December 1 – December 8, 2023

Friday, December 1

Esther 3: Although one might expect the next stage of the story to tell of the king’s promotion of Mordecai as an expression of the royal gratitude, it speaks, rather, of the favor bestowed an a completely different person—a stranger to the reader—someone named Haman.

Everything we need to know about Haman, at this point in the story, is conveyed in the brief identification of him as “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.” The author expects us to remember that Agag was the king of the Amalekites, the monarch whose end is recorded in 1 Samuel 15. From that older account we know that Saul, Mordecai’s distant relative, had defeated Agag in battle. Consequently, we readers, knowing of the “bad blood” between these two families, should pay close attention to this sudden appearance of this “Agagite” in a story about a relative of Saul. Even before he tells anything else about Haman, we suspect the author is setting the scene for a “grudge match.”

Mordecai, for his part, immediately perceives the appearance of Haman as a challenge. When royal decree is proclaimed that the king’s new appointee, when he passes through the city gate, must be universally greeted with a deep bow, Esther’s uncle demurs. No bow for Haman, he resolves. No Jew is going to bow before an Amalekite; the thing is unthinkable.

In refusing to bow to Haman, Mordecai is moved by a deep and disturbing memory. He recalls that God’s People had just managed to escape the clutches of Pharaoh when “Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” At that time, after Israel’s army defeated the Amalekites while Moses prayed on top of the hill, the Lord Himself pronounced the curse that summed up what He thought of this enemy: “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” The Lord, indeed, went even further, dictating what Israel took to be the proper attitude, at all times, with respect to the Amalekites: “the Lord fights with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8-15).
Mordecai also knows that his distant relative, King Saul, failed to implement that curse against Amalek. When Samuel invoked it with respect to Agag, Saul spared the life of Agag, disobeying the prophetic injunction, and for this disobedience the Lord rejected Saul (1 Samuel 15:1-20). Mordecai, remembering the disobedience of Saul, is determined not to repeat it. No, if Saul was rejected for treating Agag with mercy, Mordecai is certainly not about to demonstrate public obeisance to this son of Agag. Bow down to Haman? Forget it; it won’t happen.
Haman, his head held high over the prostrate forms of those who did him homage on his entrance to the city, fail to notice the solitary figure of Mordecai, who remains seated at the gate. However, two of the king’s servants take note of it and become alarmed. This kind of behavior is not safe.
Indeed, it is rebellious. Everyone remembers the fate Vashti when that unfortunate lady declined to obey the command of Ahasuerus. Now here is this Mordecai, sitting down, each day, in defiance of a royal decree. Vashti’s disregard for the husband’s authority, it was feared, would incite other women to a similar disrespect in their own homes. How much more will this defiance on the part of Mordecai provoke a spirit of rebellion in those who learn of it.
The two servants approach Mordecai several times for an explanation. ‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘I can’t do it. I am a Jew, and that’s that. You Persians would not understand, and it would take too long to explain it to you. But no homage for Haman.’ The servants, probably afraid they would be held liable for permitting this behavior of Mordecai, bring the matter to Haman’s attention.
Haman’s memory of history is just as long as Mordecai’s, and he fully understands the implications of the latter’s refusal to do him homage. One of our first commentators on this story, Flavius Josephus, understood Haman’s response: “Now there was a certain Haman, the son of Amedatha, an Amalekite by birth, who was accustomed to approach the king. . . . And when he wished to punish Mordecai, he thought it too insignificant a thing to request of the king that he alone should be punished; he resolved, rather, to annihilate the whole nation, for he was naturally an enemy of the Jews, because the Amalekites, to which he belonged, had earlier been destroyed by them” (Antiquities 11.6.5).

Saturday, December 2

Esther 4: The Book of Esther is not normally included in the Bible’s sapiential literature. Nonetheless, the material in this book illustrates many themes of the Wisdom literature of Holy Scripture, particularly its moral exhortations.

This is especially clear with respect to the chief protagonist and the major antagonist in the story, Mordecai and Haman. At this point in our study of Esther, as we begin chapter 4, it may be useful to pull away from the narrative for a moment and consider its moral teachings in the light of the Bible’s Wisdom literature.

