In this post I'd like to think a bit about one of the problems regarding how this contrast is made in Revelation. Specifically, one of the metaphors used to contrast Babylon and New Jerusalem is a Whore/Bride contrast. In Revelation Babylon is cast as a whore:
Revelation 17.1-5By contrast, New Jerusalem is compared to a virginal bride:
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”
Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:
BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Revelation 21.1-2For those aware of feminist scholarship, you'll quickly see how the writer of Revelation is using the Madonna/Whore typology. This typology expresses the ambivalent nature of male feelings regarding female sexuality. On the one hand, the male sexual fantasy is to have a woman who is sexually uninhibited and insatiable. The female actresses in pornography portray this fantasy, a female who is sexually aggressive and can't get enough sex.This--the Whore--is the sexual fantasy of most if not the vast majority of males.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
The ambivalence comes from the fact that while most males fantasize about having sex with the Whore--the sexually uninhibited and insatiable female--they don't want to be married to such a woman. When it comes to marriage men want the Madonna, the virginal and faithful bride.
There is a large literature exploring this Madonna/Whore dynamic and it sits behind many of the mixed and confusing messages the culture sends to women about "what men want." It also explains the switcheroo a lot of Christian women face after they get married. Christian women are to be the Madonna prior to marriage, vigilantly safeguarding their virginal purity. But then, after marriage, Christian women are to make a smooth and quick transition to being the Whore in the bedroom. And if she fails to make this transition adequately she can be blamed for not fulfilling her sexual obligations to her husband.
But again, I don't want to get into all this right now.
What I want to get into is why women are associated with whores when, in point of fact, women aren't very much like whores at all.
Historically, and even today, prostitution isn't about sexual insatiability. Prostitution for women is about economics. Women don't turn to prostitution because they can't get enough sex. Women turn to prostitution, when they aren't forced into it, because they need to eat and pay the bills.
Men, by contrast, do pursue prostitutes for pleasure. That is, whoring is being driven by an insatiable sexual appetite--but it's the appetite of of males, not females.
Generally speaking, women aren't very promiscuous. Males, by contrast, are extraordinarily slutty. And if that's the case, then why are women rather than men called sluts?
A psychological study in this regard. A group of researchers had attractive assistants approach men and women of the opposite sex on a college campus. After a few minutes of chit chat the assistant would sexually proposition the student. The question was, what percent of women would agree to have sex with an attractive man after a few minutes of conversation? And what percent of men would agree to have sex with an attractive woman after a few minutes of conversation?
Seventy-five percent of the males agreed to have sex. The women?
Generally speaking, women are choosy and discriminating when it comes to sex. Men not so much.
In short, from an empirical standpoint men are the whores.
And if that's the case, why are women always cast as whores, even in the bible, as the sexually insatiable ones?
It is a product of Freudian projection. Throughout history, religiously conservative males have had to confront one of the greatest sources of their moral failure: the male libido. The male libido--the fact that men are sluts--is a sore spot of any male community wanting to pursue purity and holiness. And what has happened, by and large, is that rather than admit that males struggle mightily in the sexual realm, males have externalized the blame and projected their libido onto women. Rather than blaming themselves for sexual sin males have, throughout history, blamed women for being temptresses. The Whore was created to be the scapegoat to preserve male self-righteousness. Rather than turning inward, in personal and collective repentance, men could blame women, blame the whores, for their sexual and moral failures. It's not our fault, the men say, it's the whore's fault.
Examples of this sort of projection are too numerous to list. Christian campuses and youth group talks are full of this sort of stuff.
But let me bring this back to whores and brides in Revelation. Given the problematic nature of this metaphor, how are we to approach these images in the bible?
I'll tell you what I do. For me, I don't read the Whore as a woman. I read it as the Freudian projection it is. The Whore is the male libido projected onto women.
More simply, when I see the Whore in Revelation I don't see a woman.
I see a man.