Analysis of “Raping Rome”

Moore’s article explores the complexities of gendering Rome as female (pretending to be male) in its iconography, and how John uses the female gender of the goddess Roma to strip her of her divine status by calling her a prostitute. He points to Judith Butler, who argues that gender identity is a performance of learned behaviors that bear the illusion of natural manifestation. Moore uses a queer-reading approach to examine the cross-dressing goddess, both feminine in form with all the trappings of the masculine warrior. Rome then sees itself (and thus performs under this illusion) as the soft, opulent place of luxury (female) juxtaposed with its desire for violence and conquest (male). Also important is the concept of virtus, which is a female gendered noun to describe the height of masculinity, and is ascribed as a quality of the female Roma. Moore makes the distinction between masculinity and femininity by arguing “masculinity was the quality of being in control of, exercising dominion over, others and also oneself, while femininity was the quality of ceding control of oneself to others” (142).

With this statement, he can then examine how John treats Rome in his apocalypse by keeping with the stylized gendering of the city as female. John strips Roma of her armor and weapons, essentially “emasculating” her, and replacing those with jewels, purple, and a cup of wine. He then labels her the Mother of Whores. John hates Roma, according to Moore, because he secretly loves her for all her splendor; however, he treats her with such animosity because women are not the conquerors. Moore channels Butler again, who points out that those who perform their gender correctly are rarely punished. The Bride, for instance, is not punished, but praised for her submissiveness and purity. John punishes Roma by saying “they will loathe the whore, and they will ravage her and strip her naked, and they will devour her flesh and burn her with fire” (147). Moore argues that the gender binary and violence in John’s writing is a reassertion of the gender hierarchy mentioned above, that men are dominant and women fall into submission.

Moore mentions an androgynous nature of Christ in the Book of Revelation; I fail to see its relevance or its purpose. He implies that the work of scholars and translators in the past has been dishonest in translating mastios as a masculine chest, rather than as a female breast. However, a plain reading of Revelation gives no indication that John was in any way attempting to describe Christ with any kind of gender bias. While there have certainly been a number of people who have picked on John’s choice of words, it is equally likely that he simply chose the wrong word, or that the manuscripts that we have available today bear an error made by scribes. If we want to discount the possibility that anyone could have made such an error, I might point out that even today we might talk about a man beating his breasts (like an ape) without in any way meaning that his breasts had become feminine.

This article is absurd. Moore’s eisegetical approach to interpretation is damaging to John’s original intent when he sat down to write Revelation. Moore makes assumptions about John’s frame of mind and about the attitudes surrounding sexuality and gender in antiquity.

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