In the previous chapter we have been observing the character of Haman. The highest official of the Persian court, Haman represents a perverse and malicious philosophy. He belongs to that class of men whom Jeremiah described as “wise to do evil” (Jeremiah 4:22) and of whom Isaiah said they are “wise in their own eyes, / And prudent in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21).

Haman violates all the rules of true wisdom: First, as we have seen, he permits himself to be filled with rage. Against this kind of conduct, Proverbs says, “A proud and haughty man— “Scoffer” is his name;? / He acts with arrogant pride (Proverbs 21:24). And again, “An angry man stirs up strife,? / And a furious man abounds in transgression” (29:22).

Second, moved by passion, he reacts precipitously and without caution. With respect to this vice, Proverbs declares, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly,? / And a man of wicked intentions is hated” (14:17). And again, “he who is impulsive exalts folly” (14:29).

Third, Haman becomes imprudent in his speech. This is especially unfortunate trait. Proverbs says, “the heart of fools proclaims foolishness (Proverbs 12:23).

Haman has a high place in the realm, but he is clearly not qualified in a moral sense. He cannot control himself. How can he govern an empire?

Mordecai, too, is an official of the realm, described as sitting “within the king’s gate” (Esther 2:21), an expression meaning that he is a judge or magistrate who adjudicates legal cases. Though hardly the wisest man in Holy Scripture, he has more than enough wisdom to outwit Haman.

Josephus speaks of Mordecai’s wisdom, born of his reverence for the Torah. Mordecai is not moved by passion, is not precipitous to act, nor does he rashly speak his plans to others.

In all these things he shows himself a true sage and man of self-control. H exemplifies the qualities recommended by Proverbs:

“A prudent man conceals knowledge” (12:23). He bears comparison, in this respect, to Nehemiah.

“He who guards his mouth preserves his life” (13:3).

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, / ?And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (16:32).

Consequently, what finally ensues in the encounter of these two men is exactly what the Bible’s wisdom literature would lead us to expect:

“The righteous is delivered from trouble,? / And it comes to the wicked instead” (Proverbs 11:8).

“Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,? / And he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him” (26:27).

“Behold, the wicked brings forth iniquity;? / Yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood. He made a pit and dug it out,? / And has fallen into the ditch which he made. His trouble shall return upon his own head,? / And his violent dealing shall come down on his own crown” (Psalms 7:14–16).

“He who digs a pit will fall into it,? / And whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent” (Ecclesiastes 10:8).

Sunday, December 3

Luke 1.26-38: The Holy Spirit is the active agent in the Incarnation, but this action is not forced on the young Galilean woman. Her assent and cooperation are required by the very nature of salvation. The most significant fact about Mary was her consent to God’s invitation. Absolutely everything else recorded in the four gospels depended on that consent. Without human consent there was no salvation. Without Mary’s response to the angel, we would still be in our sins. Without Mary’s response to the angel, there would be no Sermon on the Mount, no walking on the water, no healing on the Sabbath.

Apart Mary’s response to the angel, the blind man of Jericho would still be blind, the widow’s son at Nain would still be dead, and Zacchaeus would never have climbed the sycamore tree. The sisters of Lazarus would still be weeping at his tomb. All of these things came from Mary’s consent to the angel.

Revelation 14.1-13: We come again to the sealing of the followers of Christ, first spoken of in Chapter 7. With respect to the “following” of the Lamb (verse 4), of course, the image is found also in the Gospels. When Jesus calls on His disciples to “follow” Him, the context is the Cross. The Lamb to be followed is the Lamb of sacrifice (Mark 8:34-38; John 21:18-19).

There are three angels in this text, representing three dimensions of the final age, the proclamation of the Gospel, the judgment of God on the city of man, and the eternal, wrathful exclusion of idolatry. First, the angel of the everlasting Gospel (verse 6), whose mandate, like the mandate at the end of Matthew, is directed to all nations. These are all called to repentance and conversion to the true God (verse 7; cf. Acts 14:15). Remember that in John’s view, the judgment of God is now. The judgment of God takes place in the very proclamation of the Good News (cf. John 3:19; 18:37). The Gospel here is called eternal; it is the proclamation of the eternal mind of God, His eternal purpose of salvation, the “Mystery” of which the Epistle to the Ephesians speaks.

