Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation. From the "Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion" Series, [Review of the book Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation by C. A. Frilingos]

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The sometimes bizarre monsters that inhabit the Book of Revelation have long been a source of intrigue for readers of the New Testament. Much recent interpretation sees in the visions of John of Patmos a clear critique of the dominant Roman imperial order by a marginalized group and seeks to understand the book in the light of the specific circumstances of composition. In this welcome volume Christopher A. Frilingos proposes an approach to Revelation that does not grant such clear lines of separation: "Rather than posit Rome and Revelation as distinct, stable entities, this book presents Revelation as an expression of Roman culture, possessed of the same ambiguities and ambivalence to which a variety of contemporaneous cultural products -- the Greek Romance, the Roman arena, and even the imperial cult -- attest" (12). He argues that the appeal of Revelation lies, at least in part, in the use of the language, imagery and rhetoric of viewing spectacles, which would have been familiar to a Roman audience and were a central part of the way in which identity was constructed in the Roman world. Clearly written and well-documented, Frilingos does not offer a comprehensive treatment of the entire book of Revelation; rather, he singles out distinctive passages suggestively reading them alongside other non-Christian texts and cultural products of the Roman imperial period. The result is an insightful, suggestive book that will reward students of Revelation as well as readers interested more generally in the literature and culture of imperial Rome.


Bryn Mawr College

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Bryn Mawr Classical Review