Like Martin Luther, Revelation is not my favorite book of the Bible. No book has made crazy Christians crazier. Crazy Christians scare me.
Speaking of being scared, the book of Revelation scares me, but not in perhaps the way you might think. Revelation’s violence is scary and inexcusable, however, I have another aspect of Revelation in mind: the wealth of the great Whore.
In the 17th chapter of Revelation John describes seeing the judgment of the Great Whore who is identified as Babylon. Babylon, you will recall, destroyed the first Jerusalem temple in the sixth century, B.C.E. For John’s audience, Babylon is obviously being used to refer to Rome. In John’s time, Rome was “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:18)
Lynn Huber, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University, in “Gazing at the Whore: Reading Revelation Queerly” (chapter in Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Bible Scholarship, Edited by Teresa J. Hornsby and Ken Stone), observes that Revelation underscores the Whore’s affluence. “Revelation emphasizes the Whore’s access to precious and exotic goods (Royalty 1998, 63-65). She is clothed in purple and scarlet, luxury fabrics in the ancient world, and in precious gems, stones, and gold. (17:4). In the next chapter (Rev. 18), the luxuries of the Whore are cataloged in a description of her destruction:
And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for (Babylon), since no one buys their cargo anymore. Cargo of gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet, and all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory. . wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves – and human lives. ‘The fruit which satisfied your soul has gone from you, and all the dainties and splendor are lost to you, and they will never be found again!’ The merchants of these things, those who became wealthy from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls!’ (Revelation 18:11-16) [pp. 311-312]
“Elsewhere in Revelation John alludes to the empire’s economic exploitation of Asia Minor, one of Rome’s sources for olive oil and wine (6:5-6; Howard Brook and Gwythere 1999, 98-99). Likewise, the reference to slaves and human lives, listed like other forms of cargo, offers a grim reminder that imperial systems rely upon the commoditization of individuals.” [p. 312] “The Whore literally rides upon the backs of those who finance and empower her (17:9-14). . .The Whore’s influence upon the people of the earth, according to John, impairs their judgment and makes them as delusional or as drunk as the Whore who carries her own large, golden cup (17:4)” [p. 312]
Guess which country is the richest country in today’s world.
As a Christian living in the United States, what scares me is that I am forced to read Revelation as if the United States is the Great Whore. Even scarier: the thoughts of how I should change, the church should change, the United States should change, the world should change, in light of the book of Revelation’s revelations about the Great Whore.