Second, the angel who proclaims the fall of Babylon (verse 8). This, too, pertains to the Gospel. In biblical thought, the fall of Babylon means that the true Israelites can now go home, because the exile is over. Babylon is whatever enslaves and alienates the people of God. Babylon is the city of false gods, the city that dares to raise up its tower against the face of God; it is the monument to man’s achievements without God. Babylon is the city where men do not understand one another, because each man, as it were, speaks his own private meaning. The downfall of this city certainly is Good News, which is the meaning of the word Gospel. Christians are called to leave Babylon (18:4).

Third, the angel who proclaims the eschatological outpouring of God’s wrath, to the exclusion of all idolatry (verses 9-11). This text is important because, like certain sayings of our Lord in the Gospels, it insists on the eternity of damnation. Unlike many modern men, the Bible believes that the definitive choice of evil lasts forever.

Monday, December 4

Matthew 3:1-12: Unlike the gospels of Mark and Luke, Matthew portrays John the Baptist as proclaiming the proximity of the Kingdom (3:2). In thus regarding the preaching of John as the beginning of the Gospel (cf. 11:13), Matthew’s perspective matches that of the earliest apostolic proclamation (cf. Acts 1:22; 10:37).

The tense and mode used in this warning to repent are the aorist imperative, which means “repent” in the sense, not of continuing action, but of decisive action: “Do it!” It is the decisive conversion John has in mind, rather than an attitude or habit.

Even as an act of decision, however, the grace of repentance is not necessarily a once-saved-always-saved sort of thing. This truth is especially borne out in Revelation, where in all four instances the command “Repent!” is spoken to believers themselves, specifically the Christians in the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Sardis, and Laodicea (2:5,16; 3:3,19). When Christians start to think and act like unbelievers they, too, must be summoned to repentance, and exactly the same form of the command covers both cases.

As a matter of fact, the theme of repentance appears more frequently in Revelation’s letters to the seven churches than anywhere else. Of the 34 times that the New Testament has the verb metanoiein, eight are found in Chapters 2-3 of Revelation, all of them in reference to Christian believers. This is easily the highest concentration of the verb in the New Testament. That is to say, Christians themselves are more often called to repentance than anyone else!

Revelation 14:14-20: On the image of harvest as judgment, see Joel 4:13-14 (3:9-14). The Son of Man on the cloud is, of course, from the Book of Daniel, an image that Jesus interprets of Himself in each of the Synoptic Gospels.

Unlike ourselves, men in antiquity actually experienced harvesting with a sickle and treading grapes in a vat, both actions characterized by a distinct measure of violence. Even these relatively benign images of harvest season, therefore, strongly suggest that the “end of time” will be more than slightly daunting. It should not surprise us that the harvesting with a sickle and the trampling of a wine vat are associated with the feeling of God’s definitive wrath.

The association of anger with the treading of the grapes was hardly new (cf. Isaiah 63:1-6), and it will appear again (Revelation 19:13-15). The grape harvest arrives in September, as the seasonal period of growth comes to an end. It is natural to think of death at this time of the year.

The amount of blood in this text (verse 20) is rather dramatic. The Greek stadion being six hundred and seven feet, sixteen stadia is about two miles. A horse’s bridle is about five feet off the ground. Thus we are dealing with a great deal of blood. This must be one of the most unpleasant passages in the New Testament.

The rising pool of blood becomes a kind of Red Sea. Indeed, the following chapter will be full of imagery from the Book of Exodus: plagues, the cloud of the divine presence, the tent of testimony, Moses, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the destruction of the pursuers.

Tuesday, December 5

Revelation 15.1=8: This shortest chapter in the Book of Revelation introduces the imagery of the seven bowls of plagues, which will be poured out in the next chapter.

The ocean of blood, with which the previous chapter ended, has now become a kind of Red Sea (verses 1-3), which also inserts the theme of the Exodus. This theme itself is appropriate to the outpouring of the plagues. Other components of the Exodus theme likewise appear in this chapter: the Song of Moses, the cloud of the divine presence, the tent of testimony, and so forth.

