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RE: [revelation-list] Re: Spectacles of Empire

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  • David L Barr
    I want to endorse Lyn s comment about Chris book. I had a chance to review it for CBQ; I ll paste it below for those interested. David L. Barr Wright State
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 16, 2006
      I want to endorse Lyn's comment about Chris' book. I had a chance to review
      it for CBQ; I'll paste it below for those interested.

      David L. Barr
      Wright State University

      -----Original Message-----
      From: revelation-list@yahoogroups.com
      [mailto:revelation-list@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Lyn
      Sent: Saturday, October 14, 2006 3:44 PM
      To: revelation-list@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [revelation-list] Re: Spectacles of Empire

      Actually, Spectacles of Empire is a well written and insightful work.
      I would highly recommend it to anyone who is doing work on Revelation in
      relation to the Roman world. If you want more information on it, I believe
      there was recently a review of it on RBL.

      L. Huber
      Elon University

      ---------------------Review forthcoming in Catholic Biblical
      Christopher A. Frilingos, Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the
      Book of Revelation (Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion;
      Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). Pp. viii + 184. $35.

      This is a difficult book, difficult to grasp and even more difficult to
      apprise briefly. Not only does it employ a set of methods and materials
      rarely used by New Testament scholars, but it also marshals its arguments in
      an allusive fashion designed to produce insight in the reader rather than in
      a strictly propositional form. This is a case not so much argued as shown
      (a method quite in keeping with its major concern with spectacle). Still,
      there is an argument.
      Frilingos attempts to do two things. First, he explores the role of
      spectacles in Roman culture and politics, and, second, he shows how the
      Apocalypse fits that culture. To state the case baldly (and perhaps badly):
      just as joining in the bloody spectacle of the arena produced better Romans,
      so joining in the bloody spectacle of the Apocalypse produced better
      Christians. So unlike most commentators, F. explores what John's work shares
      with its culture, indeed, sees it as "an expression of Roman culture" (p.
      Frilingos wants to know what ancient Christians found appealing about the
      book of Revelation (p. 1). Why was this spectacle of "monsters and martyrs"
      so compelling? This leads him to ask further questions: What did it mean to
      view a spectacle? How did John's world understand sight? How were seeing
      and being seen related to concepts of virtue (and especially to
      masculinity)? How do characters in the Apocalypse function as spectators
      (the first act of the martyr is to view something).
      Armed now with a new set of questions, the reader is asked to enter the
      arena. In fact, we are led to consider the many spectacles of death: animal
      hunts, public executions, and gladiatorial contests, even popular romances
      (especially Apuleius' The Golden Ass and Longus' Daphnis and Chloe). And we
      are asked to view this "vast spectacle" with new eyes, following the
      Aristotelian model of the hierarchy of the senses wherein sight is both the
      most important and the most masculine (p. 39). Vision, you see, was not a
      passive experience but an active gaze, indeed a tactile and material
      experience (p. 73). Whether explained in the Platonic fashion (where a fire
      within the eyes reached out and touched objects) or the Epicurean (where
      images flow off objects and strike the eyes), seeing places the seer in
      intimate contact with the seen. Thus a spectacle is never just something
      that happens to someone else; the viewer is always involved.
      Whereas we may consider the arena as a stage for sheer brutality, to the
      Roman this suffering was "integral to the development of manliness" (p. 79).
      It inspired bravery and the pursuit of victory-the domination of one's foes.
      Seeing the victory was to act the man. This connection between seeing and
      manliness extends also to the romances, where the seer is the male gaze; the
      seen the female body. Further connections of the female with blood and
      penetration only reinforce the manliness of conquest (pp. 67-70).
      Two dense chapters on the role of the Lamb form the heart of the book. The
      Lamb is both the one penetrated ("as if slain," p. 69) and the one who
      penetrates (by his gaze, pp. 80-83), both feminized (pp. 75-78) and
      masculinized (pp. 78-87). Yet this masculinization is "arrested," for the
      Lamb does not appear at the final battle and it is the heavenly warrior who
      penetrates all by the sword of his mouth. The Lamb is both the spectator
      and the spectacle thus rendering "the concept of the 'masculine gaze'
      problematic" (p. 114). The Apocalypse, it turns out, is at once a thoroughly
      subversive work and one that fully employs the spectacle of empire.
      There is much more, and much more subtle, argument than I have been able to
      review here. F. presents an original thesis, well argued, supported with
      material from contemporary sources. And if it is over-drawn, as I think it
      is, it is nonetheless a provocative and healthy correction to the present
      consensus that emphasizes only John's rejection of Rome. The book should be
      widely read and discussed. The book's value is extended by excellent and
      extensive notes and a good bibliography. It has an adequate index-good on
      names but weak on topics (there is no index for "Jesus" or "witness," for
      example, but "Lamb" and "martyr" can be found). And in addition, the book is
      a pleasure to read.

      David L. Barr, Wright State University, Dayton OH 45435
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