Seeing is Feeling


Revelation’s Enthroned Lamb and Ancient Visual Affects


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  • 1 Denison University, USA


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Most scholarship of the last few decades on the book of Revelationhas focused on its colonial conditions and heated, even forceful, political engagement, making conflicting conclusions about to what extent it “reproduces” or “resists” imperial ideology. Of particular focus has been the striking image of the lamb on the throne, an image that ambiguously imparts both conquest and victimhood. This essay builds on and steps to the side of this work by addressing the image of the lamb on the throne as an expressive and emotionally, rather than ideologically, ambivalent image. Placing this image alongside other affectively rich spectacles in Revelation’s context, I suggest that the enthroned lamb gives voice to conflicted feelings about imperial life: attachment and loss, extravagant dreams of sovereignty and victory, as well as the painful realities of vulnerability and subjection, all in complex inter-implication.


  • 9

    Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), pp. 141–64.

  • 11

    Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2nd edn, 1998), pp. 181–204.

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  • 14

    Moore, “Ecotherology,” forthcoming. Moore borrows the term “neo-literal,” and the approach, from Rosi Braidotti, “Animals, Anomalies, and Inorganic Others,” PMLA 124:2 (2009), pp. 526–32 (528).

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  • 21

    Elizabeth A. Castelli, Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making (Gender, Theory, and Religion; New York: Columbia University Press, 2004);Jas Elsner, Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

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  • 24

    Longinus, On the Sublime 15.1–2 (trans. T. R. R. Stebbing). Frilingos also quotes Longinus, though a different passage (Spectacles of Empire, p. 51).

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  • 26

    Augustine, Confessions 6.13.

  • 31

    Boring, Revelation, pp. 35–60.

  • 35

    See, for example, M. H. Shepherd, The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (London: Lutterworth, 1960); Lucetta Mowry, “Revelation 4–5 and Early Christian Liturgical Usage,” JBL 71 (1952), pp. 75–84; Oscar Cullman, Early Christian Worship (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953); Otto A. Piper, “The Apocalypse and the Liturgy of the Ancient Church,” Church History 20 (1951), pp. 10–22; Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now, pp. 197–222; Beale, The Book of Revelation, pp. 312–13; Charles Homer Giblin, The Book of Revelation: The Open Book of Prophecy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 117–19.

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  • 36

    See the work of Matthias Klinghardt, Gemeinschaftsmahl und Mahlgemeinschaft. Soziologie und Liturgie frühchristlicher Mahlfeiern (Tübingen and Basel: A. Francke, 1996); Dennis E. Smith, From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003); and Hal Taussig, In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009).

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  • 38

    Aune, “Roman Imperial Court Ceremonial,” pp. 114–16.

  • 39

    Aune, “Roman Imperial Court Ceremonial,” pp. 104–109.

  • 40

    Morton, One Upon the Throne and the Lamb, pp. 88–119.

  • 49

    Moore is drawing on Derrida and writes, “Derrida defines the ‘ahuman,’ which he also names ‘divinanimality,’ as ‘the excluded, foreclosed, disavowed, tamed, and sacrificed foundation of … the human order, law and justice.’ Prior to that exclusion, that foreclosure – which, most of all, is a Cartesian exclusion – the divine is both theriomorphic and anthropomorphic, and such anthropomorphic divinanimality comes to sublime expression in Revelation” (Moore, “Revelation’s Ruminant, Quadrupedal Christ,” pp. 308–309, quoting Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am [ed. Marie-Louise Mallet; trans. David Wills; Perspectives in Continental Philosophy; New York: Fordham University Press, 2008], p. 132).

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  • 50

    Moore, “Revelation’s Ruminant Quadrupedal Christ,” p. 313.

  • 52

    Howard-Brook and Gwyther, Unveiling Empire, p. 230.

  • 54

    Frilingos, Spectacles of Empire, p. 115.

  • 55

    Pippin, “The Heroine and the Whore,” p. 77.

  • 56

    Kathleen Coleman, “Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enact­ment,” The Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990), pp. 44–73. Examples of such Roman punishment and dramatizations include sea games, gladiatorial games, historical and mythological battle re-enactments, and confrontations between animals and humans.

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  • 59

    Plass, The Game of Death in Ancient Rome, p. 45.

  • 60

    Plass, The Game of Death in Ancient Rome, p. 20.

  • 65

    Kahl, Galatians Re-Imagined, p. 150.

  • 68

    See discussion on Seneca in Plass, The Game of Death in Ancient Rome, pp. 68–69.

  • 69

    See Frilingos, Spectacles of Empire, pp. 33–35; Carlin A. Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). See also Kahl, Galatians Re-Imagined,p. 152, on the shame and opportunity for valor inherent in the gladiator figure. Frilingos notes that Cicero, Pliny, and Martial all found the gladiator to be a model of manliness.

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  • 70

    Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, p. 13.

  • 71

    Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, pp. 145–75.

  • 74

    Frilingos, Spectacles of Empire, p. 35.

  • 75

    Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, p. 23 n. 43. Barton importantly parallels this with Christian writers for whom it is all too easy to take their apparent distaste for arena spectacles at its word.

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  • 76

    Cicero, Letters to Friends 7.1.

  • 77

    Coleman, “Fatal Charades,” p. 58.

  • 88

    Cf. Lopez, Apostle to the Conquered, p. 105, on the “role-reversals” represented by the Amazons and other barbarians.

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