Unseeing the Shown, Showing the Unseen: The Images of John's Apocalypse and the Visual Culture of Ancient Asia Minor

Guffey, Andrew, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kovacs, Judith, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Halvorson-Taylor, Martien, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Gamble, Harry, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Goering, Gregory, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Smith, Tyler, Department of Art, University of Virginia

The present study explores the visuality of John’s Apocalypse, with particular attention to John’s employment of images throughout the book, and in the context of the visual culture of ancient Asia Minor. The central argument of this study is that the images of the book of Revelation obliquely resemble the images (particularly of the divine world and divine persons, i.e., gods) that populated ancient Asia Minor. The question of the relationship between the images of the book of Revelation and those of ancient Asia Minor is not, however, a question of “influence,” “sources,” or “local reference,” but rather one of deep cultural resonance. The symmetry is not in the images themselves, but in their function: to provide for an artificial presence of something perceived to be absent—to “present,” by means of the techniques and practices of visual culture, the divine world and its denizens.

The study unfolds in three parts. Part I introduces the problem of “apocalyptic images,” surveying two trends in apocalyptic scholarship (Chapter 1), tracing a history of the concept of “images” in apocalyptic studies (Chapter 2), and recommending a specific use of the term “image” in the study of apocalyptic literature which draws on recent Visual (Culture) Studies and Image Studies (Chapter 3). Part II compares images from ancient Asia Minor with images from the book of Revelation: The so-called Great Altar of Pergamum and the throne-room scene of Revelation 4-5 (Chapter 4); Domitianic numismatic iconography and the celestial woman of Revelation 12 (Chapter 5); and Artemis Ephesia, the celestial woman of Revelation 12 and the Great Whore of Revelation 17 (Chapter 6). The comparison of Part II leads to the conclusion that John’s images are not dependent on the images of Asia Minor, but that there is a resonance between them. Part III therefore analyzes the images of the book of Revelation as a work analogous to ancient oratory (Chapter 7). Ancient oratory knew a technique—ekphrasis—for evoking the visual in the verbal (Chapter 8), a technique that is strikingly similar to the Apocalypse’s images (Chapter 9).

The images of the New Testament book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse of John, have long vexed interpreters: their presence has long been noted, but any coherent theory of the role of vision and images in the book of Revelation is lacking. This study is a first step towards such a theory. The book of Revelation, I conclude, is a fundamental work of Christian paideia: it is an education in unseeing the shown—the images of the divine in the visual culture of Asia Minor—and showing the unseen—the divine world of John’s Christian imagination.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Biblical Studies, Book of Revelation, Images, Visual Culture
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