city referring to the demonic social and political power structure that constituted the Roman empire” (Revelation, 3:991).

The reason they are to “come out” is so that they do not share in her sins, her since are “piled up to heaven” and God remembers her crimes. After the exile, Ezra confessed guilt “as high as the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). If they share in her sins, they will also share in the plagues which punish those sins.

Babylon’s judgment will repay her double for what she has done, a clear allusion to Jeremiah 50:29 (cf. 51:24). The Lord will give her a double portion of punishment to drink, as much torture and grief as she gave herself luxury

In Revelation 18:4-8 God’s people are called to separate from the social structure of the Roman world. This is a radical calling that is consistent with the rest of Revelation. In the Seven Letters believers are called to live different from prevailing culture, later they resist the power of the beast and refuse to take the mark of the beast even though this results in their death.

This is perhaps the most challenging portion of Revelation for Christians living in various cultures and times in history. How should Christians “come out of Babylon” today? How do we refuse the “demonic social and political power structure” and not take part in the sins of contemporary culture?  As 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, God’s people are called to be separate from the world, “touching no unclean thing.” This is not just talking about clear, ugly sins, but also participation in a political and social structure that is objectively evil.

In the context of Revelation, there are people claim to be Christians who do not separate from the world and do in fact “touch unclean things,” Jezebel (2:20) and Balaam (2:14), the Nicolaitans (2:6, 15) and those who worship the beast and take his number. These are Christians who think they are serving God while they participate in the imperial cult and all that comes along with that. Although the details are different, it is clear many Christians today have little trouble supporting and participating in modern demonic social and political power structures.

 

A Lament for Fallen Babylon – Revelation 18:1-3

 After an angel explains the image of the great prostitute, John sees another angel coming down from heaven to announce that Babylon has fallen.

Fall of Babylon, Angers Tapestry

This angel has great authority and “the earth was made bright with his glory.” Normally only God is described as glorious, this is the only time in Revelation the word is applied to an angelic being. Aune (3:985) suggests an allusion to Ezekiel 43:2, “the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.” The wording in the LXX is considerably different even if there is a similar theme.

The angel announces Babylon has fallen (18:2-3). The angel’s announcement repeats the phrase “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” from Revelation 14:8. Most scholars consider this a clear allusion to Isaiah 21:9, John considers the fall of ancient Babylon as a model for the impending fall of Rome.

But is the Babylon of Revelation 18 the same as the great prostitute in Revelation 17? Although the consensus view both Revelation 17 and 18 refer to, some commentators think Revelation 18 refers to Jerusalem. Iain Provan, for example, rejects common view that the chapter condemns Roman economic exploitation and argues the chapter condemns religious idolatry of Jerusalem, consistent with the many allusions to the Old Testament in the chapter. Following Massyngberde Ford, he cites the 1Q Pesher to Habakkuk from Qumran. In this text, Babylon’s economic oppression of the nations in Habakkuk 2:8a is applied to the “last priests in Jerusalem”:

1QpHab Col. ix:3 Since you pillaged many peoples all the 4 rest of the nations will pillage you». Blank Its interpretation concerns the last priests of Jerusalem, 5 who will accumulate riches and loot from plundering the nations. 6 However, in the last days their riches and their loot will be given into the hands 7 of the army of the Kittim. (trans. Martı́nez and Tigchelaar).

1QpHab Col. xii:6  And as for what he says: Hab 2:17 «Owing to the blood 7 of the city and the violence (done to) the country». Its interpretation: the city is Jerusalem 8 in which the /Wicked/ Priest performed repulsive acts and defiled 9 the Sanctuary of God.

These two examples do in fact apply the destruction of Babylon to impending judgment on the corrupt priesthood currently in charge of the Temple when the commentary was written. But everything in Habakkuk is interpreted as a condemnation of the Wicked Priest.

Babylon will become a “dwelling place for demons” (18:2). In Isaiah 13:21-22 the prophet describes the fall of Babylon and the utter desolation of the city. “Howling animals” will live in the city. The noun (אֹחַ) refers to “howling desert animals” (HALOT). The Septuagint translated this as “divine beings (demons?) will dance there” (καὶ δαιμόνια ἐκεῖ ὀρχήσονται, LES2), or “there goat-demons will dance” (NRSV). Jeremiah 51:37 describes Babylon as a heap of ruins and a haunt of jackals. The ESV’s “haunt” translates φυλακή, most often a literal prison in the New Testament. But in Revelation, the word is used to refer to “the nether world or its place of punishment” (BDAG), as in 20:7.

Desolate cities are frequently described as a place where wild animals live. Jeremiah 9:10-12 for example, Jerusalem will be a heap of ruins and a lair of jackals. Many texts associate the presence of jackals and owls with demons: “all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Lilith, owls and [jackals …]” (4Q510 Frag. 1:5). In Zephaniah 2:13 Nineveh is desolated and “the owl and the hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals” and “a lair for wild beasts” (2:15).

The kings of the earth committed adultery with Babylon through economic exploitation (18:3). Revelation 18:11-13 will pick up the economic oppressive of the merchants. In this verse, the merchants have “grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” As Richard Bauckham says, it is a mistake to think John condemns Rome “only because of the imperial cult and the persecution of Christians. Rather, this issue serves to bring to the surface evils which were deeply rooted in the whole system of Roman power” (“The Economic Critique of Rome,” 58).

I do not think there is a sharp separation between economic exploitation and the imperial cult in Revelation. Even in Revelation 13, those who do not have the mark of the beast cannot participate in economic activity. Those who “buy or sell” includes local merchants in every city in Asia Minor as much as merchants who imports goods from across the seas to sell at a high profit in Rome.

