The Woman Babylon and the Marks of Empire

The Woman Babylon and the Marks of Empire: Reading Revelation with a Postcolonial Womanist Hermeneutics of Ambiveilence

Shanell T. Smith
Copyright Date: 2014
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    The Woman Babylon and the Marks of Empire
    Book Description:

    The “Great Whore” of the Book of Revelation—the hostile symbolization used to illustrate the author’s critique of empire—has attracted considerable attention in Revelation scholarship. Feminist scholar Tina Pippin criticizes the use of gendered metaphors—“Babylon” as a tortured woman—which she asserts reflect an inescapably androcentric, even misogynistic, perspective. Alternatively, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza understands John’s rhetoric and imagery not simply in gendered terms, but in political terms as well, observing that “Babylon” relies on conventionally coded feminine language for a city. Shanell T. Smith seeks to dismantle the either/or dichotomy within the “Great Whore” debate by bringing the categories of race/ethnicity and class to bear on John’s metaphors. Her socio-cultural context impels her to be sensitive to such categories, and, therefore, leads her to hold the two elements, “woman” and “city,” in tension, rather than privileging one over the other. Using postcolonial womanist interpretation of the woman Babylon, Smith highlights the simultaneous duality of her characterization—her depiction as both a female brothel slave and as an empress or imperial city. Most remarkably, however, Smith’s reading also sheds light on her own ambivalent characterization as both a victim and participant in empire.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-7243-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    “It loves me. It loves me not.” This is the mantra I sometimes find myself reciting when I encounter the Bible, or people informed by its claims. Which phrase I utter depends on whether the text or its interpretations uplift, offend, or oppress me. Despite the subordinating rhetoric and violent imagery pervading the biblical text, or the negative experiences I encounter that result from an individual’s or group’s warped use of it, I cannot refrain from returning to its pages again and again—with a devout sentiment, no less. Some would say that it is a form of insanity—my...

  5. 1 Critical Convergences Toward a Postcolonial Womanist Hermeneutics
    (pp. 17-72)

    A postcolonial inflection of a womanist hermeneutics is necessary to analyze the figure of the woman Babylon because this combined interpretive lens helps to highlight the dual aspects of her identity as both a slavewomanandas an empress/imperial city. To be sure, both womanist and postcolonial interpretations of Revelation have previously been done by other scholars. To the best of my knowledge, however, no one has yet engaged in acombinationof these two lenses, which is the task of this book.

    Although the interests of these two approaches have overlapped—womanist concerns have included issues of empire, and...

  6. 2 Interpretive Foundations Furthering Two Scholarly Conversations
    (pp. 73-104)

    My analysis pertaining to the woman Babylon did not develop out of nothing. It was not a matter of immaculate scholastic conception. Rather, what I have constructed has its foundations in two scholarly conversations from which I have learned a great deal and whose participants I greatly respect and admire. It is important to note this because too often the advancement of scholarship seems to be accomplished at another academic’s expense. The very scholars by whom we are trained, on whose learned shoulders we stand to gain knowledge, we cut off at the erudite knees with a bladed critique. This...

  7. 3 The Book of Revelation Texts and Contexts
    (pp. 105-124)

    The question that plagues most readers of Revelation is “What does it mean?” What does all the symbolism, gendered metaphors, riddles, visions of doom and destruction—including that of a woman—and the heightened sense of urgency reflect? What was happening, or what did the author sense wasaboutto happen when he wrote this text? In an attempt to gain control of the vortex of questions that pulls interpreters into its winding and dizzying current, scholars have worked to determine the correlation between the situation behind the text and what is actually written on its pages. The range of...

  8. 4 The Woman Babylon and Marks of Empire Reading Revelation with a Postcolonial Womanist Hermeneutics of Ambiveilance
    (pp. 125-174)

    The woman of Revelation 17 is no ordinary woman.² She appears to live the good life. We find her exhibiting royalty: “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her a golden cup” (17:4).³ Even John himself is captivated by her (17:6). Dressed by John, she represents Roman imperial power that will be destroyed and overtaken by God’s empire.⁴ However, this is not what makes her exceptional. She is marked on her forehead with an inscription that states, “Babylon the great, mother of whores [pornōn] and of earth’s abominations” (17:5)....

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-184)

    It’s more than just interpretive business; it’s personal. What started out as an innovative reading of the woman Babylon, based on a theoretical comparison of the interpretations of my predecessors, quickly morphed into something for which I was not prepared. I expected to read the woman Babylon’s text, not to beread by it.¹ However, I had no choice but to succumb to this mutual engagement, since the more I read about her, the closer I came to discovering more about myself.² And oh, how I longed to know her.

    But I struggled. How can a text—a biblical text...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-204)
  11. Index
    (pp. 205-211)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)