Evil Eschatological Mothers

Heh. Back to work, are you? And not really in the mood, perhaps? Yeah. It coulda been Normandy outside last night until quite late. Anyway, here’s a little something to muse on as you ease yourself back into productive behaviors.

I think that perhaps the great and abominable church of 1 Nephi 13-14 is the whore of Babylon (Revelation 17), mostly stripped of sexuality and gender. If this is a reasonable reading, it means that the BoM re-visions the great struggle of the end times as a church-church fight rather than the church-state conflict that plays out in Revelation.

So to be honest, the first time I wrote this post I focused on establishing that the Whore of Revelation 17 was similar to the GA Church but not a representation of the same evil. This comparison is first established by the association of both figures with expensive textiles and precious metals; the Whore wears them (Rev 17:3-6) while the GA Church is said to desire these items, as well as harlots (1 Ne 13:4-9). So the Whore is presented as a promiscious female while the GA Church is portrayed perhaps more transgressively: desire for fine clothing and precious metals is feminine, while an attraction to harlots suggests a male identity.

And as you poke around a bit, you eventually discover that both are called the “mother of harlots” (Rev 17:5; 1 Ne 14:16) and the “mother of abominations” (Rev 17:5; 1 Ne 14:9) and both sit upon “many waters” (Rev 17:1; 1 Ne 14:11), and the GA Church is finally identified as the “whore of all the earth” in 1 Ne 14:11. Both persecute the saints (Rev 17: 6; 1 Ne 13:9). Lastly, both are destroyed as part of a final great social conflagration: the Whore is destroyed by her lovers, the kings of the earth who act with God’s will (Rev 17:16-17), while the demise of the GA Church is presented as the result of the wrath of God “poured out” in wars and rumors of wars (1 Ne 14:15-17). This last scenario sounds somewhat similar to Revelation’s third septet, in which seven angels pour out seven vials containing the wrath of God (Revelation 16).

How do these two great corrupting evils differ? Well, the first point to note is that Nephi’s vision is truncated, that is, it ends just as God begins to take down the GA Church and restore the covenant. John of Patmos, however, is said to have seen both things which had occurred and things which were yet to occur. But beyond downplaying the gender imagery and the sexually charged behavior of the Whore, the two are quite similar. The biggest exception is this: the Whore is a “great city that reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18), while the GA Church is, well, a church, that destroyed the integrity of God’s word among other things.

The significance of this difference depends on how you understand the relationship between the GA Church and the Whore. If they are the same evil entity, then the eschatological struggle actually began at the turn of the era and is a church-church conflict. If they are different entities, albeit motivated by the same source and with the same antipathy toward the saints, then the great last conflict likewise began in the early Church but the nature of the conflict will shift from church-church to church-state as the end approaches.

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  • oudenos

    Mogget, have you read Tertullian’s de spectaculis? It is pretty grandiose. He, following the apocalypse’s interpretive lead, depicts the final conflagration as an ultra-violent arena spectacle where Rome is put on display and slaughtered for the delectation of the onlooking Christians and heavenly hosts. Here is an ol’ timey translation (Dodgson, 1842):

    XXX. But what sort of show is that near at hand? the Coming of the Lord, now confessed, now glorious, now triumphant. What is that joy of the Angels? what the glory of the rising saints? what the kingdom of the righteous which followeth? what the city of the new Jerusalem? And yet there remain other shows: that last and eternal Day of Judgment, the unlooked for, the scorned of the Nations, when all the ancient things of the world, and all that are rising into life, shall be consumed in one fire? what shall then be the expanse of the show? whereat shall I wonder? whereat laugh? whereat rejoice? whereat exult? beholding so many kings, who were declared to be admitted into Heaven, with Jupiter himself and all that testify of him, groaning together in the lowest darkness? those rulers too, the persecutors of the Name of the Lord, melting amid insulting fires more raging than those wherewith themselves raged against the Christians: those wise philosophers moreover reddening before their own disciples, now burning together with them, whom they persuaded that there was nothing which appertained to God, before whom they affirmed that there were either no souls, or that they should not return again to their former bodies: poets too trembling before the judgment-seat, not of Rhadamanthus, not of Minos, but of the unlooked-for Christ. Then will the tragic actors be the more to be heard, because more loud in their cries amidst real affliction of their own: then the players to be recognized, more dissolute by far when dissolved by fire: then the charioteer to be gazed on, all red upon his fiery wheel: then the wrestlers to be viewed tossing about, not in 219 the theatre, but in the fire—-unless perchance I may even then not desire to see them, as wishing rather to fix my gaze, never to be satisfied, on those who have furiously raged against the Lord. This, I shall say, is He, the son of the carpenter or the harlot, the destroyer of the Sabbath, the Samaritan and Who had a devil. This is He, Whom ye bought of Judas: this is He, Who was smitten with a reed and with bufferings, dishonoured with spittings, drugged with gall and vinegar. This is He, Whom the disciples stole secretly away, that it might be said that He had risen again, or Whom the gardener removed, lest his lettuces should be injured by the crowds of visitors. Such shows as these, such triumphs as these, what praetor, or consul, or quaestor, or priest, shall of his own bounty bestow upon thee? and yet we have them even now in some sort present to us, through Faith, in the imagination of the spirit. But what are those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man? Greater joys, methinks, than the circus, and both the theatres, and any race-course.