 

Bibliography: Richard Bauckham, “The Economic Critique of Rome in Revelation 18,” in Images of Empire, (ed. Loveday Alexander, JSOTSup 122; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991); Alan J. Beagley, The Sitz im Leben of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Church’s Enemies (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1987); Iain Provan, “Foul Spirits, Fornication and Finance: Revelation 18 from an Old Testament Perspective.” JSNT 64 (1996) 81-100.

The Fall of the Great Prostitute – Revelation 17:15-18

Revelation 17:15-18 interprets the phrase “many waters” from 17:1. The great prostitute was seated on the waters indicates she rules over the nations.

Great Whore of Babylon

Waters are a common metaphor for the nations in apocalyptic literature. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah describe the coming armies of the Assyrians (Isaiah 8:6-8) the Babylonians (Jeremiah 47:2), David Aune points out a similar interpretation of Nahum 1:4, the Lord roars and the seas dry up. In 4Q Nahum Pesher (4Q169 Frags. 1–2:3) the sea refers to the Kittim, the Romans. God roars “to car[ry out] judgment against them and to eliminate them from the face of [the earth.]” In the third Sibylline Oracle, “Beliar will come from the Sebastēnoi and he will raise up the height of mountains, he will raise up the sea” (Sib. Or. 3.63–64), referring to the armies of Rome.

The woman sits on many waters, upon the beast, and upon seven hills (17:1, 3, 9) and in 18:7 the prostitute boasts she “sits as a queen.”  The word here is the common verb κάθημαι. In Revelation, either God or the Lamb is seated on the throne (4:2, 3, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4, 20:11, 21:5) and three times the word is used for the “son of man” seated on a cloud. The word therefore has a connotation of authority, the one who is “seated” has some sort of authority associated with their location (Schneider, TDNT 3:441-42). The “one on the throne” is sovereign because he is enthroned in Heaven, as is the Lamb since he too is seated on the heavenly throne. The elders have some rulership since they also sit on thrones around the throne of God (4:4) The dead who are raised after the final judgment are seated on thrones and are given authority (20:4).  This future enthronement is promised 3:21 where those who overcome are promised “the right” to sit on the Father’s throne.

In the light of these observations, “seated” in Revelation 17 is an “anti-enthronement” of the great prostitute. She claims to be the queen of the word (18:7) therefore she is “enthroned” on many waters, on the “beast”, and on seven hills.  If the authority comes from where one is seated, there is a clear contrast between God’s sovereignty, enthroned in heaven, and the prostitute’s authority, seated on earth.

The readers of Revelation know who is really enthroned above creation, but on earth the great prostitute appears sovereign. Her authority, however, is derived from the beast (the location of her enthronement). The beast in turn received his authority from the dragon (13:4) who we know to be Satan himself (12:9). Chapter 17-18 forms a culmination of the enthronement theme as Satan’s representative is clearly seen for what she is, a drunken whore who makes the nations mad with her wine.

The ten horns from 17:3 are kings or nations allied with the Beast (17:12). But now both the ten kings and the beast “will hate the prostitute. It is possible rumor this is another allusion to the Return of Nero myth, this time coming from the east with Parthian armies to conquer Rome (Aune, 3:957).

The ten kings will make the great prostitute “desolate and naked and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” Aune sees this as an allusion to Ezekiel 23:26-29, those who survive the fall of Jerusalem will be treated like a prostitute, stripped naked and driven through the streets (cf. Jer 13:26-27; Ezek 16:37-38; Hosea 2:5, 12; Nahum 2). Beale, on the other hand, argues this text alludes to Isaiah 23 (Revelation 850). Although the trade of Tyre is described as the wages of a prostitute (23:18), Tyre is not personified as prostitute. Julia Myers O’Brien argues Tyre is not punished for her promiscuity, but rather the wages of her prostitution is dedicated to the Lord, in Nahum (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 69.

Beale suggests “eating flesh” is an allusion to Elijah’s prediction dogs would eat the flesh of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:36). The Baal worship promoted by Jezebel was as much economic as idolatrous and Revelation has already used the name Jezebel to describe a prophetess who likely promoted Christian participation in Roman cultic activity (perhaps for economic reasons). Like the fall of the great prostitute, Jezebel’s grisly death was “according to the word of the Lord” (Revelation, 883-84).

The eighth Sibylline Oracle predicts the destruction of Rome by fire when Nero returns from the end of the earth (Sib. Or. 8.68–72). Although this apocalyptic text is later than Revelation, the immediately preceding section in the Oracle is a warning against greed and the following section describes Rome as the “luxurious one.” Like Revelation 18, Rome’s opulence and economic oppressive will result in her destruction; she will be “utterly ravaged.”

Sib. Or. 8.37–41 One day, proud Rome, there will come upon you from above an equal heavenly affliction, and you will first bend the neck and be razed to the ground, and fire will consume you, altogether laid low on your floors, and wealth will perish and wolves and foxes will dwell in your foundations.

Sib. Or. 8.128–130 You will be utterly ravaged and destroyed for what you did. Groaning in panic, you will give until you have repaid all, and you will be a triumph-spectacle to the world and a reproach of all.

This rebellion against the great prostitute was prompted God. God “put it into their hearts” is a “Semitic idiom” (See Neh 2:12; 7:5, for example; Aune 3:958).  They have one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast. These infinitive clauses explain what God has prompted the nations to do.

The fall of Babylon / Rome results in great economic loss for the empire (Rev 18). Although the Roman imperial cult is certainly in the background of Revelation 17, it is important to not separation religious duty from political loyalty and economic prosperity. The reason people worshiped the goddess Roma, the empire and its emperors was to ensure their own continued peace and prosperity. Political loyalty, religion and economic prosperity were as incestuously intertwined in the Roman world as they are in our own.