Revelation Chapter Seventeen:
An Enduring Foundation for Millennial Expectations
Charles T. Davis, III
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
The Psychic Nature of the End of the World
The repeated empirical failures of predictions for the end of the world do nothing to discourage further speculation and eschatological faith. The End as a psychic event introduces a cycle into linear time. Although we may repudiate the cyclic view of history philosophically, we cannot escape the psychic need to periodically abolish past time and revitalize the cosmos. Eliade notes that the New Year's scenarios based on destruction and re-creation were created and perpetuated by the historical cultures of Babylon, Israel, and Iran (Cosmos and History, 74). In Christianity, the historicized myth of the Hero versus the Dragon provides a mechanism for the abolition and renewal of time. Successive time periods are experienced as dominated by historical figures who can be assimilated to the archetypes of the Christ Hero or the Anti-Christ Villain. A lively expectation of the immanent End of the World alerts us to a deeply felt cultural need to abolish the old time with its worn out institutions and to embrace the hope of a New Creation. With this in mind, I turn to a consideration of the influence of Revelation Seventeen upon Christian millennial expectations.
The Assimilation of Historical Persons to an Archetype
Nero and Jesus, extreme poles of the social continuum, share this: upon their deaths, each was assimilated into an archetype. Historical personages persist in the collective memory only if they are transformed into archetypes. Mircea Eliade reports on this phenomenon of the collective memory in his study Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954). An historical figure endures in the popular memory for no more than two or three centuries without being assimilated to the heroic archetype (43). Only by becoming an archetype is the figure capable of imitation by later generations. As they lose their historical particularity, these persons become universal, timeless, images that are available for story telling. Roger Schank, the Artificial Intelligence expert, shows in Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence how important this universalizing of the particular is to intelligence. Experience must be distilled into a story that can be recalled and applied to new situations as they arise in the future.
Historical leaders tend to be assimilated to the myth of the struggle of the Hero and the Dragon (serpent, monster). This is especially true of royalty. As the king is assimilated to the struggle of the primordial hero and the chaos dragon, history is transfigured into myth. (37). Eliade notes that even the Hebrews "interpreted contemporary events by means of the very ancient cosmogonico-heroic myth, which, though it of course admitted the provisional victory of the dragon, above all implied the dragon's final extinction through a King-Messiah." (38). In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes of this phenomenon:
Just as the traditional rites of passage used to teach the individual to die to the past and be reborn to the future, so the great ceremonials of investiture divested him of his private character and clothed him in the mantle of his vocation. Such was the ideal, whether the man was a craftsman or a king. By the sacrilege of the refusal of the rite, however, the individual cut himself as a unit off from the larger unit of the whole community: and so the One was broken into the many, and these then battled each other--each out for himself--and could be governed only by force (15).
The leader as a unit is always vulnerable to the ego inflation of the tyrant who is then portrayed as the monster who as "the giant of self-achieved independence is the world's messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions." The hero, by contrast, is one who has achieved the submission of his role to the higher powers of the inner world. Hero and Dragon are the two possibilities for the psychic orientation of our leaders.
Richard Emmerson and Ronald Herzman in their study The Apocalypse and Joachim of Fiore discover the importance of the Hero/Dragon myth for apocalyptic independently of Eliade in their study of Joachim's image of the Seven-Headed Dragon which through its body "represents the generalized body of evil that exists through all time and is universal .By so linking the heads, Joachim's figura draws on a tradition that can be traced back to Tyconius in the fourth century and that characterizes patristic and monastic exegesis which interprets even the details of apocalyptic symbolism in universal, timeless, allegorical terms" (24). It is clear that the Christian tradition of allegorical interpretation is built upon an older, general human tradition extending back to the earliest Babylonian civilization. (See also Eliade, 60.) The Hero versus the Dragon is an ancient, archetypal plot.
