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All too often when people think about violence in the Bible, they focus on the Old Testament and ignore the New. People tend to imagine that the Prince of Peace rejects violence, and situate Jesus and the God of the New Testament in opposition to the Old Testament God; this kind of oppositional reading is problematic in many ways, not the least in its historic contribution to anti-Semitism, but also ignores what the text itself says.

In fact, the New Testament is full of violence and suffering, violence which is condoned by Jesus himself. Even in the Gospels, Jesus demands that eyes be plucked out and hands cut off as a result of sin, and threatens the earth with bloody violence. The Book of Revelation, written in the first or second century CE, is widely read as early Christianity’s rejection of the sinful, violent Roman Empire and the hopeful expectation of justice for true believers. This understanding of the Apocalypse overlooks the rampant violence omnipresent in the text, which depicts sexual violence as a punishment ordained by God. As John Marshall says, “Sexualized violence against women is one of John’s primary modes of depicting God’s judgment.”

Revelation’s views on rape are not unique, but rather participate in prevalent attitudes about gender, power, and war in the ancient world. In antiquity, sexual violence and rape were frequently depicted as just punishments for conquered peoples. The defeat of an army represented a power dynamic between enemies, where the victors upheld the masculine role of empowered penetrator and the conquered were made effeminate in their weakness, their penetrability. This dynamic is preserved in art, such as the 5th century BCE Eurymedon Vase.

The vase depicts a nude Greek soldier, victorious and with his erect penis in his hand; the reverse shows a defeated soldier from the Battle of the Eurymedon River bending at the waist, with hands raised in fright or submission. The inscription reads, “I am Eurymedon, I stand bent forward.” The vase represents mainstream ideas that equate defeat with penetration and victory with forced sexual conquest: rape. The Roman period continues this trend; Roman coins minted to commemorate the defeat of various provinces, including Judea, depict Rome as a tall, virile soldier, often holding a phallic sword; the soldier looms over a bent female figure in distress, representing his power in gendered and militaristic terms at the same time. It is perhaps not so surprising, then, that Revelation not only portrays its enemies in feminised terms, but also punishes them with sexual assault.

There are two sections in Revelation where sexual violence is most notable. In Revelation 2:22–23, the Son of God passes judgement on various churches in Asia Minor. He singles out one woman from Thyatira, Jezebel, who is a prophetess:

“Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.”

While many translations shy away from the sexual violence implicit in the threat, the text’s repeated references to sexual immorality, in the context of a work that operates on the principle that ‘the punishment fits the crime,’ implies that rape is an appropriate punishment for this ‘false’ prophetess.

Likewise, the Whore of Babylon, the author’s female symbol for Rome, is also threatened with sexual violence; the angel explains that the Great City of Rome will be made desolate and naked, implying again that her promiscuous behaviour should be punished by sexual violation, condoned by God. Despite the fact that the Whore is a symbolic woman (rather than actual woman, like Jezebel), the reinforcing of sexual violence as punishment contributes to a culture in which rape is understood as not only acceptable, but necessary in order for the “right side” to emerge victorious, masculinity intact.

The question of sexual violence as punishment, unfortunately, remains all too relevant. From popular culture to present day wars, rape persists as a means of control. All too recently, American soldiers were found guilty of sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison after photos showed evidence of soldiers raping male and female prisoners; even if not directly influenced by the biblical texts, the notion that victims of sexual assault need to be “innocent,” as one of the guilty soldiers insisted, hearkens back to ancient ideas about warfare, rape, and power.

Even films seeking to make light of contemporary preoccupations with the apocalyptic end up repeating and reinforcing the rape culture that persists from antiquity to the present day. The 2013 film This Is The End, directed by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, received a lot of attention at its release for its rape jokes, which include a joke whose punchline is that Emma Watson is overly paranoid about being raped; James Franco admitting to having sex with Lindsay Lohan when she was so intoxicated that she thought he was someone else; Channing Tatum naked, bound in chains, as the sex slave of Danny McBride; and perhaps most memorably, the rape of Jonah Hill by a well-endowed black demon. As Nico Lang at Thought Catalogue states, “…rape is explicitly an act of gender and power. It asserts roles and hierarchies of dominance, and when we make a world where it’s easier for Jonah Hill to get raped for ‘acting like a woman,’ we create a world that perpetuates female sexual assault. We continue to demonise femininity and promote the exact toxic masculinity that This Is the End, at its best, wants to satirize.” Just as Revelation, a text that purports to reject the trappings of the Roman Empire, inevitably reinscribes gendered violence as right and appropriate, so too This Is The End props up rape culture with its rape jokes.

