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For over a century, specialists have debated why the worship of the Roman emperors is important for interpretation of the Revelation of John. Now, in the first book length treatment of the topic, Steven J. Friesen argues that a detailed analysis of imperial cults, as they were practiced in the region where John was active in the first century CE, allows us to understand John's radical criticism of his society's dominant values Friesen draws on hundreds of inscriptions, coins, and architecture related to the worship of the Roman emperors to develop a newly detailed description of the imperial cults. Drawing on theoretical work in the history of religions and in postcolonial studies, he demonstrates the importance of imperial cults in the evolution of Greco-Roman polytheism and in the province of Asia. He concludes that the worship of the emperors promoted a cosmology that supported Roman imperialism within the bounds of normal urban religion. The use of architecture, iconography, ritual, and myth in these cults promoted this cosmology through new definitions of meaningful time and space.
After more than a century of debate about the significance of imperial cults for the interpretation of Revelation, this is the first study to examine both the archaeological evidence and the Biblical text in depth. Friesen argues that a detailed analysis of imperial cults as they were practiced in the first century CE in the region where John was active allows us to understand John's criticism of his society's dominant values. He demonstrates the importance of imperial cults for society at the time when Revelation was written, and shows the ways in which John refuted imperial cosmology through his use of vision, myth, and eschatological expectation.