Stephen Moore’s “Raping Rome”

Moore’s Raping Rome explores why and how Rome is represented as both woman and prostitute in Revelation. His central thesis involves uncovering gender hierarchy (specifically man’s dominion over woman) in Imperial Rome and Revelation’s affirmation and inadvertent sublimation of this.  Moore argues that Rome as prostitute simply isn’t a matter doubling-up of the Rome-as-Babylon motif found in the OT (that would simply supply the essence of the analogy of Rome as woman) but rather this derogation of Rome is more fully captured in a Rome-as-Roma-as-Babylon Motif. To use Judith Butler’s fem and queer theory to give an analogy, this city-in-drag-as-god-in-drag-as-classic-derogatory-emlem-as-antitheisis-to-God-in-drag provides the essential link needed to represent Rome as a prostitute. To follow the wave of Moore’s analyses, Roma, the cultic mighty warrior goddess provides Rome with a powerful masculine ideology: strong, powerful and successful in battle—thus, she displays hegemonic masculinity: virtus. She is the “very embodiment of the central imperative in roman masculinity.”

Moore explores the inverse of this dynamic by bringing in Judith Butler and queer analyses, to recapitulate and further examine the idea that Rome in her outward appearance is masculine but her essence is female: Thus she is in “drag.”  Quoting Seneca, Moore explains that virtus is antithetical to women’s vices: “sexual profligacy, unchastity, shamelessness, weakness for jewels and riches.”  Thus, is it any wonder that John depicts Babylon as a prostitute? Moore says, “Babylon epitomizes female vice as Roma epitomizes masculine virtue.” Roma is the pinnacle of women’s vice. She is grammatically feminine but rhetorically masculine. Bringing in Butler again, Moore makes the argument that gender and ethnicity need a “constitutive other” to be constructed— this thought further lends evidence to Moore’s argument of John’s formulation of Rome as prostitute. Moore explains that the “hegemonic gender script of masculinity” that dominated Rome was one of rigidity, control, and excessive dominion both over oneself and others— a product of critical self-conquest. He notes that primal femininity was always in danger of morphing into masculinity— “Femininity is a priori”— it is a given; masculinity, however, must be “attained and controlled.” Thus, his argument is that Roma “guards” the sex/gender ideology of Rome.

Moore argues that Roman masculinity is brittle and demands constant watch, which than sets up the question, “Is Rome armed against herself?” This loop in Moore’s analysis further serves to elicit the idea and quantify the polemic: Roma is clothed as man, embodied masculine (her demeanor/stylized attitude) but nonetheless female (essence). Revelation strips Rome of her military apparel and re-clothes her as a prostitute. Moore argues that by stripping of her military clothing and dressing her up as a prostitute, Rome represents the epitome of “fallen femininity.” He says Babylon is Rome in triple drag: first “phallic masculinity masquerading as female flesh masquerading as hegemonic masculinity and then phallic masculinity re-clothed as degenerate and defeated brothel slave.” But the question Moore is really trying to get at in his analysis, is why are sex/gender coterminous with empire in Revelation in the first place? Here, he notes that Roma in her drag-splendor is only part of the answer. The other half of this answer lies in the manifestation of social hierarchy in the Roman world.

Interesting, Moore notes that while resisting the sex/gender system, John actually replicates it so that sexual violence in Revelation appears to be an affirmation of gender hierarchy. He says this happens in both inward and outward directed aggression and sexual violence. The first (inward) toward Jezebel the second (outward) toward Babylon. Here, he notes that the female is the object of sexual violence except where she “assumes patriarchically preapproved forms: virgin bride and self-sacrificing mother.” This then raises some eyebrows as the reader observes that the hierarchical gender binary isn’t itself called into question in Revelation. But then, in the last refrain, Moore brings in the depiction of Jesus, “one like a son of man”— an ambiguous being. This raises one last question for Moore, as the depiction of Jesus in Revelation is ultimately ambiguous, troubling the established gender system.  Thus Moore’s argument concludes that Revelation symbolizes the deconstruction of Roman gender causing trouble to the gender binary while simultaneously drawing Jesus into an androgynous figure, much like, coincidentally, that of the goddess, Roma.



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