Author: Dr Meredith Warren is a member of The Shiloh Project, lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies at the University of Sheffield and is Deputy Director of SIIBS. Meredith’s main research interests lie in the cultural and theological interactions among the religions of the ancient Mediterranean, and especially metaphors of food, eating, and the sense of taste. You can find Meredith on Twitter @DrMJCWarren.

Tags : ChristianityClassicsMeredith WarrenNew TestamentPop cultureRapeRape CultureThe Bible
Meredith Warren

The author Meredith Warren

Dr Meredith Warren is a member of The Shiloh Project, lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies at the University of Sheffield and is Deputy Director of SIIBS. Meredith’s main research interests lie in the cultural and theological interactions among the religions of the ancient Mediterranean, and especially metaphors of food, eating, and the sense of taste. You can find Meredith on Twitter @DrMJCWarren.

1 Comment

  1. I saw someone in a thread somewhere talk about the Bible promoting rape. I couldn’t remember ever reading such things, so I turned to Google for some examples and came up pretty empty handed. I came across this article in the process, and the author is absolutely distorting the texts of the Bible. None of the verses mentioned were taken in context, and none of them have ANYTHING to do with rape. The title of the article ‘Sexual Violence And Rape Culture In The New Testament’ is nothing more than click-bait.

    “demands that eyes be plucked out and hands cut off as a result of sin,”
    Jesus did not command anyone to pluck out eyes, or cut off limbs. First of all, he was speaking metaphorically. Secondly, he wasn’t saying to do it as a result of (or punishment for) sin, but rather to prevent one from continuing to sin. When someone says “I laughed so hard I almost died”, they didn’t really almost die. Jesus was speaking about the severity of sin and how it has the power to ruin people’s lives. He was saying that if you’re inclined to steal, you’d be better to cut off your hand. He used this vivid imagery because it stirs the imagination and makes people think. I mean, it was graphic enough to catch this authors attention after all. Jesus told people they’d be better off if they cut off their hand than to steal, that must have raised some eyebrows. Imagine the discussions people had about this, talking to each other about what it would be like to go through life without a hand. Now imagine the life you’d live as a convicted thief. A life missing a hand is still better than no life at all because you end up behind bars and can’t provide for your family so your wife and children starve and barely get by. No where in the New Testament do you read of his followers cutting off their hands or plucking out their eyes. This wasn’t a call to action for cutting off body parts, it was a call to action to think long and hard about just how destructive bad choices are– so hopefully people will realized what’s at stake, and understand what all they have to lose before it’s too late.

