'Come out of her my people' (Rev. 18:4) : the use and influence of the Whore of Babylon motif in the Christian Brethren movement, 1829-1900
This thesis provides an account of the history of the exegesis of Rev. 17-18 with a
particular emphasis upon the use made of the text by, and the influence that the text
appears to have had upon, Christian Brethren writers from 1829-1900. ' This is, then, an
examination of the Wirkungsgeschichte or `History of Impact' of the text among largely
non-critical readers. The question tackled here is: `How was the Whore of Babylon
image used by the Brethren and did the text have any significant influence on the thought
and practise of the movement'? Traditional historical-critical issues relating to
Revelation are hence of only limited importance and little space is given over to them.
Significant archival research has been undertaken, and it is here, in part, that the
originality of this thesis lies. The Christian Brethren Collection, a special collection
found in the JRULM which contains some 15000 items of printed material, including 280
periodicals, 5300 books, 7500 pamphlets and 6000 manuscripts, has been extensively
utilised. Some 340 publications from twenty-eight authors containing exegetical material
on Rev. 17-18 written between 1829-1900 have been studied in detail. Little work on
these materials has been conducted before, and that which has, has not had a particular
concern with Brethren exegesis.
Chapter one examines the major hermeneutical approaches to Revelation,
identifying five different ways in which the text has been traditionally read. Chapter two
is a study of how reader-response criticism can shed light on readings of Revelation.
These two chapters are designed to set the context for the more original work found in
the rest of the thesis. Chapter three, a historical survey of the afterlife of the Whore of
Babylon motif from the second to nineteenth century, highlights the various ways the text
has been interpreted. Chapter four tracks the major people and events associated with the
origins of the Brethren movement in order to clarify the Sitz im Leben of the readers here
examined. This is important, for in the overall process of reading the reader comes to the
text from a very specific social, religious and historical context and this will affect in
significant ways how the text functions within the community.
Throughout I argue that the Brethren use the Whore of Babylon motif as a form
of vituperative rhetoric. The Brethren use Babylon to vilify all other Christian traditions
and to define the `self on a religious level (chapters five `Babylon is Papal Rome' and
chapter six `Babylon is All of Corrupt Christendom'). On an epistemological level those
with confused doctrinal beliefs, both extra muros and intra muros, are defined as
`Babylon' (chapter seven `Babylon is Doctrinal Confusion'). On a secular level Babylon
is used to vilify the `extreme outsider': the world, a place of pollution and contamination
(chapter eight `Babylon is Worldliness'). I also argue that the Brethren two-stage `secret
rapture' doctrine developed as the direct result of a biological `fight or flight' response
and a psychological `fear and fantasy' response to the Babylon motif (chapter nine
`Babylon and the Secret Rapture of the Church'). For the Brethren, the ultimate
application of Rev. 18: 4 is to quit the earth altogether: to be `raptured'.
This thesis hence makes an original contribution to learning in two ways. First, it
accesses new material. Second, it offers new insights into the ways in which readers,
texts and contexts interact within this very specific context. Throughout the Brethren are
in focus, though some of what is said here is of value in the context of `sectarian' biblical
exegesis more generally.