The “sea of glass”?(verse 2) we have already considered in Chapter 4. Beside this sea stand God’s people who have passed over it in the definitive Exodus. They are musicians—harpists to be exact—identical with the one hundred and forty-four thousand whom we saw with the Lamb in the previous chapter; there was harp music in that scene too.
These elect have “overcome,” the very thing to which John had called the seven churches in Chapters 2-3. They are now beyond the power of the beast to harm them.

John sees in heaven the tabernacle of testimony from the Book of Exodus, the traveling tent of the divine presence that Moses and the Israelites carried through the desert. This tent, however, is “heavenly,” which means that it is the original model, the very pattern that Moses copied (Exodus 25:9,40; ?Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5).

Since the tent is a place of worship, we are not surprised that John sees seven angels coming out of it, clothed in priestly vestments (verse 6; cf. Exodus 28:4; 39:29), very much as Jesus was clothed in the inaugural vision (Revelation 1:12-13).

The tent itself is full of the cloud of the divine presence, the very cloud that led the Israelites through the desert of old. When that tent was dedicated in the desert, the divine cloud took up residence within it? (Exodus 40:34-38). That cloud later took residence in Solomon’s temple (I Kings 8:1-12), where Isaiah beheld it (6:1-4). In prophetic vision Ezekiel ?saw that cloud return to the second temple built in 520-516 (Ezekiel 44:4).

The hymn in verses 3-4 should be compared with Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 6:14-42. Both prayers, to begin with, are offered “at the sea” (verse 2; 2 Chronicles 6:12-13). ?Both prayers thank God for His mighty works, invoke His righteous judgments, and request the conversion of all the nations. Finally, in response to each prayer, fire comes down from heaven (verses 5-8; 2 Chronicles 7:1-2).

Wednesday, December 6

Matthew 5.13-20: The text of today’s Gospel reading, from the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, immediately follows the Beatitudes.

In this section of Matthew, the words of Jesus shift from the grammatical third person (Blessed are they) to the second person plural (Blessed are you).

First, who is being addressed here? Christians. We are the ones being addressed all through this section: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before men . . . unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is the calling of all Christians to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The “world” here are the very people of whom Jesus says, “they revile and persecute you and say every kind of evil against you.” To these people, our Lord declares, we are to be the salt and the light. The world is to be enlightened by the very people it persecutes.

No amount of persecution justifies the forfeiture of the Christian vocation to be salt and light to the rest of humanity. Neither salt nor light exist for themselves. Should Christians fail in this vocation to the life of the human race, they are no longer of any use. They are to be “thrown out.”

Today’s reading directs Christians themselves to go to the Torah—the Mosaic Law—in order to be instructed on how to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

This should not surprise us, if we bear in mind that these words, when Jesus first spoke them, were not addressed to Christians, but to Jews. It was originally to Jews that Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.”

One thing we can say for sure about Jesus: He seems to have read mainly Jewish authors. Jesus is forever quoting some fellow named Moses, and somebody else named David, or Isaiah. He appears to be very much into Jewish literature.

We tend to forget that Jesus was a teacher of the Jews. In fact, the rest of us are late-comers to the instruction, as it were; and, arriving tardy to the class, we have a lot of catching-up to do. The Apostle Paul compares us Gentiles to wild branches that God grafted into the original and cultivated olive tree.

Anyway, in today’s text, Jesus explicitly sends us to the Torah, the first five books of Jewish literature.

And he not only sends us to the Torah, he also insists that we should observe the Torah more strictly than anybody else. And if we don’t, he says, we will be thrown out like the salt that loses its taste. He affirms, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Sermon on the Mount is concerned with the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament Law. This theme is related to the metaphors of salt and light through the continuity linking the Church to ancient Israel, the legitimate continuation of God’s redeemed people. It is the Church that continues Israel’s vocation to “salt” and illumine the world.

For this reason, it is imperative to speak of the Church’s relationship to the Torah, and this relationship is the subject of the rest of the present chapter. The burden of the Sermon on the Mount is to address a single question: Of what significance is the Torah to the moral guidance of Christians? And the Gospel of Matthew answers: the Torah serves as a moral guide for Christians when it is understood through the interpretive lens of the teaching of Jesus.

