Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins

Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins

Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins

Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins

Synopsis

After more than a century of debate about the significance of imperial cults for the interpretation of Revelation, this is the first study to examine both the archaeological evidence and the Biblical text in depth. Friesen argues that a detailed analysis of imperial cults as they were practiced in the first century CE in the region where John was active allows us to understand John's criticism of his society's dominant values. He demonstrates the importance of imperial cults for society at the time when Revelation was written, and shows the ways in which John refuted imperial cosmology through his use of vision, myth, and eschatological expectation.

Excerpt

Throughout the last century, nearly all commentators on the Revelation of John have acknowledged that imperial cults—that is, institutions for the worship of the Roman emperors—played a crucial role in the production of John's text. This, however, is the first book-length examination of the topic, mainly because a comparison of imperial cults and the Apocalypse requires an examination of literature, inscriptions, coins, sculpture, and architecture—a daunting task.

The diversity of the materials creates two kinds of challenges: disciplinary and theoretical. Scholars in the discipline of New Testament studies are not usually trained to work with the archaeological artifacts, and scholars in Roman studies do not usually analyze early Christian literature. As a result secondary literature has been produced for specialists in one discipline or the other, without much conversation between them. One challenge in the topic, then, is to foster discussions across disciplinary boundaries. the theoretical challenge is just as great. How do we compare the remaining imperial cult monuments with a text from a marginal religious group? How shall we relate literature to material culture? What social theory will enable us to draw connections? Furthermore, we have only fragmentary evidence for either side of the comparison. the second challenge, then, is to develop, from limited data, a coherent method for the analysis of artifacts (e.g., literary, epigraphic, numismatic, sculptural) from differing societal levels.

A third challenge arises from the categories of modern interpreters, who have often wondered whether imperial cults constituted a religious or political phenomenon. To . . .

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