Carl Jung's work on the soul confirms Eliade. Jung observes that Jesus was assimilated to the Christ, the hero and the god-man, as he was transformed by the collective projection of the Self. In Symbols of Transformation, Jung writes:
In the Christ-figure the opposites which are united in the archetypes are polarized into the "light" son of God on the one hand and the devil on the other...Christ and the dragon of the Anti-Christ lie very close together as far as their historical development and cosmic significance are concerned. The dragon legend concealed under the myth of the Anti-Christ is an essential part of the hero's life and is therefore immortal. (368)
Historically, Nero and Jesus have no significant relationship. Their association in the Apocalypse is the result of their being appropriated by the collective memory as the opposing images of the tyrant and the true king. Throughout Christian literature, they now stand like Siamese twins: Nero, the Anti-Christ, the very embodiment of ego, Satan and cosmic evil; Christ, the embodiment of the Logos and Light, Self, and the god-man. The process by which Jesus was assimilated to the Hero myth as the Jewish Meshiach/Christ is well known, but how did Nero find his way into this projection as the Dragon, the Anti-Christ?
Nero Redivivus and the Risen Jesus
Nero's biography was written by poets, Tacitus and Suetonius predominantly, who
demonized him while the popular imagination linked him with the invincible hero. The
result is that both poles of the Self (Hero) archetype are present: the demonic Nero of
the poets and Christian story-telling is juxtaposed against Nero, the savior of popular
legend. J.P. Sullivan writes in Literature and Politics in the Age of Nero:
The dramatist Ernst Toller wrote that "history is the propaganda of the victors" and as Nero was a loser, it is small wonder that the senatorially biased histories that have survived make Nero out to be a monster. Yet Josephus and Martial suggest that there were also histories that put Nero in a far more favorable light; indeed for many years after his death parts of the Empire awaited his miraculous return with hope and credulity. (25)
The demonizing of Nero was rooted in his relationship to the higher social orders of the Empire. Sullivan notes:
Suetonius even records censoriously (Otho 7) that the masses hailed Otho as Nero when he was making his bid for power and Otho did nothing to reject the association. The emperor's artistic and personal extravagances, however, agreeable to the people, played an obvious part in alienating the senatorial and equestrian orders .
Nero's murder of family, including his mother, further encouraged the assimilation of Nero to the Dragon by the higher social orders.
The popular legend of the resurrected Nero held that the mortally wounded Nero was alive in Parthia waiting to return to liberate the Roman Empire. (Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2) Historically, there were at least three pretenders who appeared claiming power as the resurrected Nero. Between the literary presentations of Tacitus and Suetonius and the legend from the masses of the Empire, Nero is eventually constellated in the collective imagination as both poles of the archetype. The Black Nero, the monster, is complemented by the Light Nero, the hero risen from the dead to return and destroy the enemies of society. For Christians, this image of Nero, the Savior, was an abomination.
Jung observes that the age of Nero was an effective foil for the vision of a divinity--such as Jesus or Mithra-- coming down for the purpose of uniting man with the gods once more.
"The men of that age were ripe for identification with the word made flesh, for the founding of a community united by an idea, in the name of which they could love one another and call each other brothers .This was not the result of any speculative, sophisticated philosophy, but of an elementary need in the great masses of humanity vegetating in spiritual darkness. They were evidently driven to it by the profoundest inner necessities, for humanity does not thrive in a state of licentiousness. We can hardly realize the whirlwinds of brutality and unchained libido that roared through the streets of Imperial Rome." (70)
What can be said of these "inner necessities"?
It is a Jungian working hypothesis that "there are no 'purposeless' psychic processes (58). Psychic activity is always teleological, purposive. When Jesus and Nero are propelled into the images of positive and negative divinity, it is likely that the complexes weighing on the soul during the age of Nero and Imperial Rome are more or less consciously transferred to the God-image, the Self, through the artistic creations of Tacitus, Suetonius, and St. John. (See 60). By transforming Nero and Jesus into archetypes, new patterns for action were created. The Darkness of Nero became the foil for the Light of Jesus and Mithra.