Thursday, December 7

Esther 9-10: This day, as we finish Esther and get ready to start the Book of Daniel tomorrow, may be an opportune time to compare the two books. The invisible, extremely mysterious activity of the hidden God in the bool we finish today is profitably contrasted to His clear, open, and miraculous intrusions into history in the Book of Daniel. When, for instance, the Lord intervenes to save His servants in the fiery furnace, there is nothing subtle about it. Even someone as obtuse as Nebuchadnezzar is able to take it in: “I see four men walking loose in the middle of the fire!”

The clarity attendant on God’s activity in the Book of Daniel also marks its presentation of the moral order. There are no shaded ethical subtleties in Daniel’s world. Right-or-wrong choices are easily identified. Moral options are invariably structured as either/or. The choices are hard, but they are never uncertain. Obedience requires great courage, to be sure, but little thought and no imagination.

This book provides a series of incidents in which Daniel and other brave souls simply stand up and tell the authorities “no.” ‘No, Your Majesty,’ they declare, ‘we decline to bow down and worship your stupid statue, we hold your fiery furnace in contempt, we will persist in praying to the true God three times each day, your lions’ den does not intimidate us, and we will rather perish than violate our kosher laws. So there, King, do your worst!’

In each of these episodes in the story of Daniel, he and his friends, who are prepared to die or suffer other consequences, are delivered by God’s intervening Providence. They engage in no casuistry; they make no effort to work out a deal with the king. They simply resist, come what may. Their whole moral stance is summed up in the declaration to Nebuchadnezzar: “Now it may happen our God whom we serve—who is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace—will grant deliverance from your hand, O king. But if not, be assured of this, O king: We do not serve your gods, nor shall we worship the gold image you have set up” (Daniel 3:18).

From the fixed and clear moral universe portrayed in Daniel, we look back that of Esther. (In the Hebrew text these two works are found in immediate sequence, just as we read them.) With respect to her moral obligation Esther is no less resolute than the three men at the entrance to the fiery furnace. She is aware that she endangers her life by entering, uninvited, into the throne room of Ahasuerus, but she does not flinch from her responsibility.

But here we encounter an irony: Esther’s very similarity to the young men facing Nebuchadnezzar illustrates her profoundly different moral situation. The characters in Daniel, in each of their moral choices, appeal to the Law of God. They refuse to adore the statue, because it would violate the Decalogue. They decline to partake of the king’s meats, for fear of unclean food.

That is to say, the Torah, God’s revealed will, governs their moral choices. They live in a world where duties are spelled out. God’s commandments determine the outline of the moral universe. Perhaps we may call the moral order in the Book of Daniel a “morality of essence,” in the sense that the being of things establishes man’s moral duties.

This is not the case when we turn to the Book of Esther. The morality on trial here is not a “morality of essence.” Perhaps it should be called, rather, an “existential morality,” meaning that the duties of the devout people in this book are revealed to them, not by the Torah, not by a prior set of prescriptions, but by the concrete circumstances in which they find themselves. The ad hoc context of their existence contains its own moral imperatives. Here, fidelity requires creativity.

Esther is not tempted to commit idolatry, nor is her fidelity to the kosher laws put to the test. Rather, she is faced with an existential situation. She recognizes a moral responsibility inherent in the palpable circumstances of her life here-and-now. Nothing in the Torah dictates what Esther must do. Only her morally sensitive conscience can guide her. Clearly the Torah has shaped that conscience, but Esther encounters a moral situation about which Moses said nothing.

Arguably the moral choices the Book of Esther are, in this respect, more difficult than those of Daniel and his compatriots. While Mordecai and Esther do not compromise, any more than Daniel and his friends, they are obliged to work harder on how to remain morally faithful. They are forced to improvise. They must use their creative imaginations and figure out a way through their dilemma imposed on their lives.

Part of their more severe difficulty, I think, is the sheer size and gravity of the threat they face. The Book of Esther poses a dilemma far worse than any faced in the Book of Daniel: the whole Jewish People is at risk, not simply these few faithful Jews. Esther and Mordecai must save everybody. What is at issue in this book is truly an Endlösung der Judenfrage.

