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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Revelation of Jesus Christ by Anne Wentworth, an electronic edition. Edited with an introduction by Vickie Taft

by Anne Wentworth [Wentworth, Anne]

date: 1679
source publisher:
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

Table of Contents

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Apocalyptic Imagery and Themes and the Discourse of "Holy Violence"

Though "The Revelation" possesses no traditional plot structure and little metrical regularity, its imagery and themes are consistently apocalyptic. Like many other sixteenth and seventeenth-century apocalyptic writers, Wentworth derives much of this imagery from the Biblical "Book of Revelation. In Wentworth's text, Christ assigns the name "Babylon" to England, thereby comparing it to the corrupt kingdom that suffers God's destructive wrath during the Apocalypse. Just like God in the Biblical Revelation, Christ in Wentworth's text also personifies Babylon as a "whore" who spreads her contamination throughout the land. Also as in its Biblical analogue, the exact date of the arrival of the Apocalypse in "The Revelation" remains ambiguous, though there is a repeated emphasis on its imminence.
Besides borrowing its imagery, Wentworth also appropriates "The Book of Revelation's punitive language for her own "Revelation. For example, in both texts, the Lord says He will send plagues, burn the land, command the angels to slay the faithless people, and condemn sinners to the bottomless pit. Wentworth also borrows the metaphors and language of violence from elsewhere in the" Bible to describe the wrath of God and Christ upon Babylon and its inhabitants. For instance, in "The Revelation" Wentworth alludes to Christ's admonitory parable of the barren fig tree ("Luke 13:10-17) when she narrates Him saying that He will destroy sinners who are spiritually barren and who therefore merely "cumber the ground" ("The Revelation" 15, C2 recto); she alludes several times to Christ's graphic assertion in "Matthew 18:6 that it would be better for sinners to drown themselves than to incur His wrath ("The Revelation" 13, C1 recto & 15, C2 recto); moreover, she often appropriates descriptive phrases of God's wrath from the Old Testament, phrases such as His "anger [was] kindled against" sinners and He will "cut them off."
To enhance the imagery of Christ's wrath during the Apocalypse, Wentworth, then, invokes a discourse of "holy violence," a type of language which Nigel Smith argues was common to radical religious writings of the seventeenth-century (321). Smith argues that, by denouncing an enemy with Biblical language, the radical religious writer could maintain "the sense of direct inspiration from the divine" in his/her text even as he/she vilified his/her enemies (Smith 321). In other words, a vindicatory, prophetic writer like Wentworth could use the discourse of "holy violence" to avoid having the vilification of her enemies compromise the sense of her text as God's word. Smith also claims that radical religious writers often did not contextualize the violent Scriptural phrases they appropriated, and relied instead upon the reader's Biblical knowledge to complete his/her understanding of the meaning and force of the writer's derogatory, Scripturally-based phraseology (Smith 322). Wentworth falls into this particular category of writers of "holy violence" in that, most often, she appropriates violent Biblical language without contextualizing it within its Scriptural framework or citing its Scriptural location. As the footnotes to the text indicate, comparing her use of violent Biblical terminology to its actual Biblical analogue generally reveals allusive meaning in her denunciations. For instance, when Christ says that Babylon will "sink like a Mill-stone" in "The Revelation" ("The Revelation" 15, C2 recto), Wentworth is, in fact, denouncing her enemies in particular for persecuting her, a powerless, innocent servant of the Lord, for, in "Matthew 18:6, Christ suggests that persecutors of his "little ones" would be better off drowning with a Mill-stone tied about their necks than suffering His wrath. Wentworth, then, freely appropriating one phrase of "holy violence" after another without ever stopping to explain the full semantic import of her Scriptural allusions, expects her audience to be able to fill these semantic gaps with Biblical knowledge. Modern readers unfamiliar with Scripture can easily overlook the full affective power of her denunciations and the violent nature of her Apocalyptic vision.