Windows to the polemics against the so-called Jews and Jezebel in Revelation: insights from historical and co(n)textual analysis
The thesis mainly studies social-historical co(n)texts to understand the polemic in Revelation against the so-called ‘Jews’ and a self-professed prophetess named ‘Jezebel’ (Rev 2-3). The enquiry centres on two areas: (1) the underlying issues to the polemic against the abovenamed contenders, and (2) a reading of a polemical technique in the text against prophetess ‘Jezebel’ through a specific web of associations involving two ‘Jezebels’ and a great harlot. Preliminary studies provide the framework for the main enquiry. ‘Historical anchorage’ is attained in the echoes/allusions of the beast from the sea-abyss to emperor Titus (Ch. 2) and the ‘Satanic trio’ and their cult (Rev 13) to the Flavian dynasty and cult (Ch. 3). A real crisis for Christians is seen late in Domitian’s time involving pressure from the Flavian provincial temple, widespread false accusations of άθεότηζ άσέβεια or maiestas and pressures from Domitian’s rigorous exaction of the Jewish tax. These matters are seen to implicate both Jewish and Gentile Christians (Ch. 4). The figure of the beasts, the social pressure from the imperial cult, and the vulnerability of Christians reflected in these preliminary studies contribute to a fuller understanding of the anti-Judaistic polemic. There are reasons to think that the anti-Judaistic polemic in Rev 2:9-10 and 3:9 is not aimed at the Jewish community per se, but acts to discourage Christians from feigning affiliation with the synagogue to escape social pressure from the imperial cult. There is a growing importance of the imperial cult towards the end of the first century C.E. in Asia Minor, and a judaizing tendency among some Christians there late first century and beyond. Importantly, Rev 14:9- 11 reflects the author’s major concern about (1) participation in the imperial cult and (2) Christian ‘judaizing’ behaviour (the mark of beast as tefillin worn by outsiders to Rabbinic Judaism). Under the author’s creative hand, the beast from the land/false prophet becomes the ‘Satanic’ source of pressure to these two aspects (cf. 13:11-17; Ch. 5). The second major part demonstrates a polemical technique in the text that binds the prophetess ‘Jezebel’ with an OT Queen and the Great Harlot (Rev 17-18). Social meals with drinking parties in guilds/associations and the imperial cult could have been a common context for allurements to sexual immorality and eating idol-food that ‘Jezebel’ advocates. I construct a picture of the prophetess ‘Jezebel’, who perhaps doubles as a patroness of a trade guild incorporating members from the Thyatiran church. Pagan ‘mysteries’ could have been a part of her activities (Ch. 6). I also examine the Great Harlot within the Graeco-Roman context giving attention to her depiction as tyrannical and sexually immoral queens and assimilated goddesses, such as Isis, Cybele, Aphrodite and Roma (Ch. 7). The OT Queen Jezebel is also studied within her social-historical context. She is seen to take on the image of the ‘woman at the window’ (2 Kgs 9:30), reflective of goddess Astarte or her temple servant. Her role as the ‘הבׂבג’ (great lady; 2 Kgs 10:13) and queen mother also fits that of another goddess, Asherah, whose prophets she hosts (Ch. 8). The destruction of Queen Jezebel and that of the Great Harlot contain a polemic against pagan deities they both embody. The prophetess veering into pagan grounds of idolatry is bound tightly with them and is indirectly castigated for her syncretistic practices (Ch. 9). Overall, the author’s polemic in Revelation acts to deter Christians from veering into the grounds of ‘Satan’—the imperial cult and the synagogue (as the author puts it)—and against behaviours, such as sexual license and eating food offered to idols, that would allow Christians to easily enter contexts involving pagan worship.