From Republic to Empire
The Book of Revelation was written at the height of Roman imperial expansion and power. Zerbe notes that starting with conquest of the whole of Italy, Rome expanded to Asia Minor and Syria and subdued its major commercial rivals, Carthage and Corinth, gaining trade supremacy of the sea. Horsley emphasizes that Rome started as a Roman Republic taking over the whole of Italy and built an empire around the Mediterranean. In the same manner the American Republic started with the take over of much of the North American Continent from the Native Americans and other peoples. Pursuing its avowed “manifest destiny” seized Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and moved on the Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines in Pacific, helped to quell the Boxer Rebellion in China, gained control of Panama and built the canal, and finally joined European powers to carve a worldwide empire.
Religious Manifestation of Empire
The military commanders of Rome started to be called Imperatur (supreme commander) then Augustus (the “manifest one,” starting a quasi-divine title). Later on they were called Princeps (the “first” in the senate, thus marking the start of the empire) and finally Pontifex Maximus (supreme priest completing the transition to the divine right of the emperor).
Has the “manifest destiny” its own religious ramifications? Horsley strongly believes so. He says that from the early American identity starting with the Puritans, a persecuted people who fled like Israel to establish a new covenant society and through their victorious Revolution, they established a sacred promised land and proceeded to slaughter the native inhabitants of the land whom they derisively called the heathen savages, dark-skinned servants of Satan. With this experience an ideology was formed that “the United States [is] the new Israel, God’s chosen people with a historic mission, as the new Rome destined to bring civilization, law, and order to the whole world.”
All Roads Lead to Rome
But coming back to the Roman Empire, we find that through military conquest Rome acquired land, booty, tribute and slaves. Slaves composed about one third of Rome’s population. Rome ruled the oikoumene or the conquered world. As a historian puts it: “they plunder, rape, kill, and burn, and then they call it peace.” The military conquest certainly made possible a general “peace and security” giving relatively safe travel by road and sea. And so “all roads lead to Rome.” There was the “Pax Romana” – it was order degreed by terror.
In today’s Empire, do we also have slaves who also travel the roads that lead to the “New Rome”? I believe the overseas contract workers are the modern version of slaves. There are eight million of them from the Philippines serving the New Empire and its collaborators. Like the slaves of Rome and the African slaves who were taken from their homelands at the turn of last century, the modern overseas contract workers have the same feeling of separation, exploitation, loneliness and despair.
“All roads” (including the cyber-highway) lead to the seat of the New Empire that proclaimed itself as the “policeman of the world” and decides the destiny of peoples. For the “policeman of the world” there is no problem even if half a million people are killed in the Desert Thunderstorm and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq for the sake of bringing peace! The “policeman of the world” promises security by dividing the world as “those who are with us and those with the terrorists.” As in the old Rome, so it is in the American Empire – order is imposed by an iron hand.
Economic Globalization and Militarization of the Empire
The international trade brought riches to Rome. Zerbe quotes a Roman writer: “The arrivals and departures of ships never stop, so that one would express admiration not only for the harbor but even for the sea. So everything comes together here, trade, seafaring, farming, the scourings of the mines, all the crafts that exist and have existed, all that is produced or grown.” (Aristides) Revelation 18:11-13 lists “cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves.”
Zerbe further explains that the international traders are not different from today’s purveyors of economic globalization. He notes that the satirical dirge on Babylon, the prostitute, in Revelation Chapter 18, highlights the economic domination of Rome. Babylon’s global traders “have enriched themselves through the power of excess/luxury” (18:3) and they “have become powers of the earth” (18:23). The global traders specialize in want, not on need, just like the manufacturers of globalization products of today. The book of Revelation highlights in the above list of goods an exploitative system that benefited an urban elite at the expense of the majority of the populace.
“The Philippines is ours forever… a territory belonging to the United States”
In 1900, Sen. Albert J. Beveridge articulated such imperialist position which has become true in the decades to come when he said: “We shall establish trading-posts throughout the world as distributing points for American Products…We shall build a navy to the measure of our greatness… Our institutions will follow our flag on the wings of our commerce. And American law, American order, American civilization and the American flag will plant themselves on shores, hitherto bloody and benighted, but, by those agencies of God, henceforth to be beautiful and bright.”
The New Empire can easily be what was spoken of Rome of the Book of Revelation. Consider Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge’s letter to President McKinley in May 1898: “But the time has come when (the home) market is not enough for our teeming industries, and the great demand of the day as in outlet for our products. We cannot secure that outlet from other protective countries… so our only chance is to extend our American market by acquiring more trade territory. With our protective wall around the Philippine Islands, its ten million inhabitants (sic: we were about 16M), as the advance in civilization, would have to buy our goods, and we should have so much additional market for our home manufacturers. As a natural and logical sequence of the protective system, we should now acquire these islands and whatever other outlying territories seems desirable.”