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.
The Woman Babylon and the Marks of Empire