Unlike Daniel and his friends, Esther and Mordecai do not have the luxury of keeping their hearts pure and facing a martyr’s death. They are responsible for everybody. Consequently, they must use their heads and, if they can, devise some creative plan to circumvent the disaster that hangs over their countrymen.

These two books, Esther and Daniel, both represent Diaspora thought. Each envisages the moral dilemmas that may be posed to Jews whose whole lives are spent outside the social context presumed by Moses; they live outside the Holy Land.

These two books demonstrate two different approaches to the sorts of temptations and dangers encountered in the Diaspora. They represent two sides of an ongoing Jewish question: How do we remain faithful to the inherited Covenant in social contexts not determined by that Covenant? Jews today are still having that discussion.

Friday, December 8

Revelation 17:1-6: John’s vision of the woman on the scarlet beast is better understood if one bears in mind certain features of his cultural and religious memory:

First, Israel’s prophetic tradition had fought against ritual prostitution, one of the standard religious practices of Canaanite religion, which Israel’s prophets for centuries struggled to replace. This tradition frequently spoke of idolatry under the metaphor of fornication, a metaphor further suggested by the prophetic perception of Israel as bound to God by a spiritual marriage. This perception is well documented in two prophets of the eighth century, Hosea and Isaiah.

Second, a century earlier Elijah had opposed the immoral cult of Baal, which was sponsored by the Phoenician princess Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. For this reason, Jezebel came to personify, in Israel’s memory, the witch, the wicked woman of loose morals. As in the instance of Naboth’s vineyard, as well as the death of many prophets, she was also remembered as a woman responsible for the shedding of innocent blood; Elijah complained that she had put a price on his own head. All of this has been on John’s mind; he has already described a certain woman at Thyatira as a Jezebel (2:20-23). The memory of Jezebel is certainly part of the picture of John’s image of the woman on the scarlet beast.

Third, Israel’s wisdom tradition, especially as found in the Book of Proverbs, spoke of Wisdom as a man’s true bride, in intimacy with whom he was to spend his whole life. Opposed to this bridal wisdom was the “loose woman,” Dame Folly, personified in the prostitute. This opposition undoubtedly arose from the simple observation that a good marriage to the right woman teaches a man, if he is teachable, how to conduct his life well and wisely, whereas that same man is brought to ruin if he consorts with a meretricious woman. The whore, then, was as bad a figure in Israel’s wisdom literature as she is in the prophetic literature.

Fourth, John seems also influenced by certain infamous and profligate women in the more recent history with which he was familiar. In the previous century, for example, there had been the famous femme fatale, Cleopatra, while in his own lifetime John knew of Herodias, whose success in murdering John the Baptist surpassed even Jezebel’s efforts against Elijah.

Even more recent to John’s time there was Berenice, the daughter born to Herod the Great in A.D. 28. If any woman of John’s era could be seen as a whore of international fame, it was Berenice, of whose activities we know chiefly from the historian Josephus. By the year 48 she had been widowed twice, once from her own brother, to whom she bore two children. For several years she lived in incest with another brother, Agrippa II, in whose company we find her at the trial of St. Paul in Acts 25:13,22-23; 26:30.

Shortly after this, Berenice was married to King Polemo of Cilicia, but she did not stay long with him. During this period of her life she was mocked by the poet Juvenal. Later on, according to Tacitus and Suetonius, she was the mistress of Titus, who was obliged to abandon her in order to become emperor, Dio Cassius tells us. When John described a “loose woman,” in short, none of his readers were at a loss to know what sort of woman he had in mind.

Fifth, the woman in this vision is certainly the personification of the city of Rome, sitting on her seven hills. John did not have to personify Rome; it was already done by Rome’s political endorsement of the goddess “Roma,” in whose honor John knew of temples at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos. In the east, Roma had also been assimilated with certain local and traditional fertility goddesses.

The woman here is not only a whore; she is also a drinker of innocent blood, in the tradition of Jezebel and Herodias, the latter remembered especially in the Asian churches as the one responsible for the death of their beloved John the Baptist. Clothed in scarlet and adorned with gold, she appears as a sort of queen, whom John calls Babylon, much in the style of Jeremiah 51:12-17, a text that must be read in connection with John’s vision.