Barbaric Beasts: Visual Representations of Barbarians and the Book of Revelation Open Access

Groce, Jonathan (Summer 2022)

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This project addresses the complex entanglement between the book of Revelation and the Roman empire. Many existing studies have shown the ways in which Revelation is, fundamentally, an anti-imperial polemic. Central to this interpretation of Revelation is the depiction of the beasts in chapters 13, 19, and 20. Typically, studies highlight how the polemics native to Jewish Apocalyptic cast Roman power, and those associated with it, as evil “beasts.” My study looks at the way “beast” may have been a lexeme in the Greco-Roman cultural imagination by considering the “beastly” historical enemies of Greece and Rome: the people they call “barbarians.” This study juxtaposes the anti-Roman polemic in Revelation 13 with Roman visual

representations of “barbarians,” or non-Roman people groups, with an emphasis on the pieces visible in Asia Minor. The strategy of this juxtaposition will be to look at the way those visuals mark “barbarians” as “other,” and then show how Revelation marks imperial power as “other” in precisely the same way. What I will argue is that these representations of non-Roman peoples would have affected the rhetorical impact of Revelation’s polemic. Revelation’s earliest readers would have seen in its imagery this startling claim: the Roman empire is the real “barbarian.” This project extends existing conversations on Revelation’s anti-Roman polemic, showing that the book’s Roman context supplies not only the target of its polemics, but the imagery and method of that polemic. It shows one more way in which Revelation can be understood as an anti-imperial text. And, in the vein of some postcolonial approaches to Revelation, it shows how Revelation’s imperial resistance can also be a form of imperial entanglement, as the book’s polemic implements the strategies of otherizing found in the imperial culture it ostensibly aims to


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Approaching Anti-Roman Polemic in the Book of Revelation

Chapter 2: The Barbarian Concept

Chapter 3: Pergamene Representations of Barbarians

Chapter 4: Roman Representations of Barbarians

Chapter 5: The Barbarism of the Beasts

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