In Apocalypse 13 and 17, the Nero of popular culture is assimilated to the image of the Anti-Christ, the enemy of the Jewish Messiah, the dragon to be slain. Nero, the Anti-Christ is the Lamb that speaks with the dragon's voice and founds a pseudo-Christian community favored by Rome (See Rev 13). Jesus is the Lamb that was slain and ascended to become the King of the Universe. He holds the book of the seven seals (Rev 5) and is the founder of the community of Christian martyrs (Rev 5,6,7,14). John paints the image of two Christian communities in bold colors. One dominated by Rome; the other by the Christ. In short, the existence of the Christian community itself, like Jesus, has been assimilated to the Hero Archetype. Life is understood mythically, a-historically, as a battle between a false, Roman-sanctioned Christianity and a true community of martyrs. Regardless of whether we locate the composition of the Apocalypse in the reigns of Otho, Domitian, or Trajan, this image of the Christian community as the embodiment of the Hero slaying the Dragon is an abiding legacy of St. John's Apocalypse. It has provided a firm foundation for Christian eschatological activity from St. John to David Koresh at Waco.
Nero is associated during the Middle Ages with Simon Magus. In the Bible MoraliseÏ e, one roundel portrays the fire from Heaven at Pentecost (Acts 2) while a second shows the Beast calling down fire from Heaven as a parody of Pentecost (Emmerson, 17). Simon Magus is allied with Nero in opposition to the true apostles, Peter and Paul. Emmerson observes: "It is thus not surprising that even in the earliest Christian literature and throughout the Middle Ages, Simon Magus is compared to the Antichrist" (20). Emmerson continues, "To Joachim, the Beast that arises from the sea is a great king like Nero, ["like the emperor of the whole world"], whereas the false-prophet Beast is a great prelate like Simon Magus, ["like the universal priest of the whole world"], and therefore like Antichrist" (22). The importance of this association will become even clearer as we consider the effect of Constantine upon the Hero/Dragon story.
The Transformation of the Archetype In The Middle Ages
The conversion of Constantine resolved the division between a "Roman" church and a "martyr" church through the person of the Emperor. The archetypal story now continues in altered form as the myth of the godly Last Emperor. In The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages, Marjorie Reeves observes the operation of this transformed Hero myth in the Sibylline prophecy as early as the mid-fourth century in Europe (299). The story runs as follows. A mighty Greek Emperor, Constans, would appear to reign for a century or more over an age of prosperity in which the triumph of Christianity would be consummated. The heathen would be converted or destroyed. Jews would convert to Christianity, and Gog and Magog would be defeated. At the end of this century, the Emperor would go to Golgotha and lay down his crown and robe, surrendering them to God. Then, the Anti-Christ would appear in "the final fury of evil to reign in the Temple at Jerusalem. Here human agencies would be of no avail: the Archangel Michael would appear to destroy him and, immediately after, history would be wound up at the Second Coming." (300)
According to Reeves, the seventh century tract Pseudo-Methodius was composed in the East; during the eighth century, it was circulated in Charlemagne's court popularizing the Last World Emperor legend in both East and West (300). In the tenth century, the Burgundian Abbot Adso again popularized the legend. Most importantly, "the promise of a last emperor gave scope for racial aspirations and there quickly developed, first, a French tradition of a Second Charlemagne, and then a German tradition of a Last Emperor." (301) The First Crusade brought renewed interest in the legend. By the end of the eleventh century, there is the hope of a resurrected Charlemagne who would lead Christians to a victory over the Muslim infidels. The Nero/Christ antithesis is transfigured into the image of the Infidel/Resurrected Charlemagne leading Christians to victory. Christianity unified in the person of the godly Emperor constitutes the positive pole of the archetype while the religion of the infidel constitutes the negative pole. But this state did not long continue.
Constantinople fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453. The Emperor Constantine Palaiologos was killed and, in the popular imagination, assimilated to the Hero archetype (See Donald M. Nicol, The Immortal Emperor.) The legend arose that "the last Emperor would come back to rescue them. He was not really dead. He was merely asleep and waiting a call from heaven." (98). The archetypal plot that created the legend of the resurrected Nero is applied to the last Emperor of Constantinople. The difference is that the legend is now much richer as a result of the Last Emperor legend that is associated with Constantine Palaiologos.