    “threatens the earth with bloody violence” (Matt 10:34 – 37)
    Oh my goodness. Dr Meredith Warren, were you high when you wrote this, LoL? Are you intentionally trying to mislead people? The way you interpret these passages is just mind-boggling.
    In this passage Jesus is telling his believers to trust him and live according to his teachings no matter what. He was speaking to Jews, you know– the ones who crucified him. He is warning them that their friends and family members may shun them for claiming Jesus is the son of God. Those that follow him and his teachings of peace and love, may lose their life (this does not mean they are murdered, but that would quality too– it means way of life, family, job, respect of your peers, etc.) because they chose to follow Jesus. He lets them know that if this happens to them they will surely earn the God’s honor and be deemed worthy of being called his people. This is why Jesus came, to show people how to live a meaningful purpose-filled life, to demonstrate that a life that puts the needs of others above the needs of one’s self matters more than anything else. He is saying that following him won’t necessarily be peaceful, but can be like a sword, destroying a family, ending friendships, etc. He was referring to the heartbreak and hardship that will come from being ostracized by family. How many families and friendships have been torn apart because of religious beliefs? Imagine being kicked out of your home, cut off from your family and inheritance, all because you decided to follow in the footsteps of a shunned Rabbi. Then he tells them that anyone who doesn’t give up in spite of the hardships will be seen as worthy in God’s eyes. Some people wanted to follow Jesus, but when pressured by family members, they gave in and abandoned Jesus– he said these people will not be seen as worthy by God. In no way was he inciting bloody violence. In fact when the soldiers came to take Jesus away to be crucified, his disciple (Peter) cut off a soldiers ear with a sword. Jesus instructed Peter to put away the sword, because “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”, and then he picked up the severed ear, and performed a miracle putting the ear back on the soldier that came to take him to his death. Another example of Jesus’ non-violence is demonstrated when Jesus found a crowd ready to stone a woman to death for committing adultery, he knelt down between her and the crowd and started writing in the sand; we don’t know what he wrote, but it was quite a powerful message because everyone walked away. He asked the woman, “Where are your accusers?” to which she replied “There are none”. Then he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”. He came to save people from violence, not to encourage it. He came to deliver a message of peace, that even if you’ve made mistakes in life, mistakes that you feel guilt and shame about, all you have to do is decide to live a different life, and forget the shame. Your past doesn’t define you, the only thing that matters right now is how you live right now and you can live it however you want– you don’t have to repeat your mistakes, you don’t have to believe that “it’s just who I am”, but rather you have the ability to live a better life, and when you don’t know how to do that– look at his life as the example.

    Jezebel (Revelation 2:22–23)
    The author (Dr Warren) claims that in this passage God punishes Jezebel with rape, but that is not even remotely accurate. Somehow she thinks this proves the Bible condones rape as a justifiable act when it is done as punishment. This is not even remotely true. The Bible teaches that you reap what you sow, these days people call it Karma. Eg: If you have sex with a whore you’re likely to catch STD and ruin your marriage.
    This passage is from a letter written to the pastor of the church in Thyatira. It says that there is a member of church who’s name is Jezebel, and she claims to be a Prophet of God, yet she teaches men to commit adultery. If you read the surrounding verses you see that God has been very patient with Jezebel, and has given her plenty of time to repent from her false teachings. She wasn’t just some random slut who was seducing God’s people, she was a self proclaimed prophet (compare this to a modern TV evangelist that promises all your prayers will be answered if you call in and make a donation). She was going around claiming the authority of God while sleeping with married men, ruining families and making a mockery of the name of Jesus. She was intentionally misleading people for her own pleasure. Basically the letter said that (it would be as if) her bed was cursed with suffering/sickness and that anyone that committed adultery with the woman would suffer, but not forever– it said they would suffer unless they repented. It goes further to say her children would die, but some translations use the word ‘followers’. God wasn’t lashing out in violence, he was disciplining his followers. The moment someone decides to turn their life around and live in obedience to God, the punishment would end for them. This wasn’t an act of God’s wrath, if anything the act of a father disciplining his disobedient children. Jesus never did harm to anyone, so it’s safe to say God wasn’t actively punishing anyone here (causing the anguish), but rather they were simply reaping the consequences of their actions, the punishment could very well have been a case of the men catching a nasty STD from the woman. If ‘children’ does in fact means ‘followers’ (children in the faith), then it would make perfect sense. God warned them that diseases leading to death were in store for all those that continued down this path. It’s clear to anyone who actually reads all the verses, that in no way is God condoning rape. Jezebel was a false teacher that was seducing men by telling them it was God’s will to have sex with her. God wanted the men to STOP having sex with her, so inferring RAPE from this passage makes absolutely no sense. The men knew they were sinning– they probably even told their wives “It’s OK, God wants me to sleep with her, she’s a prophet sent by God and she told me it’s his will’. This letter wasn’t about violence, but rather was God warning his beloved people that if they continued to sleep with the whore they would catch a disease and die from it. In many scriptures Jesus would heal someone and then tell them ‘go, and sin no more’, which implies that their specific condition was caused by sinful acts. Likewise, God was willing to heal these followers from the misery of this disease if they would repent (not continue committing this sin, aka: go and sin no more), otherwise the disease would end up killing them. God did not send men to rape Jezebel, rather he was telling the men that were ALREADY having sex with her, that he would heal them from the disease they caught from her if they were willing to repent. This was a message sent to warn God’s people that what they were doing was going to kill them, and it has absolutely nothing to do with rape.

    Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17-18)
    “It is perhaps not so surprising, then, that Revelation not only portrays its enemies in feminised (sic) terms, but also punishes them with sexual assault.”
    Scholars debate what this is symbolic for, but many believe it was the Roman Empire. An empire which had many gods, many idols, and who’s coins were stamped with images of their leaders who often called themselves the ‘son of god’ (any of the gods of the day). In this context, one would understand that the passage would be calling the Roman Empire a whore for not being faithful to a single master/god/religion, and for proclaiming it’s rulers as the ‘son of god’ rather than Jesus. The Roman Empire was murdering Jesus followers, and the verses foretell about foreign rulers rising up, even if only momentarily, and uniting with the whore against God’s people, but then they are defeated then turn around in anger and betrayal destroy the whore instead. Again, nowhere does it mention rape or sexual violence. Yes, ‘whore’ is a feminine and sexual term, but acts of sexual violence were never mentioned in the verses. Besides which, a whore is not a victim, being a whore is a choice someone makes for profit– a whore abandons relationships with private intimacy for whatever makes a buck, only concerned with momentary gratification. Revelation wasn’t saying God would turn Rome into a whore that would be raped. It was saying that Rome(or some kingdom) was a spiritual whore, and it will be brought to justice. A more accurate interpretation is that the Roman Empire was going to be overthrown for being a spiritual whore.

    None of the verses mentioned by the author talked about rape, so lets see what the Bible actually says about rape. There are a number of verses in the Old Testament that directly speak about rape and sexual ‘misconduct’. In many cases, when a woman was raped, the victim’s family sought revenge by murdering the rapist, and sometimes even his family. In fact, Abrahamic law provided protections for the victims of rape. In every case, a woman who was raped (forced and non-consensual) was never punished, humiliated, or shunned, but was in fact protected and provided for. If the woman was engaged or married, the rapist would receive the death penalty. If she was not engaged, he would be forced to pay to her family the amount of the cost of a wedding and, at the father’s discretion, could be lawfully ordered to marry the woman. This was not done to force a woman to live with her rapist, but rather to prevent the rapist from getting way with his act. Because he caused the woman to lose her virginity, this would generally equate to her being seen as less desirable, so he would have to bear the responsibility of providing for the family for the rest of his life.

    It appears that author is a Dr, and teaches at a university, and is a very educated person. I can’t speak towards her intentions, but it would appear that she believes God/the bible condones rape. She provided links to the verses, but didn’t quote them in context, as doing so would poke holes in her stance– not just holes, it would tear it to shreds. I’m not sure why anyone would have an agenda on this, or how she could benefit from convincing people that the New Testament is pro-rape or pro-violence. When you read the stories the meanings are pretty obvious. I don’t see how anyone with a working brain could deduce that Jesus was violent or that the New Testament makes light of rape. There is absolutely no ‘rape culture’ in the New Testament at all, the title bogus. Maybe the author actually believes this stuff, or maybe the title is just click bait.

    I used to call myself a Christian, but stopped after questioning my beliefs about 10 years ago. Besides which, the word ‘Christian’ means something different to everyone, so it doesn’t really convey any type of consistent message. Regardless of whether God, Satan, Heaven, or Hell are real, I believe that living a life like Jesus demonstrated is still a worthy goal. To those of you that do believe in heaven, don’t live your live with the intention of improving your status in the ‘afterlife’ when you die, but rather live the kind of life that will leave a positive lasting impact in the hearts and minds of those you interact with every day– focus on that kind of an afterlife. If you think about it, living according to Jesus’ teachings of putting others first will lead to exactly that. So maybe that’s the afterlife Jesus was so concerned about– the life of those that survive when we’re gone.

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