Most people believe that the Queen Ruler’s polar opposite, the virginal Bride of the Lamb in Rev. 21:9-22:7, is a symbolic figure for the “New Jerusalem.”[i] Within discussions of these two Queens, there are conflicting theories of interpretation. Granted, historical readings of Revelation recognize that both figures are representations of social constructs and human females; but, this work is about the mystical interpretation of the Queen Ruler.
The book of Revelation was written during the last half of the 1st Century CE after the Roman Empire destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Many studies claim that Rev. 17:9, where the Queen Ruler is depicted as an entity seated on seven mountains, indicates the geographic location of Rome. [ii] Nevertheless, when one approaches the identity of the Queen Ruler through a mystical lens, significant problems with a strictly historical interpretation of the figure arise.
If we follow the pattern of symbolism present in the Hebrew Bible, it seems questionable to identify the Roman Empire as the Queen Ruler in Rev. 17-18 because the 1st Century Roman Empire was not a population of people who had made a covenant with God. Defeated cities were often described as subjugated captive females in antiquity [iii]; but, if there is no covenant, or contract, between God and a population, does it make sense to conclude that this group would be capable of committing the ultimate form of spiritual fornication?
Technically speaking, the Roman Empire never fell. Instead, the population adapted when Roman Civil Law became Canon, or Church, Law. This happened when Orthodox Christianity became the only legal religion to practice within the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th Century CE. The first time the Roman Empire, as a population, made a covenant with the Judeo-Christian God would have been when Orthodox Christianity became the only religion legal to practice in the Roman Empire. This fact seems irrelevant from a strictly historical view; yet, from a mystical standpoint we can speculate that Revelation may have contained genuinely prophetic information.
Catherine Keller suggests that “the Latin Beast or Whore of Empire – has become the primary symbol of the cultural Christianity that has surrounded the globe with its slick aura of sex, stuff, and violence.”[iv] Traditionally speaking, the Queen Consort of Rev. 21-22 is viewed as the genuine Christian population who upheld their contract with God,[v] while the Queen Ruler of Rev 17-18 is identified as a political entity, the Roman Empire. If author intended for the Queen Consort to be a direct polar opposite of the Queen Ruler, then it seems natural that the Queen Ruler was meant to symbolize a false Christian population who displays imperialistic behavior. Keller’s research supports this type of reading by pointing out that “the apocalypse and its Messiah are inherently anti-imperialist.”[vi]
During the Hellenistic Period, when the apocalypse as a genre first emerged, it was generally accepted that human history could be divided into specific Ages – i.e. gold, silver, bronze/steel, and iron. [vii] Between the 2nd Century BCE and the 4th Century CE, many groups believed that the present Age had either just begun or would soon end. For example, Augustine of Hippo taught that a new Age had recently begun in the 4th Century CE. [viii] According to these traditions, the shifting of Ages would, at some point, result in an event where the righteous, or members within the group, would be rewarded and the unrighteous, or individuals outside the group, would be punished or destroyed.
Something fascinating is revealed when we consider Sir Isaac Newton’s calculations concerning the procession of earth’s equinox through the twelve zodiac signs. Newton calculated that it took 2,160 years for the equinox to progress through an individual zodiac sign. This means that we can now mathematically show that sometime during the 2nd Century BCE and the 4th Century CE, the earth and its populations did experience an Age shift (from the Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces); and, when we fast forward 2,160 years, we see that the planet is preparing to experience another Age shift (from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius).
How would the above suggestions impact the identification of the Queen Ruler in Rev. 17-18? First, the majority of the Westernized Christian population would experience a close encounter with C.G. Jung’s concept of the shadow-self, or repressed parts of ourselves. [ix] In fact, the Queen Ruler may even represent the shadow-self of the collective [Christian] unconscious. This Westernized Christian apocalyptic unconscious would include manifestations of race, sexuality, greed, power, perhaps even religion and symbolize Western Christianity’s tendencies towards extreme violence, cruelty, and inventions of justification for xenophobic beliefs and destructive tendencies. [x]
What would happen if those who are advocates for gender justice, class equality, and liberation of subordinated populations understood the Queen Ruler as the representation of the powerful imperialistic version of Christianity which has, for over 1,600 years, used Christianity to justify murder, enslavement of peoples, avarice, deceit, and the devastation of earth? Would we also begin to question if the efforts of various movements and advocates for feminist readings of texts, gender justice, and environmental reform could easily symbolize the Queen Consort described in Rev. 21-22? Perhaps with additional research and further exploration of this topic we may one day fully understand why individuals like Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza have argued that Revelation is, indeed, a text that is wholly devoted to justice. [xi]
[i] David L. Barr, “Women in Myth and History: Deconstructing John’s Characterizations” in A Feminist Companion to the Apocalypse of John, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Maria Mayo Robbins (New York: T & T Clark International, 2009), 58; Adela Yarbro Collins, “Feminine Symbolism in the Book of Revelation” in A Feminist Companion to the Apocalypse of John, eds. Amy-Jill Levine amdMaria Mayo Robbins (New York: T & T Clark International, 2009), 124.
[ii] Barr, 58-9; A.Y. Collins, 125-6.
[iii] Barr, 57.
[iv] Catherine Keller, God and Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys (Augsburg Fortress: Minneapolis, MN, 2004), 42.
[v] A.Y. Collins, 125.
[vi] Keller, 37.
[vii] John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (William B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), 33-4, 37, 39.
[viii] Keller, 60-1.
[ix] A.Y. Collins, 126; Keller, 38.
[x] Keller, 38; Tina Pippin, Death and Desire: The Rhetoric of Gender in the Apocalypse of John, (Westminster/John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 1992), 46.
[xi] Keller, 60; Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza “argues that it is a mistake to read the gender inscriptions of the text as descriptions of actual genders. Schüssler Fiorenza insists on interpreting the Apocalypse from the perspective of its dominant theme, which she sees as liberation from forces of domination” in Barr, 63.