Further development of the Last Emperor legend was made possible by the historical vision of Joachim of Fiore who interpreted the Apocalypse in light of three states of Christianity: the Time of the Father, the Time of the Son, and the Time of the Holy Spirit. Latter day Joachimists understood themselves to be poised on the transition between the Age of the Son and the Age of the Spirit. The new Age of the Spirit would be ushered in by a good pastor of the church, the Angelic Pope who would champion monastic spirituality. Indeed, Celestine V was assimilated to this archetypal story. As this eighty-year-old, hermit Pope rode "from the wilderness meekly riding upon an ass to take up " the Papal Office, he was hailed along the way by the crowds in Messianic terms. (401) Celestine V was to enter popular mythology as the prototype of the angel-pontiff yet to come. Celestine's resignation after five months, under the guidance of the man who would succeed him as Boniface VIII, made it easy to assimilate this event to the myth that the Anti-Christ would seize the papacy. The subsequent persecution of the spiritual Franciscans suggested the presence of the power of evil. On the one hand, we have the true Pope backed by the true Franciscans; on the other "the carnal church and the pseudo-pope. Reeves writes that they reasoned as follows: Just as the Jewish synagogue was rejected when the 'new man' Christ established His new Law, so the sixth age of the carnal church would be rejected when the 'new man' Francis has established his Rule." (408) The final step in this new myth was the identification of the Church under Boniface VIII as the Church of Babylon.
We have come full circle. As in the Revelation, the church is split into archetypal poles. Indeed, by the fourteenth century, there was the expectation of two Anti-Christs. An "oriential Anti-Christ would preach in Jerusalem and seduce the Jews; an occidental Anti-Christ would be a heretical Emperor, a new Nero...The King of France...would be elected as Roman Emperor and the entire world would submit to him. The Emperor and the Pope together would carry out the final programme of reform..."(323).The light/dark poles of the Self archetype are evident in the portrayal of both the Emperor and the Pope. The Last Emperor could take the form of the Anti-Christ destroying the Church or as its Savior. The Pope could be portrayed as the dark force of Babylon or as the spiritual Angelic Pope sent to restore the church by the establishment of the holy practice of monastic poverty. The basic program was that both Church and State must be cleansed, the Saracens converted, and all mankind led into a true evangelical life. Together the Last Emperor and the Angelic Pope would accomplish this task of healing the Church and the world.
The apocalyptic imagination looks for historical persons who are a contemporary embodiment of the images of the Hero/Dragon myth; hence, the assimilation of particular Medieval popes and emperors to the images of the Christ and the Anti-Christ. This leads in turn to associations between contemporary and biblical figures. (See Emmerson, 27.) Joaichim of Fiore writes that "the martyrs of the last days will suffer the same persecutions that characterized the establishment of the Church" (Emmerson, 27). The succession of Herod, Nero, Anti-Christ is paralleled by a succession of martyrs through the ages.
The Modern American Apocalypse
From Augustine to Joachim of Fiore, the Apocalypse was interpreted symbolically, psychically. Joachim of Fiore's disciples contributed to the growing trend to literalize the Apocalypse. Literal interpretation was further strengthened by the Enlightenment with its emphasis upon "objectivity" and the external world of "facts." Consequently, the Church and Academe are not the most interesting places to look for modern interpretations of the Apocalypse.
In the spirit of Schuyler Brown's "biblical empirics" developed in Text and Psyche, I will look for the contemporary exposition of the Apocalypse among those who create the fantasies of our time, the movie makers. It is in their work that I find the prophetic message of the End of Time for our time. Nero/ the Anti-Christ/ Evil Last Emperor/ Simonistic Pope still does battle with Christ/Good Last Emperor/ Angelic Pope on the silver screen. The apocalypse lives on as a psychic drama in American popular culture. Douglas Robinson writes in American Apocalypses:
Images of the end of the world abound in American Literature, and with good reason: the very idea of America in history is apocalyptic, arising as it did out of the historicizing of apocalyptic hopes in the Protestant Reformation .America was conceived as mankind's last great hope, the Western site of the millennium its future destiny was firmly and prophetically linked with God's plan for the world, and the national dream of an American Age, a great paradisial future to be ushered in by American remains strong even in our time (xi).