    My hell, that is some serious Christian schadenfreude. Aside from the awesomeness of Tertullian being positively giddy over the prospect of watching philosophers, poets, and actors roasting in the eschatological fire, did you note the bitter sarcasm about Jesus being the son of a harlot? Tertullian plays off of the Apocalypse’s harlot imagery and makes a swipe at the tradition that Jesus was the son of a prostitute while he gleefully fantasizes about Rome the true harlot and her bastard sons, the philosphers, poets, actors, etc., getting their due in the blaze. This is a pretty rad apology for Mary and simultaneous gut-stabbing of Rome. But what a jerk.

  • Martin

    How did 19th century Protestants interpret Rev 17? Verse 18 strongly suggests that the Whore is Rome, and “Babylon” (verse 5) was a euphemism for Rome used by early Christians. By the 19th century, Rome the State no longer had any significant world power, so how could Protestants find relevance in Rev 17? They might infer that it refers to the Roman Church which still has significant religious influence, and here the Book of Mormon seems to validate their inference. It’s difficult not to think that this is what Joseph Smith had in mind.

  • Robert C.

    To what extent was there a significant church-state divide in Nephi’s time, or prior to the Roman empire more generally?

    Although the term in Nephi’s vision is interpreted (by whatever process) as “church,” I wonder how much room there is to simply think of this as a kind of generic or vague term referring to something more like the Hebrew terms for congregation or assembly in the Torah, or what today we might call “social structures” or “institutions” (in the broad sense). Thoughts?

    Thanks for the post — very interesting.

  • mogget

    …serious Christian schadenfreude

    LOL, Christian schadenfreude ought to be an oxymoron, no? I think I remember this Tertullian piece for telling Christians that if it was not right for them to do something, then it wasn’t right for them to watch someone else do it, either. Would also apply to modern cinema! Anyway, it’s quite ironic to prohibit the spectacle of the arena and then write some something like that above.

    How did 19th century Protestants interpret Rev 17?

    How folks have interpreted Revelation is quite the story. For our purposes, the BoM writes that John of Patmos “shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea and also many things which have been. And he shall also write concerning the end of the world.” So the BoM suggests that Revelation is future oriented, and that 1 Nephi 13-14 is simply filling in some events John did not record. In addition, my understanding is that most LDS leaders have read Revelation dispensationally, that is, the seven seals are seven dispensations, so the GA Church would fit in the 5th seal, we’re in the 6th seal and the events of the Whore and her paramour are part of the future and seventh seal.

    IOW, I have read and commented here along traditional LDS lines: The GA church is a feature of the turn of the era and the Whore is an end time character. Were I at school, I would say as you have done that the Whore was Rome, and that John would have been much surprised to find that Rome fell to Alaric rather than the White Rider. This is called a preterite reading.

    I toyed with the idea that the BoM is “updating” Revelation, that is, that it is correcting a false impression of a church-state conflict at the end of time. In the end, I find insufficient evidence in the text to support that reading. I could, however, be quite wrong.

    Although the term in Nephi’s vision is interpreted (by whatever process) as “church,” I wonder how much room there is to simply think of this as a kind of generic or vague term

    I usually assume that JS picked the best English word to match his understanding of the text he was translating and then I ask if the meaning of the word has shifted since the early 19th century. I don’t think it would be fruitful to try to push back beyond the translator until we have the translated text or some other evidence. I did toy with tying the GA Church to the land beast / false prophet of Revelation, which is usually associated with the cult of the empire but I don’t see much there.

    My homies may have other thoughts on this one…

    Thanks,

    Mogs

  • larryco_

    Wasn’t that part of the latest National Inquirer headline: Evil, Eschatological Mother Gives Birth To Apocalyptic, Zombie Twins by Elvis?

  • Martin

    “For our purposes, the BoM writes that John of Patmos “’shall see and write the remainder of these things;’”

    Mogget,

    Are we equating John the apostle with John of Patmos now?

  • mogget

    Eh, Martin….!!!!! ;)

    It depends on who you are talking about when you say “we.” I identify the author of Revelation as John of Patmos and leave it at that since the matter is not really germane to my larger piece.

    Mogs


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