Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus!
The Book of Revelation
“A woman clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1-6)
The story of the woman and the dragon has traditionally been identified with the person of Mary. But a deeper look yields a somewhat different basis for interpretation. The story of the woman and the dragon draws from a wealth of symbolism from the myths of the ancient Near East, from Jewish and Greek sources.
The “woman clothed with the sun” would easily remind the audience of the Roman use of the story of the sun god, Apollo. Roma, queen of heaven, was worshipped as mother and the emperor Augustus claimed that he had brought about the golden age of kingship associated with Apollo, the sun god. The emperor Nero (who is vividly and symbolically portrayed in this book) went even further – he claimed that as an infant he had been rescued from a serpent’s attack just as the infant Apollo had been.
What is this “Apollo myth”? It states that Python was seeking to kill Leto, who was pregnant with Apollo, the son of Zeus; Zeus has the North wind rescue Leto by carrying her off to an island; Poseidon, the sea god, then helps with the rescue by covering the island with waves.
So what does this have to do with the first century Christians? The woman clothed with the sun is being pursued by a dragon; she is carried off to safety by an eagle; then the earth helps the rescue by swallowing the dragon’s water. All of these stories reflect an archetypal symbol of the heavenly mother and divine child who are attacked by the evil monster and who must be rescued. For the audience of Revelation this scene is a flashback to the primordial story of the birth/rescue of the divine child. The flight of the first family into Egypt to escape the grasp of Herod comes to mind. It provides a mythic explanation for the hostility between the followers of the Lamb and of the beast. So….it is easy to see why later Christians identified the woman with Mary – but Revelation stays with the archetypal meaning of the symbol and does not descend to the level of identification with a single person. All the images of “the woman” in these chapters need to be read on a trans-personal basis. The children of the persecuted woman will also be described as those who must struggle with the dragon on this earth. Thus the sign of the woman becomes a “mythic prototype”