In short, we Americans are living the story of the millennium as our story. Jung warned of this type of perception on the part of Modern Man:
Now there is the danger that consciousness of the present may lead to an elation based upon illusion: the illusion, namely, that we are the culmination of the history of mankind, the fulfillment and end-product of countless centuries. If we grant this, we should understand that it is no more than a proud acknowledgement of our destitution: we are also the disappointment of the hopes and expectations of the ages. (Modern Man In Search of a Soul, 199).
I have chosen to consider two movies which illustrate both sides of the American illusion.
The movie Pale Rider explicitly evokes Revelations 6. The movie divides into two segments. In the first, Clint Eastwood, as Preacher, plays the role of the Pastor/Angelic Priest sent by God from the dead to protect the people of God from exploitation by a ruthless entrepreneur, Le Hood. The second half reveals that this figure is the Last Emperor/ the Avenging Angel. The Pale Rider's clerical collar is exchanged for the six shooter. In the end, thanks to the Last Emperor figure, America is a good place where hard working, decent people can put down their roots and found an enduring community that works in harmony with the land.
In Batman Returns, Tim Burton creates a comprehensive American apocalypse--an American work that adopts an interpretive stance towards the end of the world -- without evoking the text of Revelation. In this movie, we see American popular culture speaking prophetically to American Christianity about the Anti-Christ (Penguin) and Armageddon, the destruction of the forces of Gog and Magog at the Gotham City Zoo by Batman, an outworn Messiah who says to Catwoman, "We are the same; split right down the center." The destruction of Gotham by the forces released from the sewer is only narrowly averted, and one feels that Batman will be a poor defense in the future. The American Messiah must soon give way to the forces from the abyss.
Biblical allusions abound. The movie opens at Christmas with Penguin cast upon the waters of the storm sewer as Moses was cast upon the Nile. Thirty years later, like Jesus, Penguin makes his epiphany at Christmas. His present to the world is a package delivered in the name of the business man Schreck (Horror). Hordes of clowns and harlequins stream forth to riddle Gotham with death and destruction. This is Penguin's answer to the wish for love and world peace. Penguin's program is made clear in his explanation to entrepreneur Schreck, "What you hide, I discover." All that has been forced into the Underworld will now invade consciousness and demand recognition. The Shadow will take its toll. There is a heavy price to be paid of irresponsible economic development and pseudo-religion.
Penguin becomes the Anti-Christ by imitating Herod's massacre of the Innocents. Schreck, like an evil Last Emperor, conceives and manages Penguin's campaign to become the mayor of Gotham through a re-call election. The key to this event in put in these terms, "They (the people of Gotham) have lost faith in all symbols." In short Christmas, Christianity and the commercialized Christmas culture it spawned in America is dead. It was killed by the simonsitic entrepreneur manipulating a populace that responds according the whims of sentimentality rather than through true virtue.
Burton is not the first to dramatize the invasion of Gotham, New York City, by reptilian figures from the sewer. The Four Ninja Turtles preceded Penguin. Couple these images from American popular culture with the death of Superman and you have an ominous prophetic message. From a Jungian perspective, one would have to say that the multiplication of cold-blooded figures coupled with the death of a super-human hero portends ill for American culture. The message would seem to be that the American apocalypse will not end in paradise but as a hell. Heraclitus' Law of Enantiodromia is at work. The time of Herod/Nero/Anti-Christ/Dragon is at hand. America, like Jung's Europe of 1933, is indeed a disappointment to the ages!
The Last Days
The End of the World is a psychic event which introduces the healing effects of cyclical time into linear time. A people's need for a New Creation experience can be measured by the intensity of its conviction that the End is near. We may expect radical transformations in America in the very near future if the principle of enantiodromia holds true. Nero will succeed Christ.
The vision of the American future found in Batman Returns is ratified by the religious cults. We saw David Koresh take on the government as the Anti-Christ; Applewhite lead his followers into a spaceship which appears as the vehicle of Christ's second coming. Even as I speak, religious survivalists are arming themselves in preparation for the Last Battle: Y2K.