In an effort to bring the (im)practicalities of John’s command for withdrawal from cultural participation in 18:4 to the forefront of scholarly discourse, this book reconstructs the marble economy of ancient Ephesus and proceeds to read Revelation by foregrounding the daily lives of its marble-workers. This book argues that Ephesus was a major center of the marble economy in the Roman world and that the infrastructure that went into creating, building, and sustaining such an enterprise generated the need for a large workforce. Anna M. V. Bowden further demonstrates that the majority of marble-workers endured poor working conditions and struggled on a daily basis to ensure subsistence. Finally, Bowden explores the ways marble-workers participated in empire “through the work of their hands” (9:20) and questions John’s characterization of marble-workers as idolaters, sorcerers, murderers, fornicators, and thieves. Bowden concludes that the praxis Revelation requires from its audience of complete withdrawal is pragmatically not sustainable and is ultimately a manifesto leaving marble-workers jobless, hungry, and with a heightened risk for malnutrition, disease, injury, and even death.
Anna M. V. Bowden is visiting assistant professor of biblical studies at Albion College and an instructor in religious studies at Monroe Community College.
List of Figures
List of Tables
Chapter One: Rev. 18:4 and Societal Participation
Chapter Two: A People’s History Approach
Chapter Three: The Ephesian Marble Economy
Chapter Four: The Marble-Workers
Chapter Five: The Work of Their Hands
Chapter Six: The Marble-less New Jerusalem
About the Author
This book marks a major contribution to our understanding of both the book of Revelation and the lives of ancient marble workers who built the Roman cities in Revelation. Bowden provides a persuasive re-reading of Revelation by showing how the Roman non-elite would have been excluded and even abused by the claims of the book. Her re-creation of the world of ancient marble incorporates the best of historical scholarship and produces an analysis that scholars will consult for a long time. Finally, she imagines how Revelation might have been heard by these workers, effectively demonstrating the elitism and injustice of Revelation’s theology.
Bowden’s work joins empire-critical scholarship on Revelation, but with a distinctive contribution. To explore the rhetorical effect of the text, she employs a People’s History approach, conducting extensive research into the lives of the working class around the marble economy in Ephesus. This shift from the author and elite society to Christian laborers as the audience of Revelation demonstrates the impracticalities of John’s call. Bowden offers tremendous insight through her examination of visual and material culture. Beyond Revelation scholarship, thus, this book will benefit anyone who is interested in the most recent approaches to early Christian texts, rhetoric, and the wider culture.
A welcome addition to studies of Revelation’s social context, Bowden excavates ancient Ephesus’s marble workers, thereby foregrounding questions of labor and economic insecurity in the Roman Empire. In depicting this imagined audience, she decenters authorial intent and raises significant questions about the tensions between everyday lives and the rhetorical binaries of too many interpretations of the Apocalypse.