I want to offer some thoughts, once again, on the Harlot of Babylon from Revelation ch17, this time with special reference to the observations made in
For reasons which will become clear, this verse was postponed until I'd finished considering the other aspects of her character.
But now I'm going to be asking the question; why is this woman "drunk with the blood of the saints"?
We know from the previous chapters in Revelation that the Beast has a war on the saints, and "causes men to be slain".
We're now learning from this verse that the woman shares the blame for the martyrdoms, but we're not told exactly what part she plays.
Perhaps the connection would have been more evident to John's first readers, in the church of his own time, because they would have matched this image
against their own experiences.
So the best plan seems to be to draw upon the same experiences while reviewing the various aspects of this woman, hoping to understand the different
kinds of contribution she could be making.
"Twinned with Rome"
(N.B. This is a link as well as a heading)
I've considered this woman in terms of "the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth". In that capacity, she "rests upon" the Beast
as an imperial capital resting upon the imperial power.
Inasmuch as she represents the metropolis,the centre of the Beast's realm, she would therefore be at the centre of everything that the Beast does.
Including the deaths of Chrstian martyrs, if that was what the Beast was doing.
Certainly, in the experience of the church of John's time, their tribulation really began with events in Rome. It was the burning of Rome, in A.D.64
which propmpted Nero to blame the Christians as a way of deflecting criticism away from himself
Rome therefore became a place where many Christians died, in horrific ways.
It seems likely that the first readers of Revelation would have identified these victims with the martyrs seen "under the altar" in ch6, waiting
impatiently for God to avenge their blood.
Similarly, if Revelation offers us a future vision of the Beast, the metropolis of the Beast's empire would be at the heart of everything the Beast
was doing, and would be participating in everything that the power of the Beast was doing, including "causing the saints to be slain".
"The other woman"
(N.B This is a link as well as a heading)
I've considered this woman in terms of the unfaithfulness of God's people.
Inasmuch as she represents the "unfaithful wife" so frequently depicted in the prophets, the image implies a connection between her unfaithfulness and
the deaths of the more faithful servants of God.
Connections can certainly be found in the experience of the church of John's time.
From the viewpoint of the early Christians, it was the Jews who were failing in their obedience towards God.
And the breach with the Jewish community had serious repercussions for their own relationship with outsiders.
For one thing, Christians were soon gaining a reputation for dark and mysterious deeds. This was partly because they were meeting behind closed doors
(and outsiders were using their imaginations about what was happening).
But it was also, partly, because the Jews were spreading scurrilous stories about them, as Justin Martyr complains;
"You selected and sent out from Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up, and to
publish those things which they who know us not speak against us"- Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho", ch17
As a result, by the time of the great fire in Rome, the Christian community were already "hated for their vices", in the words of Tacitus, which made
them natural and convenient scapegoats, and suitable victims.
There was also the question of the legal status of Christianity.
The Jewish faith was a "licensed religion" (RELIGIO LICITA). This meant that they were exempt from taking part in the imperial cult, which was
otherwise expected from the empire in general. (In that capacity, they could be regarded as "resting upon"" the Beast, the imperial power).
But if the Christians were not part of the Jewish community, they were not "licensed", and they were not exempt.
In the early days, Roman officials may have been slow to realise that a new group was emerging.
But if the Jews drew the Christians to their attention, and helped them to understand the distinction, they would be more likely to take legal
That would explain why the letter to Smyrna, in ch2, speaks of "the slanders of the Jews" in close proximity to the warning that "the devil is about
to throw some of you into prison".
If Revelation offers us a future vision of the Beast, could the "unfaithful" portion of the Christian community endanger the more "faithful" in a
I've suggested, elsewhere, that the Beast would be able to find people, even within the churches, willing to compromise with him, to work with him,
and to accept his claims.
(I thought the "one-third of the stars of heaven", drawn down by the tail of the dragon at the beginning of ch12, might be an indicator of the
It only remains to add the supposition that the "compromising" church people would also be prepared to give information to the authorities about their
brethren and former brethren who were attempting to maintain the old faith. They would thus have a share in the responsibilty for whatever action was
then taken by the authorities.
"Mother of abominations"
(N.B. This is a link as well as a heading)
I've considered this woman in terms of the attraction of other religions, symbolised by the cup "full of abominations"- in other words, full of
The dwellers on the earth have been "made drunk" from the same cup.
This woman is now, herself, described as "drunk".
But if she's "drunk with the blood of the saints", the clear implication is that this blood is very closely associated with the contents of her own
cup. That is to say, with her idolatry.
Inasmuch as this woman represents the multi-religious culture of the age, she also represents that culture's intolerance of non-participation.
This was certainly a very important factor in the experience of the early church.
Christians were setting themselves apart by refusing to take part in the worship of other gods.
Of course they were an offshoot of the Jews, who were already despised as atheists for exactly the same reason.
Hostility was sometimes prompted by self-interest, as when Demetrius and the other silver-smiths roused their fellow-citizens against Paul, in the
name of "Diana of the Ephesians".
But the real driving-force was the fear of the gods themselves.
The gods controlled the natural world; they had the power, if they were offended, to bring natural disasters upon the world.
If the Christians were neglecting the gods, the gods would surely be offended.
So the Christians could be blamed, and were increasingly blamed, whenever there were natural disasters like floods, droughts, or earthquakes. As
Tertiullian later complained, there would be a cry of "Send them to the lions".
Thus the actions taken by the Roman authorities were often prompted by the complaints or anger of the local community. Religion-based hostility using
the machinery of the state. "Resting upon the Beast".
If Revelation offers us a future vision of the Beast, could there be a future version of this kind of hostility?
The Christian church is already, increasingly, living in the setting of a multi-religious culture.
But a number of other developments would be necessary, to match the circumstances of John's time.
In the first place, they would need to be a minority, in a culture where the other religions were more dominant.
Then there would need to be an activity of some kind, in which the church (on the one hand) would refuse to participate, while the dominant culture
(on the other hand) would refuse to tolerate non-participation.
This was the kind of irreconcilable collision which brought conflict between the church and the Roman world, and could bring conflict between the
church and a later world.
(continued in Supplementary post)
edit on 5-12-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)