RE: [revelation-list] Re: Spectacles of Empire
- 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
[mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Lyn
Sent: Saturday, October 14, 2006 3:44 PM
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.
---------------------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