"And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass."
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery notes regarding pearls that they were known for their “beauty, value, and permanence.”
It also, notes, however, that the lavishness of pearls is often associated with the ungodly. Compare, for instance, Revelation 18:12 where the whore of Babylon is characterized as trafficking in “the merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls.” In this latter connection, the use of such jewelry as kind of “cover” for one’s insufficiency is obvious, the pearl functioning as an “shiny” distraction from the poor substance of that which it bedecks. Also, the pearl, for the whore, is an object of commerce: its value allows for the circulation of Babylonian power throughout the commercial body of its empire.
In these verses, though, the pearl has been recouped. To what end? Primarily to my mystification as to the precise image being proposed :)
Each of the twelve gates are twelve pearls.
Are these giant, seven-foot-round pearls?
By gate do we simply mean an entrance way through the wall (with a pearl framing for the negative space)? Or are we talking about a gate as a door that can swing open and shut? Is a seven-foot-round pearl here placed on hinges? Maybe we are talking about the gate being made from a “slice” or portion of such a pearl?
I honestly don’t know.
It is interesting, though, to note the way that such pearls (if they are seven-foot round pearls) would devalue the whore’s pearls as merchandise or currency. “Pearls, you foolish whore, are for gates! Don't sell your soul for them!”
Here, in the new city, all such things are rendered “price-less” (or, even, as a result, “worth-less”). Without an assignable value, without the value-pumping assistance of scarcity as a controlled, trafficked, and hoarded resource, the pearl simply shines as what it is: something beautiful, hard, and shiny. Use it as a gate, if you want.
Further, Julie has already raised the issue of “transparent” gold, but it is additionally interesting in this verse that “the street of the city is pure gold.” Note that “street” is here singular rather than plural: “the [one?] street of the city is pure gold."
Why just singular here? Because there is only one “way,” one “truth,” one “life”? Because there is only one place worth going in the city: straight into the presence of God? And this is the road that will take you there?
"And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."
The New Interpreter’s Bible notes that “the absence of a temple in the New Jerusalem reflects the triumph of a persistent critical attitude toward temple worship” (725). It then recounts how, from the start, the temple was compromised by Israel’s susceptibility to various local forms of cultic worship such that the temple cult was, from its inception, contaminated by “foreign” influences. This ambivalence toward the temple was also coupled with a deep prophetic ambivalence toward the monarchy itself.
The NIB also notes that, in a similar fashion, in Jesus’ day, the temple could remain functional only through collusion with the Roman occupation. The temple, rather than being the “pristine” seat of God’s presence, pure of any external defilement, ends up implicating – in its very stones - the powers and problems and defilements of this world. Thus, its absence from the New Jerusalem may mark a definitive end to this bastardization of true worship.
In this same spirit, Karl Barth contrasts the temple with the tabernacle: “the church of the Bible is, significantly, the Tabernacle, the portable tent. The moment it becomes a Temple, it becomes essentially an object of attack” (NIB, 726). Here, the universal “portability” of God’s presence is contrasted with the controlled localization of God’s presence under the banner of a single nation, a single city, and an exclusive ruling power. God’s "temple" is properly a tabernacle, a “moveable feast” that is capable of coming to the orphan and the widow.
Also of interest, here, is the claim that God and the Lamb are the temple of the new city. Does this simply mark the collapse of a symbolic distance: the temple was meant to symbolically re-present the presence of God but, in light of God’s actual presence, the re-presentation of this symbol is subsumed?
Also, is it significant that God and the Lamb are the temple? The one (single) temple is constructed on the basis of a relationship, on the basis of a “sealed” plurality? Could God alone be his own temple? Could the Lamb alone be his own temple? Or, properly speaking, must the temple be God and the Lamb? The temple hinging on the vitality of this “and”?
If so, this may give us a way to think about the connection of this image with our contemporary conception of temples. For Mormons, the temple is essentially a complex apparatus of conjunction: its purpose is to gather and seal, gather and seal, Adam and Eve and Abel and Seth and . . . and . . . and. . .
Is the contemporary temple more like a tabernacle than the temple in Jerusalem? Is there a sense in which our temples are “portable,” wandering the earth, dotting the face of the whole planet, spreading out into every corner of the globe? Do our temples function as machines for de-centralizing the church and re-distributing sacrality away from one particular place and one particular people and into the local lives of whatever people need to be conjoined, privileging always the conjunction itself as the site of holiness?
"And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
A fantastic image. Note that the passage does not say that the sun and moon have “gone away” but that the city doesn’t need them. The light of the sun, in the presence of God, is swallowed up like the light from a light bulb with the arrival of the noonday sun?
Also, should we take the two final phrases as synonymous? The glory of God lightening the city = the Lamb being the light of it? Or does the second phrase qualify and articulate the nature of God’s glory: the glory of God that lightens the city is the Lamb? Here, again, foregrounding the importance of the “and” that conjoins God and the Lamb: God’s glory is (not his own) but (the other,) the Lamb?