Flory Tomutsa Malloy
for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
10:10a.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 125
“she labored to give birth”: A study of the Birth-pangs motif in Rev 12:2
Director: Rev. Frank Matera, Ph.D.
The birth-pang imagery of Rev 12:2 is an important part of the description of the Great Sign in Revelation 12 and draws on the varied uses of birth-pang imagery in the Bible. Revelation 12 is unique in its combination of the motifs of heavenly splendor and birth pangs. The unique significance of the birth-pang imagery for the meaning of the Great Sign can be missed if Revelation 12 is interpreted primarily in light of ancient pagan myth or even in light of the OT without the context of the NT and related literature.
Birth-pang imagery in the OT is used to describe humankind’s alienation from God that results from sin. The imagery is based on Gen 3:15 and developed in the prophets’ writings against the infidelity of Israel. The NT use of birth-pang imagery does not emphasize negative divine judgment but the new life that follows birth pangs. Birth-pang imagery is connected to the cross and represents vicarious suffering on behalf of another’s alienation from God. In the apocryphal 4 Maccabees, the suffering of the mother at the death of her sons is described as birth pangs. She is called the mother of a nation because of her strength in suffering.
In Rev 12:2 the birth pangs represent the pangs of the cross and, in particular, Mary’s participation in them as mother of the Messiah. Her suffering, described in terms of birth pangs, is evocative of the original birth pangs of Eve and of the trials of Israel in the exile. Furthermore, the emphasis in Revelation 12 on her maternity and the enmity of the dragon, that ancient serpent, alludes to Eve, the mother of all. Mary’s heavenly splendor indicates the faithfulness that neither Eve nor Israel had. Mary is a new Eve who foreshadows the new creation of Revelation 21.
The birth pangs represent Mary’s suffering, which is joined to the suffering of the cross and is on behalf of her “other offspring,” the faithful on earth. She is the Great Sign of the participation in the suffering and triumph of the cross to which all the faithful are invited and by which they defeat the dragon.